Into the woods: how one man survived alone in the wilderness for 27 years

There have been hermits – also known as recluses, monks, misanthropes, ascetics, anchorites, swamis – at all times in recorded history, across all cultures. But there are really only three general reasons why people leave the world.

by Michael Finkel, for The Guardian  

Christopher Knight was only 20 years old when he walked away from society, not to be seen again for more than a quarter of a century. He had been working for less than a year installing home and vehicle alarm systems near Boston, Massachusetts, when abruptly, without giving notice to his boss, he quit his job. He never even returned his tools. He cashed his final pay cheque and left town.

Knight did not tell anyone where he was going. “I had no one to tell,” he says. “I didn’t have any friends. I had no interest in my co-workers.” He drove down the east coast of America, eating fast food and staying in cheap motels – “the cheapest I could find”. He travelled for days, alone, until he found himself deep into Florida, sticking mostly to major roads, watching the world go by.

Eventually, he turned around and headed north. He listened to the radio. Ronald Reagan was president; the Chernobyl nuclear disaster had just occurred. Driving through Georgia and the Carolinas and Virginia, blessed with invincibility of youth, buzzed by “the pleasure of driving”, he sensed an idea growing into a realisation, then solidifying into resolve.

All his life, he had been comfortable being alone. Interacting with others was so often frustrating. Every meeting with another person seemed like a collision.

He drove north to Maine, where he had grown up. There aren’t many roads in the centre of the state, and he chose the one that went right by his family’s house. “I think it was just to have one last look around, to say goodbye,” he said. He didn’t stop. The last time he saw his family home was through the windscreen of his car.

He kept going, “up and up and up”. Soon he reached the shore of Moosehead Lake, the largest in Maine, and the point where the state begins to get truly remote. “I drove until I was nearly out of gas. I took a small road. Then a small road off that small road. Then a trail off that.” He went as far into the wilderness as his vehicle could take him.

Knight parked the car and tossed the keys on the centre console. He had a tent and a backpack but no compass, no map. Without knowing where he was going, with no particular place in mind, he stepped into the trees and walked away.

Why would a 20-year-old man abruptly abandon the world? The act had elements of a suicide, except he didn’t kill himself. “To the rest of the world, I ceased to exist,” said Knight. Following his disappearance, Knight’s family must have suffered; they had no idea what had happened to him, and couldn’t completely accept the idea that he might be dead.

His final gesture, leaving his keys in the car, was particularly strange. Knight was raised with a keen appreciation of the value of money, and the car was the most expensive item he had ever purchased. Why not hold on to the keys as a safety net? What if he didn’t like camping out?

“The car was of no use to me. It had just about zero gas and I was miles and miles from any gas station,” he said. As far as anyone knows, the car is still there, half-swallowed by the forest. Knight said that he didn’t really know why he left. He had given the question plenty of thought but had never arrived at a specific answer. “It’s a mystery,” he declared.

There have been hermits – also known as recluses, monks, misanthropes, ascetics, anchorites, swamis – at all times in recorded history, across all cultures. But there are really only three general reasons why people leave the world.

Most do so for religious purposes, to forge a closer bond with a higher power. Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha all spent significant time alone before introducing a new religion to the world. In Hindu philosophy, everyone ideally matures into a kind of hermit, and today at least four million people live as wandering holy men in India, surviving off the charity of strangers, having renounced all familial and material attachments.

Other hermits opt out of civilisation because of a hatred of what the world has become – too much war, or environmental destruction, or crime, or consumerism. The first great literary work about solitude, the Tao Te Ching, was written in China in the sixth century BC by a hermit named Laozi, who was protesting the corrupt state of society. The Tao Te Ching says that it is only through retreat rather than pursuit, through inaction rather than action, that we acquire wisdom.
Christopher Knight: inside the Maine hermit’s lair
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The final category includes those who wish to be alone for reasons of artistic freedom, scientific insight or deeper self-understanding. Henry David Thoreau went to Walden Pond in Massachusetts to journey within, to explore “the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s being”. English historian Edward Gibbon said that “solitude was the school for genius”.

Knight fit into none of these categories – he did not follow any formal religion; he was not protesting modern society; he produced no artwork or philosophical treatise. He never took a photograph or wrote a sentence; not a single person knew where he was. His back was fully turned to the world. There was no clear reason for what he chose to do. Something he couldn’t quite pinpoint had tugged him away from the world with the persistence of gravity. He was one of the longest‑enduring solitaries in history, and among the most fervent as well. Christopher Knight was a true hermit.

“I can’t explain my actions,” he said. “I had no plans when I left, I wasn’t thinking of anything. I just did it.”

Knight’s goal was to get lost. Not just lost to the rest of the world but actually lost in the woods by himself. He carried only rudimentary camping supplies, a few articles of clothing and a little food. “I had what I had,” he said, “and nothing more.”

It is not easy to get truly lost. Anyone with basic outdoor skills generally knows which way they are heading. The sun burns west across the sky, and from there it is natural to set the other directions. Knight knew that he was heading south. He said that he didn’t make a conscious decision to do so. Instead, he felt pulled in that direction, like a homing pigeon. “There was no depth or substance to the idea. It was at the instinctual level. It’s instinct among animals to return to home territory, and my home ground, where I was born and raised, was that way.”

Maine is partitioned into a series of long north-south valleys, the geologic clawmark left by glaciers surging and retreating. Separating the valleys are strings of mountains, now weather-worn and bald-topped like old men. The valley floors at the time of year when Knight arrived were a summer soup of ponds and wetlands and bogs.
A television found at Christopher Knight’s camp. Photograph: Portland Press Herald/Getty Images
“I kept largely to the ridges,” Knight said, “and sometimes crossed swamps going from one ridge to another.” He worked his way along crumbled slopes and muddy wetlands. “Soon I lost track of where I was. I didn’t care.” He would camp in one spot for a week or so, then head south yet again. “I kept going,” he said. “I was content in the choice I had made.”

Content except for one thing: food. Knight was hungry, and he really didn’t know how he would feed himself. His departure from the outside world was a confounding mix of incredible commitment and complete lack of forethought – not all that strange for a 20-year-old. It was as if he went camping for the weekend and then didn’t come home for a quarter of a century. He was an able hunter and angler, but he took neither a gun nor a rod with him. Still, he didn’t want to die, at least not then. Knight’s idea was to forage. The wilds of Maine are monumentally broad, though not generous. There are no fruit trees. Berries sometimes have a weekend-long season. Without hunting or trapping or fishing, a person is going to starve.

Knight worked his way south, eating very little, until paved roads appeared. He found a road-killed partridge, but did not possess a stove or a way to easily start a fire, so he ate it raw. Neither a tasty meal nor a hearty one, and a good way to get sick. He passed houses with gardens, but was raised with rigid morals and a great deal of pride. You make do on your own, always. No handouts or government assistance, ever. You know what’s right and what’s wrong, and the dividing line is usually clear.

But try not eating for 10 days – nearly everyone’s restraints will be eroded. Hunger is hard to ignore. “It took a while to overcome my scruples,” Knight said, but as soon as his principles began to fall away, he snapped off a few ears of corn from one garden, dug up some potatoes from another, and ate a couple of green vegetables.

Once, during his first weeks away, he spent the night in an unoccupied cabin. It was a miserable experience. “The stress of that, the sleepless worry about getting caught, programmed me not to do that again.” Knight never slept indoors after that, not once, no matter how cold or rainy the weather.
Christopher Knight’s camp. Photograph: Portland Press Herald/Getty Images
He continued moving south, picking through gardens, and eventually reached a region with a familiar distribution of trees, along with a diversity of birdcalls and a temperature range he felt accustomed to. It had been colder up north. Knight wasn’t sure precisely where he was, but he knew that it was home ground. It turned out that he was less than 30 miles, as the crow flies, from his childhood home.

In the early days, nearly everything Knight learned was through trial and error. He had been gifted with a good head for figuring out workable solutions to complicated problems. All his skills, from the rigging of the tarps that formed his shelter, to how to store drinking water, to walking through the forest without leaving tracks, went through multiple revisions and were never considered perfect. Tinkering with his systems was one of Knight’s hobbies.

Over the next few months, Knight tried living in several places in the area – including inside a dank hole in a riverbank – all without satisfaction. Finally, he stumbled upon a region of nasty, boulder-choked woods without so much as a game trail running through it; far too harsh for hikers. He liked it immediately. Then he discovered a cluster of boulders, one with a hidden opening that led to a tiny, wondrous clearing. “I knew at once it was ideal. So I settled in.”

Still, he remained hungry. Knight was beginning to realise that is almost impossible to live by yourself all the time. You need help. Hermits across history often ended up in deserts or mountains or woodlands – the sorts of places where it was extremely difficult to find or catch all your own food. To feed themselves, some of the Desert Fathers – third-century Christian Hermits from Egypt – wove reed baskets and sold them. In ancient China, hermits were shamans, herbalists and diviners. Later, a fad for hermits swept 18th-century England. It was believed that hermits radiated kindness and thoughtfulness, so advertisements were placed in newspapers for “ornamental hermits” who were lax in grooming and willing to sleep in caves on the country estates of the aristocracy. The job paid well and hundreds were hired, typically on seven-year contracts. Some of the hermits would even emerge at dinner parties and greet guests.

Knight, however, felt that anyone’s willing assistance tainted the whole enterprise. He wished to be unconditionally alone; an uncontacted tribe of one.

The cabins around the ponds in central Maine, Knight noted, had minimal security measures. Windows were often left open, even when the owners were away. The woods offered excellent cover, and with few permanent residents, the area would always be empty during the off-season. A summer camp with a big pantry was nearby. The easiest way to become a hunter-gatherer here was obvious.

And so Knight decided to steal.

To commit a thousand break-ins before getting caught, a world-class streak, requires precision and patience, daring and luck. It also demands a specific understanding of people. “I looked for patterns,” Knight said. “Everyone has patterns.”

He perched at the edge of the woods and meticulously observed the habits of the families with cabins along the ponds. He watched their quiet breakfasts and dinner parties, their visitors and vacancies, the cars moving up and down the road. Nothing Knight saw tempted him to return to his former life. His surveillance was clinical, informational, mathematical. He did not learn anyone’s name. All he sought was to understand migration patterns – when people went shopping, when a cabin was unoccupied. After that, he said, everything in his life became a matter of timing. The ideal time to steal was deep in the night, midweek, preferably when it was overcast, best in the rain. A heavy downpour was prime. People stayed out of the woods when it was wet.

Still, Knight did not walk on roads or trails, just in case, and he never launched a raid on a Friday or Saturday – days he knew had arrived from the obvious surge in lakeside noise.

For a while, he opted to go out when the moon was large, so he could use it as a light source. In later years, when he suspected the police had intensified their search for him, he switched to no moon at all. Knight liked to vary his methods. He didn’t want to develop any patterns of his own, though he did make it a habit to embark on a raid only when freshly shaved or with a neatly groomed beard, and wearing clean clothing, so as to reduce suspicion on the slight chance that he was spotted.

There were at least 100 cabins in Knight’s thieving repertoire. The ideal was a fully stocked place, with the family away until the weekend. He knew, in many cases, the precise number of steps required to reach a particular cabin, and once he selected a target, he bounded and weaved through the forest. Sometimes, if he was headed far or needed a load of propane or a replacement mattress it was easier to travel by canoe. Canoes are difficult to hide, and if you steal one, the owner will call the police. It was wiser to borrow, and there was a large selection around the lake, some up on sawhorses and seldom used.

Knight was capable of reaching homes anywhere along the largest pond near his hidden campsite. “I’d think nothing of paddling for hours, whatever needed to be done.” If the water was choppy, he would place a few rocks in the front of the boat to keep it stable. Typically, he stayed close to shore, cloaked against the trees, hiding in the silhouette of the land, though on a stormy night he would paddle across the middle, alone in the dark and lashed by the rain.

When he arrived at his chosen cabin, he would make sure there were no vehicles in the driveway, no sign of someone inside. Burglary is a dicey business, with a low margin for error. One mistake and the outside world would snatch him back. So he crouched in the dark and waited, sometimes for hours. “I enjoy being in the dark,” he said.

He never risked breaking into a home occupied year-round, and he always wore a watch so he could monitor the time.

Sometimes, cabins were left unlocked. Those were the easiest to enter, though soon other places became nearly as simple. Knight had keys to them, found during previous break-ins. He stashed each key on its respective property, typically under some nondescript rock. He created several dozen of these stashes and never forgot where one was.

He noticed when several cabins left out pens and paper, requesting a shopping list, and others offered him bags of supplies, hanging from a doorknob. But he was fearful of traps, or tricks, or initiating any sort of correspondence, even a grocery list. So he left everything untouched, and people stopped.

For the majority of his break-ins, Knight worked the lock on a window or door. He always carried his lock-breaking kit, a gym bag with a collection of screwdrivers and flat bars and files, all of which he had stolen, and could defeat all but the most fortified bolts with the perfect little jiggle of just the right tool. When he had finished stealing, he would often reseal the hasp on the window he had unlatched and exit through the front door, making sure the handle was set, if possible, to lock up behind himself. No need to leave the place vulnerable to thieves.
The bow of a canoe on Lang Pond in Maine’s Northern Forest. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
As the local residents invested in security upgrades, Knight adapted. He knew about alarms from his one paying job, and he used this knowledge to continue stealing – sometimes disabling systems or removing memory cards from surveillance cameras. He evaded dozens of attempts to catch him, by both police officers and private citizens. The crime scenes he left behind were so clean that the authorities offered their begrudging respect. “The level of discipline he showed while he broke into houses,” said one police officer, “is beyond what any of us can remotely imagine – the legwork, the reconnaissance, the talent with locks, his ability to get in and out without being detected.”

A burglary report filed by another officer specifically noted the crime’s “unusual neatness”. The hermit, many officers felt, was a master thief. It was as if he were showing off, picking locks yet stealing little, playing a strange sort of game.

Knight said the moment he opened a lock and entered a home, he always felt a hot wave of shame. “Every time, I was very conscious that I was doing wrong. I took no pleasure in it, none at all.” Once inside a cabin, he moved purposefully, hitting the kitchen first before making a quick sweep of the house, looking for any useful items, or the batteries he always required. He never turned on a light. He used only a small torch attached to a metal chain he wore around his neck.

During a burglary, there wasn’t a moment’s ease. “My adrenaline was spiking, my heart rate was soaring. My blood pressure was high. I was always scared when stealing. Always. I wanted it over as quickly as possible.”

When Knight was finished with the inside of the cabin, he would habitually check the gas grill to see if the propane tank was full. If so, and there was an empty spare lying around, he would replace the full one with an empty, making the grill appear untouched.

Then he would load everything into a canoe, if he had borrowed one, and paddle to the shore closest to his camp to unload. He would return the canoe to the spot he had taken it from, sprinkle some pine needles on the boat to make it appear unused, then haul his loot up through the dense woods, between the rocks, to his home.

Each raid brought Knight enough supplies to last about two weeks, and as he settled once more into his room in the woods – “back in my safe place, success” – he experienced a deep sense of peace.

Knight said that he couldn’t accurately describe what it felt like to spend such an immense period of time alone. Silence does not translate into words. “It’s complicated,” he said. “Solitude bestows an increase in something valuable. I can’t dismiss that idea. Solitude increased my perception. But here’s the tricky thing: when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. There was no audience, no one to perform for. There was no need to define myself. I became irrelevant.”

The dividing line between himself and the forest, Knight said, seemed to dissolve. His isolation felt more like a communion. “My desires dropped away. I didn’t long for anything. I didn’t even have a name. To put it romantically, I was completely free.”

Virtually everyone who has tried to describe deep solitude has said something similar. “I am nothing; I see all,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. Lord Byron called it “the feeling infinite”. The American mystic Thomas Merton said that “the true solitary does not seek himself, but loses himself”.

For those who do not choose to be alone – like prisoners and hostages – a loss of one’s socially created identity can be terrifying, a plunge into madness. Psychologists call it “ontological insecurity”, losing your grip on who you are. Edward Abbey, in Desert Solitaire, a chronicle of two six‑month stints as a ranger in Utah’s Arches National Monument, said that being solitary for a long time “means risking everything human”. Knight, meanwhile, didn’t even keep a mirror in his camp. He was never once bored. He wasn’t sure, he said, that he even understood the concept of boredom. “I was never lonely,” Knight added. He was attuned to the completeness of his own presence rather than to the absence of others.

“If you like solitude,” he said, “you are never alone.”

Knight was finally arrested, after 27 years of complete isolation, while stealing food at a lakeside summer camp. He was charged with burglary and theft, and taken to the local jail. His arrest caused an enormous commotion – letters and visitors arrived at the jail, and approximately 500 journalists requested an interview. A documentary film team showed up. A woman proposed marriage.
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Knight is escorted into Kennebec County Superior Court to enter pleas for multiple burglaries and thefts. Photograph: Portland Press Herald/Press Herald via Getty Images
Everyone wanted to know what the hermit would say. What insights had he gained while he was alone? What advice did he have for the rest of us? People have been approaching hermits with similar requests for thousands of years, eager to consult with someone whose life has been so radically different to their own.

Profound truths, or at least those that make sense of the seeming randomness of life, are difficult to find. Thoreau wrote that he had reduced his existence to its basic elements so that he could “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life”.

Knight did, eventually permit one journalist to meet him, and over the course of nine one-hour visits in the jail, the hermit shared his life story – about how he was able to survive, and what it felt like to live alone for so long.

And once, when he was in an especially introspective mood, Knight seemed willing, despite his typical aversion to dispensing wisdom, to share more of what he gleaned while alone. Was there, the journalist asked him, some grand insight revealed to him in the wild?

Knight sat quietly but he eventually arrived at a reply.

“Get enough sleep,” he said.

He set his jaw in a way that conveyed he wouldn’t be saying any more. This was what he’d learned. It was, without question, the truth.

This is an adapted extract of The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel, published by Simon and Schuster

Source: Into the woods: how one man survived alone in the wilderness for 27 years | Michael Finkel | News | The Guardian

Exclusive: FBI joins probe into Mo Farah coach Alberto Salazar

by Ben Rumsby, Daily Telegraph

The FBI has been dragged into the drugs probe into Sir Mo Farah’s coach as anti-doping investigators step up their pursuit of Alberto Salazar.

Telegraph Sport can reveal that the United States Anti-Doping Agency has enlisted the assistance of America’s national intelligence and law-enforcement service in what is now a four-year inquiry into the man who transformed Farah into Great Britain’s greatest ever track-and-field athlete.

News that the FBI, which brought Fifa to its knees, is working with Usada chief executive Travis Tygart, who brought down Lance Armstrong, emerged less than two weeks after a leaked report from the agency accused Salazar of “unlawful” conduct.

It also came days after it was reported Usada was seeking to retest Farah’s blood samples for the banned substance EPO, or erythropoietin, as part of its investigation. The 33-year-old, who vehemently denies any wrongdoing, declined to comment last night over the involvement of the FBI in Usada’s inquiry, whether he had been spoken to by agents, or whether he would co-operate if asked to do so.

Britain’s four-time Olympic champion has previously agreed to be interviewed by Usada investigators and last week declared himself happy to have any of his stored samples retested “at any time”.

Salazar, who also denies any wrongdoing, did not respond to requests for comment, while Usada declined to comment on the reason for, or the nature of, FBI involvement in its investigation.

The FBI, meanwhile, told Telegraph Sport: “We cannot confirm our involvement or the existence of an investigation.”

The bureau’s last major foray into the world of sport came when it conducted a four-year probe into corruption at Fifa that culminated in dawn raids of the governing body’s luxury hotel and the arrest and prosecution of several of its most senior officials.

Its involvement in the Usada inquiry will crank up the pressure on Salazar over a series of alleged anti-doping breaches, details of which first surfaced almost two years ago.

The American found himself in the spotlight again at the end of last month after the emergence of Usada report, leaked by Russian hackers Fancy Bears, which claimed he had “almost certainly” broken anti-doping rules and failed to provide an “acceptable justification” for possessing testosterone.

Athlete support personnel are prohibited from being in possession of banned drugs without “valid justification”, and Salazar claims he carries it for his own personal use due to suffering from hypogonadism – a condition that causes low levels of the hormone.

The Usada report dismissed this explanation, saying the documents he provided them “do not establish Mr Salazar has suffered from hypogonadism… or that he requires testosterone replacement therapy”.

The report added: “Despite Usada’s request that he do so, Mr Salazar has still produced no laboratory testing records, blood test data, examination notes, chart notes or differential diagnosis substantiating that Mr Salazar suffers from hypogonadism.”

Source: Exclusive: FBI joins probe into Mo Farah coach Alberto Salazar

Embracing the Alt-Ride 

by James Herklotz, special to CMBA

Some new to Colorado and the Front Range may not realize what our wonderful warm spells – otherwise known as Indian Summers – actually mean to our trails and our ability to enjoy them responsibly. When the sun is out in February and temperatures are pushing 50 to 60 degrees after a big snowstorm, it’s very tempting to ride. Often, the snow melts within a day or two, so Green Mountain, North Table Mountain, The Hogback and the various parks that flank and ascend the foothills proper might be calling out to riders.

What you will often find, however, is that the sunny, seductive siren’s call is a lure into a trap – a corridor of gooey, peanut butter that will clog your derailleurs, choke your chain and even stop your wheels. Just 10 feet up a trail like this can make your 20-pound carbon bike weigh 50 pounds, and it’s going to be a chore getting it cleaned up again. Worse still is the damage that it does to the trail. Ruts are ugly. They dry and make for wheel catchers that slow you up and slap you down. Water loves ruts, though, and when it rains, it runs down that trench, cutting it deeper and washing the trail surface down the hill.

Furthermore, it’s human nature to avoid mud and go around it, which only serves to widen the trail, destroying vegetation that has a hard enough time holding on in our arid climate. All of this necessitates volunteers and staff devoting hours (and funding money) to restoration work where it might otherwise be used to further new trail development.

So, the best thing you can do is to network with your friends and other trail users to find out trail conditions and ride elsewhere as needed.

Plan an Alt-ride! There are lots of routes and options to enjoy limited portions of our parks. Here are a few basic Jeffco-centric ideas:

1) Hit that bike path! The C-470 path is long and you can avoid cars on it. You can link it to other paths, hit up a brewery along the way, find some crushed gravel paths and generally explore the west metro area and beyond, largely without traffic to negotiate. Go south to Chatfield and then up the South Platte to Strontia Springs Dam. You’ll probably see Bighorn Sheep in the canyon, and it’s one beautiful, car-free canyon any time of the year.

2) Ride the Morrison/Genesee backroads. A short four-mile ride up Bear Creek to Idledale leads to a nice steep dirt road called South Grapevine Road. You can grind up this guilt free in the mud and get yourself to Genesee where you can either explore the neighborhood roads, turn it around and bomb down the dirt and canyon pavement, or take the I-70 frontage road for a ripping descent to Highway 93. From there, a right turn south takes you to the entrance to Red Rocks, which is a delight to ride through on any bike. Next thing you know you are back in Morrison where a nice smothered burrito awaits at the infamous Morrison Inn.

3) Ride the tops! Did you know that there are upper parking lots for Mt. Falcon, Apex and White Ranch? While this is no guarantee that you will find good winter trail conditions through an extended stretch of Indian Summer like we’ve had, often the top of the parks have acceptable conditions of hard-packed snow and/or wet, but firm soils. The clay soils found on the lower portions of our foothills often change to a mix of decomposed granite and loam (think pine needles and dirt), which does fairly well when wet. Generally, you can ride a loop on the top of the park and skip the descent to the lower trails and leave with both a clean conscience and a clean bike. Be prepared to turn around if you are encountering poor conditions and beware of ice that forms in the shady north-side trails that stays for months.

4) Bang out laps on Dakota. Dakota Ridge, perhaps Jeffco’s most technical riding trail, is also well anointed with sunshine and rock and is typically one of the first trails to dry. There will likely be ice and some mud in the middle saddle between the two knolls that define the route – and the Zorro connector is often not viable due to mud as water seeps down the slopes of the ridge, keeping the trail wet, but much of this challenging route sheds its moisture in the heat of the glaring winter sun. (So too, avoid Mathew Winters without good information. It is slow to dry) At just a couple miles long, Dakota can go quick if you are a banger, but it’s a short ride up 93 to get back on the trail for another go. This will hone those skills for Fruita and Moab like nothing else on the Front Range. It’s not for beginners.

5) Get a Fat Bike! It’s a growing and vital winter option that should be considered. Above 8,000’ along the Front Range, the trails tend to stay snow covered (this year being an exception near Evergreen and Conifer which have seen inconsistent snow fall and much melting) or even frozen through the winter. Learn the game though, before you show up and hit the headwall of deep, untracked powder, or you butcher somebody’s hard trail packing work by flailing along. You can’t ride everything just because you have that 5” tire bike with a pie plate for a rear gear, and you will know that soon enough. Howeve, when things are dialed in and conditions are right, the experience is sublime!

That said, networking with your friends and others – being willing and able to share the status of a trail whether good or bad – is one of the best things you can do to help keep our trails the beautiful corridors of joy that they are. See you on the trails – or off, as conditions require!

***

James Herklotz is the founder of the local Facebook Group 303 Trail Monitor, with a membership after only two years of more than 6,000 mountain bikers, runners and hikers. It’s a friendly way to learn more about what is happening with the trails throughout the state (303 representing the original area code for the state of Colorado) and even a little beyond. Feel free to join!

Source: Embracing the Alt-Ride | Colorado Mountain Bike Association

How Localism Is Ruining Backcountry Skiing

An attitude of nativism has spread to a remote Colorado valley, besmirching an experience that should be joyous for everyone.

by Heather Sackett, Adventure Journal

 

Somewhere near Telluride, Colorado is a super-top-secret valley. You can find it on maps, but if you attempt to make the trek there, you might not be so lucky. The highway sign pointing the way has disappeared so many times the department of transportation gave up replacing it. Lost drivers are pointed the wrong way and given directions out of town. Unsuspecting posters to social media are scolded for hash-tagging the name of the town in photos. Some inhabitants of this unnamed valley don’t want the outside world to know it exists. It’s The Valley That Must Not Be Named.

This Shangri-La does not have a single store or restaurant or paved roads. It’s the middle of nowhere. But with a bunch of other people and houses and dogs roaming free. “Settlement” is a better description, although it technically has a mayor and town manager.

It also has epic backcountry skiing. And certain skiers go to great lengths to keep it a mystery valley because if you can’t find it, you can’t ski it.

Two beautiful canyons are easily accessed from town and provide sweeping views of the high alpine, gnarly couloirs, perfectly pitched tree runs, all often covered in plenty of powder. If you have trouble finding fresh turns in this vast valley, it’s due to extreme laziness or lack of creativity. It is the antithesis of the Disneyland that is the nearby ski resort of Telluride. Peace and solitude reign.

Skiers have been protective of their powder stashes since the day they first strapped long wooden planks to their feet. Powder is a finite resource and when this valley is good, it is gooooooood. But the attitude of some valley skiers goes too far. It is an attitude of hyper localism.

Localism has long been rampant in surf culture and is now spilling over into the valley’s backcountry skiing. Parking wars have become frequent. Passive aggressive notes are being left on vehicle. Would-be backcountry skiers who reside one or two towns over are made to feel like unwelcome outsiders. Acting like the self-appointed steeze police, a few local skiers try to determine who has the street cred to ski there and who does not. To be fair, not all the skiers of the valley have this attitude; some longtime residents are embarrassed by their neighbors’ actions. But the ones that do have this attitude are ruining it for everyone.

In a world where resort skiing is increasingly a sport reserved for the rich, backcountry skiing is the great egalitarian equalizer. Freed from the tyranny of expensive lift tickets, touring requires little more than the will to go uphill. That is the main reason residents of The Valley That Must Not Be Named need not worry about their ski runs getting discovered and tracked out: Most people are just too lazy to do the required 3,000-feet-plus vertical on an icy skin track. The valley and its people are nothing if not hardcore.

But there is another reason the harassment of visiting backcountry skiers needs to stop. In a time when our country’s administration is seeking to alienate and exclude certain sectors, this animosity toward fellow skiers smacks of nativism: the policy of protecting the interests of established inhabitants against those of immigrants.

This attitude of I-found-it-first-now-I’m-closing-the-door-behind-me is a shame, because one of the joys of recreating in wild places is sharing them with others. Getting there first doesn’t mean you can horde the outdoors for yourself. Let’s face it: Nearly all of us are transplants to these mountains and few of us have been here in this tiny southwest corner of the state longer than a generation. Being a “local” does not give anyone the right to intimidate others who are simply enjoying the very same thing they share a passion for.

Localism goes against the backcountry spirit of camaraderie, friendship, and community. The love of skiing should unite, not divide. It shouldn’t be cliquey; it should be inclusive. It is not a place for barriers. Skiers should be free to bring their friends to their favorite ski runs without the fear of being heckled and hassled.

Most important, these mountains are public lands open to and owned by everyone. If you are willing and able to earn your turns, you have just as much right to be there as anyone, with or without proof of residency.

The ranks of those initiated in beacon checks, kick turns on skin tracks, face shots, high-fives on ridgelines and celebratory after-beers in the parking lot always has room for more members. The skiers of The Valley That Must Not Be Named should hope that they don’t succeed in scaring off their backcountry brethren. Because after all the effort to make sure they are the only ones out there, they might just find out it’s lonely at the top.

Source: How Localism Is Ruining Backcountry Skiing – adventure journal

A Chance for Trump to Save Our Streams 

The president should veto an attempt by Congress to overturn a rule protecting waterways from the ravages of mountaintop mining.

by Chris Wood, President of Trout Unlimited

THE eastern brook trout, whose native haunts in the Appalachians are a short drive from my home in Washington, is a fragile species. It requires the coldest and cleanest water to survive, and over the past two centuries, its ranks have been decimated by all that modern society could throw at it. Today it lives in a fraction of its historic range.

One reason? Thousands of miles of prime brook trout streams have been polluted by poorly regulated historic coal mining, and what has been lost is difficult to bring back. Groups like Trout Unlimited have worked with partners to restore more than 60 miles of wild trout streams damaged by acid mine drainage in Appalachia. But it is hard, painstaking work — it has taken the better part of two decades and millions of dollars, and the fact is that it would take many lifetimes to revive all the streams in need of resuscitation.

I had that sobering math in mind last week when I learned that Congress had voted to overturn the Stream Protection Rule, designed to protect streams from the devastating effects of mountaintop removal mining. This tactic is every bit as destructive as it sounds. It involves scraping off the tops of mountains, removing the coal and then dumping the waste in valleys and the creeks that pass through them.

Over the past 20 years, these mining operations have buried or degraded nearly 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia. It goes without saying that cutting the tops off mountains and dumping them in streams is bad for fishing. It is also bad for anyone who cares about clean water.

Which brings me to President Trump, who in an interview after the election said that “clean water, crystal clean water is vitally important.” The president is correct, and now he can take a first step toward protecting our water resources — and incidentally, earn a place as a conservation champion in the eyes of the nation’s hunters and anglers — by vetoing Congress’s misguided vote to roll back stream protection.

Source: A Chance for Trump to Save Our Streams – NYTimes.com

Fastest Manitou Incline time a point of pride, controversy

by Seth Boster, Colorado Springs Gazette

An underground universe in Colorado Springs erupted this summer, triggered by a verbal claim.

The assertion was made by a mixed-martial arts fighter who told The Gazette she had scaled the Manitou Incline in 19 minutes, 27 seconds. That would be the fastest known time for a woman on the 1-mile spine of railroad ties that includes more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain. That would be the fastest known time – if it were accepted by the keepers of the FKT.

They are the outdoor athletes who obsess over the obscure: milestones on trails and mountains, and the completion of those in record haste. Theirs is a tribe that values honesty over all. And, in August, when the fighter made the Incline claim, they balked. They will tell you that the FKT is 20:07 and belongs to Allie McLaughlin, the Air Academy High School graduate with Pikes Peak Ascent and World Mountain Running championships to her name.

“It’s crazy to me that this is like a big deal or whatever,” says the fighter, Raquel Pennington, a Harrison High School graduate who has risen to elite ranks in the UFC.

(more…)

Outdoor Companies Take A Stand In the Fight for Public Lands – Men’s Journal

Why Patagonia, and then Arc’teryx, pulled stake in Outdoor Retailer, and how the outdoor industry is gearing up to fight for public lands.

by Doug Schnitzspahn, Men’s Journal 

In January, on the opening day of the Outdoor Retailer trade show, where hundreds of brands, from The North Face to Woolrich, debut their latest goods, Black Diamond founder and former CEO Peter Metcalf published an editorial in The Salt Lake Tribune. In it he demanded that the show pack up and move out of the state, where it’s been held for the last 20 years. Metcalf ’s logic was simple: Utah’s governor and its legislators were in the midst of, as he characterized it, an “all-out assault” on public lands.

The outdoor industry, for much of its existence, has been careful not to take partisan sides and, perhaps as a result, has been dismissed by Washington insiders as a loose collection of dirtbag climbers and tree huggers, rather than the thriving, tech-driven sector of the economy that it is.

In 2012 the Utah State Legislature passed a bill demanding that 31 million acres of federally managed public land be transferred to the state, after which some of it would most likely be sold off to the highest bidder. Today, Utah lawmakers continue to push divestiture, and are pushing to shrink or scrap national monuments in the state, including the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument. And they’ve been unabashedly promoting the interests of mining and other extractive industries over outdoor recreation, the latter of which adds an estimated $12 billion per year to the state’s economy and supports some 120,000 jobs. The Outdoor Retailer show itself, held twice a year, brings in $50 million to Utah, and dozens of outdoor companies — including Metcalf’s Black Diamond, as well as Petzl, Gregory Mountain Products, and others — are based in the state. And the state’s largest industry, tech, relies on Utah’s recreational opportunities and quality of life to lure talent to the state. So why shouldn’t the outdoor industry, with a massive economic impact on the state, have a say in government policy that ultimately affects their customers and bottom line?

“Politicians in Utah don’t seem to get that the outdoor industry — and their own state economy — depends on access to public lands for recreation.”
“Political officials,” Metcalf declared, “neglect the critical role public lands play in boosting Utah’s economy, making the state a great place to live, work, and play.”

(more…)

Utahns drown out Chaffetz with demand to ‘explain yourself’ at tense town hall 

The town-hall meeting was 75 minutes of tense exchanges between Chaffetz and residents from across the state. They were frustrated by the Utah Republican’s refusal to investigate President Donald Trump’s potential conflicts of interest. They doggedly pursued him for his initiatives to transfer or sell public lands. They questioned his position on immigration and refugees.

Amid constant booing, the Republican has a hard time trying to answer questions about public lands, Trump and immigration.

by Courtney Tanner, The Salt Lake Tribune

Rep. Jason Chaffetz tried to respond to questions, but many of his answers went unheard. The din of the hostile and harassing audience that filled the 1,000 seats of a high school auditorium Thursday night drowned him out.

“Explain yourself,” they roared over him.

When the congressman did get a chance to speak, the crowd often didn’t like what he had to say. And he knew it.

The town-hall meeting was 75 minutes of tense exchanges between Chaffetz and residents from across the state. They were frustrated by the Utah Republican’s refusal to investigate President Donald Trump’s potential conflicts of interest. They doggedly pursued him for his initiatives to transfer or sell public lands. They questioned his position on immigration and refugees.

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And that was only half of the largely liberal crowd.

About 1,500 people stood outside Brighton High School, too far back to make the cut, their signs reading, “Do your job” and “America is better than this.”

“We can’t allow anyone else in. It’s fire code,” said Cottonwood Heights police Lt. Dan Bartlett, his megaphone announcements inciting more anger.

One man shouted: “If there’s somebody in there from another district, kick them out.” Several tried to rush the doors, but a line of officers pushed back. Abigail Hawkins, from Cedar Hills, got to the school at 6:15 p.m. and lamented that “they knew … and yet they didn’t move it to a bigger venue.”

“This feels very limited and exclusive,” she said, joining a chant of “Bring him out.”

In the auditorium, at least 20 seats were empty. A fire marshal opened the event by noting that those would not be filled “because of the situation outside.” Chaffetz heard the announcement and paced across the bare stage, acknowledging the lack of space and holding the microphone at his side when the noise got to be too much.

“If you want me to answer the question, give me more than five seconds to do it,” he said, urging attendees to quiet down.

The congressman addressed 13 questions, three focused on public lands and four on investigating Trump. The other subjects jumped from Planned Parenthood to air quality to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Noor Ul-Hasan, a Democratic activist, said, “If you want to continue to look into Hillary Clinton, I don’t care. But why aren’t you checking out your own president?”

Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he’s looking into comments made by Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to Trump, who plugged Ivanka Trump’s fashion line in a national television interview.

“There’s no case to be made that we went soft on the White House,” Chaffetz said as police nervously patrolled the perimeter of the room. “In terms of doing my job, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Melissa Batka Thomas, from Salt Lake City, steadied her shaking hands as she read a quote from Chaffetz in which he called on presidential candidates to release their tax returns and “show everything.”

“I’m asking you to explain what your timeline is to uphold your word or why there is a reluctance to do so,” she said.

The congressman said, as he has before, that the president is “exempt” from conflict of interest laws. “Until there is evidence that [Trump] has somehow overused that to ingratiate his family …” Chaffetz said before boos cut him off.

Source: Utahns drown out Chaffetz with demand to ‘explain yourself’ at tense town hall | The Salt Lake Tribune

Arc’teryx Withdraws from Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City

Arc’teryx, a company that has long supported preservation of wild spaces, formally announces today its withdrawal from Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City, Utah due to the state’s efforts to rescind protection of Bears Ears National Monument and other public lands. The company stands in support of Patagonia’s move to leave Outdoor Retailer in Utah and is following suit. Funds that would have been spent to attend Outdoor Retailer in 2017 will be reallocated to the Conservation Alliance’s new Public Lands Defense Fund.

“The Outdoor Industry has an obligation to protect the wild places that are important to our consumers. Arc’teryx is a member of the outdoor industry’s Conservation Alliance. Since 2014, we’ve been part of the efforts to protect Bears Ears, supporting local grassroots organizations working on a legislated solution. More recently Arc’teryx has helped to fund Friends of Cedar Mesa and Utah Dine Bike Yah, as they work on a national monument designation. I was proud to join my peers in the outdoor industry in sending a letter to President Obama asking him to protect this landscape in Southern Utah, which is cherished by our community of climbers, hikers and outdoors enthusiasts. Protecting public lands for future generations is a critical part of our brand values and we will use our influence in a way that is consistent with those values.” – Jon Hoerauf, president of Arc’teryx

On March 6thth Jon Hoerauf will head to Washington DC with the Conservation Alliance and 21 other outdoor industry leaders to meet with key Congressional offices and representatives of the new Administration. The goal of this trip is to encourage all elected officials, regardless of political affiliation, to take action to protect important lands and waterways – including Bears Ears National Monument.

Arc’teryx will also be increasing its funding commitment to the Conservation Alliance by $150,000 over the next three years to support the protection of Bears Ears and other public lands at risk.

Source: Arc’teryx Withdraws from Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City | The Bird Blog – Arc’teryx

Moving Outdoor Retailer Isn’t About Politics. It’s About Money. | Outside Online

Emerald’s contract with the Salt Lake City Convention and Visitors Bureau runs out in 2018, and threatening to depart for a city like Denver could be used as leverage.

The company that runs the industry’s largest trade show is listening, but more brands need to speak up if they really want to make Utah feel the hurt

by Frederick Reimers, Outside Magazine

Tuesday, Patagonia sent shock waves through the outdoor industry when the company announced it would no longer attend the biannual Outdoor Retailer trade show if it was held in Salt Lake City. OR, as it’s known, has long been the outdoor industry’s largest core gathering—a place to show off the hottest new gear, build buzz, and codify trends. Each summer and winter, 20,000 people pour into Salt Lake City and the adjacent Wasatch Range for the show. Suddenly this week, however, that relationship is in jeopardy, as a growing number of brands are unhappy for one simple reason: Utah’s desire to remove public lands from federal management.

Utah is a leader in the movement to transfer federal lands to the states, which concerns adventurers and sportsmen who believe those lands will be compromised or sold off entirely to development. In late January, Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz introduced one bill that would eliminate law enforcement within the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and another directing the U.S. Department of the Interior to sell 3.37 million acres of federal land to the states. (Chaffetz agreed to withdraw the latter bill after considerable public outcry, though he has yet to do so.) Then, on Friday, February 3, Utah Governor Gary Herbert urged the Trump administration to revoke the recently designated Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah.

Patagonia’s response was unambiguous. “Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution urging the Trump administration to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument, making it clear that he and other Utah elected officials do not support public lands conservation nor do they value the economic benefits that the outdoor recreation industry brings to their state,” wrote Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia, on Tuesday. “Because of the hostile environment they have created and their blatant disregard for Bears Ears National Monument and other public lands, the backbone of our business, Patagonia will no longer attend the Outdoor Retailer show in Utah and we are confident other outdoor manufacturers and retailers will join us in moving our investment to a state that values our industry and promotes public lands conservation.”

In January, mid-sized Utah-based apparel maker Kühl said it would pull out of the show if Patagonia did. Many expect Salt Lake–based Black Diamond to follow suit because of the strong public lands activism of former CEO Peter Metcalf. “Utah is the birther state of the most anti-stewardship, anti-public lands policy in the country,” Metcalf told the Denver Post last week before heading out on a backcountry vacation. “If we can’t affect policy by staying, then the next step is leaving.”

More surprising is the stance of the Outdoor Retailer show itself, which brings an estimated $45 million to the city each year. On Monday, Outdoor Retailer director Marisa Nicholson wrote, “We’ve been listening to the concerns from the industry and agree that it is time to explore our options. Salt Lake City has been an incredible home to Outdoor Retailer for the past 20 years, and we aren’t opposed to staying, but we need to do what’s best for the industry and for the business of outdoor retail.”

Note that word: business.

Source: Moving Outdoor Retailer Isn’t About Politics. It’s About Money. | Outside Online