Sangre de Cristo Traverse Overview & Trip Report

In August of 2023, I hiked the ridgeline of the Sangre de Cristo mountains from Blanca Peak to Methodist Mountain. This is referred to as the Sangre de Cristo Traverse.

Though there are variations on the route, the primary Sangres Traverse runs along the central spine of the Northern Sangre de Cristo range, a subrange of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The main ridgeline traverses over 77 peaks, including five fourteeners and two thirteener centennials. It contains sections of extended class 3 hiking as well as class 4 and low fifth class scrambling. Depending on various factors, such as the weather or one’s comfort on technical terrain, alterations to the primary route can be made. 

This post provides an overview of the route as well as highlights from each day and the trip as a whole. It’s intended to be informative rather than instructional. Linked below are my gear list and food planning spreadsheet. If you don’t like reading, scroll to the bottom for 21 of my favorite photos from the trip.

Sangre de Cristo Traverse Overview

The route I completed covered 115 miles and 55,000 feet of vertical gain. These numbers include dropping off the primary ridge into basins for camp, water, and weather/technical detours. I was joined by Troy Klaassen and it took us 8 days to complete the route. We carried all of our food and gear from the start.

From Blanca Peak to Methodist Mountain, we followed less than 10 miles of established trail/road; instead hiking cross country and utilizing elk and sheep trails when we were lucky enough to find them. The majority of the travel occurred above treeline (~12,000’) where we were exposed to howling winds, intense sun, and rocky scrambles. Due to being on top of a ridge, there were no “on route” water sources and few opportunities to take cover if/when weather suddenly rolled in.

My goals going into this trip were to:

> Explore the Sangres on foot with the intention of developing a more intimate knowledge of and connection to the place I live

> Stretch and enhance my physical and mental capabilities (e.g. daily vertical accumulation, off-trail navigation and route finding, adaptability to rapidly changing circumstances, etc.)

> Connect a line on foot from the Highway 150/Lake Como Road intersection to Highway 50/CR 107 in Salida while staying true to the range’s central ridge as much as feasible

In preparation for completing this route, there were several resources that I found helpful and/or inspiring. These include Justin Simoni’s 2019 (south to north) and 2023 (north to south) trips, Hannah Green’s 2022 FKT, Nick Clark and Cam Cross’s 2018 FKT, and Brendon Leonard and Jim Harris’s 2013 backpack from Methodist to California. Additionally, a couple of long distance hikers I know, Cam “Swami” Honan and Alex “Pepperflake” McNaughton, have completed high route/traverses (separately) between Blanca and Methodist. From my understanding, the first attempt to traverse the range was by Bill Arnold, and Lester and Jim Michel in 1961 when they hiked from Poncha Pass to Music Pass.

Highlights & Takeaways

The entire trip was a highlight and as with any adventure, there were takeaways to be gleaned, but as I reflected on the trip in the weeks afterwards, there were a few themes that stood out.

The value of relationship to place. In researching and walking this route, I became infinitely more familiar with this range that I’ve lived by and recreated in for years. It felt special to connect many of my favorite local spots in one trip and to see from a new vantage point the peaks that I literally look at every day on my morning walk. That said, more than leaving me with a feeling of “been there, done that,” this trip revealed to me how much more there is to explore: so many subsidiary ridges, treed valleys, and alpine lakes.

The diversity of the terrain and the natural beauty. Following one ridgeline probably sounds boring to a lot of people, but I found it endlessly enjoyable. I was surprised by the diversity in terrain from the technical class 4-5 sections of the Blanca and Crestone massifs to the many steep class 3 thirteeners that pepper the ridge, to the rolling tundra found farther north. The unique positioning of this range with the massive San Luis Valley (SLV) to the west and the Wet Mountain Valley to the east, and the ability to stare down the ridgeline to our farthest objective was awesome. The remote alpine basins and hidden tarns, the colorful sunrises, and the dramatic clouds that flowed over the ridge never got old.

The importance of a good partner. These types of trips (off-trail, remote, demanding, multi-day) are physically and mentally taxing, to put it lightly. You need to be out there with someone you trust, whose risk tolerance is similar to yours, whose fitness is on par with yours, and with whom you can communicate openly. Ideally, you’ve already been on many shorter outings with that person, you’ve vetted each other, and you know it works. When you’re out with a trusted partner, that can make the trip all the much better. The opposite is also true. This is a tenet I was already well aware of from my Great Basin hike and Grand Canyon Traverse with Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva. This trip reinforced the value of a good partner to me and spurred self reflection in both what I seek in a hiking partner as well as the ways I can be a better one to others. Our team work wasn’t perfect, but I’m appreciative to Troy for the ways he showed up as a solid partner during this trip and in the debrief afterwards.

Gear List

Find my complete gear list here.

Nutrition & Food Planning

Read about my food planning and nutrition here.

Day by Day

Day Zero

Around 1pm, we leave Troy’s truck at the dirt lot that marks the junction of Lake Como Road and Highway 150. It’s finally time to start this thing. 

I’m a bundle of nerves and excitement. 

I’ve been considering walking this range for years. It’s hard not to when you drive highway 17 through the San Luis Valley. The picturesque north-south ridgeline begs the question: could I traverse that whole thing on foot from end to end?

This range inhabits a special place in my heart and mind. I’ve lived on the north and south ends of the range, fallen in love on its flanks, had my heart broken here, buried my late cat under a Pinyon here, built lifelong friendships here, completed my 14ers here, and driven around these peaks more times than I can count. If there’s any place that’s felt like home in my adult life, it’s these mountains.

It’s 85 degrees on the hot, exposed, dusty 4wd road that we must walk up to access the main spine of the ridge. Our packs are heavy with 8 days of food and a few liters of water. We’re both feeling a little nauseous from the heat and exertion. I also drank too much coffee this morning which isn’t helping matters. We rest in the shade of Pinyons, slowly making our way up the 4400 vertical feet towards our camp near the base of Blanca.

Golden aspen leaves on the trail tell me that the transition to fall has already begun in the high country. We hike past Lake Como and find a higher camp near Blue Lakes at 12,200’. The day’s heat subsides as we gather water, cook dinner, and discuss tomorrow’s plan. The basin’s three 14,000’ peaks (Little Bear, Blanca, and Ellingwood Point) loom above, tinged with alpenglow.

I go to sleep grateful to be out here after years of dreaming and months of planning. As with the start of any real adventure, I know challenging times are in store, but I don’t know exactly when they’ll arise and what form they’ll take.

Tomorrow the real work begins.

Sangre de Cristo Traverse Day 1

At 5:03 my alarm sounds and by 5:11,  I’m drinking coffee in the dark, watching the stars fade as dawn lights up the edges of the sky. 

By 6, we’re slogging up towards the Blanca-Ellingwood ridgeline To the west, the shadow of the Sangres is taking form on the floor of the expansive SLV. At the top of Blanca, we high five, “one down, seventy plus to go” I say. 

Being that it’s a Saturday, there are several other parties on the mountain, but after departing Ellingwood Point on the class 3 and 4 ridgeline over to California Peak, we don’t see another person until the end of the following day when we drop into the Great Sand Dunes Preserve for water. The weight of the full backpack makes the ridgeline scramble feel much more challenging than it did on a scouting mission 2 months ago.

We drop north off California and the whole range – the entire following week’s work – is laid out in front of us. The crest drops away to the SLV in the west and the Wet Mountain Valley to the east. We walk rolling tundra for the remainder of the day and make camp in a protected area ~12,200’  behind a knoll south of Carbonate Mountain. 

I walk up to the ridge to pee before getting into my tent and I’m astounded by the beauty of the scene that greets me on the other side of the ridge: rain showers over the Sand Dunes and valley to the north tinted pink, orange, and yellow by the sunset. I call Troy up and we enjoy the scene before a chilly wind sends us for our sleeping bags.

Sangre de Cristo Traverse Day 2

The morning is an easy, uneventful four miles down the ridgeline to Mosca Pass, the low point of the route at 9,700’. The spring right off the ridge that we were hoping for is dry and we walk the mile down into the Preserve for water. We go to a spot I’ve stopped at with guided trips in the past. As will become our practice, we fill up for the entire day and head back up to the ridge. 

The next 10 miles of walking up and over Mount Zwischen is long, dry, and hot. It’s also littered with blowdowns. The view out over the Dunes from the summit is pretty spectacular though. The descent is steep through dense forest on tired feet. 

The most joy I find all day is when I pick up bits of elk trail here and there and we can cruise until the path disappears as suddenly as it appeared. At Medano Pass, we descend 500’ into the Preserve to fill up on water behind an established camp from which dogs are barking at us. We hike the 4wd road out of the Preseve and north from the pass until we find a suitable camp underneath the shadow of Herard.

Sangre de Cristo Traverse Day 3

Shortly before 6am, we begin our daily migration back to the ridge. The higher we climb, the windier it gets. As we crest the ridge, the full force of the gales hit, carrying icy wind up from the shadowed valley to the west. We lean sideways into the 40-50 mph eastward winds as we push north over rolling tundra, summiting one small peak after another.

I need more layers, a snack, a break from the wind. I drop off the ridge to the east where it’s nearly windless and it’s 15 degrees warmer. I wipe the snot from the right lens of my sunglasses. We snack, layer up, regain composure and head back into it. We see weather over Blanca to the south as well as the Crestones to the north. Being almost exclusively above treeline, it’s incredible how far we can see around us – all the way back to where we started, and all the way to where we’ll sleep tonight.

By noon, we’re at Music Pass and we trace out the remainder of our route for the day: Marble Mountain, Milwaukee Peak, and the Crestones, beneath which we plan to camp. A steep 1300’ and we’ve regained the ridge. We skirt through the notch by Milwaukee, enjoying an oddly placed mile or so of nice trail that disappears as suddenly as it appeared. 

With 8000’ of vertical on our legs already and daylight waning, we opt to take the Cresolita saddle rather than the ridge directly over Broken Hand Peak. I’m disappointed, but it’s the right call. As we descend into South Colony Lakes at dusk, the pikas’ chirping echoes around the basin. At the outlet of the lake, I achily bend over and wash the grime from my face and legs. We find a protected spot in the willows to settle in for the night. 

Sangre de Cristo Traverse Day 4

Morning comes too soon and sleep was insufficient as I spent part of the night defending my food bag pillow from the mini bear that was scratching around at the edge of my shelter. That’s soon forgotten, however, as we begin our ascent and I’m entranced by the red glow reflected off the Needle. Soon we’ve regained the primary ridge via a fun class 3 connecting ridge from Humboldt. 

Clouds roll up and over a saddle from the west, blotting out the sun as we climb Obstruction. From the summit, through breaks in the clouds, we look down to Willow Lake, a longtime favorite haven, and across the bumpy ridgeline of 13ers that connects to Adams. In a flat below Adams is Mo Lake, a cat-shaped tarn I christened last August the weekend after I said goodbye to my 17-year old cat.

We descend a steep, loose gully skirting below the first two major obstacles of the ridge, which would’ve required hours of technical scrambling, and reascend at the saddle south of Peak 13517. A series of steep, scree-covered slabs and class 4 moves takes us along the remainder of the ridge to Adams. From there, we follow the chunky class 3 ridge to Fluted. The end of the technical difficulties! I’m both relieved (we might actually do this thing!) and sad. The technical parts, while slow, are an engaging puzzle to solve.  

The remainder of the day is rolling block field until we pick up a mile or so of trail in a saddle near Comanche and drop down to Venable for camp. The basin is home to dozens of marmots which whistle at me as I pass through their domains on the way to the small lake. Three deer study me as I gather water. A gentle rain starts to fall and I scurry back to my tent. Cooking dinner from the safety and warmth of my tent, a rainbow appears over Westcliffe to the east. I fall asleep listening to Annie Dillard wax poetic about the glory of nature.

Sangre de Cristo Traverse Day 5

After a night mostly spent listening to the flapping of my tent in the wind, I open my eyes and notice it’s lighter than it should be at 5:03am. I’ve slept through my watch alarm and scramble to pack up as Troy is already almost ready to go. 

The day is gloriously repetitive, consisting of going up and over several peaks  >13,000’. Up 1000’, down 1000’, up 500’, down 500’, up 1300’, down 1300’. Eureka, Hermit, Rito Alto, Peak of the Clouds, Silver Peak, and on and on. The peaks were a nice break from the slower, technical terrain of the previous day, and more steep and engaging than the rolling tundra I expected. It felt wonderful to walk along the ridges I’ve seen so many times from the lakes below. Occasionally we stop on summit to snack and I just sit and stare contently at where we’ve been and where we’re going.

We make camp early at a small lake below Electric Peak. I take my time setting up my shelter and then walk the half mile to gather water. I’m nearly done when I notice movement in the otherwise still tarn. I think it’s insects at first, but the frequency picks up, and I realize it’s rain drops. Covering the water slowly at first, and then more quickly. I rinse my face and legs and scamper to my tent. I hop in just as the squall picks up. I bury myself in my quilt and eat spoonfuls of almond butter and drink lemon chamomile tea while I watch the rainfall outside. I’m warm, dry, and clean in my tent at a remote lake at 12,400’  in my favorite range. It’s hard to imagine any better feeling in this moment.

Sangre de Cristo Traverse Day 6

I awoke to a lone pika call at 4:30am, feeling rested and grateful for a full night’s sleep. We climb out of our basin camp and as we regain the ridgeline to Electric Peak, a red sun lights up the Wet Mountain Valley. The surrounding peaks emit a golden glow. The shadow of the range begins to take shape in the valley to the west. There’s the outline of Electric and our microscopic figures crawling up it. 

At the summit, I look north and spot the Chalk Cliffs. HOME! We’re actually almost there. In a way, it feels kind of unbelievable. 

There’s an icy wind, which I’ve come to expect each morning when we regain the ridge. I walk with my hands in my pockets and think about hiking this route again, solo, pushing myself as hard as I can. And then I wonder about that desire to run myself ragged, to walk until there’s nothing left, to find transcendence by searching for the limits of the physical.

Today’s terrain is a continuation of the previous day, and as I hike up another steep rocky ridge, I send a genuine prayer to the universe for endless talus covered 13ers. This feeling is like nothing else: heart pounding, breath rhythmic, in out in out, step step step step, thinking like the sheep, allowing my body to take the most obvious line, connecting bits of worn terrain. Some trampled tundra here, flattened scuffed rocks there, a slight opening in the grass.

At Cottonwood Peak, our main route drops below 13,000’ for the first time in 40 miles. The afternoon is hot and humid as we wind down through blowdown hell (though not as hellish as Zwischen) to Hayden Pass. A quarter mile from the pass my pole breaks. For 25 minutes, we search a small piece of ground for the missing spring. No luck, but I’m grateful for Troy’s help in the search as it’s already been a long day and we’re both ready to find water. We hike out to the pass and descend 500’ before we find a trickle big enough to fill our bottles, and then reascend to make camp.

I watch the cumulonimbus build behind the ridge to the south and darken the valley to the east as my dinner cooks. Flash. 1…2…3…BOOM! It’s close. Dinner is done and the show begins. I watch the storm mingle with sunset light as it passes overhead. 

I love this outside life.

Sangre de Cristo Traverse Day 7

I wake up excited for our last full day. We follow old trail up Galena in the twilight. Clouds are rolling in over the pass and the entire sky is pink, orange, amber, and yellow as the sunrise light reflects off the clouds. The beauty is unbelievable.

All day, we hike up and down “bumps” on the ridge inside of a cloud. I feel like I’m in a dream, hiking the same 100′ of talus on repeat. Time is standing still. My watch says we’ve been hiking for 4 hours, but I can’t ascertain any progress.

The clouds begin to break a little after noon and we’re above one of my very favorite alpine swimming spots. On a subsidiary ridge, I spot two sheep descending steep talus. It feels so meaningful to connect all these places I love and these peaks I literally look at every morning on my walk, addressing them by name, “good morning Simmons, Hunts, Twin Sisters…

My body feels strong, even after 50,000’ of vertical gain in a week. Stronger perhaps than when I started. I feel gratitude for my body’s strength and resilience. I know it’s not a given.

I watch the sky vigilantly all day as storms build in every direction around us. Around noon we drop 700’ steeply off the ridge to get water. This is our original planned campsite, but it’s early and we think the weather will hold a bit longer. So we test our luck, fill up, and push on. And the weather (and our luck) does hold for another few hours; long enough for us to get up and over Hunts Peak. At the summit, we’re greeted with a cold wind and a loud clap of thunder. It’s raining in the valley directly to our east and up north over Salida. Time to get down!

I inhale a few spoonfuls of almond butter, nearly clogging my airway, and then we haul down the steep scree slope as the wind picks up and thunder continues to echo nearby. We bail into a basin on the east side of the ridge, where 500’ down we see some trees and a potential flat(ish) spot large enough to fit our tents. Hail starts to fall as we make our way down the slippery wet tundra and scree slope. We configure a couple of clever camp spots and as soon as we’re set up, it begins to rain in earnest.

I sit in my tent drinking warm emergenc, eating the last few ounce of almond butter, listening to the pikas, and watching the clouds swirl around the basin. Salida is 15 miles and 3k’ of vertical away. 

Sangre de Cristo Traverse Day 8

When I awake, the predawn air feels damp and chilly. The sun tries to light up the sky, but we remain inside of a dense cloud for much of the morning. We hike northward, only a few minor peaks and two named peaks before our descent into Salida. After a few hours, the sun begins to burn off the top layer of clouds, revealing the most incredible inversion in the valleys on both the east and west side. The ridgeline is an island of land in a sea of clouds. 

Through the dense fog, I walk north, feeling the magnetic pull of home so strongly I can’t slow down. I periodically stop and wait until I see Troy’s figure emerge from the fog and then I turn and keep walking. The terrain has mellowed into tundra and block field. We reconvene beneath Simmons Peak, remove some layers, and then ascend together. The clouds have burned off even more now. The sky is blue. Salida is 6200′ below under a blanket of clouds. Methodist, our final peak, is one connecting ridgeline away. 

We gingerly crawl down the wet, slippery, lichen-covered rocks and into the blowdown forest that covers the remaining section of ridgeline. The Decker fire came through here in 2019. Amongst the burned out skeleton trees, fireweed and yarrow add splashes of color to the bare ground.

I’m laser focused as I weave in and out of downed trees and baby aspen groves finding elk trails to link together. I round the side of a knoll and spot five elk as they disappear off the other side of the ridge. Thank you for the trails! I stop to snack on raspberries along the way, but never for long. I’ve got places to go. 

After what felt like much longer than it should’ve taken, I’m on the final push up up up the steep southwest ridge of Methodist. There was trail we could’ve taken at the last saddle to bypass this climb, but I forgot, and now I’m here and I’m climbing and panting and soaked from pushing through wet brush, and there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing in this moment than doing exactly this.

And suddenly, I’m standing on a road. It’s the service road that connects to the communications towers on the summit. And shortly thereafter, Troy is there too. We have 9 miles of road walking and 4600′ of descent to Highway 50.  We tap poles and commend each other on a well executed trip.

I look at my watch, “we should be to the burger place by 1.”

“Sounds amazing,” he responds and we begin our descent off the ridge that has been our home for the last 8 days. We walk out of the sun, down through a layer of fog, and eventually Salida comes into view. 

“I’ve walked out of the mountains into a lot of different towns, but never into the one I live in. It feels pretty great,” I say.

Photo Essay

I intended to pick out 5 or 6 of my favorite photos to share, but here we are with 21.

Photo credit for many of these is Troy Klaassen.

How to plan food & supplements for an 8-day ridgeline traverse

Gluten free backpacking meal plan for energy, endurance & a lighter pack

Here’s a snapshot of my backpacking meal plan:

backpacking meal plan

A few notes about this backpacking meal plan:

> 1.43 lbs / 3000 calories per day (appropriate for me for this trip)

> macro ratio that supports muscle repair, recovery, steady energy, pack weight efficiency, and higher output (class 3/4/5 scrambling sections)

> gluten free, dairy free, anti inflammatory

> prioritizes blood sugar balance for optimal energy

> includes a few “secret weapons” including cordyceps mushroom powder (improved endurance), cinnamon (anti-inflammatory, blood sugar regulation), rhodiola (reduces fatigue), collagen (muscle repair, joint support), and electrolytes and extra sea salt (optimal muscle and neuron function)

> less variety rather than more keeps planning and prep simple and quick

My backpacking meal plan process:

1. Determine how many calories to pack. I know from past experience what I need per day, which varies based on terrain (off trail vs on trail, daily elevation gain, etc.), climate, how far into a thru hike I am, and so on. For this trip, which averages 500’ of elevation gain per mile and is all off trail and will likely include getting caught in monsoons on a 13,000’ blustery ridgeline, I’m packing more calories than I would on a well-graded trail at 4,000’ in June.

2. Add breakfasts and dinners first (one of each for each day). I enter basic nutrition info for each item. Seems tedious perhaps, but it makes it easy to swap items in and out to meet my calorie and macro goals (see step 3).

3. Fill in enough snacks and the right kind of snacks to hit my macro goals. On this trip, I’m aiming for ~20% protein, 40-50% fat, 30-40% carbohydrate. I won’t go into the reasons for this here as I’ve written extensively in other places about macros for backpackers and how to choose the right ratios for your endeavor.

I use this process to quickly and easily plan food for all my trips, personal or guided, so that I never have to guess at whether I’m carrying too little (or, more commonly for most, too much) food, and so I know I have the right foods to support recovery, energy, and endurance.

If you find meal planning for trips to be confusing, or if you’ve wondered how you can eat healthier on trail, hopefully this was a helpful snapshot. I love feeding myself well on trail and feel like it’s been one of the keys to my longevity and relative lack of illness or injury on some of my more demanding adventures.

Here’s all the food I’m taking. It fits into one 12×20″ LOKSAK OPSAK (the chips will be opened, crushed, and eaten with a spoon).  

backpacking food for an 8-day trip

For a step by step process for meal & supplement planning for your own trips, check out the Performance Nutrition & Meal Planning for Backpacker’s course.

It’s a complete framework to quickly master backcountry meal planning so you can enjoy improved energy, faster recovery, and a lighter pack on your next hike. It includes spreadsheets and templates to make planning fast and simple

I created the course based on the process I used to plan a gluten free, dairy free, healthy meal plan that would keep my autoimmune symptoms at bay on a 4-month CDT thru hike.

Here’s How It Works:
1. Calculate Caloric Expenditure (i.e. How much food to pack)
2. Dial in Your Macros (i.e. What type of food to take)
3. Choose a Resupply Strategy
4. Create Your Meal Plan
5. Complete Your Goal Hike with Abundant Energy & a Lighter Pack

Students have used this course to meal plan for all range of trips from a weeklong trip in the Cascades to a multi-month hike of the PCT.

Find the details here.

How to Research Conditions: Planning a Backpacking Trip

An excerpt from Adventure Ready: A Hiker’s Guide to Planning, Training, and Resiliency. It’s cross-published on Astral Footwear’s blog.

The most commonly overlooked aspect of planning is researching the conditions you’re likely to encounter on your chosen route. The expected conditions impact so many downstream trip planning decisions including your itinerary, gear choices, resupply plan, risk mitigation plan, and physical and mental preparation, so it’s critical to include this step!

The following excerpt provides a framework for planning your trips as well as instructions on exactly how to research likely conditions for your trip.

Planning your backpacking trip: an overview

My first backpacking trip was in college as part of a backpacking course, and the instructor had done all of the planning. When I attempted to do some pre-trip planning for my second-ever multi-night backpacking trip in 2009, on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT), I used the knowledge I had gained from that college backpacking course—a very outdated approach as I came to learn—combined with what my hiking partner shared with me based on his research, and I hoped for the best. 

There were far fewer online resources back then, and I had zero connections to the long-distance hiking world—a world I didn’t even know existed. In fact, I had never even heard of the AT when my friend had posed the idea to me five months earlier. I knew only that I needed an escape from my life at the time, I loved the outdoors, and it sounded like a grand adventure. And though the adventure was grand, my oversights ended up costing me money, time, and enjoyment.

Since those early days, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of trip planning and how to do it effectively and efficiently. Now, not only do I love the planning phase because it vastly increases my safety, happiness, and odds of success, but it also builds anticipation for the adventure to come!

This chapter covers a straightforward process for planning a multi-week backpacking trip from start to finish—a resource we wish we had had when we got started. We focus primarily on planning a longer excursion, such as a thru-hike, but there are also tips sprinkled throughout for shorter trips. Following a framework can keep you from feeling overwhelmed and makes the trip-planning process easier each time. This method involves defining your trip parameters, evaluating likely conditions, creating an itinerary, selecting gear, planning your resupply, understanding backcountry safety, and preparing yourself physically and mentally.

For multi-week to multi-month excursions, your trip planning might begin more than a year out from your projected start date. The amount of time needed to plan will be different for everyone and depends on factors such as your experience, trip complexity, trip duration, destination, and your familiarity with the area. In general, the less experienced you are and the greater the complexity and duration of the trip, the more preparation time you will need. For example, a five-month thru-hike of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) may require a year of planning for someone new to long-distance hiking, whereas a more experienced backpacker may need only two months to plan. The more experience you gain, the easier the planning becomes.

No matter how much experience you have, there is a lot to take care of before a long hike. Always give yourself plenty of time to properly plan. It saves you time overall, money, and hassle once you’re out on the trail!

Researching Likely Conditions

Once you’ve finalized when, where, and with whom you’re going, familiarize yourself with your chosen route and assess the conditions you’re likely to encounter. This sets the stage to create an itinerary, plan your gear, assemble a resupply plan, and evaluate and mitigate risk. It also provides you with a better understanding of how to prepare physically and mentally.

In this stage of planning, you’ll want to reevaluate the weather and climate for your destination as well as the topography and trail type. In addition, research route conditions, such as the necessary navigational tools, where the water sources will be, possible wildlife encounters, how remote the route is, and whether any restrictions or closures may be in effect during your trip.

What follows are questions, or prompts, to help guide your research into each set of conditions. Some of these trip conditions may not exist on every route and there may be others you wish to include that aren’t on this list. Consult chapters 3 and 4, on backcountry safety and navigation, to learn more about each of these risk factors and how to create a personalized preparation plan for your chosen route.

Seasons, Climate, and Weather

What season(s) will you be hiking in? How much daylight will there be? Based on your earlier research, what is the expected climate and weather? What are the averages for precipitation and temperature? What are the record highs and lows? As you get closer to your trip dates, remember to check the weather forecast.


Terrain refers to the physical features of the land, such as mountains, forests, or floodplains. What types of terrain will you encounter? How much of your route is above tree line? How much of your route is forested? What is the degree of sun exposure, or the extent of elevation gain and loss?

Trail Type

Consider the type of trail on which you’ll be hiking. Will it be a well-marked and maintained trail or will you be hiking off trail? Will you be traveling across scree or boulder fields? Is there vegetation? If so, what type, and do you need special gear/clothing to avoid spiny or poisonous plants? Does your route require scrambling or climbing? Will you encounter year-round or glaciated snow, and if so, how much?


What navigational tools do you need? Do you have an understanding of the broader area beyond just the trail you’re hiking? Are you familiar with alternate routes and potentially confusing junctions? If you were to go off route, where are the closest roads? What prominent landmarks, such as mountains or rivers, can you look for?

Water Sources and Obstacles

Where are the water sources along your route, and are they likely to be flowing at your chosen time of year? What is the source (spring, stream, river, lake, etc.)? Is the source directly on your route or will you need to hike off trail to find it? Are there river crossings? How wide and deep do you expect them to be?

Wildlife Interactions

What animals are you likely to encounter on this route? What are the risks? How will you deal with the situation if you encounter any of these animals?

Human Interactions and Remoteness

Are you likely to encounter other humans on this route? How remote is the route? How likely will it be for someone to find you if you’re injured? Where are the nearest roads? How will you be evacuated in case of an emergency?

Restrictions and Closures

Are there any fire restrictions? Will you encounter any sections of trail that may be closed due to events like a downed bridge, wildfire or natural disaster, or for species restoration?

As you evaluate each of these factors and plan your trip, order and print any maps, data books, and guidebooks you will need for your hike in both digital and paper formats. Other resources that can assist you in finding the most up-to-date conditions include trip reports, online forums, land managers, trail association websites, historical weather data, backcountry rangers, and experienced backcountry users. These are all excellent sources to draw upon in the creation of your beta packet which will be discussed in(see chapter 4). As you get further into your planning, refer to chapters 3 and 4 for a more thorough discussion of safety concerns, navigation, and route preparedness.

Excerpted from Adventure Ready: A Hiker’s Guide to Planning, Training, and Resiliency.


How I Optimize Health For a Big Adventure

Keeping Your Body Adventure Ready

A Guide to Mental Preparation for Backpacking

Mountain lion standoff in Grand Canyon: Lessons Learned

As you may or may not know, last fall when I was hiking the length of the Grand Canyon, a mountain lion came into my camp and we had an hour long standoff!

I mentioned the experience briefly on social media, but never shared the full story.

Until now.

Last week, I started reading Over the Edge, a book which chronicles all known accounts of death in the Grand Canyon. (Highly recommend!)

It got me thinking about the importance of debriefing our experiences so that we can learn from them. This is something I’ve always found value in, whether we’re talking about experiences in the backcountry, business, or life in general.

So, I (finally) recorded a video talking about my mountain lion encounter in the Grand Canyon last fall and shared a few of my take-aways.

Watch my grand canyon mountain lion debrief here:

I hope you find it helpful or, at the very least, entertaining.

If you have a chance to watch, let me know what you think.

If you want to dive deeper into animals encounters and safety in the backcountry, check out the Stay Safe in the Backcountry course I co-created with Heather Anderson.

My favorite gluten free, dairy free trail snacks

And, more interestingly, why I developed this list and how a source of personal shame morphed into a source of strength.

Backpacking on a gluten free, dairy free diet isn’t nearly as hard as most people imagine. And it certainly need not be a reason that keeps you off trail!

I was reflecting my origins with creating healthier backpacking food alternatives and it’s a story that feels worth sharing. If you have something in your life that you’ve perceived as a weakness or flaw that holds you back, my hope is that this will help you see it through a new lens.

If you’re here for the gluten free, dairy free backpacking meal and snack ideas, you can find that whole juicy list + my tips for backpacking on a “restricted diet” here.

If you’re here for the story behind the list, read on.

After finishing the PCT in 2014, I discovered I had an autoimmune condition that destroyed my energy levels and threatened my backpacking dreams.

Before attempting the CDT a few years later, I needed to develop a gluten free, dairy free, grain free trail menu to minimize inflammation and keep my symptoms at bay if I were to have any chance at finishing the trail.

And it worked. I finished the trail in less than 100 days and mostly felt great the entire time.

So I shared my approach to healthy eating on trail because I knew there must be others looking for an alternative to the typical hiker fare.

And I received a lot of appreciation but also a lot of people projecting their judgment of their own food choices onto me (“Don’t tell Salty, I’m eating this Snickers”… why would I care?).

At the time, I unconsciously internalized some of that shame and felt embarrassed for having to eat “differently” to feel well enough to hike.

Fast forward years later, I see that my autoimmune condition was an invitation to take exquisite care of myself.

And you know what?

I love that about myself.

Yes, I eat differently and go to bed early and measure my resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and blood sugar each morning and…


Because those practices ensure I have the energy to do so many amazing things in my life like hike long distances and build a business and have thriving relationships.

Now if folks have issues with how I eat, live etc., or want to project their self judgment onto me, they’re just not my people, and that’s perfectly okay. I don’t need anyone else to approve of how I eat because I approve of how I eat. And I know it allows me to live the type of life I want to live.

Perhaps you too have a perceived shortcoming that contains a hidden gift?

PS: this is not bypassing feeling the suck of a painful circumstance. It’s feeling the feelings and intentionally choosing how I want to feel about the circumstance instead.

If you feel called to share, I’d love to hear if you can relate.

How to escape the restrict/binge cycle in 4 steps

A common mistake I see (and which I’ve made) when implementing healthier eating habits is too much restriction, whether that looks like under-eating calories or removing entire food groups.

In most cases, that only lasts so long before it results in a binge, which results in feeling awful and is counterproductive to your goal.

Here’s what I’ve seen as an effective way to escape the restrict/binge cycle:

1. Focus on real, whole foods which are naturally satiating (vs hyper palatable foods that invite you to overeat). But avoid being dogmatic. 80/20

2. Stop extreme restriction. This step takes time and involves learning to trust yourself. You’re training your brain that nothing is off limits so you don’t need to binge on it when you have the chance. It’ll be there again later when you want more.

3. Practice self compassion and self forgiveness if you “mess up” and don’t make it mean anything about you. Move on. Eat a normally at the next meal. This step is at the heart of it all. It’s how you learn self trust.

4. Send signals of physiological safety to the body that reduce the likelihood of overeating. This includes eating enough protein, carbs, and calories to be satiated, staying hydrated, managing stress, and getting enough sleep.

This issue has been coming up a lot recently in client sessions. Many people are seeking healthier eating habits this time of year, so if that’s you, hopefully this is helpful!

If this resonates, reach out to see if private coaching would be a good fit for you!

5 mistakes I made as a beginner backpacker

I’ve been thinking about the upcoming backpacking season, my clients who are preparing for big hikes, and how I can best support them with their goals.

That got me thinking about some of the things I wish I’d known when I got started.

This primarily included investing too much time on things that weren’t actually that important and not enough time into other things which really do make a difference.

Here are those mistakes:

Focusing too much on getting the “perfect” gear

Having good, functional, relatively lightweight gear is important, but this topic can be SUCH a rabbit hole.  You can easily spend hours (days! months!) researching, comparing, and getting yourself all twisted into a knot over finding the “perfect” item when, in reality, getting something good enough will do.

I don’t advocate purchasing without doing some research, but go into it knowing your priorities (weight, cost, durability), compare a few items, purchase, and move on with your life.

The best way to know if something works for YOU is to try it out. You can always replace and upgrade as you continue on your backpacking journey.

Neglecting strength and mobility

On my first few thru hikes, I mostly focused on running and hiking to prepare myself physically. And those things are obviously helpful for cardio endurance.

Then before my CDT hike, I spent a winter doing body weight training and power yoga 2-4 mornings a week.

The result: I was honestly shocked at how much stronger and slower to fatigue I was on trail. In part, I think it’s what allowed me to hit the trail doing 20+ mile days without injury.

Waiting too long to start planning and preparing

The body, mind, gear, food, maps all take time to prepare. If you have plans to get out on a trip this year, don’t miss out because you procrastinate planning and preparing. Plus, there’s no better way to pass the winter than to start your planning and training now.

Not knowing my “why”

To stay motivated over the long haul, I find it’s valuable to have a clear sense of why I’m out there. If you know your why, when the going gets tough (and it will), you’ll find reserves of energy and perseverance you didn’t even know you had.

Failing to anticipate challenges

It’s easy to get caught up in how dreamy it’ll be when you’re out in the backcountry, free from obligations, drinking from streams, and taking cat naps in warm, sunny meadows.

But it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll likely encounter challenges as well. (That’s part of the appeal, right?!). Visualizing the physical and mental challenges you’ll encounter and how you’ll navigate them makes you more prepared to get through them if/when they occur.

If you feel like this is your year to go all in on your health and adventure goals, and you want a step by step plan to mentally and physically prepare for a big backpacking trip, check out our Adventure Ready course.

Read what past clients have said here.

Grand Canyon Traverse: Highlights and Lessons

grand canyon traverse

In the autumn of 2022, Ryan Sylva and I hiked the length of the Grand Canyon.

This is post 2 of 2, which details trip highlights and lessons. Part 1 is an overview of the trip in terms of length, duration, location, terrain, natural history, climate, water, and resupply. 


It’s hard to whittle this experience down to a handful of highlights because the entire experience was a highlight. However, I enjoyed reflecting upon and distilling the aspects of this adventure that I treasured the most. 

Developing a relationship with the Canyon. Deepening my knowledge of the Grand Canyon and gaining a more intimate understanding of the history, the geology and characteristics of different rock types, the rules of travel, and the nonhuman inhabitants felt like being let in on an incredible secret. Each day was filled with seeing diverse types of rocks and getting the chance to crawl over and around them and learn their properties. Each time we caught sight of a bird or animal felt special and I was constantly seeing new plants, observing where they liked to grow, in what conditions, and around whom. 

It was similar to the excitement of falling in love and wanting to learn everything you can about your new partner. Day after day, it felt like I sunk more deeply into the timelessness of the place, becoming more connected to its rhythms and inhabitants. We drank from the same pools as the coyotes and followed the sheep tracks, trusting their ancient knowledge of the land. The plants and animals of the Canyon became our teachers; demonstrating how to move through and inhabit the harsh environment. 

The navigation, route-finding, and problem-solving. This was the most mentally engaging hike I’ve ever done. Nearly every moment of every day required my full presence as I was not only paying attention to macro navigation but to the route finding required with each step, which included avoiding any number of obstacles at once. For instance, it was not uncommon to be gingerly stepping along the edge of a very steep, loose, slope of hermit shale with a 500’ sheer drop off less than 12 inches to your left while also stepping over a beavertail cactus, swerving around a teddy bear cholla, and ducking under a catclaw branch. And doing that for 10 hours of the day.

From one end of the Canyon to the other, we passed through different ecosystems which felt like different worlds in a video game, each with it’s own unique challenge. Here’s the section of endless prickly pear, then the section of steep talus cliff walking, then the teddy bear cholla minefield, then the dead-tamarisk-hopping through the silt flat, and on and on. I was constantly learning about how to travel more efficiently off-trail through the different types of terrain and just as I’d gain proficiency, a new challenge would be presented. This made the experience ever-engaging.

The remoteness. Similar to my hike in the Great Basin in 2021, I was attracted to the harshness and remoteness of this route. Once beneath the rim and off the main corridor trails, we didn’t see another backpacker the entire time. The western Grand Canyon felt particularly remote as we didn’t even see any rafters west of Diamond Creek. It’s rare that one can travel for so long in the backcountry without encountering other people and very little human infrastructure. It felt like a true wilderness experience.

The 12-hour nights and dark sky. The Grand Canyon has some of the darkest skies to be seen anywhere in the continental US and each night countless stars blanketed the sky in our narrow ribbon of view between the Canyon’s walls. Hiking in autumn meant we had no less than 11 hours of darkness each night, and closer to 13 hours by the time we finished. Each day I looked forward to arriving in camp, not just to rest my weary muscles, but to lay there for hours and watch the constellations shift.

The extra rest was a treat as well. I’m accustomed to hiking from dawn to dusk during long summer days, only being in camp long enough to lay out my bedroll, sleep, and pack up again. These long nights allowed time for my body to recover from the demands of the day. There was also ample time to savor a slow-cooked dinner, breakfast, and hot coffee in the crepuscular hours while winding down after a long day or mentally preparing for another.

Hiking with Ryan. Like many things in life, much of what I saw and experienced on this hike was richer because it was shared. Moments of oohing and awing over a multi-colored, 360-degree sunrise, hearing the roar of the rushing river greet us at the mouth of a canyon, witnessing a group of rams scampering up a ravine, and successfully solving complex route-finding puzzles were all better because we could enjoy them together.

After years of friendship and partnering up to hike the Great Basin Trail last year, Ryan and I knew that we shared the same hiking style and preferences, which is essential on a trip like this. We like to hike from sun up to sun down while taking minimal breaks and pushing hard. Our risk tolerance is similar, we work well as a team, and we trust each other. We often went hours without speaking, communicating instead with glances, gestures, and only an occasional sentence or two that would probably sound cryptic to an outsider.

The mountain lion encounter. Having a mountain lion walk within 10 feet of me and then engage in an hour-long standoff with us in camp was the most frightening and exhilarating animal encounter I’ve had in the backcountry. To be so close to an animal that is known to be elusive and secretive, and to have left the encounter unscathed feels extremely lucky, and even sacred.

Spaciousness for my mind to wander and emotions to be processed. Even though this hike was full on both physically and mentally, it was nice, as it always is, to take a break from the firehose of information, emails, and tasks that fill my off-trail life. I had a lot that I needed to sit with, from my father’s death 18 months ago to the loss of my beloved feline companion of 17 years and the end of a 3-year romantic relationship this summer. I needed space to be and feel and grieve. And I got it. 

Take-aways & Lessons

The following are lessons I took away from this experience and which I hope, in some way, will serve you as well. They range from the pragmatic to the abstract, some applicable only to Canyon travel while others apply well beyond the outdoors.

Hold expectations loosely. Early on in our hike, it became apparent to me that if I was going to enjoy the experience, I’d need to learn how to hold my goals for each day loosely.  Travel was difficult and slow. For any sketched route mile on our GPS, we would need to add at least 20% for a realistic expectation of mileage required to cover that distance in the field, due to route-finding obstacles. With no trail, it’s rarely possible to travel in a straight line. Rather than our normal trail pace of 3+ mph, 1 mph became the standard. If we averaged 2 mph, we were really cruising.

Though we would study our maps, nothing could tell us the exact nature of the obstacles we’d encounter and how long it’d take us to problem solve our way through. I learned to hold expectations for the day loosely, not to get too far ahead of the present. It would only result in frustration and feeling deflated if we fell short of a goal, rather than staying present and feeling proud of what we did accomplish. Instead, I learned to keep a general idea of where I’m headed, and then take it step by step and hour by hour, leaving space in the day for adventure to unfold.

Most mistakes happen when I rush. From sliding down a loose ravine to brushing up against a cactus to fighting through mesquite when an easier way could be found above, many mishaps and minor injuries could be attributed to moving too fast and forcing a way through. I learned not to hurry. Walk with intention and slow down to find the best way through. And if it’s feeling too hard or dangerous, there’s probably a better way around. Go slow to go fast.

There’s no such thing as enough planning. We researched, planned, and prepared for this trip for months and it still wasn’t enough. Even though we’re seasoned backpackers, on this route, nothing can substitute for experience in the Grand Canyon. The more, the better to allow for learning different parts of the canyon and getting to know the area through various modalities (e.g. on foot and on raft). I have an incredible amount of respect for the folks who have spent a lifetime exploring and developing an intimate knowledge of the Canyon. 

I am resilient. And, all that said, you can plan and prepare all you want –and you should– and still there will be things that catch you off guard, take you down, and humble you deeply. This was a tough route, so much so that I had days that I questioned what I was doing out there. It’s getting through those moments that remind me that I am capable and resilient. I can trust myself in the face of uncertainty, tolerate discomfort, and learn and grow from the experience. 

Everything is only ever happening right here, right now. Being immersed in a society of busy-ness where our worth is linked to what we produce has conditioned my mind into unconsciously viewing things as a checklist. While I love to get stuff done, there’s a time and a place for that. That lens is beneficial for accomplishing goals, but it’s not conducive to staying present and soaking in the surroundings.

There were moments each day when I would become aware of the background instructions running in my mind: get through the ravine, around the side canyon, to the next water source, to camp, to the end. And then I’d arrive and realize I hadn’t truly taken in my surroundings along the way because my attention was focused on getting there rather than just being here.

As cliché as it is, it’s the journey, not the destination that’s the whole point. I can slip into this checklist mindset not just on trail, but in daily life as well. When I caught my thoughts wandering to the past or to the future, I’d remind myself “Here. Now. This is it.” It’s a gift and a privilege to be in this landscape and I can reciprocate that gift with my attention.

Final Thoughts

Finally, if you’ve read this far and you’re thinking about hiking this route, let me reiterate how challenging it is and how much preparation, research, and experience is necessary. Especially experience in the Grand Canyon. Ryan and I have a lot of off-trail backpacking experience and tens of thousands of miles on our feet, many of them in desert environments. We did months of planning, research, and preparation for this hike and still, we got walloped. Ryan’s words sum this up well:

“After hiking the route and getting to know the intricacies, I realized I didn’t know shit about the canyon no matter how much research I had done. I have so much respect and admiration for the folks who have spent a lifetime out there in the Grand Canyon. This route is simply not one to ‘plug and place.’ I will reiterate that the route is very, very dangerous. I will reiterate you will need to do more research for this than anything you have undertaken before. And, when you feel ready, you still need to do double the research.”

For step by step guidance on preparing for your next backcountry trip, our online courses are the best place to start:

Grand Canyon Traverse Trip Report

grand canyon overlook

In the autumn of 2022, Ryan Sylva and I hiked the length of the Grand Canyon.

This is post 1 of 2, which provides an overview of the trip in terms of length, duration, location, terrain, natural history, climate, water, and resupply. Part 2 details trip highlights and lessons.

My intention in sharing this overview, the instagram stories, and my gear list is because I believe that when we get glimpses of these wild, remote places, they go from the abstract to the relatable and we become more inclined to care about and protect them. My hope is not for you to emulate this trip, but to be inspired to get outside and experience the outdoors in whatever way feels compelling to you.

To see the journey in photos, check out my instagram highlights Grand Canyon and Grand Canyon II. You can also read a detailed account of the trip on Ryan’s website.

To sum it up, this experience was an adventure in the truest sense of the word: unusual, exciting, and often hazardous. Much gratitude is owed to Grand Canyon explorers before us, including Harvey Butchart, George Steck, Tom Martin and Rich Rudow among others, from whom we obtained inspiration and route beta.

Gear List, Training, Food Planning

Length, Duration, Location

We estimate that we hiked ~575-600 miles based on our mapped route, though neither my partner nor I recorded a GPX track. We hiked entirely on the north side of the Colorado River, connecting our footsteps from Lee’s Ferry to the historic Tassi Ranch, an arbitrary pick up point west of Pearce Ferry on the north side of the river. 

We completed the hike in a total of 35 days between late September and mid-November. Hiking dates were 9/27-28 (Lee’s Ferry to Rider Canyon), 10/1-5 (Nankoweap Canyon to Phantom Ranch), 10/19-11/10 (Phantom Ranch to Tassi Ranch), and 11/12-17 (Rider Canyon to Nankoweap Canyon).

There are many ways to complete a traverse of the Grand Canyon. We wanted our route to utilize different layers of the canyon, stay beneath the rim, and not require any technical climbing. Class 3, 4, and low 5th class climbing was fine, but anything more was beyond our skillset. We didn’t carry a harness or rope, but we did use a 30’ piece of tubular webbing to haul packs when wearing them while climbing compromised our balance.


The entire route was off-trail with the exception of roughly 9 miles of maintained trail near Clear Creek. There were also portions of the Tuckup Trail that are well defined and a handful of miles on old ranching roads that were in good condition. Otherwise, we kept our eyes out for sheep trail and read the terrain to find the best path through. Travel included beach walking, boulder hopping, creek wading, scrambling up and down layers and along ledges, traversing steep talus slopes and loose ravines, and stepping over, through, and under cacti, mesquite, sagebrush, catclaw acacia, saltcedar and all sorts of other pokey vegetation. 

Our route traversed through three ecoregions, including the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau. These different habitats are the result of geologic variations and elevations that range from 2000’ to 8000’. We walked through desert washes at the lowest elevations to Mojave desert scrub, sagebrush steppe, pinyon-juniper woodland, and ponderosa pine forest as one ascends in elevation.

Natural & Human History

Humans have inhabited the Grand Canyon for thousands of years. The Havasupai, Navajo, Southern Paiute, and Hualapai communities live inside the Canyon or along the rim. Hopi, Zuni, and Apache live nearby. Later, Mormon ranchers, miners, and early explorers lived in and around the Canyon. We relished seeing remnants of early inhabitants, particularly the indigenous communities. This included granaries, pictographs, and agave roasting pits. 

A wide variety of animals, insects, birds, and plants also inhabit the Grand Canyon. I won’t name them all, but our wildlife sightings included bighorn sheep, squirrels, chipmunks, rattlesnakes, mice, mule deer, bats, tarantulas, black widows, lizards, scorpions, coyotes, burros, toads, and a mountain lion, to name a few. 

Plant observations were extensive as well. There are nearly 2,000 species of plants, mosses, and lichen in the Grand Canyon. Different vegetation communities are seen at different elevations and in different parts of the Canyon. Some of the species we saw the most include sagebrush, Juniper, Pinyon pine, aspen, ash, lupine, catclaw acacia, Mormon tea, western honey mesquite, willow, broadleaf milkweed, indian paintbrush, snakeweed, Utah agave, banana and narrowleaf yucca, snakeweed, creosote, white bursage, brittlebush, ocotillo, four-wing saltbush, big sagebrush, blackbrush, rabbitbrush, and various cacti, such as California barrel, fishhook, beavertail, desert prickly pear, hedgehog, and cholla.


Heat, water, and remoteness are the biggest challenges of backpacking in the Grand Canyon. Temperatures ranged from over 100-degree highs during our first week of hiking in late September to lows around 20-degrees on a few chilly mornings in early November. Obviously temperature ranges are vast when you’re traveling at elevations ranging from 1,500’ to nearly 8,000’. We would have benefited by delaying our start date until mid-October, when summer’s sweltering heat had begun to wane. Generally speaking however, the temperature range was quite comfortable. Daytime temperatures were in the mid-50s to mid-70s, and nighttime temperatures were in the high 40s to low 30s. Other than adding a down jacket for the last half of the trip, which I probably could’ve gone without, I carried the same kit for the entire trip. 


Water is constantly on one’s mind while traveling in the Grand Canyon. Our schedule coinciding with the occurance of several decent storms was quite fortuitous. Not only did we begin our hike at the tail end of a strong monsoon season, we also received a few well-timed storms that filled the potholes. As a daily practice, we were always looking ahead and making educated predictions about where we might find water again, how likely it was to be there, and how long it’d take us to get there. This wasn’t always easy, as we were traveling off trail through difficult terrain that we hadn’t seen yet. Additionally, we found that it was not uncommon to encounter an obstacle that ate up precious daylight, such as getting pinched off at a cliff and needing to backtrack to find a different way or encountering an area covered in prickly pear cactus that required us to tiptoe through for miles. 

As part of the research and planning phase, I created a spreadsheet of all of our potential water sources and their reliability. This was used in conjunction with maps and beta from other Canyon travelers, alongside our observations of the weather and the terrain we were traveling through to ensure we had enough water. For example, in addition to knowing where our next reliable water source was, we knew that we commonly found water in side canyons with steep walls that shaded the pools below pour offs. After a heavy storm, it was likely those pools and others would have good water. It was not uncommon for us to carry 6-8 liters, drink green water from potholes, and ration when we didn’t make it to our anticipated source in time.


Options to resupply food and replace or repair gear were limited. There are no town stops inside the Canyon and getting into and out of it is time-consuming and strenuous. More thought went into self-sufficiency on this trip than on any of my previous outings, particularly hikes on well-traveled trails like the PCT. I was conservative with gear decisions and beefed up my first aid and repair kits. We planned for contingencies upon contingencies.

Caching food, water, and gear replacements was critical to our success. The distance between caches and our speed of travel determined how much food we carried at any given time, with food carries raging from 5-11 days. Caching required a lot of driving and time. We opted to set 3 caches: South Canyon (which we didn’t utilize due to Ryan’s heat illness on day 2), Thunder River Trailhead, and Tuweep Campground. 

Continue to Part 2: Highlights and Lessons

For step by step guidance on preparing for your next backcountry trip, our online courses are the best place to start: