Tromping in the Basin – Skurka Backpacking Fundamentals Trip

Another backpacking fundamentals course I assisted on with Andrew Skurka.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I work as an IT Monkey to pay the bills. What started off as a way to save money between hikes turned into a career.

It is not my passion.  I just think logically and analytically.  And I am reasonably good at what I do.

Working in technology will never inspire me the way putting together the perfect lasagna and sharing it with friends will, wandering the site of an ancient battle and thinking “Here’s a focal point of history!” (while my German national someone sweetly points out that some of her distant ancestors may very well have massacred some of mine!) and, of course, the time spent in the wilds.

Technology is my vocation.  Cooking, history and the outdoors are avocations.

One pays the bills. The others nourish the soul.

Every so often, though, I am able to use my passion for some income. The occasional free-lance article or photo sale, a piece of gear to test out once in a blue moon and guiding with Andrew Skurka.

This well-known outdoor adventurer, now makes a living with what  I have struggled with over the years: Combining passion with a vocation.

Guiding trips,giving presentations, authoring books and so on. I’m sure he’ll be the first to admit that there are challenges and it is not all “peaches and cream”, but I doubt he’d trade places with me. 🙂

In any case, twice a year I get to assist on his trips.  It is something that is challenging, fun and rewarding. Sharing my passion for the outdoors and teaching some concepts to people eager to learn. What’s not to like?

This past weekend, I assisted with a Backpacking Fundamentals course.

As with previous years, it would be in the Wild Basin area of RMNP.

The crew for the weekend all met at the Wild Basin TH, made introductions, sorted our gear and then headed up the trail.

First, we had a quick pole demo. Seemingly intuitive for experienced backpackers, it is not something people necessarily grasp instinctively.

We then made it to the popular destination of Ouzel Falls. An impromptu alternate route had to be made as the trail and bridge was still being repaired from the Sept 2013 floods.

Once we were away from the day hiking crowds, we started going over one of  the keystone topics for the weekend: Map and compass use and navigation.

Up the trail we continued for 7 miles and 2000′ gain. In this high snow year, the snow was about 2-3 weeks off of normal snow melt.  We still managed to make a suitable camp with, as I joked many times, a good view.

The following morning, a knot clinic was had:

After that, most of the group went up high and off-trail to practice navigation concepts more.  The above treeline expanse accessed from Thunder Lake is one of the most impressive parts of the park IMO:

Photo courtesy of Andrew Skurka

Due to altitude issues, another client and I went to the always lovely Thunder Lake where we practiced many of the same concepts. A little off-trail travel was had, a small talus field was crossed and high points were picked out based on compass and map use.

Despite the snow, there were signs of spring on the way:

Marsh Marigold

We continued our navigation around the lake and enjoyed the views:

By mid-afternoon, we all met up in camp. A brief thunderstorm rolled in. A tarp was rigged up for some quick shelter.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Skurka

The temps started getting colder. A welcome hot meal was enjoyed.

The night continued to get colder. We guesstimated that the temps were in the low 30s.  Despite the overcast sky, I took a gamble that it would not rain and camped cowboy style. Due to the snow patches, not much space to set up my tarp. I did keep my tarp nearby just in case.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Skurka. He woke up me up 5:57 AM both days and NOT 6 AM as was promised. I want those six minutes back! 😉

The following morning we headed back down. The day started off foggy and overcast. Reminded me a bit of Maine.

At an overlook, more map and compass practice was done.

Besides being a good area for instruction, the views to Copeland and St. Vrains were rather nice, too.

We finished our trip and made it to the car. Clothes were changed, gear sorted and stowed and we left the parking lot.

We arrived down the canyon to the small town of Lyons and enjoyed the fine beer and burgers at Oskar Blues.  The legendary Silo Burger was enjoyed quite a bit by many members of the crew (I may have played it up a little! 😉 )

Another fine trip with some great people.

Looking forward to the next one!


Interested in jump starting or refining your outdoor skills? Check out some of Andrew’s other trips!


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