Tag Archives: backpacking

Torres del Paine

Internet is a bit limited down here, which is great because we just spent 8 days completing the O circuit in the iconic Torres del Paine National Park and not staring at our phones. More narrative later, but mostly we are thankful for amazingly good weather and very accommodating park staff. Photos and video:

Our best views of the Torres, right from the start on day 1

Our view from camp at Lago Dickson

Heading higher in the range looking down to Dickson Glacier

Morning on Paso John Gardner

Grey Glacier and “deeper” Chilean Patagonia

Our “rustic backcountry” campsites unfailingly has beverages and proper stemware. Bring your own stove.

The wind grew stronger each successive day. Watch how it lifts the water straight off Lago Nordskogg.

There was a bit off a flood on our way out. The local rangers are *very* confident in their pickup trucks.

We are super lucky to have seen almost all the good stuff before things closed down

Back in Puerto Natales, with spectacular sunsets at 930pm

Short Season pt 1

(part 1 of 2)


(Challenger Glacier)

I like to think that I can enjoy outdoor recreation in every season. Sometimes that’s a challenge- trail running in freezing rain gets old pretty quick. For high travel in the mountains, summer in the Pacific Northwest is prime time and the season suddenly feels very short. Those of us that recreate here are blessed to have the problem of too many good options. Stellar trail running or alpine climbing, deep wilderness or front country cragging- it can be hard to pick.


(Copper Ridge lookout)

Two weeks ago, Abigail and I headed for her first trip to see the North Cascades. We got a few recommendations, and when the camping permit location didn’t overlap with some of the features we wanted to see, she didn’t complain. As we are both preparing to run versions of The Rut trail race in a few weeks, she figured that a few extra miles to link the features would be good training. The recommended 4-6 day Copper Ridge backpacking loop became a single overnight adventure, with a detour to Whatcom Pass and Tapto Lakes. All destinations recommended, but our itinerary is only recommended for the fleet of foot.


(Burly babe at mile 25 and starting up Whatcom Pass)

We left Hannegan Pass at 730am on Saturday morning, and at 915 made the final call. We wanted to see Copper Ridge, but doing so meant committing to a 30 mile day with our (relatively light) overnight packs. Up we went- it was worth it. At mile 25 and 530pm, we started our final climb to the Lakes above Whatcom Pass. There is a decent trail to both Tapto and Middle Lakes and good camping can be found at either. The views off both are spectacular. The huckleberries we found on Sunday morning were critical to finishing the remaining 18 miles back to the car. A few more photos to whet your whistle.

Thanks to Abigail for picking a lovely loop and putting out the moxie to get it done- she is a rare girl for sure.

All content Copyright Skander Spies, 2016

A Grand Time

Over the July 4th weekend, I got to find some deep wild in Olympic National Park. I am not sure of how many major American cities have proximity to wilderness like this.


There is little rock climbing to be had. That doesn’t matter. Bright skies, beautiful friends, and deep green glades were more than enough. The wildflowers were out in force, and the bugs were not. Bliss.

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Abigail stares at the Olympics every day from her office, so when my good friend Michael from work invited us out with his wife for a hike along “The Grand Loop”, it was easy to say yes. Not for the faint of foot, we earned the 45 miles and 12,500 vertical feet over 4 days. They don’t get much nicer than this.

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While it reminds me of a Dr. Seuss drawing, Beargrass is a special plant in the Montana mountains. Deep in the Bob Marshall Wilderness last weekend, it was in rare form.

Joe in rare fields of white.

Joe in rare fields of white.

Martin, Joe, and I burned out of Missoula promptly on Wednesday afternoon. Our travel plan was loose and our packs were light. The Bob Marshall/Scapegoat/Great Bear wilderness complex is one of the largest protected wilderness areas in the United States, and home to some spectacular treasures. It feels the most like Alaska of any place I’ve been here. We walked, and occasionally ran, a lot of miles. Details really aren’t necessary. We had an amazing, beautiful time.

Getting into the business.

Getting into the business.

With a little luck, clockwise was the correct direction for our loop.

With a little luck, clockwise was the correct direction for our loop.

24 miles back, the Chinese Wall is worth the walk.

24 miles back, the Chinese Wall is worth the walk.



Big skies.

Big skies.

Quick work of the trip home.

Quick work of the trip home.


Pack It In

I’m catching up on my adventure stories tonight, because frankly I’ve been packing it in this summer.  Per my previous post, my good friend Dustin was in Missoula from August 16-22, and per our usual style, we packed it in.  Highlights included rock climbing at Kootenai, floating the Clark Fork, and rad 3 day backpacking trip between Kootenai canyon and Big Creek Canyon- covering ~37 miles in ~48 hours, with a 6 mile technical ridge scramble in the middle.  Dustin has a way of compelling me to step up and be a better version of myself in a way that few other people do- and he usually does it just by being himself.  I’ll let the photos tell the story:

It’s been a while since Dustin’s been on the ropes, but his knots still look good.

Clear views of some sweet faces on night 1.

Psyched to be in the Bitterroot high country- just such a fun place to play.  We spent most of the day scrambling the ridge on the left.

Yes, we have matching visors. My old one went missing, and Dustin wanted a piece of Montana… (photo by Dustin).

Big Creek Lakes may hold some first ascent possibilities- if you want to haul your gear 14 miles…

Dinner was just that good.

On the way out (photo by Dustin).

A huge thank you to my dear friend for making the trip out here, and continuing to be a driving force for many good things in my life.

No Sweat

It’s been hot here in Missoula lately, so I’ve been chasing adventures that tend to keep me cool.  I haven’t succeeded in not sweating, but I certainly have had a lot of fun.  Just as Ramesh and I got back from Glacier National Park last week, my close friend Andy (and his lovely lady Sarah) rolled in from Chicago.  They’re out backpacking in the Bitterroot now, but wanted to check out Missoula and catch up before they checked in to the deep wild.

We hit the Clark fork in the canoe last Sunday, but the Clark Fork hit us back with some spicy rapids and strong flows.  There was no shortage of getting wet, but that also meant there was a shortage of photos.  Boats were flipped, a few minor pieces of gear got lost, but the smiles stayed on and we made an adventure of it.

One of the rare photos of me and Andy- on the far end of Como Lake.

Wednesday night Andy and Sarah were ready to head in, and despite a full on week of work, I made a last minute decision to sneak out with them for a night in the woods.  We took off out of Missoula at 530, made a few stops on our way to Como lake, and started hiking around 8pm.  We made camp at 10pm, I slept until 5, and then hobbled as best as I could back to the car to drive into work.  It was a long commute that I sincerely did not mind.

If only every commute could start with this view…

Saturday I got the climbing itch, bad, and knew I’d be far from adventure activities due to some upcoming work commitments, so I tracked down a partner and headed out for an easy romp up No Sweat Arete (4p, 5.7, II) in Mill Creek.  Overcast skies kept temperatures reasonable, and after over a month of being off the rock, getting in a few pitches felt awesome.  My right hand is still well injured from tearing a pulley in early June, but my foot is coming back together nicely so mellow terrain was in order.  There’s still nothing I enjoy quite like a nice multipitch outing.

I still don’t know if this is actually the first pitch…

Jen- figuring it out, backpack and all.

Major props to my new friend Jen for completing her first multi-pitch climb, and carrying a sizable pack to boot.  Now that I know the route, we’ll take less stuff next time… thanks for a great day out lady!

Still smiling after pitch 4… only one more to go.

One off the top for good measure. And yes, there is a 1,000ft unclimbed wall behind me…

Like Civilized Men

I spent last week introducing an old friend to new places and new ideas- safe to say we both learned a few things and had a hell of a good time.  Ramesh showed up from Houston on Tuesday morning.  I took care of a few work items, while he explored downtown and hiked “the M.”  I wrapped up work and we started a 5 day blitz of all that western Montana had to offer: live music, rodeo, pow-wow, Walmart (really?), downtown Missoula, BBQ, fireworks, Big Dipper Ice Cream, and wilderness.  With the last piece being the most important, I knew that Glacier National Park more than anywhere else, was probably just the best place to introduce my friend to the wilderness for the first time.  The photos tell the story better than I can:

Lake McDonald. Gateway to Glacier National Park.

The boat I borrowed was still there after 160 miles…

Boat + Car + Mountains = Adventure

Ramesh learns to move some water- and rock a cowboy hat.

Kintla Lake = Perfection.

My friend opened his heart to this place, and had more questions than I had answers to.

High country.

Learning the skills. Ramesh was happy to nail the flint and steel, and I was happy to nail the photo!

An evening with civilized men.

Our paths since living together in college have differed, but sharing time in the wild was the  perfect way to reconnect.  The opportunity to share my love and skills for traveling in these places was sublime.  We enjoyed perfect weather, a perfect route, and perfect conversation.  There’s too much even to blog about, and more on the way- stay tuned.

Tech details: Day 1- drive to Polebridge, MT, get a little lost, find Kintla Lake, canoe to lower Kintla backcountry camp.  Day 2- reload gear, backpack to upper Kintla Lake backcountry camp, then day hike to snowline below boulder pass, Day 3- hike back to boat at Lower Kintla, canoe to car, drive to Missoula for epic dinner with more new friends.


Roaming- that’s what my phone said for most of last weekend.  I like it that way.

Last Thursday I was out for a short run- easy pace, short distance, with some circuit training in mind for later, but about 20 minutes in, something popped in my left foot and I hobbled home to spend the evening looking at the hills I’d rather be running.  The feeling that my awesome weekend plan was about to go sideways sank into my stomach.

Yes this is actually the view from my backyard most nights…

My good friend David spent his Friday driving out from Seattle to explore some of Montana with me, and despite limping through the workday, I knew I just needed to get out of town. David has inspired me for a long time, and I appreciate how our friendship continues to grow despite having lived in different states for most of the time we’ve known each other.  I gave David a quick tour of the city Friday night, and Saturday morning we headed for the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness in southwestern Montana.  It’s a corner of the state I haven’t ever been to, and one of the least visited wilderness areas.  I felt optimistic whatever was hurting my foot would clear up and we hiked into the backcountry above Storm Lake.

Pintler-Anaconda Wilderness. Booyah.

It’s still early season in Montana.

David thinks – “this, this is not Seattle any more…”

David’s dog Bisbee joined us for the adventure, and although she ultimately proved to limit our range of terrain, we were grateful for her company.  We found camp on a barren plateau at 9,400′ and after a gorgeous sunset, hunkered down for a very windy night.

We’re just out for a “walk”, at 9,800′.

Which one is the dog, and which one is the fox?

High country goods.

The elements may all be the same- rock, cloud, tree, sky- but a sunset in the wilderness always seems special to me.

Our second summit attempt the next morning found us facing down some serious thunderheads, and my foot wasn’t getting any better, so we bailed back to the car, and took the Jetta for a joy ride down the Big Hole valley (another place I’ve been meaning to explore).  We paid our respects at the Big Hole National Battlefield, enjoyed views off Lost Trail pass, and found ourselves camped on the Salmon River outside North Fork, Idaho for Sunday evening.

The Big Hole Valley. Montana Hwy 569 is not to be missed.

Car camping on the Salmon.

It felt like summer to just go.  To just roam.  Forget work, forget worries (minus my foot), enjoy time with an old friend, and explore.  We found an abandon mine- it was rad.  We found some sketchy hill people living at a hot spring that we drove 40 miles of dirt roads to find- it was… not so rad, but still makes for a fun story.  Sometimes I give car camping a bad rap, but when you can’t walk any more and just gotta go, I’m grateful for it.

Ever wonder how much abandon mining equipment is scattered across the west?

Well off the beaten path…

Tuesday morning David took off, and I headed to the podiatrist.  We had a useful conversation about the stress fracture in my second metatarsal, and he gave me a walking boot.  Certainly not how I planned to start my Missoula summer, but I’ve got plans to figure it out.  Many thanks to David for being an awesome adventure partner and important friend- here’s to many more.

3-4 weeks. It looks worse than it is.