The UW Wilderness Festival-An Interview with Jackson Clarendon

Last week I read about the UW Wilderness Festival and instantly emailed Jackson Clarendon, one of the event organizers for more details about this awesome event. If you’re a Laramie local, or looking to come to Laramie for a fun week check out his interview below to what’s going on at the UW Wilderness Festival.
UW Wilderness Festival 2

Q1. What is the Wilderness Festival? Is this the first one? How did the idea come about?

Last October, the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources sponsored about 15 students traveling to the National Wilderness Conference in Albuquerque. This four day event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National Wilderness Act was attended by over 1200 activists, private and government professionals, outdoor industry representatives, and academics.

The conference provided an excellent opportunity for both networking and intellectual exploration on the topic of our public lands. An exceptionally resounding keynote speech by Chris Barns from the BLM said, paraphrased, that if we don’t bring something back to our own communities from this conference, then we did not attend. One of our student-members, Kayla Matlock, initially came up with the idea of holding our own event here to both celebrate and analyze wilderness in Wyoming.

We seek, through the UW Wilderness Festival, to facilitate a statewide discussion among concerned citizens and wilderness stewards about the future of wilderness, our most pristine public lands, while celebrating wilderness in Wyoming and the greater Rocky Mountain region. 

Q2. What is the purpose for the festival and what are some of the goals that you and those involved with organizing the event have?

While we primarily want to impact and facilitate the discussion on the topic of wilderness, we also like to provide fun opportunities for our community to gather. We believe that this strengthens both the community and people’s personal concept of and relationship with wilderness.

Ultimately, we would love to see this event become an annual festival to provide a sustaining forum for discussions regarding our interactions with public lands while fostering this community we love. As we are a student club, and therefore have a high turnover rate, we just hope that this event is inspires next year’s leadership to hold a similar event!

Q3. This festival is unique because it has 4 different events, a film festival, a panel discussion, a music festival and an outdoor trip. What were you looking for in terms of films, panel members, activities and events? What do you hope people learn as they participate in these events?

We specifically wanted the films to both highlight the beauty of wilderness in the west while discussing some of the controversies surrounding wilderness designation.

“Shoshone Wild” from the Wyoming Wilderness Association and “Common Ground” from the Montana Wilderness Association both discuss how people came together from different political persuasions. Last fall, I noticed a very cool film produced by the Montana Wilderness Association called “Land of No Use“, a collaborative effort between local professional skiers, filmmakers, musicians, and advocates to capture some of the incredible backcountry skiing opportunities Montana has to offer within their wilderness areas.

We decided this would be a fantastic headline film to round out other films focused on wilderness. Fortunately, we have filmmaker Henry Worobec joining us on Wednesday to discuss both the filming process and how he conceptualizes his relationship with wilderness.

China’s capital markets have been

For our panel discussion, we reached out to experts in the field of wilderness. We tried to compile a diverse list of people, allowing for differing but complimentary opinions to both allow for intelligent debate, but minimize any chance of contention where a panel member feels singled out. I think our panel has a good mix of outdoorsy folks, activists, and academics who can both speak passionately and connect with our community.

We modeled our Friday night event, the music festival, off of the Wilderness Conference’s “Get Wild” festival, a blowing-off-steam concert to end the week of attending talks. This format fits well with our event too, as spring is rapidly approaching after a long winter of school work here in Laramie, and music always catalyzes community and provides a fun release of stress.

Fundamentally, however, we think that in order for people to care about an issue, they must develop a connection with it. For wilderness, that means getting folks outside, disconnected from the daily grind of computers and away from the cell phone leash, and into some of the incredible natural areas that we in the west are especially lucky to have.

It’s one thing to sit in a lecture hall viewing films or listening to people wax poetic, but to actually go out and explore and experience life — that’s what we hope to inspire. This creates a feedback loop where people receive the benefits of wilderness recreation, and in turn feel passionate enough to fight to preserve these areas for future generations’ use and enjoyment.

Q4. Are all of the events free and open to the public? Which one do you think will be the most popular?

Correct, all events are free and open to the public! I think Friday’s music festival will be the most attended, as it is a party in a college town. We are also providing craft beer at Friday’s event for a small donation to the club, which always improves popularity. Personally, I am most excited to see what sort of discussion arrises from our panel series. I think the film series will be a great event as well, and am excited to hear some more background information from Mr. Worobec about “Land of No Use”.

Additionally to being free, we have actually collected numerous donations from both our local community businesses and the outdoor recreation industry at large, which will be raffled off as door prizes on Friday. These tickets are also free and each person gets one per night attended. We hope this encourages people to attend all 3 nights to increase their odds. Some of our grand prizes include 4 day tickets at Snowy Range Ski Area, a gift basket from Big Hollow, our local Coop, including a yearmembership, a Topo Designs backpack, and a film package from Teton Gravity Research.

Q5. Where can we go for more information?

Please see both our Club facebook page here: and the event page:

Q6. And if you could give me a little bit of background about you, where you’re from, and your participation in the ENR Club.

I’m a Wyoming native, born and raised in Story, Wyoming to a ranching and conservation family. I’m graduating this May with a degree in Environment and Natural Resources and International Studies, and have been involved with the ENR Club for the past 2 years, as Secretary and President, respectively.

Thanks for the interview Jackson and now I ask the rest of you…will we see YOU at the Wilderness Festival? If you see us around be sure to say “hi!”

4 Mistakes I’ve Made in the Outdoors

There’s something about a new year that causes me to go back and reflect on the past.

I’ve done a lot of dumb things in the outdoors and most are related to complacency, or arrogance.

Here’s where I confess and tell you a few of the mistakes that I’ve made along the way, especially when I was pushing it really hard last summer to try to hike every day for 100 days.

I’m sharing this list for two reasons.

  • So you know that we’re human around here and that we make mistakes (is anyone else sick of reading blogs where everyone is oh so perfect?).
  • Because we all learn from making mistakes and reading the mistakes of others.

Here are a few of the mistakes that I’ve made recently in the outdoors.

4 Mistakes I've Made in the Outdoors

1. I got a group hike that I was leading lost. We got busy chit chatting, took a wrong turn and hiked an extra 5 miles. We turned an 8 mile day into a 13 mile day. It was embarrassing, and dumb, especially because my Trail Deck was right in my pocket. I thought I knew the trail network-I didn’t. Thankfully everyone had enough food and water and thankfully the friends that I got lost still hike with me. I’ll never make that mistake again though. Just thinking about it makes me feel like a total jerk.

The Fix: Now I spend a few minutes at home looking over maps before I lead a group hike even if I think I know where I’m going. 

2. Not checking in with Al before and after a hike. Before Al started law school this was easy but with his new schedule not so much. Last fall hiking got so routine for us that at one point I got really lazy about sending a text to let Al know when I was leaving, where I was going and when I expected to return. I got complacent with my planning and communicating, not a good thing for a anyone–let alone a Mom who frequently drags two children into the wilderness alone.

The Fix: Now I schedule my hikes on our digital shared calendar so when Al is at school he can just pull up his i-phone and know where I am and when I’ll be home. I make it a point to text or call if we have a quick location or time change. I also make sure he can stalk me on endomondo and I take his SPOT sometimes too. 

3. Not packing an essential item. On one hike last summer it was blazing hot when I pulled into sunny trailhead about an hour from our house. As I was pulling children out of car seats realized that I had left sunscreen and our hats at home.

I knew that there was little sun protection on the trail we planned to hike.

I knew that I didn’t want to drive all the way home without a hike, but I also knew that my kids would turn into a crabby sunburned mess if we hiked at that location.

So, I modified our plans and drove to a different trailhead where I knew we could hike through the shade and we didn’t hike as long as planned. I’m usually good about keeping our daypacks packed and ready to go, but it’s easy to take an item out, leave it somewhere (like on the kitchen counter) and forget to replace it.

The Fix: Even if I don’t think I need to I go over our packing checklist before every hike and double check the contents of my daypack. I also store our gear like this so it’s easy to pack and repack.  It’s better to spend the 2-3 minutes of prep at home than to drive to a trailhead and not be able to hike.

4. Not keeping my hair out of reach of my 1 year old when he’s in the backpack carrier. Okay, so this one is silly but oh so true!


What mistakes have you made in the outdoors?


Fresh Tracks

Early yesterday morning we made our way to Lake Owen for a little hike and to see how much longer it’s going to be before we can cross-country ski on the Medicine Bow Rail Trail (we’re going to need a few more big storms…)

We were the only car in the parking lot and we were so excited to be the first tracks in the fresh powder down the trail…or so we thought until we realized how much wildlife activity had occurred since Monday’s storm.

Every once in a while we’d stop, shove another piece of Halloween candy into our mouth and examine fresh animal tracks in the snow.

One thing that I don’t appreciate in the summer is the fact that we share the trails with so much wildlife! Walking through a winter wonderland was awesome at helping us attempt to learn about tracks and seeing what animals we could run across on a hike someday.

Here’s what we found. All tracks are up to debate, clearly I’m not that awesome at track identification.


fox3 rabbit deer Mom

fox2 bobcat(ps I have small feet, these tracks were big around 4 inches..)

elk ? ?? bigfoot

Here’s what I learned:

Al always  has the booklet ‘Animal Tracks: An introduction to the tracks and signs of familiar North American species’ in his pack. I totally forgot to grab it before we left.

I also didn’t even think to start including something like a picture of my boot or Nalgene bottle that could help me identify the size of the track until we were almost done with the hike. I know better than this…ugh.

Identifying animal tracks is hard, I really need to go out with someone who is good at it and learn a thing or two.

Do you consider yourself to be an expert at identifying tracks and evidence of animals? I’d love to interview you for a blog post so leave a comment below or shoot me an email. rebecca(at)justtrails(dot)com


The day we were stalked…

So there we were…

Just me and the boys on the Libby Creek trail.

We were enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning hike, checking out the snow, stomping on the ice and soaking in the bright October sunshine as it filtered through the pines.

the day we were stalked

It was a beautiful morning and we were having fun.

We were .35 miles from the trailhead and both of my kids were hiking with a Kashi Chocolate Chip Chia granola bar in hand (yummers). It’s how we roll.

All of a sudden I heard this evil cackle on the trail behind us.

I turned around, expecting to come face-to-face with the Wicked Witch of the West or at least something awesome like a mountain lion.

But I came eye-to-eye with this.IMG_5253

A camp robber.

Just as the words, “hey, boys check out that bird,” exited my mouth the bird swooped down, dive-bombed 3-year-old William and tried to steal his granola bar.

William screamed, ran, started sobbing, and then tried to jump on top of me. He almost peed his pants and was clearly traumatized by the fact that a bird was trying to attack him just for a taste of his delicious granola bar goodness.

Meanwhile, the bird flew to a tree just down the trail and started watching us with its beady little eyes.

But I wasn’t going to let a bird stop me. We had no choice but to continue on down the trail.

Just as we started moving the bird then did the exact same thing, only this time his destination was the granola bar in 1 year-old Finn’s hand.

granola bar

You need to know that when it comes to food, nothing will stand in Finn’s way. The kid’s a chow hound.

Finn, saw the bird coming and then started yelling at it and shooing it away. He put up a good fight. But still, the bird wanted our food. My boys didn’t want to share and we had miles to hike.

The bird flew a short distance down the trail once again. He perched himself on a rock where he could watch us with his evil eyes.

I threw a stick at him, but he didn’t even budge. He was a clever little bird.

I pulled the boys into a little circle.

“Here’s the deal,” I said, while trying to figure out a plan.

“I’m going to carry both of you and we’re going to run down the trail as fast as we can and try to leave the bird behind.”

double carry

So that’s what we did. No bird is going to steal our food.

The rest of our hike was uneventful, but so help me God if another bird tries to stalk me and my baby boys…

I will save the granola bars. This isn’t my first encounter with a camp robber and I don’t think it will be my last. I try to love all of the world’s creations but creepy birds…not so much.

Have you ever been stalked on the trails?

Camping Tips: An Interview With Dick Finke

I love to camp.  But I’ll be the first to admit that we don’t camp nearly as often as I’d like to. We could blame it on our young children but that wouldn’t be fair. Just as I was doing some research and thinking about writing a blog post on camping, Dick with Tent Camping HQ shot me an email. I figured it was the perfect time to ask a guy who loves camping a bunch of questions about camping!
As we’ve done with the interviews the past few weeks I’ll let Dick take it away!

camping tips an interview with dick finke2.jpg

Q1. One of our goals is to support and encourage people to get outside who might be new to hiking, camping, backpacking etc and to help them overcome some barriers that exist to outdoor recreation. What advice would you give to someone who has never camped before who might be a little bit scared or uncertain about the idea of camping?

A1. When I come across someone who has never been camping before I simply ask them “Why not?” Then I hear their fears or worries about camping. There seem to be a lot more than you would think.

Three of the biggest things I hear are: “Where do you go to the bathroom?”, “What about bugs?” The one that gets me the most is “I don’t like to be dirty…”

If you are just getting into camping or are trying to get your kids used to the idea of camping, start small. Camp in the back yard for a few nights. Then move up to a nice campground. Nobody said your first camping trip has to be a primitive campsite that is only accessible by hiking miles into a forest with only what on your back.

The first time you road a bike you didn’t just jump on a mountain bike and hit a single track trail… you started small, probably had training wheels for a while then when you got used to it the training wheels came off then slowly moved to bigger and better bicycles. Taking small steps is the best way to start.

Bathrooms are available at all family campgrounds. I suggest before you set up your camp that you find the nearest restroom. That way your not doing circles when the time comes (especially handy when kids are involved). Even while camping at campgrounds I like to bring my own T.P. Because you never know…

When you are camping in a secluded area, say in a forest with no one else around just make sure you pick an area to use thats pretty far away from camp, and down wind. You will need to bury your “droppings” in a hole a minimum of 6 inches deep. Be sure to use biodegradable toilet paper or at least know which leaves NOT to use (avoiding anything poisonous such as poison ivy or poison oak).  It just takes a little more preparation to use the “restroom” while camping in a primitive setting. It also helps to avoid spicy food, or anything known to make you “go” in a hurry. Don’t worry, they do make camp ready port-a-potties as well!

As for bugs, exposure to them can be controlled. The easiest way is by picking the right time of year. The colder it is, the less bugs you will have. I always enjoy a spring or fall camp because of this. Also in spring plants are coming alive and flowers are starting to bloom, and in fall you have the beauty of the leaves changing colors and the raw smell of the years leaves as they drop and decay (which is a good thing).

Insects can be kept away in a number of manners anything from bug nets to manufactured bug repellents to bug sprays. I am now trying to learn more on how to keep insects away naturally by using different organic plant oils and minerals. Even just rubbing sassafras leaves or orange peels on your skin will help out (you do need to re apply it every 15 min. or so). (Wow, cool Dick, I had no idea!)

Now… being dirty in the woods. Never worry about that. Some campgrounds have showers. If you prefer to camp more primitive, there are an array of waterless soaps, biodegradable soaps, and hand sanitizers that can be purchased for a few bucks at many stores. I always enjoy camping near a water source like a lake or a stream. That way I have water that I can filter to drink and a way to clean myself up a bit. Not to mention a dip in a lake is great after a long day of hiking!

Also, it helps to take someone along with you that is experienced in camping. But, let them know ahead of time that you are new to camping so they understand what they might be getting into.


Q2. What are a few common mistakes that you see beginning campers make? Any advice on how to avoid making these mistakes?

A2. There are many mistakes made by beginning campers, as well as seasoned campers. Many of these mistakes lie in the preparations made for the camping trip. There are two things that I commonly use to help me with my preparations. One is our great “Perfect Camping Checklist” that can be found on our website.

The other is also explained on our website in the article “How to Pack for Camping.” I have been using these methods for years. Basically packing like you just bought a tiny little house that you need to furnish.

Start with the the Kitchen be sure you have water and food, and a way to prepare these items. If you have the means to carry more food than you think you need, do so. Then on to the bathroom, that would be all of your hygiene products (toothbrush, T.P., medicine, etc).

Then continue traveling through the rooms of your house. Bedroom is where I include my sleeping bag, tent, sleeping mat, etc. Then if I still have room remaining that’s when I pack the den (books, pen & note book, art kit, etc.) and then the game room.

I leave the fun stuff for last, to be sure I take what I need to have. Be sure, when packing that you have everything you need. Lay everything out on a bed or the floor and look it all over. Look at your checklist against your pile of gear, is everything there? Yes? Well check it again. I check my gear against my check list two to three times.


Q3. What would you consider to be the top 10 most essential things to pack when car camping?

A3.  My top 10 car camping list would be

  1. Knowledge (YES! We totally agree with you on this one!)
    1. Know how to use your gear before you use it
    2. Know your destination and how to get there
  2. Water or means of retrieving clean water (water filter)
  3. A good Knife (which we have an article on “How to Choose a Knife – Philosophy of a Tool”)
  4. Shelter – You can always retreat to the car if needed but what fun is that?
    1. Tent
    2. Tarp
    3. Rain Gear (yes, I include this as shelter as well as heavy outerwear in colder weather)
  5. Food for as many days that you will be camping. Plus at least one day extra.
  6. At least 3 ways of starting a fire.
    1. Matches, Lighter, Farrocerium rod etc.
  7. First Aid Kit
    1. don’t just buy a store bought kit and toss it into the car with out first going over it and making sure you know how to use everything in it before you need it. Store bought kits are usually lacking something that you might need. I always at least add more bandages and any medication I might need.
  8. A way to cook the food you are bringing. Stove, Grill, Grill grate for over the fire etc.
  9. Maps (Just Trails shameless plug…if you’re in Southeastern Wyoming or Northern Colorado we know where you can get some kick ass maps 😉
    1. Always keep a map of the roads in the area and any trails you may be hiking. Its easy to get turned around even while staying on a known road or trail.
    2. It’s good to know a quick way out in case of an emergency.
  10. My Camera.
    1. This will insure that you remember all the good times you had on your camping trip and make it easier to talk someone else into going camping with you in the future, when they see what a great time you had.

Keep in mind, these are just for the camping aspect of car camping… There are many more things to keep in mind such as your car. Keeping a emergency car kit, spare tire and means to replace it, tools and the knowledge in how to use them will greatly increase your chances of having an enjoyable camping trip.


Q4. I noticed that on your website you also share a few campfire cooking recipes. What’s your favorite camping meal and why? Can you share a recipe?

A4.  Bannock. Hands down my favorite thing to cook and eat while camping. Its origins can be found all over the world from Celtic Scotland to The Great Depression in the United States to many indigenous cultures though out the world.

It is extremely versatile as well. It can be a main coarse or a side dish or desert. It is a bread product that seems to be a cross between a pancake and a biscuit. I like to add fresh fruit to mine and top it with honey or maple syrup. I also have heard of people adding meat to it, from pepperoni to ground beef. Once in awhile I will make it at home and eat it plain along side of stew or a roast.

TCHQ-Strawberry Bannock Recipe

The basic recipe is as follows:

  • 1 cup all purpose flower
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • Water, till bread dough consistency

Optionally you can add sugar to taste, fresh fruit, meats, dry fruit, nuts or seeds.Try topping with honey, maple syrup, peanut butter or jam and jellies

If I am car camping I will premix all the dry ingredients at home and store it in a Mason jar then mix it in a bowl with water at camp. If I am backpacking I will make a couple batches and store them in zip top bags. I will then add the water directly into the bag, zip the top and mush it around to mix the dough.

My favorite way of cooking it is in a cast iron skillet with a tiny bit of oil. You can also form it into a thick rope and wrap the dough around a stick and cook it over the fire like you where roasting hot-dog or marshmallow.


Q5. I also noticed that you have a really cool post on how to tell a scary campfire story. So, how do you start the perfect campfire so you can get on with those scary tales? In your opinion what’s the fastest and easiest way to start a campfire?

A5.  The perfect fire… well… There are many, many ways to build a fire. A lot of people like the “tipi” fire over the “log cabin” style campfire. Or the “long fire” or the “scout fire pit” or a self feeding fire. I could go on…

The most important part to know with the “perfect fire” is how to start it. If I am around a campfire when its being built I will stand back and watch the person make it to see if there is anything I can learn from their method. Recently in a friend’s backyard I watched this friend take over the starting of the fire. He didn’t use a conventional fire “style” he just tossed a bunch of crumpled magazine pages on the bottom and sticks on top of that. Nothing fancy about it, but it started quickly and burned all night.

Be sure you have a way to spark a flame such as a match, lighter, ferro rod, or flint and steel. Again, ways to spark a flame are many. You need to know how to use your “flame sparker” and be sure you can use it when time arrives. Always have a backup, or two.

Lets imagine you have an open flame such as a lighter. First thing you need to do is to catch something else on fire with it first, then work your way up to the log. I will put this in list form with some examples. Starting with the first thing to light.

Tinder or a fire starter: Small easily flammable matter like dry grass, eaves, twigs smaller than a pencil diameter, newspaper, fire starter (waxed cotton ball, dryer lint etc).

Once the Tinder has a flame use it to light the kindling. Kindling are twigs or sticks the diameter of a pencil to the diameter of your thumb.

Continue on once the Kindling is lit, use that to light the fuel wood on fire. Fuel can be broken or cut tree branches the diameter of your wrist and up.

Remember, for fire to exist you need heat, oxygen and fuel. In this situation the heat origin is the lighter. The fuel is the wood and if you smother everything together you wont leave space for the oxygen. When making your piles of tinder leave it fluffy. Leave the kindling spaced apart. When you add the fuel wood only add a piece or two at a time.

For the easiest fire making be sure everything that you use in building the fire is dry. This not only means the Tinder, Kindling and Fuel wood but it also includes the ground where you are starting the fire. Many tinders can pick up moisture from the ground also a wet soil is harder to heat up so you will be loosing a lot of heat downward towards the ground instead of up into your kindling. Try using a piece of aluminum foil or a dry piece of wood on the ground under your tinder.

After the fuel wood is lit a blaze you can then set damp wood near the fire to help it dry out for future use.

Keep in mind that bark on a tree is there to protect the tree. For quickest fire starting, split the dry branches so you are lighting the wood of the tree on fire not trying to get through its protective layer of bark.

To me, the “perfect fire” is the one that will maintain a flame and holds the ability to pass that flame on to other logs.

Please, check our website for a link to our Campfire Safety article and read that before attempting to start any campfires. There are also a couple articles on how to start campfires.


Q6. Is there anything you’d like to add about camping?

A6.  Camping can be a wonderful experience if it’s done properly. Myself, I’m not a religious man. When I am in the woods alone living close to the earth it is what I would consider to be a near religious experience. The forest (my preferred camping location) is a living organism. It breathes, it provides, it lives and it dies. It has everything needed for you to survive yet it can also be a dangerous place if you don’t know what you are doing or are unprepared. If I learned anything from watching too much T.V. As a kid it is that G.I. Joe was right, Knowledge is Power.


Take that first step towards camping if you haven’t. Learn as much as you can about it. I learned a lot by reading survival manuals and travel logs. Years later I have the Internet with many great camping related websites to learn even more about camping, survival, gear and outdoor recreations.

These sources not only provide entertainment they also pass knowledge. Knowledge gives you confidence. Once you are confident in your abilities and your gear through practice, then you can relax and enjoy the reason you went camping in the first place. Get back to nature and breath that fresh air. Enjoy it for what it is and leave it the way it was.


Q7. Where can we find your websites and where can we find you on social media?

A7.  Follow us on the following sites:

Personally I can be found

  • – my photography site where I run the gamut of photo subjects
  • – Where I do my “Too Much T.V. Project” Basically a reason to watch less T.V. And I make videos on Camping, Hiking, Homesteading, DIY and bushcraft
  • – Where I post my nature time lapse videos

Here’s a little bit more about Dick:

I was lucky enough to have parents who introduced me to the outdoors at a young age. They frequently encouraged me to “Go play in the woods!” I believe this is where I got my love for all things in nature as well as my love for camping. As I grew older I would explore different areas of North West Pennsylvania and western New York state. Camping and hiking always seemed to fit into my vacation plans.

When I was in my early twenties I was having a hard time sleeping after loosing a job. The only thing I knew that always put me asleep through school was reading, and what was more boring to me than reading? Reading instruction manuals, So I picked up a survival guide and started reading. Then I had a hard time sleeping because I was way into it. It was tough for me to put them down. One of my favorite authors was Tom Brown Jr. I own over a dozen of his books on survival, bushcraft and tracking.

In my early to mid twenties I started taking my birthday off of work every year. First it was to just go be by myself for a day, usually immersed in nature in some manner. It didn’t matter what I did as long as I was away from my roommates for the day. Those days then became weekends of camping alone. First car camping then hiking into camp. Sometimes, I would bring my trusty dog along for the adventure.

Youtube came along, I started following many people that where into the same thing as I. Some homesteaders, some bushcrafters and a lot of hikers and campers. I really enjoyed watching these videos, so much so that I started my own channel. I have been making videos fairly consistently for Youtube since around 2010.

In 2012 I heard one of my friends started a website all about camping. I thought it sounded like a great idea and offered to help anyway that I could. That’s how I became partners with my friend Dave, working on I now write articles, make videos, and maintain the Youtube, Facebook and Google+ accounts for TCHQ. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.

Thanks for the awesome, informative interview Dick! And now I’m off to cook bannock and learn how to tell a scary campfire story 😉


I’ve had so much fun interviewing a few awesome outdoorsy folks the past few weeks! If you’ve got a story to share, a tip for the good of the community or can tell us about a lesson that you learned the hard way let me know! I’d love to feature you on the blog. Shoot an email to rebecca(at)justtrails(dot)com. Thanks! 

Inspiration by Joyce (aka Hyker Girl) Part 2

Yesterday we published the first part of a two part interview with Hyker Girl, Joyce Britton. Today she talks about barriers to entry in the outdoor community, her favorite place to hike and her goals and dreams. 

We’ll take it away and start right where we left off yesterday.

Q: Sometimes I feel like there are a lot of barriers to entry in the outdoor community. These barriers can be novice hikers feeling like they don’t have the perfect gear, the physical strength or the experience to take on a trail. When you started hiking did you experience any barriers? What advice do you have to people who might be a little apprehensive about lacing up their hiking boots for the first time?

Yes, I have experienced those barriers, which I sort of described yesterday.  I look at it like this, a barrier can only hold you back as far as you let it. (Amen Joyce!)

I admit, I was toast on my first few hikes, which were under 3 miles each.  I could have given up and said hiking wasn’t for me.  I know people that have given up after the first hike or two.  The key is that you have to keep doing it.  As your body gets used to the activity, it will adapt.  Of course it’s going to scream at you and you’ll be sore for a few days, but that soreness will go away and you’ll feel yourself stronger the next time you go out.  You have to just do it and keep doing it.  Your spirit has to tell your body what to do, not vice versa.

Your spirit..jpg

Q: Where’s your favorite place to hike and why?

The Sierra, hands down.  It’s my “Happy Place.”  It’s where the tallest mountain in the Lower 48 States is located.  I love the beautiful lakes, snow-capped peaks and glaciers.  It’s a great place to go to get away from the stress of city life.  The highway 395, the “Gateway to the Sierra,” is my favorite drive and it leads to some of the most magical places I’ve ever seen in my life.  The Sierra is like Middle Earth to me and I love the feeling of being taken to a place that’s out of this world, even if it’s just my imagination.  As an artist, the Sierra is a place that infuses my creativity and helps clear my mind of all the junk that inhibits my right brain from functioning at its best.  It’s a place that you just have to visit.

Q: What’s your biggest goal, what mountain do you dream about climbing?

When I started out, I didn’t have any goals of climbing mountains.  I once heard it said that “Exposure increases expectations.”  As I got more exposed to the hiking community and learned more about mountains, and that they were more accessible to me than I thought, I began to dream more.  I like to call them “mountain crushes.”  So my latest mountain crush is Mt. Shasta.  I was looking at climbing it this past June, but I was supposed to be going to Israel a couple of weeks ago and figured I needed to put all my focus and preparation on that trip.  When the Israel trip got canceled, I regretted not doing Shasta, so it’s now on the itinerary for next year.  I don’t know if Shasta is my biggest goal, but it’s certainly my biggest goal for right now as I choose to take it one step at a time.

Q: What was your most memorable hike? What made it memorable?

I can think of several most memorable hikes, but if I have to name one, it would be the Half Dome hike at Yosemite in 2010.  It was my first ever high altitude hike and basically the beginning of “Tales of the Trails.”  On that hike, I experienced every single emotion–joy, pain, anguish, frustration, happiness, all of it.  I was tempted to quit at so many different intervals along the way and I felt so weighted down that I almost chalked it up to the idea that I wasn’t doing the right thing and needed to quit and turn around.

I hiked most of the way alone because I couldn’t keep up with the pace of the rest of the group.  That is where the assault of negative and destructive thoughts took aim at me and threatened to take me out.

I pressed on through those challenges and eventually made it to the summit of Half Dome, and shortly after that, began putting together an essay where I chronicled that experience, along with all of the destructive thoughts I battled along the journey.  In the essay, I drew a parallel to my life’s journey and illustrated how those same thoughts can derail our lives’ purpose if we don’t take those thoughts captive and bring them under subjection to the truth.  I titled the essay, “Life on the Edge: My Journey to Half Dome and Beyond.”  When I finished the 20+ page essay, I realized that my story was still being written and that that may have just been the beginning of something, so I made it into a blog, “Tales of the Trails,” and broke that essay up into a series of posts on the blog.

Q: Do you have anything you’d like to add about Hyker Girl, or Tales of the Trails? What’s your next big thing?

Lately, I’ve been more focused on developing Tales of the Trails and creating content for that.  Occasionally, I may post a few things on Hyker Girl or share a video, but I’m more inspired to blend my creativity with my passion for hiking and love of the outdoors to create inspirational content.  That is why I decided to take my blog to the next level by creating sort of a reality series.  I want to take people on the journey with me and show them that they can achieve bigger goals and overcome obstacles and limitations if they just believe and then take the step of faith to get outside and do these things.

For Hyker Girl, more adventures are on the way, along with more sharing, more community, and perhaps some new Hyker Girl t-shirts and stickers.  Those items were a hit the first time around and now that Hyker Girl is getting more exposure, the merchandise should do even better this time.  We’re really excited about what’s to come.

Tales of the Trails has a fully functioning website now.  It’s not just a blog page as it was before.  I like the look and feel of the site and hope to get more people to visit it.  The main focus right now is to not only create content, but to create good quality content that engages and inspires others to get out and explore.

I also wish to inspire those that are already actively exploring to find deeper meaning and purpose in what they do and be the pioneers–the pathfinders–who blaze a trail for others to follow.  There are people out there who can climb some of the biggest mountains, but they can’t do something as simple as ask their crush out on a date. (I love the connection you made here Joyce!) Or they might sprain their wrist and think that, all of a sudden, the world is coming to an end.  I want to encourage people to gain a deeper insight into these treks and realize that it’s not just about climbing a mountain or taking a walk in the backcountry.  It’s life, and mountains–nature can teach us so many things about our journey.

I could say that the next big thing for Tales of the Trails would be Mt. Shasta next year, but that won’t be until next June and I’ve got a big chunk of time to fill in until then.  I’ve got a few Sierra trips planned before the summer is up, the next one being Cloudripper, a 13,000-foot peak near the Palisades.  After that, I’ll be heading to Mammoth to do some hikes, such as Devils Postpile (which I also did a week ago) and Duck Pass.

One of the things I see for Tales of the Trails in the future is to go on some sponsored climbs to raise awareness for diabetes and heart disease.  I lost my mom due to complications from diabetes and that was something that motivated me toward healthier living.  I want to do what I can to prevent someone else from losing their mom, dad, sister, brother, cousin, grandparent, friend to one of these horrible diseases and I think this would be a great way to shine a light on that topic and increase awareness.

Thank you so much for the interview Joyce. You can be sure that the next time we’re in Southern California I’ll be asking you for recommendations on where to hike!

To find out more but Hyker Girl check out this Facebook and Twitter page. And to find Tales of the Trails visit To check out Joyce’s photos check out


I’m on the lookout for interesting stories to share, tips to help the hiking community or lessons that have been learned. If you’d like to be interviewed and have your story shared here shoot an email to rebecca(at)justtrails(dot)com. Cheers!

Inspiration By Joyce (aka Hyker Girl)-Part 1

As I meet people in the virtual and physical hiking community I’m inspired by their stories. Last week’s interview with Rachel is just one example. I think everyone has a story to tell, we all have something in us that makes us special and unique and I’m on a mission to find those stories and share them right here. When I first heard Joyce Britton’s hiking story I was inspired by her positive “I can do this” attitude. I think as you read the interview there’s a point where her words will give you goose bumps and you’ll find yourself cheering her along the way.

We broke Joyce’s interview down into two parts. So be sure to check back tomorrow for the exciting conclusion!

Let’s dive right in as Joyce tell us about her hiking background, her online Hyker Girl community and her latest project, Tales from the Trails.

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Q: Hyker Girl is this awesome online community where hikers from all over the world share photos and stories from their adventures. How did you get started? How did you come up with Hyker Girl?

Hyker Girl was actually not my idea.  Two years ago, I organized and led a group of 26 hikers in a training series to climb Mt. Whitney.  We trained on all the big peaks in Southern California, including some smaller ones in between.  On the hikes, my assistants and I used radios to communicate and keep track of each other and the team members.  The nickname I used on radio was “Hiker Girl,” which was and continues to be my handle on various hiking forums that I participate in.  It’s also my Instagram handle.  It was just a fun name that I came up with since I had become such an avid hiker and adventurer.  The name embodied my personality of going out there and conquering not only the physical mountains and obstacles I encountered, but also the more figurative mountains I have to conquer in my everyday life.

On one of the training hikes to Mt. San Jacinto, John Ellis and I were talking and he mentioned using the name, “Hiker Girl,” to start an outdoor clothing line for women and girls.  At first, I thought the idea was ludicrous and silly, but John (being the savvy businessman that he is) kept talking it up, until I began to slightly see it.  I told him I would shadow him to see how he developed the idea because I knew nothing about starting or running a business.  The first thing I did was set up the Facebook page, where I decided to change the spelling of “Hiker” to “Hyker.”  I’m a creative person, so that was more of a style choice than anything else.  I do know how to spell.  (LOL)

The clothing line was a short-lived idea and didn’t really take off as we discovered that there is much more to starting a clothing line than just coming up with a name and attaching it to a garment. The Hyker Girl t-shirts and stickers did pretty well, though, and that’s something that will probably be revisited in the near future.

Now, Hyker Girl has evolved into more of an online hiking community where people from all over share their experiences and get connected with others who have similar passions. It’s quite fascinating how social media can build such bridges over great distances. (I couldn’t agree more Joyce!)

Q: Your facebook page says, “hiking is a step into your future, of both inner and outer strength”–what does this mean to you? Why did you choose this as your tagline?

For me, the tagline means that hiking is a great way to move forward in the goal of becoming a better me.  We all can reap the benefits of engaging in an active outdoor lifestyle.  Hiking has helped me to come out of my shell in so many ways.  I used to have a very timid and fearful nature and was super afraid of taking risks, even those requiring a certain degree of calculation.  With each mountain I conquer, I emerge further and further out of that shell, breaking through the barriers of self-imposed limits.  In that process of achieving greater inner strength, my body is getting stronger as well.  That is what we want to encourage in our fans and people we encounter on a daily basis.

Hiking also became a way for me to deal with grief.  I lost my mom to diabetes in 2008, shortly before I moved to LA, and it was a channel that helped me to work through it. Somehow, the physical struggle involved in hiking helped me overcome the struggle of grief and the depression that I had battled off and on since I was 16.  There were times I’d be climbing a mountain and I’d get so frustrated from the drudgery of the climb that I would just stop, lean up against a tree and cry it out.  During those times, I’d think about my mom and how I missed her.  Those tears ended up being very cleansing to me and I later realized that they were the tears that I didn’t cry at the funeral.  The grief was being released in a healthy way.

Q: How long have you been hiking, when and where did you get your start?

I have been hiking for just over five-and-a-half years.  It was something that I had to be introduced to and I didn’t hike until I moved to California.  I grew up in an area of Texas that was all flat and green, so any talk of hiking was completely foreign to me.  My impression of hiking was more like serious mountaineering with ropes, picks and harnesses, not a nice walk in the park up a gentle incline, which some trails offer.

I was introduced to hiking by the vey first friend that I made when I moved to California in 2008, John Ellis’ wife, LynNita.  She invited me to hike with a church-related hiking group and said it would be a good way for me to meet people since I was new to the area.  At first, I was like, “Excuse me?  I don’t hike.”  I thought it was something really dangerous and far beyond my capabilities, but she convinced me to go and I had a blast.  We hiked at Vasquez Rocks in Santa Clarita, CA.  

After that, I was hooked.  I went out and purchased my first ever pair of hiking boots and joined these monthly hikes until another friend of mine from church, Bruce Edwards, invited me to hike with a Meetup group that he was in.  I joined that group and was very intimidated after viewing their hike descriptions.  The hikes ranged anywhere from 7-10 miles and at that time, I just didn’t feel like I was there.  The other hiking group did 2-1/2 to 3 miles tops, and that was strenuous enough for me.  I couldn’t see myself hiking beyond that, especially with any amount of uphill.

I kept watching the postings from the Meetup group waiting for them to post something that I felt was easy enough for me to attempt.  One day, they posted a hike to Santa Paula Canyon near Ojai, CA.  It was a water hike, meaning the trail follows a creek and you have to cross that creek several times along the way.  I invited my friend Kim along on the hike since Bruce wasn’t going and I didn’t want to go hike with a new group alone.  The hike was a success and we had a great time.  Kim later joined the group and we have been hiking with this group ever since.  This group is how I got introduced to Mt. Whitney and all of the other big peaks I’ve summited over the past several years.

Q: Where can we find you online. What are links to your website and social media sites?

Hyker Girl currently has a Facebook and a Twitter page (@Hyker_Girl) but no website just yet.  You can find Tales of the Trails on Twitter (@tottseries) and the website address is  There is currently no active Facebook page yet for Tales of the Trails, but I do have a YouTube channel where you can watch the videos.  It’s basically my own personal channel under the handle “TolkienLewis.”  Yes, I am a J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis fan.  🙂  You can find me via my personal Instagram account (Hikergirl76) and on Instagram I also have a link to my Smug Mug photography site–  You can find all of the photos from my treks in the folder, “Hikes.”

Thank you so much Joyce!

Be sure to check back tomorrow for part 2. In it Joyce will tell us about overcoming barriers to entry in the outdoor community, her biggest goals and share her most memorable hike.


Do you have a story to share, a hiking or camping tip or a lesson that you’ve learned on the trails? We’d love to share it right here, shoot an email to rebecca(at)justtrails(dot)com. I’d love to interview you for the site.

Hiking with Dogs-Part 2

Hiking with Dogs-Part 2: An Interview with Rachel Kowalsky & Isis

Yesterday the awesome Rachel answered a few questions for us about hiking with dogs. You can check out the first part of her interview here. In this part she talks about gear, jerks who abandon dogs on tops of mountains and tells us about her most memorable hike. For now we’ll dive right in with the rest of her interview.

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Q4. Does Isis carry water/food etc or do you pack it along? Are there any pieces of gear (leash, packs etc) that you would recommend for people who hike with dogs?

Isis gets away with not wearing a pack because she is too tiny. There is not a pack out there that will fit her. So, she is spoiled because I carry the weight. I also use a harness over a collar since Isis is a “puller” and it’s easier to walk with her this way. I only use a carabineer to fasten her regular six foot leash to my belt loop so that I can be hands free. All the gimmicks out there are great but you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to have the freedom of motion. I have even run with Isis this way.

She has a collapsible bowl that I carry on my pack and that is for both food and water. In winter she has a fleece coat since we hike in temps as low as -20 (any colder and she stays home). Larger dogs out there can be fit for a pack and all dogs that carry their own supplies should only carry 1/3 of its body weight. Because of this, it would be pointless for Isis to carry her supplies… She’s just too little but perfect in every other way.

Q5. A few years ago a story about a dog that was abandoned near the top of Mount Bierdstadt in Colorado broke our hearts. It had a happy ending but a dog was essentially abandoned on a 14er in the Rocky Mountains. What do you do to ensure Isis’ safety when you’re hiking? What do you do to protect Isis against some of the harsh terrain you encounter?

I have heard many stories about dog related emergencies in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, stories of rescue squads going in to help save a dog in distress and stories of friends who have had to pack out their dog who had sadly passed on the trail. These are the heart breakers but the fact is that it does happen.

Isis is my barometer for continuing or turning back when I hike. If she cannot do it, I am not going to make her. Having hiked with her closely for as long as I have, I can tell when she is unwilling. The decision is made pretty quick so that she has enough energy to get back to the car else, she will be packed out in my pack. Dogs have personalities and Isis’ changes when she is tired, sick, frightened, or threatened. It’s up to me to interpret it and make the decisions.

I choose trails based on what she has done and while I may push her just a little to see if she can do something, I have no issue turning back.

Case in point Caps Ridge trail going to Mt. Jefferson in The Presidential Range of the White Mountains, which was a little too ledgey for her and we turned back, much to the displeasure of some hikers coming up the trail. Again, it’s my dog and my decision sorry inconvenience your momentum heading up the trail, but my safety is more important. I will NEVER take Isis on a loose slide trail to avoid cutting up her paws on loose rocks. I witnessed a Pit Bull on the Owl’s Head slide (prior to Isis coming into my life) who’s  owners made a bad call and her paws were bleeding through the bandages. Never overestimate your dog. Bottom line, always air on the side of caution. What is a thrill for you can be a nightmare for your dog.

As for the guy who abandoned his dog, shame on you. That is not a dog owner. Always be willing to pack out your dog, no matter what.   


Q6. What’s been your most memorable hike with Isis?

Wow, there are so many memorable hikes that come to mind. While she was completing her first round of the 48 New Hampshire 4 thousand footers, I took her on Whiteface and Passaconaway. The day started out like fall with leaf covered trails and gradually turned to winter as high as we climbed and then back to fall on the descend. It was a long day and we summited our last peak just at our cut off time to turn back. Coming back down, after a water crossing, I lost the trail and subsequently got us a little lost. We kept to the river to back track and I had to depend on Isis’ nose to find the trail again. After recognizing a log on a section above the river, we bushwhacked to it and it took Isis no time at all to get the trail again.

We were home free and I swore I would never doubt her tracking ability again. It was her nose that found something familiar which lead us back to the trail and ultimately back to the car.

Isis’ first Bond Zealand traverse (20+ miles in one day), proved that she could do some longer hikes provided the terrain was not too rocky and the elevation gain was not too great. We hit 4 peaks in the process that day (Zealand, West Bond, Bond, and Bond Cliff) and while she was tired at the end of the day, she was raring to go the following day. She and I have done countless winter hikes together and her willingness to give things a try always amazes me. However, her short stature is not good for breaking trail. We enjoy hiking to her ability level. She has been an amazing hiker since day one and I cannot wait to see where we will go from here.

The first time she traveled over multiple peaks of the Northern section Presidential Range was before she turned a year old and she handled it better than most humans. I think my most favorite experience with her to date has been her first campout. We were revisiting some peaks for a second time for her and had gone over Mt. Hale with intension of traveling out to the Twin Mountains (north and south). Well, we got to Zeacliff, below Mt. Zealand and decided to camp out for the night since we were both tired.

We stayed right there on the cliff in our tent and she climbed right in my sleeping bag and stayed there for most of the night. I am sure that she was unaware of how beautiful our surroundings were and even though it rained (cutting out trip short by two peaks), it was an experience that bonded us even closer.

I could go on forever about different little moments from each hike we have done. Sometimes it’s a look that she gives me and sometimes it’s just the experience of us being in sync in the mountains that makes it a great hike and even those hikes where I had to pack her out were precious because she trusted me enough to know that I was not going to let her be hurt in any way.

Q7: Is there anything you’d like to add about hiking with dogs?

I don’t think that I could go back to hiking without her. I do my longer hikes without her (30+ mile sin a day) and it feels strange and she is really missed. Hiking with a dog is certainly a BIG responsibility but it’s also the most rewarding. I swear Isis smiles as she reaches the summit and I know she looks forward to our weekly hikes because she is the first to sit by the door to go to the car in the morning as I am stumbling looking for the coffee since it is well before 5am. (Awwwww)

Q8. Where can we find your websites and where can we find you on social media?

I am on Blog Spot : (This is also linked to my google + account)


Isis is also on Facebook:

Please feel free to Like Isis and to contact me. I am always glad to answer questions and will accept friend requests (or you can use the follow option for limited contact). If you are hiking in New Hampshire and happen to see us, don’t be shy, say HI! We love meeting people on the trails.

Here’s a little bit more about Rachel. I think you can agree with me that she’s amazing.

“I am a born and raised New Englander who has settled in rural New Hampshire where I am working with special needs adolescents and at risk kids. In 2010, I was diagnosed with a thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s Disease) and made some serious changes to my life as far as diet and exercise are concerned and it has made all the difference. Once I got my energy back, I began walking and soon, I began walking up hill. The hills kept getting bigger until they were mountains.

In 2011, after I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I began hiking the 48 4000 footers in New Hampshire. I completed those before I turned 40 and in less than a year. The 19 additional peaks to complete the New England 67 were summited within the following year and it was during this time that Isis came into my life (November 2012) and began her journey. Now I manage both my thyroid disease and my depression without medication and under the care of a great team of doctors.

I primarily hike solo with Isis and as we continue to travel through the trails of New England, hoping to complete 12 rounds of the 48 New Hampshire Peaks before I turn 50 (currently a happy 41 years old). That is a round of the 48 in each calendar month for 576 total summits. I welcome anyone who would like to follow along on the journey. It’s been a life changer!”

You can be sure that the next time we find ourselves in New England we’ll be looking to take a hike with Rachel and Isis. In the mean time, thank you Rachel for the interview!


And once again, if you’ve got a cool story to share or a few hiking or camping tips we’d love to feature you right here. Shoot me an email rebecca(at)justtrails(dot)come if you’re interested. Thanks 🙂


Hiking with Dogs-Part 1

Hiking with Dogs-Part 1: An Interview with Rachel Kowalsky & Isis

A few months ago I “met” Rachel over on the Hike Like A Woman facebook page. Immediately I was impressed by her story. You see a few years ago Rachel was diagnosed with a thyroid disease which required a few lifestyle changes. So, she started walking and climbing. She eventually summited all of the forty-eight 4,000 footers in New Hampshire and that was just the beginning. She’s unstoppable, really. But, the best part about her story is her loyal dog, Isis, who is her almost constant companion in the wilderness.

When I asked Rachel if she’d talk to us about hiking with dogs she happily agreed to an interview. We’re breaking her interview down into two parts so be sure to check out the second half tomorrow.


Q1. Isis, your dog has bagged more peaks than most hikers. What kind of a dog is Isis? Can you tell us about how Isis got started hiking?  

Isis is a Shiba Inu. When I began looking for a hiking companion, I went to all the shelters in my area first and found dogs that were too old, big, or needed extensive retraining. Shelter dogs are great and I recommend adoption over buying always. However, for what I wanted, I found a reputable breeder and Isis came into my life.

She had no clue when we were driving home that she’d climb the majority of the high peaks in New England before she turns two years old (August 9, 2012). Isis began hiking her peaks at the age of 4 months and she began in the winter months of New Hampshire (sometimes harsh cold). She’s double coated so she does better in the cooler month. She is checked out extensively by her vet at each visit and gets a gold star each time. 

Shiba Inu’s are very active dogs and wonderful companions with the right owner. Shiba’s are prone to anxiety and depression if not active. They are what is known as “one owner dogs” and become very protective and possessive of their owners (preferring their company over anyone else).

At the same time, these dogs can be aloof and almost cat like in behaviors and they are stubborn too. Isis can be right next to me for days and then she won’t give me the time of day for about a week unless I am feeding her and when walking. If we are not on a trail she chooses the direction or she will sit down and not budge (we get into power struggles often as she thinks she is the boss).

The breed can be anywhere from 15 to 40 pounds and the funny thing is that we have a friend who also has a Shiba (same coloring and everything!). He’s 40 pounds and makes Isis look like a tiny little thing. These dogs play rough in that they bark and snarl at other dogs and rough house that looks like vicious fighting.

Many other dog owners are put off by this so, they do get a bad rap. Shibas need to be kept leashed as they are hunters and escape artists. They will not stop if the get a scent and have been known to dig under fences to go roaming. The breed is not for everyone and I would encourage you to read up on them prior to adopting or purchasing from a reputable breeder.   

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Q2. We don’t have a dog but we see a lot of unleashed dogs out on the trails. Our local Game & Fish recommends hiking with dogs on leash to protect them from wildlife and to protect the wildlife as well. But, at the same time I understand why it would be fun to hike with a dog off leash. What are your thoughts on hiking with dogs on leashes? Is Isis leashed when you hike?

This is the great debate between hikers with dogs. I have a lot of people in my circles that see Isis on a leash and immediately ask if I am off leash training or have tried to encourage me in that direction. Her leash doesn’t bother me or her so I wonder why so many ask me about this and push us that way. Simply put, Isis will run if off leash as she is bread to hunt game and if she runs across an animal, she will not stop until she gets it or gets lost. I don’t want to take the chance of this happening so, I keep her leashed. She’s able to stay close on a summit if I put her leash down so, for that I am thankful.

On trail though, a leash for her is a must. The leash also allows me to have more control to keep her safe from larger predators should we run into any. I’m real quick to scoop her up if need be and lucky for me, she is not that heavy. Also, the leash gives me more control over her with unleashed dogs who charge her because they are not under control by their owners.

All too often, I have been overrun by 2, 3, or 4 dogs and the owners are about 10 minutes behind them. (Ugh! This happens with me and my kiddos at least weekly!) Isis is protective of me so, she will see these unleashed dogs as a threat and while I do not want to get bit by her or have another dog get bit by her, I should not have to carry Isis to keep confrontations from happening because a hiker does not have eyes on or control of their dog. Be responsible owners and control your dogs please!

The other situation I seem to run into is that I am told the unleashed dog is friendly and not to worry. Well, it’s not always about the unleashed dog. Isis is not very friendly when dogs rush her so, I warn the other hiker for that reason. It’s as much about Isis’ demeanor as it is the other dog and I am warning you to protect both myself and Isis as well as avoid a noisy confrontation and nasty looks when Isis gets mouthy.

The other good thing about keeping the dog leashed is that it’s minimal impact on the environment. When a dog travels through the woods off trail that has an impact and when a dog goes off the trail in the alpine zone that definitely has a significant impact on that already fragile area. Being kept on a leash confines the impact to the trail and not the surrounding fragile area. I have had many rangers thank me for leashing Isis and received many negative comments from hikers. I can assure you that Isis and I will keep hiking as we always have, attached at the hip by a leash. 

When we do hike over difficult terrain, we seem to do just fine together. We’ve scrambled up ledges together and Isis seems to know when to jump and to go far enough in so that I can lift myself up and over the ledges. It really works for us. She is in tune with my steps when they are off (if I trip), she will rush back to check on me. She knows my commands and follows them without question. In winter time, Isis’ leash provides fun to get down the mountain as I can slide and she can pull me. It’s a real fun way to descend.

Q3. What do you think are the top 5 mistakes that dog owners make when they take their dog’s hiking? Why? What should they do instead?

  • They overestimate the dogs ability.
  • They do not carry adequate food and water.
  • They do not have a first aid kit for their dog.
  • They start them too young and do not consult a vet.
  • They get a hiking dog and are not active during the week to keep the dog in shape.


When a person is thinking of adding a furry hiking companion, examine your lifestyle off the trail as well. Are you a couch potato who suddenly becomes active on the weekends? A dog is going to want to keep doing those big hikes during the week and if you work late, crash out energy wise, and generally lay low, a dog that is active is not for you.

I walk Isis before and after work and not just for bathroom breaks but because she is ACTIVE and needs to stay that way. Not being active except on the weekends can cause injury. Talk to a vet about what dog is right for you and also talk to them about the proper time to start a dog hiking on the trails. Because Isis is little, there was no danger of affecting her muscles and bones. A larger breed dog needs time to develop those legs before you get them hiking. One year is the general rule of thumb for large breed dogs. 

Always always always carry extra water and food. A dog burns calories faster than we do and needs to eat plenty on the trails. Do not just depend on water sources such as rivers and streams either. You will not always be near water. I carry kibble, treats, and a Nalgene bottle just for Isis. All treats and kibble are high in protein which is necessary for active dogs as well as grain free. Isis even gets her own trail mix for a treat and in the winter, She shares my cheese with me.

Make sure that you are stopping frequently for rests in the hot months. Isis’ first aid kit has many of the same things that I carry for myself but she also gets her own Benadryl, disposable booties (they look like balloons and are called Pawz) for cuts on pads, Mushers secret salve for winter to keep the paws ice free, and bandages just for her. I would never think twice about dumping my pack and putting her in it to pack her out (and I have done this on two very hot days when she could not go on) in an emergency. Dogs look to us to care for them. Make smart choices and if your dog cannot make it or refuses to budge on the trail, turn back. The mountain and the trail will be there another day.   

Thanks Rachel!

Be sure to check back tomorrow. We’ll finish up the interview talking about abandoned dogs on mountain peaks, Rachel’s most memorable hike with Isis and gear that Rachel recommends for dogs.

Here’s a note about from Rachel abut where you can find her and Isis on the wonderful world of the web.

Blog Spot : (This is also linked to my google + account) 


Isis is also on Facebook:

Please feel free to Like Isis and to contact me. I am always glad to answer questions and will accept friend requests (or you can use the follow option for limited contact). If you are hiking in New Hampshire and happen to see us, don’t be shy, say HI! We love meeting people on the trails. 


A note from the Just Trails crew. We’re looking to interview hikers who have an interesting story to tell, can share a tip, or a lesson that they’ve learned on the trails. Let me know if you’re interested in being featured on Just Trails, rebecca(at)justtrails(dot)com

David Fanning talks about hiking, tennis and the PWV

Last summer we met the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers (PWV) at the New West Fest in Fort Collins. Instantly we were impressed with the professionalism, organization and complete and utter awesomeness of this group of volunteers. 

Photo courtesy Rawah Ranger

Photo courtesy Rawah Ranger

David Fanning serves on the Board of Directors of the PWV and as we’ve gotten to know him over the past year I thought it would be fun to interview him and let him talk about the mission, goals and future of the PWV. David also recently started the informative and entertaining blog, Rawah Ranger.

Be sure to leave any comments that you have for David and read all the way down to the last paragraph…after a not-so-fun hike in the rain with my kid’s yesterday morning where I just wanted to give up on this outdoor parenting thing his message reassured me that my children need to be out on the trails, learning and loving nature…rain and all.

What is the mission of the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers?

The mission of PWV is to assist the Canyon Lakes Ranger District of the USFS in managing and protecting wilderness and backcountry areas within its jurisdiction. In practice, this means recruiting and training citizen volunteers, now over 300 of us, to serve as backcountry rangers, patrolling over 60 trails in our District.

We like to think of ourselves as the “eyes and ears” of the Forest Service. We collect data on what people are doing in the backcountry, how many of them are there, and what kind of violations of wilderness regulations we see. The data we collect is meant to drive Forest Service management decisions with respect to protecting the wilderness resource.

Our primary job is to educate the people we find in the backcountry on ways they can help us protect the resource. We use an Authority of the Resource approach and Leave No Trace principles when we interact with the public. This means we rarely talk about wilderness regulations, but we spend a lot of time talking to people about what the wilderness needs from us if it is to be a haven and inspiration to our children and future generations.

Most of us travel in the backcountry because we love being out there. Our primary goal is to teach people how not to love it to death.

PWV in action. Photo courtesy PWV.

PWV in action. Photo courtesy PWV.

 How did you get started? What were some of the challenges that you initially faced? Would it be possible for someone to start something like the PWV in their own local National Forest?

One of my passions is tennis. It is quite easy for me to spend the entire summer playing in tennis leagues and tournaments. Several years in a row, at the end of the summer, I asked myself how many times I had gotten into the mountains, which was the reason I had moved to Colorado in the first place. The answer was always “Not once!”

So, I joined PWV in 2008 to have a built-in excuse to play less tennis and get into the mountains at least six times a summer. (Our commitment as PWV volunteers is to do a minimum of six patrols.)

Now, oddly, I rarely play tennis in the summer, although I still play avidly the rest of the year. I much prefer to spend my summers backpacking and cutting trees off trails with my Corona saw. Go figure!

My initial challenge was to find people to patrol with. I literally did not know a single person in PWV to start with. So, I allowed PWV to schedule patrols and backpacking trips for me with people I didn’t know. This has been great! In fact, I still do it. I get paired with all kinds of interesting people I would never have met otherwise. Getting to know people who love to hike and backpack as much as I do has been one of the best things about joining PWV for me.

It is certainly possible to start a group like PWV wherever you live. In fact, PWV helped form an organization, the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance, whose sole purpose is to help local groups do exactly that.

How would someone get involved with the PWV? Do you have to have a lot of time to commit or outdoor experience? How are you funded?

Recruiting starts in late January and early February with some Open Houses to explain who we are and what we do. We accept applications and conduct interviews in April. In May we have a mandatory three-day training program for all new recruits.

The highlight of the weekend is the Training Trail. This is an actual hike where “actors” simulate situations PWV volunteers are likely to encounter on a patrol. Recruits have the opportunity to interact as if they were on patrol and use the Authority of the Resource approach that is the cornerstone of our approach to outdoor education.

After the training, each recruit goes on two patrols with PWV mentors, and then four more patrols with experienced PWV members. Once you have completed your six patrols you are considered a full PWV member and can participate in other programs (trail maintenance crew, Kids in Nature, trail restoration projects, etc.) that PWV offers in addition to trail patrolling.

Every once in a while they even rescue a puppy! Photo courtesy PWV.

Every once in a while they even rescue a puppy! Photo courtesy PWV.

We ask each member of PWV to patrol six times during the patrol period, which is now most of the year, with the exception of hunting season, when we are asked to stay out of the mountains for safety reasons. Our normal summer patrol season is from May through September. And our winter patrol season is January through April. Most people do their six patrols during the summer patrol season.

You don’t need to have a great deal of outdoor experience to join PWV. In fact, many people join because they would like to improve their outdoor skills. We have a supplemental training program that offers classes throughout the year in outdoor skills. Our ultralight backpacking class, which I help teach, is one of the most popular, but we have map and compass and GPS classes, First-Aid classes, an edible mushroom class, geology classes, etc.

In addition, we have monthly affiliation meetings where we invite a speaker to give a talk on a topic of interest to our members. These often involve some kind of outdoor skill or adventure. This year we started a Get Into Wilderness! initiative to pair an experienced PWV leader with less experienced members to help them backpack or horse pack into a wilderness area. We have probably already introduced a couple dozen new people into the wilderness who wouldn’t have gone otherwise.

We are a 100% volunteer organization, and we are funded almost exclusively from generous local contributions and charitable organizations. Our operating budget is extremely low. Most of the money we raise goes directly into providing resources for protecting wilderness. Right now, for example, we are buying a lot of tools to help with our on-going trail restoration work to recover from the fires and floods of the past couple of years. We want to have enough tools and supplies to get the public involved with helping in this effort. We often use our own funds to purchase building materials for bridges and other trail structures that the Forest Service doesn’t have the budget to provide.

What does the future look like for the PWV and some of our favorite hiking destinations in Northern Colorado?

This is an interesting question. The PWV Board of Directors will be holding some workshops later this summer to ask themselves exactly this question. What kind of an organization do we want to be, now and in the future? Our goal is to identify our objectives, and come up with a five-year strategic plan to meet them. PWV is growing up (we are 18 years old now), and our growth over the last few years has been such that we feel a bit scattered in terms of programs and attention. We expect the workshops will help us define and focus on exactly what is most important to us.

In terms of trails, there is no question things are improving. On my last patrol of the Greyrock Trail, 18 of the 21 dogs I encountered were on a leash. When I started in 2008, it would have been exactly the opposite of that. The Rawah trails are pristine compared to how they looked 30 years ago. We are doing a pretty good job of getting people to camp away from the lakes, to give the moose and other wildlife a break. Almost everyone packs their trash out now. I think education works, and I think you can see the results on all our trails in Northern Colorado.

What’s the one piece advice you’d give to someone heading into the backcountry for the first time?

Don’t go into the backcountry with the idea of visiting a wilderness. Go into the backcounty with the idea of becoming an integral part of it. If you can feel as though you are a participant in the ecological mystery, that you belong in its weft and warp, that it embraces and includes you, you will intuitively know how to treat it. And, of course, take some water and a rain jacket with you.

I see you have started your own hiking and travel blog. What’s that about?

Yes, as I transition into retirement, I find I have more time and interest in writing. I wanted to create a venue for more personal and thoughtful essays on what wilderness and travel mean to me. I’ve written several technical books, but I like this kind of writing because it helps me figure out what I believe and what I think is important in my life. A recent post on a misadventure involving survival skills ( has gone viral (sigh…) and made me a poster boy for backcountry ineptness. I wanted some attention, but I found I should be careful about what I wish for.

Anything you’d like to add?

DF quote.jpg

This is the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act. I worry about who is going to care about Wilderness 50 years from now. If anyone, it will be our children, of course. We need to get young people away from their electronic gadgets and into the backcountry now. It is critically important. People protect what they love. It is impossible to love something you don’t experience as real and meaningful in your life. I’d like to see our trails filled with young people, learning to care about what is so vitally important to me.

How’s that for an informative and inspirational interview? Thanks David! You can find out more about the PWV and David here:

PWV Web Page:
PWV Facebook Page:
Rawah Ranger Blog:
Rawah Ranger Facebook Page:
Twitter: @RawahRanger