Author Archives: TJ Burr

About TJ Burr

Author of Rocky Mountain Adventure Collection and natural resources conservation engineer specializing in natural stream channel design. My spirit dwells among the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Our natural and wild places are worth preserving. By sharing outdoor experiences through photos and writing, I try to inspire my audience to create their own experiences in nature. When we lose wilderness, we lose part of the essence of our own survival. Live your life to the fullest.

Gear for Non-Technical Mountaineering and Hiking in the Rocky Mountains

There has been an increase in the number of alpine rescues for people venturing into the Colorado high country without the appropriate clothing and equipment. Many high-country emergencies can be avoided by preparing yourself with some essential items. The list of equipment that I’m sharing with you is the one I use for a one-day (3-12 hours) summer hike or climb in Colorado. Use it as an example, but tailor your own list to meet your needs and the site conditions for your hike. Always make your own list and double check that you have everything before departing on your adventure.

You should tailor your list for a number of factors, including weather, personal needs, season, predicted temperatures, site-specific conditions, on-trail or off-trail hiking, technical or non-technical, and the difficulty level. For example, if I am climbing in the Elk Range I know there is an increased risk of encountering rock fall due to the geology there. So, I would take a climbing helmet with me. If I’m climbing in May or June, there is a good chance I’ll have to cross snowfields, so I take my ice ax and possibly crampons. If you are going to be climbing on icy rocks, you need an ice ax and crampons. You can encounter icy conditions in any month of the year, but not as likely in July and August. Spend some extra time planning what you will need to make sure you are prepared.

Adjust your quantities based on your personal needs and the distance you plan to hike. Don’t skimp on water. Half of the weight that I typically start out carrying is water. Water is heavy, but it will lighten as you hydrate yourself during the day. Most people can survive for 2-3 weeks without food, so I seldom pack a lot of food. You want to pack enough to give you plenty of energy for your hike. If you get cold easily, pack extra clothing or warmer clothing.

When I see people climbing above 11,000 feet wearing shorts and running shoes without a pack for extra gear, I think it is foolhardy. One time I saw a person climbing a Fourteener with a light jacket, no water, and a plastic shopping bag that they intended to use if it rained. You don’t have to go very far into the backcountry to become disoriented, wander off of the trail, and become lost. Low clouds and unexpected snow squalls can cut your visibility down to a few yards.

Make sure your light sources have good batteries. I recommend having at least two light sources and some extra batteries. It is common for people to misjudge time and end up hiking back in the dark. Hiking in the dark affects your balance and makes it harder to see tripping hazards.        

Another consideration is to think about being 3+ miles into the wilderness and being injured, possibly unable to walk. You could be out for at least one night before help arrives. If you are alone (not recommended), it could be much longer. Always let someone know where you are going and your intended return time.

Day Climb Gear Image

Author Information:

Book Information:

RMAC Cover 20161216

Link for PDF version of this blog:

Gear for Day Climb – Blog


Mountaineering Wisdom – Thunder Pyramid

I read this article (blog) about a death on a Colorado Thirteener at (maintained by Matt Payne). The deceased climber himself left profound words of wisdom for all mountaineers. I felt compelled to share his mountaineering wisdom. Steve is proof that all the experience and knowledge possible will not save you from a fatal accident – not in the mountains, not anywhere. Even if you do everything “right”, things can go wr­ong. Anyone adventuring in the rocky crests of mountains “can slip on ice and die”.

Thunder Pyramid is only a half mile south of neighboring Pyramid Peak, a Fourteener. It is in the Elk Range along with the famous Maroon Bells.

Thunder Pyramid (13932 ft)

Photo 1 – Thunder Pyramid, 13,932 feet elevation (Posted by Kane,

Thunder Pyramid is a difficult mountain, as or more difficult than Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells.

Rest in Peace: Steve Gladbach fell from Thunder Pyramid on June 23, 2013.

I changed some formatting and corrected some typos. Other than that, the following is from the post on

Perhaps the most vexing, painful and profound mountaineering death of 2013, if not in the past decade of Colorado mountaineering accidents was the death of Steve Gladbach on Thunder Pyramid. Steve had ascended all of the Fourteeners four times (many up to 15 times total) as well as over 700 Thirteeners and is widely considered one of the most accomplished Colorado mountaineers of his day. Steve Gladbach was an amazing and gifted man – a true friend to anyone and everyone. The impacts of his death were felt by many Colorado mountaineers, including me [Matt Payne]. This was Steve’s second climb of Thunder Pyramid, and as he has done on so many occasions, was climbing it to help friends achieve their goals.


In an infamous post on from Steve himself, he was quoted:

Feel free to post messages of condolence to my children and family.

Do not ask for details (beyond those that a newspaper would report) so that you can “Learn” from my mistakes.

Please, Site Administrators: if you value me at all as a person, delete such requests immediately. I have seen about 5% (That 5% often does more harm than the 95% does good) of every accident thread deteriorate into a useless guessing game designed to “analyze” the accident. In reality, it only serves to stir up feelings of guilt and loss amongst those left behind. The “lessons” learned never serve to prevent future incidents, because the armchair critics assimilate the info by convincing themselves that, “Since I take precaution ‘X’, that will not happen to me.” BS.

In every thread (and in at least one book where the author told me he didn’t necessarily consider it important to interview the primary survivor), the critics boil the details down to some trite conclusion which can be filed under a particular chapter of stuff “not to do”. Every time, you hear how there are no such things as “accidents”; the person performing the analysis can always explain how they would have prevented the accident. If only they could be there every time we climb!

These things are true:


  1. Training highlights preventable mistakes: PLEASE take a series of CMC or private courses designed to build skills. Repeat classes periodically as long as you are a climber.
  2. Mentorship and group participation can teach skills (Thanks, Tom Pierce for the fieldwork in Ruby Basin.) There is always something new to be learned from a partner.
  3. GOOD books, i.e. Freedom of the Hills, written to teach actual skills, can help.
  4. Time in the field teaches valuable, applicable (but not perfect) lessons.


  1. Climbing is dangerous and each climber must decide for themselves the level of risk they wish to assume.
  2. Rocks move, feet slip, snow slides.

3.The exact conditions leading to an accident are never analyzed 100% correctly (witnesses are dead, traumatized, or non-existent), so the conclusions are always skewed.

  1. Time in the field increases that opportunity for #1 and #2 to catch up with you!

What is useful:

  1. Expressions of condolence.
  2. Continued comfort and support to those left behind. An internet note and attendance at a memorial is 1% of what you COULD choose to do.
  3. Take the memory of those lost with you each time you go into the field. Remembering those who have passed will do more to heighten your own awareness of potential dangers than would a critique of their errors. Remember: you’ve already taken courses, participated with good mentors, and read valuable books. You know what mistakes can be made. You know that you can make zero mistakes and still die.

Vigilance is the best defense and bringing along the memory of those lost partners will always heighten vigilance. Sadly, none of us are 100% vigilant. Whether an 18-year-old boy with 2 years of experience or a 70-year-old legend with 50 years of climbing, you could slip on some ice and die.

If we’re lucky, we might remember that and look twice before we take that next step. ONWARDS! – Steve

Out respect for Steve’s wishes, that’s all I’ll post here, other than what is known to be true:

After a successful ascent of Thunder Pyramid, Steve chose to descend separately from his group and fell to his death.

[End of Blog Post]

Thunder Pyramid (13932 ft)_close

Photo 2 – Photo posted with the blog (


My condolences to Steve’s surviving family members and friends. I only disagree with Steve about lessons-learned. Most of us don’t retain every lessons-learned story, but we retain some and some are planted into our subconscious. Those of us who have been alive for a few decades have seen the same mistakes repeated. Despite everything we learn from history, it also repeats. At some level, sharing information like this raises awareness and helps make us a little smarter. Nearly everything we do has risk – that cannot be eliminated. Educate yourself on the risks and do what you can to prepare.

Happy Trails – TJ Burr


These are the 7 most difficult 14ers in Colorado

I would add Longs Peak to this list to make a list of 8. This article contains some good information, helpful links, and great photos.

These are the 7 most difficult 14ers in Colorado –

Four Essentials for Climbing Fourteeners

I stopped by REI to get some new gear for mountaineering, mostly climbing 12ers, 13ers, and 14ers in Colorado. It was time to update some of my standard gear for one-day climbs, so I thought I would share my purchases with my readers. I bought $250 worth of gear that all fit into one small paper bag. As I can afford to, I update and modernize my climbing gear. Mostly, I look for lighter, more efficient gear. Things cost more and weigh less. Everything that I bought today, combined, weighs less than my jeans did when I first started climbing. The linked PDF only shows the four items I purchased with information on the gear and prices. I’m not pushing this specific gear or a particular brand. This is what I thought was best for me and my budget. The generic descriptions of what I bought are 1) base layer top, 2) wind protection shell, 3) multifunctional headwear, and 4) carabiners.

New Gear for Mountaineering in 2017

Rocky Mountain Spring Water

While attempting to climb Argentine Peak in Colorado, I happened upon this stream flowing with the purest of pure natural water. It is the headwaters of South Clear Creek, which flows down into Clear Creek and through Golden. Golden is where the original Coors brewery is located. I’m not sure if they get their water directly from Clear Creek, but if they do, some of this water may end up in a can of their beer.

I didn’t start hiking until after 1:00 PM, normally a bad idea due to afternoon thunderstorms. I’m just not a morning person. I also knew that the weather pattern was stable with little chance of a thunderstorm. I didn’t really care if I made it to the 13,738 feet summit of Argentine Peak, I just wanted some natural high-country therapy. I made it up to about 13,150 feet, but it was close to 4:00 PM. It was a Sunday and I’m not as gung-ho as I used to be. Nowadays, I’m more concerned about being in the moment to fully experience the mountains. I had headlamps with me, but descending in the dark is still challenging. It is much harder when you can only see a few feet in front of you.

This part of Colorado had two heavy snowfalls in late May that made the snowpack incredible. I traversed across at least 10 snowfields and was happy to have an ice ax with me. A lot of the snow will survive the summer.

There were many hikers on the trail between the lakes, but nobody was around at the 12,000 feet plus elevation. I was elated. When I go to the mountains I want to experience nature by myself or with a friend. I live and work in the busy Front Range of Colorado, an area of nearly non-stop population growth and development. To renew myself mentally, I need to have an experience like this one on a regular basis. Once I’m on the trail hiking, I block out the stress and focus on “being” in the mountains.

I work as a stream restoration engineer, so I am particularly fascinated by streams, hydrology, snow, rainfall, and the physical forces at work. With streams, gravity is the primary force at work. On this hike, I took several photos showing the birthplace of South Clear Creek. There are many people who don’t know where or how a river starts. One day someone asked me what the origin of a river looks like. I may work that into a future presentation or article. I’m sure there are millions of people who have never seen natural water as clear as this stream water. I don’t recommend drinking water from streams, but I drank from this stream. It was flowing out from under a snowfield from within 50 feet of where I stopped. Even then, the water could have some undesirable additives from marmots.

I like standing on new high points, but it didn’t bother me to stop short of this summit. I knew I could have made it to the top of Argentine Peak, but then I would have been rushed on the way down. It felt great to hike back at a leisurely pace. I took a 30-minute rest stop by Silver Dollar Lake to let my socks dry out. My life had balance again.

Best wishes on your adventures in life.


Headwaters of South Clear Creek

Headwaters of South Clear Creek at an elevation of 12,500 feet. (June 25, 2017, TJ Burr)

Murray Lake and Snowpack

This photo shows Murray Lake (closest), Naylor Lake (lower), and Silver Dollar Lake (barely visible on right). The two high peaks in the distance are Mt. Evans and Beirstadt, both Fourteeners. (June 25, 2017, TJ Burr)

Backcountry skier rescued after avalanche

He was very lucky to survive. Fast reactions are so important. It is incredible how densely compacted avalanche snow is. Nearly impossible to dig with bare hands. People have died even with their heads above the snow.

Backcountry skier rescued after avalanche –

Fifteen Quick Hits of Wisdom

By TJ Burr, 1/5/2017

The following words of wisdom were culled from the top twenty in my notes on wisdom. I have kept a “living” list of wisdom for 35 years. I keep written lists and notes on every major topic that interests me so that I can keep the best information for each subject in one document. My notes on wisdom contain 161 pages, 62,700 words. These are words of wisdom that have been reinforced through my personal experiences.

  1. Communication is the most important skill in life. Learn how to be an effective communicator. Time spent learning how to communicate better is a great investment in something you will use throughout your life.
  2. Less is more. The more you have, the more complicated life is. Be content with simple things in life. Cherish the sunrise, sunset, mountains, food, shelter, clothing, family, and a smiling face. The credit for this advice goes to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, German-born Architect & Educator (1886-1969).
  3. Strive to be humble in your life. Know your limitations. Humility and wisdom are deeply linked in literature and philosophy. According to Kant, humility is an essential virtue.
  4. There are no guarantees in life. We cannot control the hand we are dealt, but we can decide how to play the hand. Remember that life is not fair.
  5. Every decision is a financial decision. However, some decisions must be made on higher principles than financial ones. Nearly every decision you make in life has a financial component, either for you or someone else. My dad used to say, “Every time you leave the house it costs you something.” He was right.
  6. Silence is often the best answer. Confucius once said, “The superior man is sparing in words.” In some situations, silence is difficult but necessary.
  7. If you aren’t to an appointment five minutes early, you’re late. I heard this from a good friend. Ever since then, I try to arrive at least five minutes early to an appointment. Just the difference in two different clocks could mean being late. My watch or phone may show 1:57 PM and the person I’m meeting with may have a clock that shows 2:02 PM, a five-minute difference. You do not want to be late for a job interview.
  8. Regardless of how careful you are with legal contracts, you still must TRUST the people you are doing business with. Learn a little about their character. The best contract in the world is worthless if both parties aren’t committed to making it work. People break contracts all the time. There are consequences to breaking contracts, but it still happens.
  9. The importance of having a positive attitude in life cannot be overexpressed. Attitude and being able to express enthusiasm is everything! I once had a supervisor tell me that he could teach a person a skill, but not how to have the right attitude. An employee with a good attitude is way more valuable than an employee with a certain skill.
  10. Use the power of forgiveness. If you forgive someone who made a mistake and is truly sorry, you will both be happier.
  11. Always leave a place better than you found it. This stems from camping etiquette of always leaving a campsite a little cleaner than you found it. If you make a mess, clean up your mess and more. This is similar to the concept of “paying it forward”.
  12. When visiting friends, always give them something as a token of appreciation for the visit. Don’t just go to someone’s house expecting them to provide everything you may use or consume while there. Take a token of your appreciation for being their guest.
  13. Give and love unconditionally. If you expect something in return, then you are giving for the wrong reasons.
  14. Remember that great love and great achievements involve great risk. Playing it safe often leads to mediocre results.
  15. Follow the three Rs: Respect yourself; Respect others; and Responsibility for your actions.

There are many other words of advice from many sources. These are just a few that made the top of my list.

For more information about TJ Burr and his books, go to