Backpacking in the Basin – Andrew Skurka’s RMNP Trip

Three days and two nights assisting Andrew Skurka with his backpacking trip in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park.


Over the years, I’ve become a competent outdoors person.  Can read a map and hike off trail. Identify wildflowers. Have a good feel for what makes a great campsite and have a few tricks and tips I can always share with other people.  Besides the miles I’ve put on backpacking trips over years, be they weekend adventures or multi-month journeys, also been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to dive into backcountry skiing and dabble with alpine climbing.

Having many friends who have a similar passion for the outdoors, and an equal amount of experience, I’ve always considered myself more lucky than anything in terms of my outdoor experience and skill set.  Had the time, money saved and opportunities to enjoy the outdoors for an extended period of time and learn some things along the way.

So when I received an e-mail from well-known outdoors athlete Andrew Skurka  I was curious. He inquired if I had any interest in assisting with a trip in Rocky Mountain National Park. I was alternately intrigued, honored and mildly surprised.

I’m a dirt bag hiker who takes pride in his knowledge of brew pubs as much as he knows what CCF, declination,  PUD,  Prusik , belay and what 40 Blue Extra means.

Assisting a trip with Skurka? Sounded rather cool…..

After a few months of e-mail correspondence (and meeting up one night at his home not far from me. We talked about the curriculum and the best way to get out cholla from his finger. Ouch!)  Andrew, myself and our group met at the Wild Basin trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park.

It was a great mixture of people. From Colorado, Michigan, Texas, Iowa and New York.  From 12 yrs old to people peers of my parents.   Some needed fine tuning of their techniques others have never backpacked.   Over the course of three days, we would get to know each other well.

The trip was a teaching oriented one rather than a hiking oriented one.

Right off the bat, even before we hiked and after introductions, we started one of several map and compass sessions.


Learning to read a map, shoot a bearing and learning to navigate the terrain are foundations for any outdoor experience and a skill set emphasized over the weekend.

After this lesson and going over the gear, Andrew nonchalantly said “Let’s hike!”

And off we went…


After hiking for a few hours, we arrived at  Finch Lake and made camp for the evening.

Shelter types were discussed and erected.


Once the shelters were erected. Alcohol stoves were discussed along with how to light them safely. And how to make a good tasting meal that does not come out of a freeze dried pouch.

The good company, tasty food and banter made for an enjoyable evening.  (And my laughable attempt at using a Bush Buddy for the first time provided the evening entertainment.  😉   )

I was able to encourage three people to ‘cowboy camp’ and try sleeping  under the stars for the first time.   Seeing a shooting star before falling asleep with just a touch of Fall crispness in the air was simply wonderful.

The following morning we hiked to Pear Lake and enjoyed the view of the high peaks above us.



After enjoying some time at the lake, we had another map and compass session.



Andrew and I each took half the group and we proceed off trail to the top of a wooded knob.

Our group waited a bit to let the other group get ahead.   Once both groups made it to the top, we compared notes.

Turned out our route was about the same as well as our technique: A compass bearing gives the general route but reading the land ultimately decides where to go.

After a brief lunch, we headed off trail for the second part: A descent from the wooded knob to Ouzel Creek.

The route initially started off beautifully going through a high meadow with an amazing and unique  view of Longs, Meeker, Pagoda and Chief’s Head.


After the meadow, the major league ‘schwackin  began.

Blow downs, loose rocks, and thick (by Colorado standards esp) woods.

Slow going but the people I was assisting were troopers.  One person even hurt her knee a bit and still managed to keep a positive attitude. Awesome!

I did not take photos from the ‘swhackin.  Picture a life sized version of the above photo at times! 🙂

We popped out of the trees finally and reached a flat area by the creek and just below where Andrew had popped out earlier.  Both groups were amazed at how Andrew and I directed both groups into the same location.  To be able to navigate off trail and leave the beaten path behind is a wonderful feeling.  Think the group had a good appreciation for how it could be done and how , though it can be difficult at times, it is also rewarding.

After this day, we made our second night’s camp and enjoyed a very appreciated meal.

The following morning was more ‘classroom’ time with lectures on hygiene, LNT, campsite selection, fording rivers and even a clinic on gear repair.

A last course on map and compass was given as well.


We had an easy stroll out mixed in with the day users of this popular area.

At an overlook, we paused for a group photo:

Bottom Row, L to R : Deb, Joe, Dianne    Top Row, L to R: Dan, Brian, Sara, Brent, Scott, Bernard, Andrew

The cars were reached, the group dispersed after some hands shakes (and more than a few hugs) and Andrew and I wrapped up the weekend.

Andrew ran a tight ship logistically and his meticulous planning showed. A successful trip where the goals were attained while having fun doing so. Glad I could be part of the experience.

It was an incredible weekend. Not only for the participants, but for me personally as well.  Such a great group of people with awesome attitudes who were a pleasure to be with. The kind of people you want to share your experience and knowledge with.  And a heck of a lot more fun than my day job! 🙂

All the photos

Like my photos? Want to purchase one? Check out my Red Bubble site!  🙂

Sounds like great trip? Interested in a similar or even a more advanced trip?  Andrew is starting a mailing list for trips in 2013 if interested.

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Casey Burnett
11 years ago

Super cool. And it looks like ULA-Equipment made a showing too….

I’m thinking about taking a bushwacking RMNP in two week, maybe I”ll find your tread.


11 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Plus you could carry the BV500 horizontally which is nice. I’m reading over the details again in your blog post and studying some maps. I know I want to do a san-trail route this fall. Maybe I’ll do RMNP (it’s so OMG close) hard to beat.

Casey Burnett
11 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Thanks Paul… I’ll look into IPW… I suspected that, with your generous nature, you had offered up some tips, but FYI, I don’t get notification that you reply to comments. If that is what you are hoping to happen. I decided to come back to see if you made an offering and you, of course, did. I’ll email you directly here on out if I got questions (which I do!).

Cathy Rehr
Cathy Rehr
8 years ago

Ran across this as planning a RMNP backpacking adventure. Not sure if you’ll see this, but what month did you go? Some of the pics you are really bundled up!