It’s been almost a year since I last posted on The Hiking Life. Even by my sporadic publishing standards that’s a long time between drinks. Indeed, it’s gotten to the point where I’m regularly receiving messages from readers asking if I’m OK.
In short, I haven’t (entirely) disappeared off the face of the earth and things are good. Well, at least as good as they can be given the brave new world we currently find ourselves in. Hopefully, this article will go some way in explaining what I’ve been up to on the hiking front during my time away.
First up – the website and social media. In both cases, my absence wasn’t a planned one. For much of 2021, I’ve been penning another Wanderlust book for Gestalten (release date – April/May 2022). This one will feature 30 hikes in the Himalaya, a range I spent a good deal of time exploring during the 2000s.
Early on in the writing process, I made the decision to prioritize the book over The Hiking Life (in all of its online guises). Like many folks, I’ve had some important non-work issues to navigate during the pandemic, and rather than spread myself too thin professionally (which I’ve been guilty of in the past), I decided to focus on the job I’m contractually obligated to deliver.
Stepping away from social media was the easy part. I’ve never used Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, for personal communication; I’ve always seen them as complements to the website more than anything else (a reflection of both age and a retiring disposition). Something to have the occasional bit of fun with. Indeed, if you ever see me posting “Hey everyone, where should I take my significant other for dinner?“, “Should I wear a tie with this?“, or “Here’s the latest photo of my neighbor’s adorable tabby“, then you’ll know my life really has gone to shit, and there will be something to genuinely worry about.
The website was a different story. Admittedly, I’ve missed publishing the occasional article. Since it first went live in 2010, The Hiking Life has been the primary means through which I’ve shared my life-long love of exploring the world on foot. A small way of giving back, for everything the wilderness has given me over the past four decades. So even though I haven’t posted in a while, I’ve been continually jotting down ideas for trip reports, skills articles, backpacking satire, and other random wilderness-related musings. Over the coming months, some of those ideas will be manifested into posts.
So much for the
excuses explanations. While I was chipping away at the book and wading through the murky waters of COVID, I continued hiking almost daily. Through all the curfews, constantly changing regulations, and travel bans, the precious hours I spent in the mountains around my Mexican home were a sanity preserver. Catching the sunrise from a ridgetop perch, listening to the morning birdsong, feeling the warmth of the first rays of dawn; these simple rituals helped me to calibrate my internal compass and start the days feeling positive and renewed. I’ve said it multiple times before on this website – Mother Nature has an uncanny knack for putting life into perspective. And never is this more true than during tough and uncertain times (Note: The three photos immediately below are from the Sierra Madre).
Alaska & the Pacific Northwest
As much as I enjoyed hiking locally during 2020 and the first half of 2021, not surprisingly, my mind occasionally drifted to areas further afield. Options were somewhat limited due to COVID, but the one place that kept popping up in my noggin was Alaska.
I’d only ever been there once before. In the summer of 1998, I took the state ferry up from Bellingham, WA, and subsequently spent an incredible few months exploring both the ‘Last Frontier’ and the Yukon. It was one of my all-time favourite trips, and I always envisaged making a return journey.
Fast forward to July 2021. After finishing my work commitments, I headed north and spent an incredible month hiking in Denali National Park and Gates of the Arctic National Park. The first route took seven days, covered around 190 km (118 mi), and wound its way (mostly) through the southern section of Denali from the Visitors Center to Wonder Lake Campground via West Fork Glacier. The second undertaking was a 15 day, approximately 482 km (300 miles) route in Gates of the Arctic, which we began and ended in the tiny village of Anaktuvuk Pass. I was joined on both Alaskan routes by my old (a very spry 84) hiking partner, Greg “Malto” Gressel, who long-time readers of the website will be familiar with from trips to places such as the Wind River Range, the Lofoten Islands, and the Lowest to Highest Route in Southern California.
The original plan was to spend a couple of months in Alaska. However, work and family obligations meant I left Mexico later than anticipated. The eleventh-hour change was a blessing in disguise, as it gave me the opportunity of combining Alaska, with a month of hiking and catching up with old friends in the Pacific Northwest.
In a nutshell, the final four weeks of my US trip featured a series of shorter hikes in the PNW that included the Loowit Trail, Steens Mountain Loop, Elkhorn Crest Trail, a section of the Oregon Coast Trail, and finally, a series of incredible walks through the Redwoods of northern California. My partners in crime during these rambles were Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa, Naomi Hudetz, and Mike Unger, all of whom I was fortunate enough to meet during the 12 Long Walks trip of 2011/12.
I’d like to finish this article with some shout-outs. Firstly, thanks to The Hiking Life readers for their patience. Secondly, thanks to Malto for being such a steady and stoic hiking partner up in Alaska. And, finally, thanks to Allgood, Mike, and Naomi for being such fun travel companions during our hiking-centric road trip around the Pacific Northwest.
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