Andrew Skurka is an accomplished adventure athlete, speaker, guide, and writer. The 34-year-old is most well known for his solo long-distance backpacking trips, notably the 4,700-mile 6-month Alaska-Yukon Expedition, the 6,875-mile 7-month Great Western Loop, and the 7,775-mile 11-month Sea-to-Sea Route.
Andrew spends most of his adventures off trail picking his way through the high mountains. I really enjoyed my time meeting Andrew. I found him to be very kind, humble, relatable and focused.
Click to Listen to Andrew Skurka’s Adventures
What’s Andrew’s #1 piece of advice?
Andrew’s thoughts on Living Lightly
“Early on my efforts to “go light” were aimed solely at my backpack, but nowadays the lightweight philosophy extends into all other areas of my life as well. There are two reasons for this: (1) my quality of life is better, and (2) even more important, my impact on something I care about deeply, the environment, is much less.
Quality of life. By having and using less stuff, seeking simplicity instead of complexity, un-tethering myself from technological devices on a regular basis, and being selective about my ethical and financial responsibilities, I have more freedom, resources, and energy to focus on the things that really matter to me, namely my relationships with others, the outdoor world, and self. While my life is not entirely stress-free and may not be considered “plush” by some, I seem to worry about fewer things than most and also to get along just fine.”
In total, he has backpacked, skied, and packrafted 30,000+ miles through many of the world’s most prized backcountry and wilderness areas—the equivalent of traveling 1.2 times around Earth’s equator! He is the author of The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools & Tips to Hit the Trail and guides about 15 trips per year under his company.
Skurka has been named “Adventurer of the Year” by both Outside and National Geographic Adventure, as well as “Person of the Year” by Backpacker. National Geographic described him as “a superman among trekkers” and “one of the best traveled and fastest hikers on the planet.” He has been featured by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fox News Channel, National Public Radio and dozens of local media outlets.
Buy Andrew’s Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide
A backpacking trip consists of two distinct activities: hiking and camping. In this how-to guide, I’ve shared the gear, supplies and skills that will allow you to love hiking, while still remaining safe and comfortable while camping. He will sign all copies purchased from AndrewSkurka.com.
Andrew’s Media Highlights & Accolades
National Geographic, March 2011. Circling Alaska in 176 Days.
Outside, April 2011. Adventurers of the Year.
National Geographic Adventure, December 2007. Adventurer of the Year.
Backpacker, August 2005. Person of the Year.
Men’s Journal, December 2005. Adventurer Hall of Fame.
Aaron McHugh: Friends, welcome to Work Life Play. I'm your host, Aaron McHugh. I'm here to help you find work you love, learn to play, live adventurously, become curious and live your life with joy and purpose. Ready, set, go friends.
Friends, welcome to another episode of Work Life Play podcast, where we talk about all kinds of stuff from people doing cool work in the world to restoring balance and order and in our life and relationships to emotional fitness, to adventures, to everything in between. I really love the big wide I'm stretching my arms out left and right, a big wide category buckets of Work Life Play health relationships. Cause it really just gives me creative license to talk about whatever I feel like talking about. Today, I'm gonna introduce you to a guest before I turn on the interview and his name is Andrew Skurka. He's guy lives up in Boulder, Colorado, which is about an hour and a half from where I live here in Colorado Springs. And I've been experimenting more with getting out in the field and actually doing interviews in person when I can it's I find it really fun and just makes it more of a personal connection versus just a quick Skype call or something over the phone with somebody.
So Andrew, I'm excited to share his story with you. He's a super cool guy. Andrew is a very accomplished adventure athlete. He is speaker, a guide writer, and he just is up to some really cool stuff. I love adventure. I love endurance athletes. I love mountains and mountaineers and I love people doing cool work. So Andrew kind of fits all those criteria and it turns out to be a really kind good, humble, relatable guy up to some neat stuff. So what you're going to hear on the podcast today is I drove up to Boulder, Colorado to meet him and we did our interview there kind of the backdrop of the Boulder flat irons we originally had planned on actually maybe like going out into the field and recording in the woods or up on a trail somewhere, but we ended up just kind of getting into it pretty quickly.
And then maybe we'll circle back again another time and I'll follow him on one of his long distance hikes and see if I can catch some field notes there. So, what you'll hear in terms of what Andrew does and kind of his, his passion project turned into a career is that he's really known for being a long distance backpacker. So he writes guides that are published from National Geographic. He's been named from Outside Magazine and National Geographic Adventurer of the year. He's a really accomplished guy. Yeah. Outside 2011 Adventurer of the year. And then he did, you know, he's Men's Journal December, 2005 Adventure Hall of Fame and then for Backpacker, Person of the Year in 2005. So uber accomplished, pretty cool, amazing stuff to go on and to tell stories about how I think before he turned, I don't know, maybe 30 or younger, he had hiked some 30,000 miles cumulatively between these big, long distance trails.
As well as doing six months long Alaska Yukon expeditions and just amazing stuff. So what he's up to today, which I find pretty fascinating and a local friend of mine named Dave and he hang out and have done some stuff together. He's up to these what he calls high routes and high routes as he'll describe are basically high peaks, high areas where you don't come back down below treeline. If a lot of you don't spend time in the mountains, he kind of decodes some of that stuff through the course of the podcast, but basically pictured off trail. He goes where the map might cover, but it's just terrain. There's no trail that he's actually following. So he's actually creating or linking together or uniting with other people's work previous of him and actually creating these new high routes. So kind of pioneering.
I love pioneers. I love people who can spend time on the edges of the map or off the map altogether. And I call it, it's like basically spending time on a trail, just following somebody else's boot tracks is beautiful and wonderful. And yet it's a whole other level of skill set to be somebody who can leave a trail and actually spend time in the wilderness and he's PhD level. So I think you'll really enjoy this. I think the interview runs maybe about 45 minutes or so. Forgive there's a couple little audio pieces in it where my mic, for some reason was fussing at me and I'll work on that in the future. In the meantime, I will just keep shipping fun, new adventurous people to you, and hopefully it will encourage you in whatever you're doing. All right. Keep going.
Andrew Skurka, welcome to the Work Life Play podcast here live from Boulder, Colorado.
Andrew Skurka: Thanks for having me.
Aaron McHugh: So, we cheated a little bit and talked before we fired the mic, but we'll try and go back and cover some of those tracks. We're here at the base of the Flat Irons and this is your home turf. So say a little bit about where we are and behind us.
Andrew Skurka: So, Chautauqua Meadows is kind of the most iconic spot in Boulder. If you ever see a picture of Boulder and it's Flat Irons is probably taken from around Chautauqua and this is also a major trail head for all the foothills trails. And I probably run past here at least two or three times a week. It's part of a regular running route for me.
Aaron McHugh: I was watching one of your videos on you were doing, if I remember right. It was like how to pick out the best campsite. And I think it was a shot right here behind us.
Andrew Skurka: This video series that we did on how to select good campsites, that was actually filmed a little further South. But the Flat Irons extends quite a bit, quite a ways along the front range.
Aaron McHugh: So getting right to that, then if you're a guy who is on video, giving how-tos sponsored by Sierra Designs on how to pick up campsites, what does that mean? What does that actually mean when it comes to those three-minute videos? Like, how'd you get there?
Andrew Skurka: My specific relationship with Sierra Designs is a combination of product consulting and marketing. I've been working with them almost three years ago now. And in that time we've codeveloped a backpack and a tent. I do a lot of product reviews for them internally with some of their prototyping. And then on the marketing side it's actually been great. They don't want me out there hawking products, I don't believe in. They're much more interested in having me out there as an ambassador doing more instructional stuff. So we've done the series - a seven video series now on how to find good campsites, how to make my favorite backpacking dinner, how to use a mapping compass. We actually did two on those. There's another one that is coming out soon on how to poop in the back country. And then last year we did some live webinars on foot care and footwear. We did another one on how to be in the back country when it's raining. So more instructional focus.
Aaron McHugh: Okay. Now all of those are, I would call 101 level courses. Like if you were in a university program versus a 3000 level. Just so listeners know who you are, you're an uber adventurer, you cover lots and lots and lots of miles in the mountains. And that's kind of what you've become famous for is the ultra light guy who goes long places off trail. So say a little bit more about what you call yourself? Are you an adventurer? Are you an ultra-marathon athlete? What do you say?
Andrew Skurka: I say that I have my hands on a lot of things. Most people know me as a backpacker and as specifically as a long-distance backpacker, but even that's changed. I was a 20 something dirt bag backpacker, and I would spend six to nine months a year backpacking. And during that time, I pulled off some huge trips. I hiked 7,000 miles across the country from Quebec to Canada or equivalent to Washington state, 7,800. I did another trip around the American West. I did 6,875 miles in seven months. And then my last big, big trip was 4,700 miles around Alaska and the Yukon. I almost look at those, like, that's kind of like a past era, so on.
And so after that last trip I got married, I bought a house, I started a small business and, you know, life has changed. So now, my long, long gone are the days of the dirt bag. It's harder to get out. And I don't really want to get out as much either. So my current interest right now are doing these high routes and it's a shorter, much more intense, much more ambitious routes along some major topographic features, like a watershed divide or I say the continental divide. I just got back last late, last night from a little reconnaissance trip here in the front range of Colorado, trying to put together a route along the consult divide from Milner in Rocky Mountain, National Park Miller pass down to Birthday Pass.
And, you know, these were like just a great reason for me to get out and like go like explore some places and get off trail. And like, I just, the last two days I feel like I follow a few, like some hiking trails, but mostly it's falling elk trails and bushwhacking and the whole time, which is way more fun. Okay. So, so that's kinda my current interest, but then I also do a lot of ultra running seven finished, finished a a hundred mile race and beginning of August that my final race of the season on two weeks. And then on sort of the business side of things, I nowadays it's mostly online content and I've got a second edition of my gear guide book coming out in the spring and do a little bit of public speaking. Not as much as I used to a little bit of guiding, not as much as I used to. So it kind of changes, but back to the whole thing, I've got my hands on a lot of things it's kind of hard to be down.
Aaron McHugh: What if you have to get nailed down, what are you at a cocktail party? What do you, what do you say if you have to give an abbreviated version?
Andrew Skurka: I gave him a really long long-winded because it's really, to me, it's the truth is too, like, it's really tactical, I'm a professional adventure. Because the reality is that no one pays me to go like on a, like some adventure. I mean typically I'm paid at this point and paid for know-how.
Aaron McHugh: Yeah. So the reason I wanted to connect with you was on a couple levels for one, I, I love adventure. So I was getting excited to meet other adventures. And I love watching in our mutual friend, Dave, watching how basically what you've done it looks like and heard some stories through Dave is that you've taken that know-how and essentially turned that into then really like product offerings and books and website and video series, and like really like some pretty cool content. I've been immersing myself in a number of those videos and different high route guides. And it's super cool. So I'm curious what, what I love to do on this podcast is help people see from lots of different angles in lots of different venues of life and experiences, how people then turn what they love into a business or into a side hustle or a hobby, or so start with that. Like you go on these uber adventures, you log some 15,000 miles in your twenties on these big, long trips, 30, but okay. And then you're doing a lot of that solo too. So you were gone like four and five months at a time. And now here you are 35 and you own a house down the street and it doesn't look the same, but now you're, you're getting paid for what you know. I would just love to hear more about that.
Andrew Skurka: When I was in my twenties and kind of doing it like as a dirt bag, I would describe it as a sustainable lifestyle where I was I was just out there backpacking, cause I didn't really enjoy doing it. And it was like novel, novel experiences for me at a time in my life where I could do that kind of thing. And I started sort of being given opportunities to make a little bit of income from it.
So someone would say, "Hey would you be willing to speak to my boy scout troop?" or "Would you be willing to speak at my outdoor retail store?" And I remember the first gig that I had, it was Midwestern Mountaineering in Minneapolis. And I was living in Bozeman, Montana at the time, just for a couple of months. And they offered me like $250 to speak there at this big expo they had, which was an awesome event. And I think the plane flight costs me like 500, but it was just like thrilling that someone would offer me money.
It was like a net loss for the thing. I was really thrifty you know, live like a dirt bag even when I wasn't on the trail. I had no living expenses and you know, made a little bit of money and made it all work. And then I kind of, I felt like prior to 2010 in that big Alaska trip, I had kind of recognized that I felt tired of feeling like I was having to hustle so much for my money or for my income. Like there wasn't much reliability or certainty with it and I was lots of peaks and valleys and yeah, I would come back from a trip. Usually I would get back around Halloween and I would get back and I literally did not have like a thing on my calendar where I was going to earn some, earn some income which is, you know, what if you're 20 something and you're living out of plastic totes and, and you don't have a permanent address.
But that lifestyle gets old, which is why when you know, it's fine. If you're like a 20 something lifted a ski resort or, you know, if you're a, you know, a 20 something and like, you know, in a band and you guys are like just breaking even, but you're traveling all over. So, you know, I've kind of felt like I had an expiration date on it. So I kind of decided that after that 2010 trip that I was going to try to make it be like a legitimate occupation. And then it was just a matter of pursuing ways that I had been earning revenue in the past, but just with more seriousness. In 2011 I wrote a book that was published by National Geographic in 2012. I went on a 55-day road tour speaking and book tour and gave like 47 presentations. I did everything for that tour. Like I scheduled all the events. I did all the marketing, I got all my logistics, but that was like, you know, that's like seriously committing yourself to a lot of work.
I also in 2011 launched a guiding business where I would start taking people out into the back country. And then more recently the focus has been more on content. And I'd say more like 2013, 2014, I started transitioning more.
Aaron McHugh: Okay. So what's your, what is your, what does a week look like or a month or a year look like in terms of what, what, what, what you call work and is, is work like a recon trip, like last two days, then you're out, reconning you figure out a high route and piecing together disparate off trail segments, but then you're also sitting down writing guidebooks and doing analytical stuff. Like, yeah. What, what does it look like a day in the life of Andrew Skurka?
Andrew Skurka: Okay. So I'd like to say that I get out a ton, but I actually, I don't get out on that many overnights anymore. So this year probably like a couple of weeks worth when I was guiding trips, then I would be out for, I'd be out for a month or two, just guiding trips. And then I try to put on a few of my own personal trips on top of that. But most of the time I'd say, you know, unfortunately I spent about as much time in front of computers as everybody else.
I spent a lot of time in front of the computer. I spent a lot of time rewriting my book. So I think maybe the best way to summarize it is I'm thankful. And most of the things I can do, I can just do, and I can do independent of everything else. I don't have a boss saying, like, I need this on Tuesday. I can just sort of sit down and dedicate myself to something for however long it takes. Yeah. And some of these things, you know, the key to doing that is just to have a little bit of financial cushion, because, so for instance, when I was re when I was writing the book, I basically didn't do anything else for six months.
I was rewriting the book for you, wasn't giving presentations, it wasn't guiding trips. This dedicated heads down project.
Aaron McHugh: What I'm just curious when you released the book the first time in 2011, as you said, it came out in 12 and 12, and then now you're rewriting it in 16. Is that for income? Like, is that tens of thousands of dollars that you earned over the last four or five years from that? And so that's why you can put your head down for six months and say, Hey, I now put my head down and then now earn. So the next five years it'll be?
Andrew Skurka: I'd say that the book has been out for five years. Figure it took me say six, six to nine months to write the first time, took me about six months, this, this time. And proportionally it's equal to about that much in revenue over five years.
Aaron McHugh: So that's cool though, that you've figured out again, that to get paid for what you know, and you've spent hundreds and hundreds sounds like thousands nights out. Yeah. So that when you go do a seven minute video on how to pick a good campsite, you've done that a couple of times how they qualify.
Andrew Skurka: The thing about, so it's one of those as far as when people share their know-how. I mean, it's one thing to have the know-how and like be able to personally use it, but it's another thing to be able to explain it. So like, just because you're good at something doesn't mean you're good at teaching. That's something that I fully agree and, but it's taken me a long time to become a good teacher. So I'd say like, especially with like these videos that you've been watching campsites and how to poop in the woods and using that encompass, I, I could do those things just fine before I started guiding trips, but really was when I started getting trips and having to teach other people how to do this stuff, that I was able to develop some kind of a way of talking about these things that resonated, that was comprehensive, but succinct. And so that, that takes a while to put together. No, I'm sorry. It's an Albert Einstein quote, but I sought hanging at Apple at their headquarters. And it was basically, if you can't explain it simply, then you don't understand it well enough probably. Yeah. So it's that same kind of thing of like, here's a map, here's a compass here's declination. We were looking at when you, before we did the video series, we were trying to get a feel for what else was out there. And I mean, some of the videos that are out there are just painful to watch. Really long-winded and maybe even factually incorrect. Repeating and yeah, it wasn't that hard. We felt like we came out with a pretty solid offering.
Aaron McHugh: Yeah. So for people that are listening right now, I was telling you, you know, there's guys I've heard from, that are in New Zealand, sitting at their desks. There's guys I've heard from, that are in the UK, riding a train into London right now for their commute. So there's lots of people that there's a big gap between what you've done in the last 10 or 20 years of your life and career and what they they're doing right now. If they want to start and say, Hey, I'd love to get outside because that's really what some of those, that video series, for instances, how to poop in the woods is a basic level of getting, or how to find a camp site. Where do you even orient somebody when they just say, I don't have no one taught me to do this. Yeah. I really do love being outside, but I don't know the first thing about what to buy or not to buy or where to go or what to start with. Right. How do you even begin people as just that first baby step of here? It's, it's accessible. You can do it. You don't have to do what I do. Here's where you start. Right.
Andrew Skurka: So I think a good way to look at it is time versus money. When I was, when I was first learning to backpack, I had way more time than I had than I had money. So it was fine for me to go out there on my own and make mistake after mistake, after mistake, after mistake. And I, I could feel podcasts with them. Yeah, I just, but that was fine. I, for that point in my life I think most of the people who are listening to this podcast, most of your audience probably is in the opposite situation where the time is tight, where they, every day of their lives are torn between various commitments to to work and to their families and, you know, and then ultimately their own agendas. So I think for them there, w you know, what I always sort of pushed them to is get identity, are picking up some good credible resources you know, to get into say backpacking or hiking.
See, you'll want to figure out the gear piece. You want to find some locations to go to, and then and so like, there are other resources out there too, but I was so for free gear guide the, sort of there two books that I would point people to one is it's called trail test is by a guy named Justin Lichter. The other guy, the other book is mine, which is the ultimate hikers gear guide is published by national geographic. That first came out in 2012, but there's a second edition coming out in the spring. So those are two really good resources for gear for locations. The internet is where you want to be nowadays there, but unfortunately there are some really good guide books out there too, like for say for the Indian peaks wilderness, which is in my backyard here, Jerry roaches book, which was last published in the late eighties is still like the guide.
Yeah. Right. so, you know, I wouldn't say you know, you can find most stuff online, but don't think that just because you can't find it online, there are, you know, there are the resources elsewhere. And then but really when it comes to, when it comes to backpacking and hiking, the camping, the black arts is the skill thing. And so it's, it is it's how to navigate. It's how to find a campsite, how to poop in the woods. That's how to how to, how to prepare your food. Like how much food do you need for the trip. And then once you're out there, like, how do you deal with like if it rains all day long and how do you start a fire if it's cold and wet and windy.
Aaron McHugh: Yeah. Which is all art, yeah. Less sciences, right?
Andrew Skurka: Yeah. That's, and that's not really something you can watch the stuff in YouTube videos, and you can read about it, but really the best way to learn that stuff is by being out there. If you can you try to find if you, and if you want to dedicate a few days to it, try to find some, some courses, either some overnight courses or like REI does classes. Yep.
Aaron McHugh: We'd advise that. Then if somebody starting at zero that's that gap between art reading in a book, and then the art of actually doing it. So you get a guide, find a local shop. They take you up the learning curve. Totally. You know, rather than someone I don't offer as many guided trips as I used to, but I would say in three days I could take, I could give most people knowledge that would have take them probably like three or four years develop on their own.
Aaron McHugh: Yeah. Cool. Okay. So what's your phone number? What's your favorite for? I think a lot of guys, especially with more money than time are prone to go buy a bunch of gear, especially. Right. So especially if it comes out your gear guide and there's like, there's 22 items. It was like, all right, great. Just put them all on Amazon prime order or our home drop ship. And, but that's not the place to start. So I'm curious for you, what, what is like your, what's your favorite go-to piece of gear that you would never, you'd never do it out. And what are then the three things that you could say you definitely can live without?
Andrew Skurka: Oh okay. So let me just approach the, sort of the gear buying thing. Yeah. If you're, if your decisions are very well-informed then you could probably like, you could buy once and be like pretty close to perfect. Like if you, and you know, if you end up really using this gear, like you might find something else over time that maybe work something better, but like, you know, they're good gear lists out there where you can just buy everything on that list and be good. Okay. But what happens is most people's that they're going to REI and they're like, they're like, well, I want to start backpacking.
There's a lot of bad opinions out there about, about gear. So you know, and I, yeah, I won't say anymore. As far as your other questions, like therapies as a gear you know, I don't frankly like have like favorite pieces of gear. Like most of the stuff that I take with me, it's all like, I don't, I need it if it's like, if I don't need it, it's not going with me. I'm not going to carry dead weight. And like every piece of gear that I have serve some valuable purpose.
Aaron McHugh: Right. So when we talk about what you're known for, and you've done a lot of long distance backpacking, well, that long distance backpacking has included a high degree of shrewdness to what you carry or diaper. Yeah. So what does that, how far will you go when we're talking about ounces and pounds? And so like a couple of weeks ago I went and did a peak and I carried a whiskey bottle. It was intentional. It's deliberate, but I don't want to do it again was a glass bottle full of whiskey. And then I carried a glass bottle out.
Andrew Skurka: You can at least carry plastic. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Aaron McHugh: I didn't plan well enough in ahead ahead of schedule.
Andrew Skurka: Here's, here's the way that I look at it. So is this specific, very specific to backpacking? I'm not credible enough to speak about many other things besides backpacking. So backpacking gets us to activities, hiking and camping, and I'll with hiking that could be yeah. Actual one foot in front of the other or scrambling, or maybe you're like bike packing. But the point is that you're moving, you're like expanding energy movement over Lance and then camping. I would include not just like being in camp, but any of those extracurricular activities that people like to do, that's not moving. So fishing, journaling, birding for soccer fee boy Scouts do merit badges, any of those things that just you're outdoors, but you're not moving. So that's the way you want to look at it.
Aaron McHugh: Two plus patients, I'm either traveling or I'm doing something from a camp or from a base, from a big base.
Andrew Skurka: So then you look then you for every trip, you're like, okay, well, how how much of each am I going to be doing? And this trip that I just got back from, I was hiking all the time. Like I F I like the first night, or I pull into camp in the dark after descending a 2200 vertical feet down a ski slope in the dark. Okay. That's how my day by myself. Right. Remembering my wife's last text message to me, be careful, please. Okay. So, and then, and then I was doing, don't do this up before dark, before dark. And as soon as I could see my foot, I started walking. Okay. So that was full on, I'm hiking all the time. Okay. At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have a trip say my wife and I over Labor Day, we drove up to St. Mary's glacier. And we hiked in for a night. I brought in a full-size tent. I brought in Kindle. I brought in extra warm, sleeping bags, but like, we're just out there more to camp. Like we hiked in a couple of miles, three miles. It did involve going up and over a 12,000 foot high regional thunderstorm, but mostly, you know, mostly just camping. And we hung out in the next morning, we packed up and hiked that hike back. So it was like a difference in objective. So that's the first way you want to look at it. Now, if you going to be hiking if you're going be like hiking all the time, you want to be very deliberate about the things that in your pack, if you're going to be camping, you can be a little bit less selective. Yeah. and then, so that's kind of one spiel.
And then the other thing is that I would say that your gear and your supplies and your skills should be dependent on where you are and at what time of year. So what I pack with me for Colorado in the end of September is different than what I'll pack for. Say Colorado in June, or certainly like the white mountains in New Hampshire in July. Yeah. Right. I see what they want to be. You kind of want, and some systems stay safe, stay the same. So for example, like my stove system that I use pretty much is the same that I'll use on every solo trip, but like my choice of shelter, my trips of clothing my sleeping bag, all that stuff varies with the conditions.
Aaron McHugh: So I had this professor in college that when I went to Baylor university, we didn't your PE credits. You could take like tennis or handball or basketball, or this professor taught mountaineering, Oh, cool. Or an outdoor adventure and a rock-climbing class and a cycling class. And one of the things I remember him teaching about, and this is, you know, 20, some odd years ago is that you can make a choice to be comfortable on the trail or comfortable in camp. Yeah. So I think that's, that's netting it down as say, as I said, yeah, it was basically like, so what you're describing is what are you going to be doing? Are you going to go hang out with your wife and read, read the Kindle and chill out at a high, big, old cabin tent?
And that's where our focus is, but it's only three miles to get in. And I think that's really helpful as a beginning place for people to start thinking about, which is that you want to be more comfortable at when you get to camp. Or if you're trying to log eight to 12, 14 miles in a day on the trail, when you, you're not going to spend that much time in camp likely anyway, unless you're going in, like I know hunters, they spend a lot of time in camp once they get there, they don't mind a little suffering for a day or so to get there. Cause then they have all the comforts of camp for their five days to hang out. But I think that's a really helpful thing for people. And they start thinking about spending time outdoors, especially overnight is which, where do you want your comfort to be? And you'll hear that. You'll hear a saying
Andrew Skurka: Hike your own hike. And I, and that I think is great. And referring to someone's objectives, like, yes, like, like I'm not going to criticize you if you like to just hike in two or three miles and set up camp, but please don't criticize me if I spend my entire day hiking and like 18 to 20 miles. So hike your own hike, please, by all means. But there is a right way and a wrong way for each of those objectives. And I think that's where the confusion starts, where someone will, someone will like go to an REI and say like, Hey, I'm going to hike the Appalachian trail. And the guy at the, on the floor, just give them some the same thing that he would give to a weekend warrior. Who's just going to hike in five miles. And that's just, that's where the problems start. Okay. And the same thing go the other way, where you know, a lot of the like the ultra light crowd and the thru-hikers like, they're like, they think it's like some kind of religion and then anyone who doesn't hike like them is wrong. But the reality is that you know, if you are just going to hike in five miles in camp, and it's an easy, easy five miles, so, you know, why not carry a bottle of water?
Aaron McHugh: So tell me what, what if you think about, you mentioned earlier, I could fill some podcasts full of things I've done wrong. Yeah. What are some stories that come to mind of things that you wouldn't recommend repeating?
Andrew Skurka: So since we've, since we've mentioned it before, so in campsite selection, I remember actually this, this has a couple of couple of issues going on. So the first is that I decided I was hiking through a Middlebury, Vermont decide I was going to go into the co-op and try to like pull some stuff together to make my own dinners. And I remember I grabbed couscous, which I like. And then I grabbed some Rosemary which I like but I didn't take any salt, any other flavorings. Okay. And I put these two things to get like, no olive oil put these things together. And Kevin was like the most horrible that I've ever had. It was like eating like pine straw.
I made way too much of it. So I'm staying at this high use campsite in the Adirondacks, in the high peaks. And I make this, I make a really stupid decision to vary my food in the, in the fire pit thinking that like, someone else will burn it. Well guess who shows up in the middle of the night? A bear there? Yeah. So this is, this, this story has like all sorts of lessons. So like, so it was a lesson in food planning. Okay. Okay. Then I like, I did poor job planning or like making my meals and also like how much food I should be taking, because you had to pull off and go get some of the food co-op for starters. No, that was, I was, I was planning anyway, but I'm saying that, you know, instead of, instead of thinking that I could eat 10 ounces of couscous, like more appropriate probably would have been like three or four ounces, a cruise cruise for a single dinner. Right. So that was just a, you know, like not knowing how much I needed and then you're making
A bad recipe instead of falling something else that like an, a recipe that was online say, and then the other big mistake I made was staying at a high use campsite.
Aaron McHugh: And then why does that matter?
Andrew Skurka: Well, because it camps like that, bear, I can guarantee you that bear, that was, that bear was not the first time that he felt he's trolled that before he knew exactly where he comes there probably every night. Yeah. There's a guy every other Wednesday, like you there. Right, exactly. Who buries his food in the fire pit and the bear. I was like, sweet. So he found Rosemary. Yeah. So, and then burying your food is a horrible idea because that's exactly the way that bears and not just bears, but many bears, which are many bears are the the rodents, like the mice and squirrels and raccoons, grey Jays marmots pike is they kind of become a habituated to humans and they're just, you know, they'll scavenge to, and you know, when people are burying their food, because they didn't plan their food properly.
Aaron McHugh: Right. you know, that's how those problems start. Yeah. One of the things I remember doing, I was let's see, I think I was 20, 19, 20, and I, as a kid grew up in the Sierra Nevada's in outside in Bishop. Okay. And so I was working at this fishing lodge during the week and stocking trout and making beds and different stuff. And I'd have like a night or two week off. And so I, I think I owned a sleep sleeping pad and an old, like a army issue down wow. You know, cotton shell, you know, a sleeping bag. Right. And then I owned this backpack and I was super like, that was it. And then I had like some massive knife that weighed three pounds. So so I would cruise out and through some like PI, and so, you know, like I didn't have a stove or anything, so just whatever food I could not have to reheat and, and cruise up, grabbed my backpack, drive this Jeep up to the trail head.
And basically then head off into John Muir wilderness as where it was. So I remember I get up above maybe 12,000 feet at this Lake and arrived and sun went down whatever, and I kind of started pulling clothing out of my pack as it kept getting cooler and, you know, pull out some pants. Okay. Paula jacket. Okay. Well then I followed him like, okay, it's time to turn in. I go down to reach for my sleeping bag and it's no sleeping back. Like I'd left. It never, never made it its way into my backpack. So I'm like, Oh, it's underneath my bed. Yeah. So then I decided like, I'm going to try and tough it out. And I'm like, Oh, this will be great. This is good training. Like I'll just, you know, above tree line, try and no fires, no, no fire, no, no nothing.
So then I ended up stuffing my legs into my backpack. So I'm at least in there yeah. Down to my trunk. And then I ended up trying to find some timber to make a windbreak and all this kind of stuff. And so I think I abort mission about like 2:00 AM or something and started hiking down my then my headlamp goes and the bowl of my headlamp went out, not just the batteries. And so then I ended up having a glow stick that I could break. Yeah. And kind of meander my way down to the car by 4:00 AM. Yeah. So those are the, but that goes back to what you mentioned earlier about, there is some of it is just time out and like in anything it's just that, that rule of 10,000 hours, have you ever heard of that? It's like, there's just a thing about just doing it.
Yeah. And one of the things I hope that people would hear as I talk about adventure is that even like you just did, you did a 24 hour out and back the last two days or 48 hours. Yeah. And that's totally accessible. Most people can find two hours or 24 or 48 to just go do something. And it may mean just the something is day hiking and trying something new that you're not, you don't feel really experienced. Ah, and you might stay at a hotel down in town, let's say at the motel six, but then go back out for another eight hour day the next day. So I think that, that's what I'm hoping is that in the end, what I believe the result is is that it does aid us in living lighter in our real life because we find out what we can get, how little we can get away with in the back country.
And then when we go back to our real life, we look around and it's full of stuff. It's just really puzzling of like then every single time I go in my garage and it's like, what am I need all this stuff for? I just got by with like two t-shirts and a pair of pants and a water bottle and a stove, like, so I really think that some of it, and then the other thing too, I think is just the living adventurously is being curious about what's out there, what's in your backyard, what's in the state over what's in a country you haven't been to. And I feel like this kind of skillset, if you will, helps people live more adventurously they don't have to be as extreme as we're talking about maybe in these 30,000 miles in your twenties, but it's the same fundamental principles of what do you throw in your pack, right?
Where do you find a place to sleep? And I think it really does help people get more out of the life that we have available to us. And wherever you live, you don't have to be here in the backdrop of the flat irons to be stoked about getting outside right now.
Andrew Skurka: The one thing I will touch on that I think is relevant as far as, so this summer, and actually the last couple of weeks I been getting out at least, at least on night or two for the last month, every week. And the thing that's made a big difference in my ability to do that is just having like that pack ready to go with a sleeping bag, just basically like I lowered the yeah. With the sleeping bag, just lowered the barrier to entry and like that inconvenience of getting ready for a trip. So staged adventure. Yeah. It's basically like I've got this, I've got two plastic totes of so all gear that.
You might use on the trip. And then like before I'm about to head out, I just, I filter through it and grab the things I need, that all goes in the pack. And I earlier in the summer I packed a bunch of food. So I just go downstairs and grab out of those plastic totes. And that we actually can get out really quick. Yeah. So let's see. It was on Monday, Monday at like 3:00 AM. I call my wife, she was at her office and I'm like, Hey, I've got a big ask for you. I'd like to get out for an overnight tomorrow night and she's like really great. She's really gracious. She's like, sure, just go for it. Cause she knows that the summer is about to end here and and you know, within an hour I was ready, makes that makes a big difference in the ability to get out. Okay.
Aaron McHugh: That's super cool. So in terms of you, the listener think of staging and I have what I call my joy bucket, I'll show you in my trunk. Okay. That is similar. And what I do is I would call it's like stage for micro adventures. Okay. So it may be as easy as, Hey, I just want to pull over and the traffic is heavy and so I'm going to go for a run instead, right. To I've got a stove and some food to sunscreen to kind of like, I'd call it bare essentials essentially. But it enables for me to quickly eliminate that, oh, I don't have my stuff as a reason to eliminate that reason to make it easier and more accessible. Right. Okay, cool. Yeah. I think we're probably doing the same. That sounds good. And back at home,
So talk to us about what what's on the adventure list, like big, tall things of our life list of when you talk about high routes, I'd love if you decode a little bit more to the non high route person, what does that mean?
Andrew Skurka: So most people are familiar with like a long distance trail, like say the Appalachian trail or the John Muir trail or Pacific crest trail. Those have become, you know, have actually entered the popular pop culture now with movies, like wild. Yeah, so I've done a lot of those long distance trips and they were great at the time, but as the way I described now, like imagine imagine you're like, you're like you've gotten your master's and like you're working on your PhD and someone is like, Hey, like, you know, do you think you want to go back to fourth grade and repeat it because in terms of like the skill set, you need to do those long distance trails, it's just, it's just not very high. You just, you following maintained trail, they're like Outfitters along the way and hostels and places where you can resupply and it's just, and their shelters and the Appalachian trail.
So it's kind of like, it's more of us. I don't want to say spoonfed, cause it is very deep. It was, some of those trips are really difficult for me at the time, at the time. Right. So, so the other issue with those long distance trails is that you have like miles and miles, miles of pretty marginal terrain that separates all the highlights. And so my idea with these, with these high roots is inspired by this guy named Steve Roper who put together the first high route that I know of called the the Sierra high route. It's 200 miles. And it runs kind of roughly parallel to the John Muir trail, but it stays mostly off trail and it just explores a lot of like basins and that you would never get to. And and, and what was, what appealed to me so much as there was still a long distance hike, still like a through hike kind of thing, where it was like a, you know, more, a point to point. But that it was much more physically demanding that it required a higher degree of Pat country skills. And the best part was though is that the whole thing was awesome. Start to finish.
For a week, you're in a thrilling place. And then it's like a week of like getting a slog and it just put my put in miles. Yeah. So that's kind of the, the, the thing about through hikes is that they're just, they're really intense. They're just, it's a much more concentrated experience. Okay. And a much more demanding, so yeah.
Aaron McHugh: For some high route for you, then his PhD level basically. Yeah. And so, but it's super sparse with people
Andrew Skurka: Right. Far, fewer people, much less infrastructure in terms of trails and established camps. You know, there are no bear boxes or anything like that. And so my, it works, these things worked great for me right now because I don't have, I don't have as much time to get out. And when I do get out, I want to really make them make it count. And these, these high routes can be through Heights point to point, or they can be section height through like a series of loops. So my kind of my focus in the last couple of years has been not just doing these hires, but also putting together guides for them. Which is super cool, which has been great because I get like, it's like a double whammy for me where I get out, I get to get out and go explore these places. And then I get to come back and then sit down, have something to do during the winter.
Aaron McHugh: Yeah. Oh, cool. Okay. So you in recon, so like I know one of 'em, so you have a Sierra high route guide. You've got a wind river.
Andrew Skurka: Yeah. I wrote guy Kings Canyon, high base. I've been working on a F like this summer and I've been spending a lot of time in the front range just because this is where I live. But last, last month particular, I've been trying to round out this high route for the front range. It's actually very similar it's I need to talk to Jerry Roach about it. Cause it's his fifth near traverse is very similar, but I think there's like, if nothing else, at least an opportunity to dust off the idea from his guidebook. Yeah. Bring it into a more modern age.
Aaron McHugh: Cool. Yeah. So I want to switch and just talk about the PR your personal life. So this is all the cool stuff, right. And I'm sure it is. No, no, no. I don't mean that it's not, but I, what I like to do, like I mentioned earlier is there's also these things don't come free, right. Like to go do, to go do this kind of work, whether it's time you're away or it's phoning into your wife. Hey, is it cool if I get out again? Like what, what does that look like? What are the, what are the I guess the, the non-glamorous, you know, what are some of the challenges that you face in trying to pull this off as a gig as your career?
Andrew Skurka: When I first started, like really like pursuing this as a legitimate occupation, the biggest challenge was that I was almost everything that I was doing involved. Time, time spent away. So I was, if I go do a presentation, it's a night away, or maybe two nights away. If I go to book tour, it's time away. If I go guy trips, it's time away. So the first year that my wife and I were actually the year that my wife and I got married, I think I was away like a hundred or 110 days. We got married. That's tough. It's the 10th of August, 10 days later, I left to guide three weeks worth of trips. And by the time I got back, I'd spent twice as much time with my assistant guide as I had with my new wife. Okay. So that's new mirror set the tone really well.
So that was the most challenging thing at the start. I have since been able to transition my business and get away from some of those things. Like I, the show I didn't guide any trips last year, I guided for fewer, I think this year I've only given like the two or three presentations. Okay. So you're migrating away from those categories and stuff that I can do basically from my home office, which is also cool too, because what the stuff you're creating is actually sustainable and renewable income, more passive income and, and if skills a lot better. So, you know, I don't want to, I'm like always kind of reluctant about giving, like, you know, like the ins and outs of my business, because I want to make it clear, like I'm still passionate about backpacking, hiking and ultra running. But, and I look at the business you know, it's a tool to sustain those other things, but I would also say too, like I enjoy being an entrepreneur and there's nothing wrong with that.
So like, if like I don't think I would enjoy making widgets quite as much, but there are things that I would enjoy about just making widgets, you know, about. So but yes, the, the things that I'm into now, so be it online content, these guides that I'm selling my book, those things I'll scale. So, whereas if I got a trip, you know, it's much more quality over quantity. I can take out say 10 people at a time and give them an awesome experience for their summer or maybe for their life. But I can only impact 10 people in a week or three days. Whereas in the cost personal cost to you to of doing three months of that a year is, is, yeah. It just makes having a non dirt bag life. Like you mentioned, those dirt bag years is a lot easier to pull off. Yeah. If I was still a dirt bag, then I could get guide six months of trips a year, but yeah, yeah.
Aaron McHugh: Yeah. So what does it look like for, for you in terms of like hanging out local what's, you know, having friends over for dinner, like what you guys go up and camp, like what, what's kinda just your personal, non I'm not scouting, I'm not writing, I'm not speaking, I'm not product developing sear design. Like, what do you, how do you roll?
Andrew Skurka: So I running is hugely important to me. So start run, you know, usually at least somewhere between an hour and two hours a day. So that's going to be like, that's a standard part of my life. But otherwise my wife, hasn't a basic nine to five job at CU. So probably a little bit more nine to five at some times. You know, I'm I'd say like at home we live a pretty normal life, you know, I'm, I'm usually make the dinner. We usually try to do like a date night a week. The weekends are maybe we'll head down to castle rock to see her sister and brother-in-law and nephew. Maybe we'll just get out for a quick overnight last weekend we went up to Kirby ranch to go do some good, do some leaf-peeping I'm a big fan of most things on Netflix, so yeah, it's pretty normal, you know, I hate to use the word domesticated, but yeah. I mean, sometimes we have a, we have a cat that we adore nice. We intentionally have not decided to have children, so. All right, cool. Yeah.
Aaron McHugh: So on your list of adventures, conquests, big trails, all these things. What have you failed at w what's on the, did not finish list? Do you have anything finished list, turn around lists or revenge lists?
Andrew Skurka: No. There are a couple of trips that I failed at years ago. 2006 ish time period, but in retrospect they were, they didn't matter. I th anything that I failed at that I was disappointed that I felt like I needed to finish up I've since gone back and finished up. So like the biggest thing that was kind of like a, so 2014, Buzzsprout Peter back when we try to do the like we try to do, like, what we thought was kind of like, you know, the sort of wind through the wind river range. And we got turned around by a big pass with hard ice on it. And so I went up last summer and was able to finish that up. So felt pretty good about that. But yeah, I don't have anything that's like hanging over me, right.
Aaron McHugh: So yours is, sounds like it might be deeper than mine. I've still got a couple left. So the is, you know, from racing, the DNF is, do not finish. So if you end up with any kind of racing triathlon or marathon or ultra marathon or whatever, and if you don't finish, then they will buy your finished time. They'll put, DNF did not finish. So those things, just me nuts. And I was just telling a buddy this couple of weeks ago, so I still have Mount Rainier. I've been on twice and haven't submitted, so that's on my DNF list still. And I had a chance to go in. It was July this year and my nephew ended up making it to the baseball world series. So I chose to go that instead. And then that team did end up summiting. So I was like, ah, and then I have, what else? One of the, I have one of the peak that I turned around on was kit Carson. Okay. We couldn't cross, it was a spring melt off issue. So we couldn't get across a big Creek on the backside, on the side of Crestone. Yep. And then I'm down to 17 of the 54th fourteeners I've left and then I've got 19 of the 58, but none of the other than kit Carson, that's my only one that I've had. So I'm yeah. So I used to have a longer list is my point on the DNF.
Andrew Skurka: So one thing I will say, so these high rates of you have definitely given me they've taught me a few things about how to balance work and play and family and stuff. And your Rainier story is probably similar. But the one thing I've learned is that when you take on big ambitious projects like this, the key thing that you need to give yourself as time, they rarely, when you take on something big, it rarely goes like, well site, the first time, it's, you're very likely just like pull up park the car, go to exactly what you'd hope to do. And come on back. It's very true on a big tall order like that. And so I found that and that was actually like one of the issues with so like the wind river route with, with buzz and Peter, and then a couple of other, a couple, two other friends that I would try to do a route down in Southern Utah. And again, like we just short-changed ourselves with time. Like we had other stuff going on and these like these things, don't, it's very unlikely that it's just going to happen. Right. So if you give yourself just like that extra and that's good advice too. Sometimes that makes the difference of you being able to like, like, you know, you're at the kit Carson and you're like, Hey guys, like, we can't cross this river right now this afternoon, but if we just spend the night right here, this thing's going to go down tonight and we can cross it in the morning and get up kit Carson instead. You're yeah. Because if it's not your house
Aaron McHugh: Totally. Yeah. Yeah. And it I find that I like how you stated that too is just basically building a buffer. Yeah. If you're going to try it, that the larger, the thing you're going to attempt, the bigger, the quest that you're on, the more margin to afford yourself, which is sometimes hard to come by is I know, but maybe that's better.
Andrew Skurka: I think it's important. Here's another great example where I had some friends who claim right near the summer and they got a winter weather window and it all went swimmingly for them. Like they pulled up and their guides like, okay, let's go. We get a weather window. And they went up, they submitted, they came back and then like the next two cycles of guided trips that went up, like for the immediately after them, they both August shut down, get kicked in the teeth, cause the weather. Whereas like, you know, if you can you go sit at the base of Rainier and just wait for a windows window and we for window and you might have to wait for a week, but if you really want to get something done, sometimes you need to give it that flexibility. Because if you're doing like something big, big, and the, you know, it's tall orders you described like, yeah, it's probably bigger than you.
You can't force it. Like it needs, like, it kind of needs to be on its terms. So like Raine does not get done in a violent storm and just not know you're going to die. So whereas, and then like, these hybrids are the same way. Like if you, if you're trying to walk the contents of dividing Colorado at 13,000 feet linking up, you know, flora and Bancroft and James you're not going to do it if it's, you know, going on, like this is your hair lighting up in the back of your neck. So it's treat to prepare yourself to just wait, like you know, wait down below and wait for that afternoon storm to pass over. And then, do you think you were able to do that in your twenties? Or is that a 35 year old version of you talking now?
Yeah, that's definitely a 35 year old version. I, I definitely try to push some things in the twenties, in my twenties. I also don't think that most of the things I did in my twenties, you know, they weren't as sort of naturally risky. So you know, I don't recall my twenties ever doing a, every train, like walk the concept of light for like extended periods of time. Or what that means to the listener is just this it's it's the watershed divide between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and in Colorado, it's a sort of in a very it's not impenetrable, but it's, it, it is a big topographic barrier and it's as high Ridge. And usually at somewhere between 10 and 14,000 feet and really exposed, exposed almost entirely above any weather, lightening, prone, storms, ice, all of it.
Aaron McHugh: Yeah, totally. So what piece of advice would you, would you leave someone with who's soon to say, okay, Hey I hear ya. I'm gonna give this thing a go and wherever I am and whatever my backyard looks like, what's kind of leaving partying piece of wisdom that you would just say, it's overarching for this adventurous thing you do go.
Andrew Skurka: It's really simple. And it's, I know it's not that easy, but you know, there, there is nothing that is a substitute for personal experience, nothing. Okay. So you can read all about it and, you know, and, and I can't say, like, there's a reason why, like, online forums about backpacking. Cause it was like, I swear some people spend more time on those backpacking farms and they actually do backpacking. Yeah. And I guess, you know, if it's eight o'clock at night and dark and it's December what else are you gonna do? But you know, nothing replicates personal experience.
Aaron McHugh: Love it. Go G-O. yeah. Do this has been fun. Has it been good?
Andrew Skurka: Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for having me on again.
Aaron McHugh: You've been listening to Work Life Play. If you like what you've heard, please do us a favor and rate us on iTunes. It really does help. You can get more information about this and other episodes at aaronmchugh.com. Thanks for listening. Thanks for being part of this adventure for being part of braving, the pioneering work of discovering sustainable work life, play rhythms, love your work, live your life, and play a whole lot more. I'm Aaron McHugh. Keep going.
*We've done our best for this transcription to accurately reflect the conversation. Errors are possible. Thank you for your patience and grace if you find errors that our team missed.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.