Best Hikes in Phoenix you’ve never heard of: Mount Ord from Slate Creek

 

Ord

Ord Route

Where is it: In the Tonto National Forest and in the greater Mazatzal Mountains.

How do you get there: About 38.3 miles past the intersection of Shea Blvd. and SR 87 Beeline Hwy. about 2/3 of the way to Payson, AZ.  TH Coordinates: 33.9601, -111.39841

Lists of John link: http://listsofjohn.com/peak/17292

What kind of hike is it:  Instead of an out and back, its an up and down.  There are likely some limited connecting routes out here as well and opportunities for backpacking/overnights.

How long is it: ~15.50 miles from the Slate Creek TH to the summit and back down. (RT)

Accumulated Elevation Gain: ~4100 ft.

What trails are involved: A couple of Forest Roads. You’d have to be the worst navigator ever to get lost here…

How long will it take: Between 5.5 hours and 7 hours depending on your speed

Is it scary:  Not in the least.  This is Class 1 trail (road walk) the entire way to the summit.

What animals might you see: Coyote, mountain lion, mule deer, elk, Arizona black rattlesnake, Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Gila monster, white tail deer, human hunters

Do I need water:  Always as there are not really any water sources close by the trail. Bring at least 3.5L.

Who will like this hike: This may very well be the easiest 7128 foot mountain in the world to climb. It’s a good opportunity for a beginner to get their first ‘tall mountain’ exposure.  You don’t need ANY navigational skills to reach the summit.

For more info:  http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=1640

Hiking Jason rating: 4 hiking boots out of 5

This is probably the easiest tall mountain in Arizona.  It very well may be your first introduction to a ‘big mountain’ and its perfect for beginners that want to begin some elevation goals.  Very likely, for many, this may be the tallest mountain they’ve ever climbed.  The trail begins just off of the Beeline Hwy at Slate Creek.  While there are some nice views on the way up, the best views are from the summit.  This hike is what I like to call an achievement hike.  Meaning that the purpose of this hike is to teach yourself that you belong on big mountains, that you really can do 4000+ AEG in one day, and that you can hike nearly 16 miles.  Trust me, YOU can do this hike.  

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be super excited about a hike that consists of ONLY a jeep road for the entire length of it.  But its pretty along the hike, there are some great views of the Mazatzal Mountains and you’ll be excited to be on a big mountain. And Ord is a BIG mountain.  It seems MUCH taller than it really is from the trailhead.  It LOOKS 10,000 feet, but its very deceptive.  There are tons of shady spots along the way to have lunch or take a break.

This hike is a confidence building hike.  It may be good preparation for you for climbing taller mountains in Flagstaff, the White Mountains, etc.

I highly recommend that you check out this hike.

Let me know what you think!

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On Fear

I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom – how great is that?– Soledad O’Brien
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The vertical, crumbly, rotten summit block of Peak 4202.  I. Was. Terrified.  I wasn’t sure I could do it.  I did it.

A big part of my thought processes these days are how to get more people outside. Because I believe strongly in the healing power of nature, and for me in particular, mountains.  While I altruistically want people to get outside for their health, spirit and general well being, I also want them to get outside so that they will begin to care about the wild.  I believe unless you’ve smelled the pines, seen alpenglow, or had the thrill of a difficult mountain summit that its hard to really care about policies that are designed to protect these spaces.

I’ve been afraid on mountains, I’ve been afraid on a city street.  I’ve been afraid in a car and I’ve been afraid at home.  We all have fears.  In this post, I want to talk about some things that I believe to be barriers to people getting outside and also provide some things to think about how to cope with those fears.

I want to talk about two types of fear, rational fear and irrational fear.  

Rational Fear

Rational fear is normal.  Rational fear is healthy.  Rational fear keeps us alive.  It’s tied to instincts, which we all have.  Here are some things that I think are rational fears but also how to ameliorate them.

Fear of falling–  This is a healthy fear because falls are one of the leading injuries in the wild.  I think its fine to be afraid of falling and to some extent, exposure (an area is exposed if there is a high rate of injury or death from a fall from wherever you are).  

Tips to combat:  Be sure of your holds and when descending steep slopes I like to pause on rocks just long enough to see if they move.  Another thing is to not look down until you are on terra firma.  This really works.  There’s a reason they say, don’t look down!

Fear of certain animals-  I think its good to have your guard up.  My Canadian friends that hike and climb have to deal with grizzly bears.  Most American bears are harmless. Attacks are VERY rare.  Frankly, the only two animals that I fear are mountain lion and humans.

Tips to combat:  If in bear country, take bear spray and ensure that your food is secure. Here in Arizona, we don’t really have very many areas where a canister would be necessary but if it is, use them.  As far as mountain lion, if you see one (it would be VERY VERY rare that you would) DO NOT RUN.  It triggers their feline instincts.  Make noise and usually they will leave.

Weather related fears-  Frankly, I believe this to be the most important fear to maintain, and one in which I simply do not play around with.  If you see lightning, leave.  If you hear thunder, seek shelter.  If you cannot leave, DO NOT SHELTER under trees.  Research the lightning position online.  Supposedly no one has ever died, using this technique.  

Admittedly, I have a fear of snow and ice.  Mainly because I don’t have much familiarity with the gear that it takes to enjoy the outdoors in them.

Tips to combat-  Check the weather BEFORE you go.  The night before and before you leave your house. I LOVE mountain-forecast.com because it has forecasts at various levels of the mountain, the trailhead, and at the summit.  I also use Weather Underground because of the numerous weather stations they have.

Irrational Fear

Irrational fear in my experience is most common in newer hikers and outdoors-people.   Because they may lack experience in the outdoors, they can often fear a litany of things. Getting lost, running out of water, snakes, bears, animals, being too slow, not being able to keep up, it getting dark outside, etc.  The list can go on and on.

Getting lost-  This is one of the things that I hear that actually happens the most.  There is no reason to get lost.  There are numerous smartphone apps that will track your hike.  If you feel unsure, if all else fails, just refollow your path the way you came.

Tips to combat- Purchase a GPS, or download a smartphone app such as Route Scout. BUT also please learn to read topographic maps.  This link is the single best internet resource that I have seen to teach people how to use maps!

Snakes-  Please do not let fear of snakes keep you off the trail.  They simply ARE NOT interested in you.  I have stepped on two rattlesnakes in my life and lived to tell the tale.  

Tips to combat-  When using handholds in rocky terrain, you do need to have some caution.  99% of the time on a maintained trail there is no possibility of an actual encounter unless you bother the snake, try to move it, or anger it.  Just cut them a wide berth and go around them.  

Fear of being slow-  I will be blunt.  Honestly, no one cares that you may be slow.  No, really, we aren’t judging you.  What we are is happy that you made the decision to get outside and you chose to spend time with us.  Those of us that are fast hikers have other opportunities to hike fast on another day.  And we can take more photos.  We are just glad to be in your company.

Tips to combat-  Don’t worry about this one.  We are glad you are with us.

Over time the more often that you hike, climb, ski, kayak, whatever it is that is outdoors, you’ll have less and less irrational fears.  You’ll learn to trust yourself, your gear, your hiking partner, or in whatever spiritual being that you believe in (or not).

Another thing that helped me conquer my fear is a personal preference to potentially die outdoors rather than chained to a desk.  It’s a feeling of letting go, managing risk, and accepting outcomes that you cannot always control.  I learned to control what I could control, and not worry so much about things that I couldn’t control.  This is truly how I conquered most of my fears.

I hope that this helps you conquer some of your fears and I hope to see you out on a trail.

Let me know your tips to combat fear in the comments below.

Lessons from the Mountains

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I was six.  My dad was 54…  He had taken me to a place near our house in Alabama that geologically were the absolute end of the Appalachian Mountain foothills.  As in, THE END, the foothills are no more.

I remember looking up with a sense of awe at how huge this mountain was and how I couldn’t wait to climb it.  My dad called it Brown’s Mountain.  It was in reality known as Baxley Hill to the fine folks at the USGS and I found out in later years about 400 feet tall.  But to me it was Mount Everest.  And a love affair began!

But like a lot of love affairs, they can tend toward being on again, off again.  I still explored, adventured, and hiked the Alabama(and later Florida) woods but didn’t really climb very many mountains. Mainly because Alabama doesn’t have many!

But about two years ago, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, in particular Cave Creek. When I first moved here, mountains scared me.  I thought I would fall.  And die.  But like most things in life, I began to notice that if I got up and just WENT, that everything seemed to work out well in the end.  I began to get stronger and more confident. But most people feel that.  I want to share with you some other things that I have learned from mountains.  Things like core values and things that all humanity can benefit from.

“Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself.” Saint Francis de Sales

Patience-   I recall being six years old simply wanting to charge up the mountain (hill!) In fact, when I moved here, I’d climbed a few mountains in the South, but I really just walked the trail.  When I began climbing mostly off-trail and obscure mountains, is when I began to see patience in other parts of my life.  See, mountains require you to stop and think sometimes. They don’t just reveal all their secrets to you immediately.  They’re like a puzzle that only you know how to figure out how to assemble the pieces.  And patience helps with that. Believe me.

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” Leonardo da Vinci

Accomplishment-  I’ve always accomplished things.  Mostly smaller things.  And mostly with my brain.  See I’m not super physically strong, and two to three years ago I wasn’t even very fit.  But I am now.  Because I have accomplished most of my mountain related goals.  But what I really learned from the mountains is that these are personal accomplishments.  I didn’t do them for others, I did them for me.  And every time I climb a mountain, it just makes me want to climb five more.  And higher and steeper.  This is a lot like life.  We just build on our accomplishments one by one until you really look back and say, wow, I really did that.

“The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Beauty- OK, I am a typical guy.  But mountains have taught me to appreciate the beauty in all things.  Most people just see a big tall pile of rocks, but I see the equivalent of a snowflake.  I’ve never seen two mountains that were exactly alike.  But all of them are beautiful to me.  In their own way.  Kind of like humans…

“Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.” Aristotle

Solitude-  Well… I am certainly no god.  But I not only delight in solitude, I crave it.  I need it to recharge my batteries, recharge my soul and basically to challenge myself to learn to depend only on myself.  But much like there is no silence without a sound.  It also reminds me that I also need people.  Genuine human interaction.  

I saved the best thing that I have learned from mountains for last.  It is the greatest of all things, and that is love.

“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” Orson Welles

Love-  Wow, where to begin.  I love everything about mountains.  Looking at them, climbing them, reading about them, I could go on.  But that’s not really what they have taught me.  They’ve taught me that even I can love something other than my family, something intangible, something not living as much as I love those other things.  And that my purpose in life is to share that love with everyone else.  Because if others love them half as much as I, they’ll want to climb them.  Then they’ll want to tell others about them.  Then they’ll want to protect them.  Then they’ll clean trash off of them.  Then they will ask their politicians to prioritize them and to pass laws protecting them.  

Love is the single most powerful thing that we as humans can do.

But more important than even that, is that love will be passed down through the generations.  Just like my father passed down to me.  See, he took me to that mountain for a reason.  Because he loved me, and he wanted me to love it.  Now I understand.

Climbing Off-Trail Mountains: A How-To Guide

Cal Topo Table Mtn

With the cooler temperatures here in Phoenix beginning to creep into our collective psyches, its time for Central Arizona peakbagging season. If you are anything like me, you appreciate that there is more to life than Camelback Mountain. Yes, really, there ARE other mountains. Many of them known only to whatever deity you worship. Or not…

So I thought I would put together a sort of how to manual of how I personally hike mountains that have no semblance of trail to them at all. As in NO trail, perhaps past the parking lot or trailhead.

While I certainly have friends in the hiking and climbing community that believe that planning is anathema to a good time, that’s not for me. So if you don’t like to plan, jump ahead!!!

Planning

I personally find as much fun in the planning as I do the climbing and hiking. I use a very simple method to plan my climbs. I utilize https://caltopo.com with two simple toggles, Map Builder Overlay and Gradient Slope Shading. This allows you to visually see both the topographical contour lines but ALSO see the colors that show you steepness. I use Caltopo to see the steepness and hikearizona.com to see if a route is already available. In the example above (Table Mountain), a route was not available so I made my own beforehand using Caltopo’s tools and then the blue path you see below is the actual path I took today. Further using the example above, you can clearly see how I chose the path that I did to get to both summits, as the topo lines are farther apart (less steep) and there was less ‘color’ along the path I chose.

So you got to the trailhead, what now?

Become an Indigenous Geologist…

What? There were no native American geologists. Au contraire… Native peoples understood geology just as much as we do. Here is what I mean… You don’t really hike/climb with your feet, you hike and climb with your eyes. Since you don’t have a trail to follow, you’ll learn to look for game trails or areas where water has flowed down the mountain. These tend to be areas that are less steep since water follows the path of least resistance. Now are you following my logic…? Picture yourself as an indigenous person tracking a deer. Yes, this method works. It does!

If you are hiking in an area that it is at least somewhat likely that others have hiked or climbed before, look for visual changes in the rocks that you are climbing over. Often you can see a color shade difference where feet have worn a path over the rocks that you can actually see.

Game trails almost always lead to the summit of mountains. Why, I am not sure, maybe javelina, deer, mountain lion and bears are also peakbaggers!!!

A few helpful hints…

Often, it is better to climb in a zig zag pattern, instead of just climbing straight up. This is because mountains have ridges and are not just smooth surfaces. It would be equivalent to switchbacks on an actual trail. Think of those.

Don’t fear big rocks. In fact, big rocks are great. I LOVE big rocks. I HATE small rocks. Big rocks are easy to climb up and over, small rocks are like ice and slippery.

Often you will summit peaks that have a ‘blind rim’ at the top, meaning that its hard to see over the edge. I often take a crappy white t-shirt and leave it at the exact spot that I came ‘over the blind rim’ so that I can visually spot it when its time to go down. Don’t leave the shirt!

Repeat this mantra… mountain biking is for speed, hiking is for distance, peakbagging is for the experience of the summit. Other than fastest known time peeps, as long as you summit no one really cares how long it took. They don’t.

If you’re afraid, sing. Seriously. I have found NOTHING better than humming an ear worm to calm my fears. The cheesier the better.

It’s OK and even good to be afraid. It’s what keeps you alive. But you will know the difference between crippling fear and discomfort.

Having said that, the mountain is not going anywhere. If you see lightning, leave immediately. If you are shaking with fear, (I have before) I always try to at least make the saddle or be able to see where the summit is. I find if you quit but could see the summit, psychologically it makes it much easier next time.

Use technology but don’t rely on it. Pro-tip… Use your technology on the way up, use your paper map on the way down. This is because you’ll likely be lower in battery after the summit and you will be visually able to see things you’ve already passed. Always take a paper map especially when you are doing off trail routes. Always.

Awesome mountain resources:

Lists of John

Peakbagger

hikearizona.com

14ers.com

Let me know some of your favorite tips and also some of your favorite climbs in the comments section!

Becoming Desert Adapted

 

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I live in a desert.  

No really.  I do.  Phoenix has often been called (sadly) the least sustainable city in America, and possibly on Earth.  Yet 4-5 million people live here and a ton of them hike.

Too often, I see people that simply do not have enough water with them.  Most hikers I see, have SOME water with them but it usually is not enough.  The only folks that I see without any water, are typically tourists.

Since daytime highs are now in the low to mid 90s, I wanted to share with you my simple, yet effective hydration system, and how I generally keep cool.  These methods have allowed me to hike in Phoenix nearly year round with the exception of a very few days of the year.

There is nothing Earth shattering about any of this, but based on what I see on trail, maybe it is!

The first thing that I have and do is that I always carry more water than I think that I will need.  That’s probably my one inviolate rule.  I do this for a few reasons.  It allows me to change my plans, i.e. hike further than I expected to, go for a couple more peaks than I planned and also to give some away in case of an emergency.  On three occasions, I have given water to strangers, including all the water that I had left.  Frankly, I can do this because A. I know my body and B. I am SO hydrated that I know how long I can go without water.

As far as HOW I carry my water, I carry a few things.  Keep in mind that these routines work FOR ME, but they are just common sense techniques.  

First and most important, I carry a 3L water bladder inside my Camelbak Fourteener.  I LOVE this pack. It is big enough to hold enough for an extended day hike but small enough to not be heavy or too bulky.  Typically, I will fill up the bladder and place it in the refrigerator the night before.  I don’t like freezing mine because I find that it takes a while to thaw.

Second, I carry a small less than 20 ounce cheap disposable Smartwater bottle and I tuck it into my pouch on the side of my Camelbak.  Why would I do this when I have a bladder with 3L of water in it? Over the years, remembering that I am a huge peakbagger, I learned that my first instinct when I made a mountain summit other than to look for snakes is to take off my pack.  And it holds my water! So I found that I’d have to either put my pack back on, or contort my body back down toward the tube to drink.  So I started carrying a cheap, disposable bottle that I could drink from with my pack off.

Third, was something I started doing about a year ago.  When I am putting my Camelbak bladder in the fridge at night, I also freeze another cheap disposable water bottle.  Don’t fill it up all the way because the bottle will get out of round and will not sit up.  I take this bottle BUT I leave it in the vehicle. On a day hike, even in Phoenix in the summer, the water will usually be cold.  I drink this water on the way home from wherever I am hiking and I always know I have cold, or at a minimum, cool water waiting for me.

Probably the WORST thing that I do that breaks the rules, is that I do not personally subscribe to the covering everything rule of desert hiking.  I don’t like wearing pants and typically won’t wear long sleeves in the summer as some swear by.  I tend to be VERY hot natured, so I just don’t like getting even hotter than I need to.

As far as time of day, I begin my hikes anywhere from 3:30 AM to no later than 7 AM between around March and September here in Phoenix.  I do it for two reasons.  I love Arizona sunrises and so that for anything short of a 15 mile hike, I am finished before noon at the latest.

I am not super huge on night hikes, particularly in the summer time because there are snakes EVERYWHERE.  I feel that your chance of being bitten by a snake at night is exponentially higher at night.  Plus, you can’t SEE anything but the lights of the city, depending on where you are.

So to recap, take more water than you need, have a system, and stick to that system until it becomes habit.

 

A Landlubber Looks at 42

Forty two years ago today, I entered this world.  My dad was probably the happiest man on Earth considering he was forty-eight and had left his first wife because she was afraid of dying in childbirth.  My first night that I was brought home, I slept in a chest of drawers drawer because my crib wasn’t ready.

We lived in the woods, in the middle of nowhere on property that had been in my family for a couple generations. Some of my kin folk still live near there, on Cleghorn Drive.  It seems so far away.  So long ago.

I was a fat baby with huge rolls.  I’m told that I was extremely inquisitive and walked and talked very early.  My mother was much younger than my father, by nineteen years. This foretold…problems later in life.

As most of you know, my dad has been dead now since 2007.  Most of my life has been trying to apply lessons that he tried to teach me, and making him proud.   People tell me that he would be proud of me and I know they mean well, but I don’t always feel that way.  It’s hard not knowing.  You just can’t call them up and ask them, any more.

But this post was meant to share all the things that I wish that I could have told my 21 year old self.  21 years ago today, I turned 21.  The world was my oyster.  I thought I knew everything but really, I didn’t know much.  I didn’t know much about the world, and worse, I didn’t know much about myself.

Go outside and view sunsets and sunrises

When I was 21, I was lucky to not still be drinking at the time of sunrise.  I never saw them.  I never cared to look, or distinguish between a beautiful one, or the mundane. There is magic in the rise of the sun.  Every day.  My favorite part is five minutes before sunrise when it actually gets darker than it was before.  It’s awesome.

I never saw them.  Sad.

Put down the alcohol and drink water

I was never a HUGE drinker.  Sure I drank a lot in the Army and some in college.  But I sure wish that back then, I had drank less, drank more water, ate better, exercised more, took care of my body.  When I was young and could have gotten into the best shape of my life, I didn’t.   Now, stuff hurts, stuff I didn’t even know could hurt, hurts.  Then I was damn near invincible.  Or at least I thought I was.

Save more for retirement

I remember thinking that who in the hell would want to ride in an RV, much less BUY one?  Those are for OLD people. Well, yeah, now that I am old, I want one.  Badly.   I was so eager to get to work that I failed to contemplate the me that really wouldn’t want to work anymore.  Which is now.

Don’t pick short term happiness over long term contentment

Pretty self explanatory.

Prioritize career happiness over financial mobility

I started out my college career as a Pre-Med student.  All my life, I wanted to be a doctor, specifically a pediatrician. Then, at the first sign of adversity, I quit.  I wasn’t disciplined enough at the time to go through what that took.  Sad but true.  But then I compounded my mistake by choosing a career that would chain me to an office desk.  Because at 21, I thought that it was ‘lesser’ to work outside.  What a fool, I was.

The desk has come to symbolize for me a ball and chain and a death sentence.  I want SO BADLY to be working outside.  I ALMOST majored in Forestry, as Auburn had an excellent program.  Every day, I regret not doing so.  Kids, ensure your long term happiness and the money will somehow work out. Unless it won’t and then you can regroup. Money is not everything.

So if you’re still reading you may be thinking, what did he get right…  Anything? Bueller….

Yes, some things…

If nothing else, be principled

Probably the best compliment that I get from my friends is that they see me as principled, if even to a fault and sometimes to my detriment.  It’s true, I’m an extremist with it but I just have lived life refusing to compromise my core principles.  And like most people, I sometimes fail to live up to them, but for the most part I try and be principled and choose right over wrong and expedient.

Read

Reading is the single most important thing that IMO that humans can do to better themselves.  My life has been dedicated to reading.  I don’t read as many novels as I used to but I’m always reading something.  A map, a blog post, magazines, articles, what have you.  If you don’t read, start NOW.  And never stop.  It is probably the single most important gift that I received from my childhood.  As chronicled before, I’d venture to guess that there aren’t 50 people in the US with an 11th grade education that read more books than my dad.  And from disparate sources and subjects.  You simply MUST do this.

Be on time and be present

It’s amazing to me how little time management skills that people have.  I’m psychotic about it but it works.  Honestly, just showing up is probably about 40% of what life is about.  But be present for people.  I try to.  Be present for others even if they aren’t present for you.  It’s hard, but do it.

Love your kids and your friends

Seems self explanatory but I grew up in a love neutral household.  Perhaps I’ve repressed the memories but I don’t ever remember being told I love you.  I know that my parents loved me but they didn’t show it.  Telling someone that you love them is not weakness, it is strength.  I tell my male friends ALL THE TIME that I love them.  Because it is right to, and because I do.  People these days need to hear these things.  More than ever.

I don’t really know how many years that I have left.  At times I feel like I have accomplished a lot, and at times I feel that I have accomplished nothing.  I’m sure that most people are like this.

An Open Letter to the Outdoor Industry

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Most of my friends in the Outdoor Industry have been in Salt Lake City, Utah this week for what is to be the last installment of the OR Show to be held there.  The show is relocating to Denver for reasons that have been covered in better detail and frankly by better bloggers than I.

 I recently participated in a fellow Facebook friend’s thread about an article that recently appeared in Outdoor Magazine entitled Patagonia’s Big Business of #Resist. In that thread, I made some pretty opinionated posts (Ed. Note: shocker), that were pretty much ignored.  

In this article (and as discussed in the Facebook thread) Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard basically called the leaders of the Outdoor Industry, ‘weenies’, saying ” In short order, he criticized the fishing industry, the surfing industry, and REI for failing to give enough money to environmental causes. “The whole outdoor industry is just run by a bunch of weenies,” he went on, “And they’re not stepping up. They just suck the life out of outdoor resources and give nothing away.”

Before I begin with the crux of this post in earnest, I want to make a few things clear.  I have dozens upon dozens of outdoor industry acquaintances, Facebook friends, people that I blog with etc.  I do not want this post to be construed as anything related to them individually.  They are all good people that care about what they are doing.  

Having said that… I have some opinions…

Now, it would be reasonable to say, ‘You hypocrite, don’t you contribute to a prominent outdoor magazine?’  And the answer to that is yes.  I am part of the problem.

But I think there are a few things that the Industry can do to improve itself.

Be more inclusive

Inclusion is a huge buzzword right now.  ALL of the brands, companies, panel discussions are filled with discussions about inclusivity.  But in all honesty, all that I see is talk.  The companies’ actions don’t speak to their goals and ideals.  With all due respect, all that any of us see are 28 year old caucasian males that look like they just got out of a climbing gym with a flowing mane and a freshly oiled beard.  Or a female hiker that looks like she just participated in American Ninja Warrior.

Where are persons of color? Asians, Africans, native Americans, Pacific Islanders? Because its not enough to put them on your speaking panels at OR.  You have to bring them into everything.  Because their groups are hiking and they belong.  Frankly, we NEED them to participate.  So don’t just give them an invite to dinner, let them eat.

Other than Ma Boyle, when’s the last time that you saw an elderly person or person over 65 in an outdoor ad?  Yet I see people of that age in the clothing and gear, ALL THE TIME. Or out on trail, or in their kayak, or at REI.

Transform the culture to reward doers and not talkers

One of the biggest peripheral complaints that I have with the industry is that we are great at talking about doing things, whether it be campaigns, advocacy, hashtags, etc. but we are not good at actually DOING THINGS.  I am embarrassed to say it, but frankly, I can’t do anything because no one will let me.  

But we must become doers in our communities.  We must stop talking and actually do things. Even if it is small, one small act is better than talking about twenty (20) big things that never actually get done.

Reward storytellers, adventurers, bloggers and the like that are actually DOING things

I came to my current job from the private sector.  I understand what it means to push product and to be under pressure to sell.  To feel the pain of two consecutive bad quarters and to have to worry about what that means. So I understand WHY heretofore that the OI has basically rewarded with ambassadorships the best bloggers, the best Facebookers, the best Instagrammers, the best Pinteresters, the best Snapchatters.  

Look, I get it.  These folks are GOOD at what they do, and to be frank, I envy them.  And I’m admittedly jealous of their skills.  

 But what I think would be beneficial to the companies is to just once promote the little guy.  The me of a year and a half ago that was hungry, adventurous, getting going in the social media outdoor world.  Take a chance on these folks!  They will 100% make the brands proud.  Too often, the folks that ARE chosen as brand ambassadors, don’t really even want to ‘do it’ and see it as a burden.  “Another tent, omg!”  

Disband the fraternity and sorority

I’m going to be absolutely frank.  The industry often feels so much like the snobbiest fraternity or sorority at wherever you went to college.   I’ll describe the feeling thusly… It’s like you are non-Greek, and you really want to be, but then you don’t, but yeah, you kinda do, but you don’t rush because you know that they will just say no.

If I had a nickel for every social media post that I have seen that said something along the lines of ‘who do I know that does ______________?’  Invariably, the post will flood with people like me, dying for a chance to get in the club, only to be told, ‘Oh, you’re not welcome here, but Suzie is. We do yoga together and she’s so rad!”  Editor’s note:  If I know any Suzies, I love you still.

STOP HIRING YOUR FRIENDS, AND CHOOSING THEM FOR EVERYTHING THAT YOUR COMPANIES DO.  Spread the wealth, give others a chance.  For once, DON’T just hire or allow your climbing sesh partners to work with you.  Just try it.

Reassess what you’re selling

Look, I’ve never worked a day at an outdoor company except for my non-paid opportunity to contribute to Backpacker Local’s web presence and some blurbs in the magazine which of course I’m grateful for.  

I don’t pretend to understand the economics or the financial implications of what they sell.  My advice here is from pure opinion…

But 99% of us do not need a Mountain-Glo tent that costs $500.00.  We just don’t.  With apologies to my friends whose jobs it is to sell products, we don’t need half the stuff you’re selling.  Now, I don’t want you to sell ANY less gear.  I just want the gear to be usable, affordable, and just enough quality to last.  And I want you to sell MORE of that gear.

I’d like for a big brand once to just say, we’re going to find a way to make the best $90.00 tent that can possibly be made, and to sell a metric crap ton of them.  Instead of ‘Hey, here’s this $749.00 tent spun from the silk of a spider only found on one mountain in the Andes.  We’re calling it the Stoke.’

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Do I have all the answers?  Nope.

Have I ever or will I ever run an outdoor company?  Nope, because it would fail.  I’m supremely unqualified to run a business of this nature although I’d certainly try my hardest to make it work.

These are just my ideas from the outside looking in at an industry that I so desperately want to improve.

Let me know your thoughts…