Tag Archives: Adventure

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:    www.amazon.com/author/tjburr

Book Information:      http://amzn.com/B004LX0D1I

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 www.100summits.org (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, http://www.summitpost.org)

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 www.100summit.org.

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 14ers.com 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 (www.100summits.org)


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


Mountain Goat on Grays Peak (14,270 ft)

As fall descends upon the Rocky Mountains, I’m reminded of last October when I climbed Grays Peak in Colorado. It was an incredible experience amplified by having the mountain to myself (almost). With ever increasing numbers of people trying to reach the top of Colorado’s Fourteeners, it is difficult to find a time where you can enjoy solitude on one of these peaks. It was late afternoon, with less than two hours of daylight left. There were a few people far down the mountain well on their way to the trailhead.

At the same time, I thought to myself, what if I broke a leg or had some sort of medical emergency. I would be left to hobble or crawl to a lower elevation, or endure a freezing night high on the mountain. I was 51 years old, and not in the physical condition that I wanted to be in. But, it is that sense of risk that makes it an adventure.

As it turned out, I was not alone on the mountain. There were mountain goats, marmots, and pikas. They were at home, while I was the visitor. The photo below is the best one I have to remember that day and to remember that majestic mountain goat. That was one of my most vivid moments from autumn in 2015. Now it is time to hit the trails to experience new moments and memories. I wish everyone to have an adventurous autumn filled with as many outdoor experiences as possible. Happy trails.



Mountain Goat on Summit of Grays Peak in Colorado, October 2015 (by TJ Burr)


Medicine Bow Peak Trail Run (or Hike)

If you are ever in the Snowy Range Mountains west of Laramie during the summer, there is a great trail run to keep you above 10,000 feet and put you atop of Medicine Bow Peak on the way. I’ve attached an article, some photos, and a topo map of the route for your use.  It is a 7 mile hike you can walk or jog with astonishing views.

Medicine Bow Peak Trail Run

Checklist of Essential Wilderness Gear

Have you ever thought to yourself: “I’m just going on a short hike so I don’t need to worry about taking anything with me. I’ll just do that 5-mile loop up and around the alpine lake. I’ll be back in two hours. Maybe I’ll take a bottle of water with me just in case I get thirsty.”

When preparing for a hike into the wilderness, thoughts like that are potentially fatal. People have died on shorter hikes than 5-miles because they entered the wild without the proper knowledge and equipment. I have attached a checklist that I use nearly every time I leave a trailhead to enter the wild. You should make your own checklist of essential gear commensurate with your abilities, needs, the environment, and the type of adventure you are embarking on. You can use my checklist as a starting point.

When packing for your hike, consider the following possibilities. Are you prepared to return in the dark if your hike takes longer than anticipated, or you just stay a little too long at that beautiful alpine lake with the crystal clear water. What if you break your ankle three miles into a moderately difficult route. What if you get lost, and have to stay overnight in the woods. If things don’t go as planned, you’ll be thankful you carried the extra 15-20 pounds of essential gear.

Survival Gear Checklist

Plan to have a great time in the backcountry, but prepare yourself for potential mishaps.

Happy Trails . . . Best wishes on your adventures.

Gateway to Adventure

Excerpt from page 292 of Rocky Mountain Adventure Collection:  “The Rocky Mountains and Earth’s many other natural wonders are gateways to unlimited adventure. You knowledge, appreciation, understanding, and enjoyment of these areas will ensure they are preserved for future generations to enjoy.”

Backpacking in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

The following is an excerpt from page 152 of Rocky Mountain Adventure Collection, backpacking chapter. When on long backpacking treks, it is always a good feeling at the end of the day after you get camp setup and some firewood gathered. The Indian Peaks are in the Colorado just south of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Shortly after sunset, we had a small campfire flickering against the encroaching darkness. We laid our socks next to the fire to dry while we cooked dinner. At last, we could relax.

After dinner, we crouched close to the fire and began to appreciate the beauty of our mountain haven. The IndianPeaks were still just barely visible, silhouetted against a darkening sky. With a Rocky Mountain smile on my face, I absorbed the beauty of our surroundings until the setting faded into the darkness.