When it comes to doing things few people have done before (if at all!) on the trail, these guys are pros. You thru hiked the Appalachian Trail? Congratulations. So did these guys. Then they hiked its equivalent two more times to become Triple Crowners (Appalachian Trail + Continental Divide Trail + Pacific Crest Trail). You did a westbound thru hike of the Hayduke Trail in Utah (800 miles)? Awesome, but they did it first. Maybe you completed the Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal (1100 miles) with that fantastic support team you had. Amazing! So did they…but without support the entire way. Another first. The distance they’ve hiked individually is measured in the number of times one can circumference the globe. These guys literally blaze their own trails (as in the precursor to the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand) all while carrying ultralight loads! And they do this for fun! Get the picture?
So who are they?
They are Justin Lichter (aka Trauma) and Shawn Forry (aka Pepper) and they are the first of many Vargo ambassadors you’ll be meeting along our ultralight journey as we showcase the depths and extremes people are taking Vargo products.
On April 15th, Justin and Shawn will be attempting a winter traverse by skiing 400 miles from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney, roughly along the Pacific Crest Trail corridor. They will be using the ultralight techniques and skills they have honed through long-distance hiking and applying it to the realm of fast and light ski touring. This particular route has only been done in the winter a handful of times with only a few attempts being successful. And, again, they’re doing this for fun and to prepare for bigger Nordic adventures later on this year.
Leaving their doorstep on Donner Summit, they’ll begin their route south to Mt Whitney. Depending on snow pack and avalanche conditions, the estimated time to cover the 400 miles will be approximately 3 weeks including standard days of at least 25 miles of travel and 6000-8000 feet of elevation gain. Their route will contain some of the longest road-less stretches and highest mountains in the United States.
Fortunately, we were able to ask them a few questions during their pre-trip scramble out the door (hope they got their taxes done!):
Vargo: Tell us a little about yourselves and why ultralight travel is important to you.
P&T: We have hiked a lot of miles, in a lot of different places. We are motivated by always wondering what is around the next corner. Ultralight travel helps us to cover more ground each day so we are able to see and experience more places. Ultralight also feels right because it matches our lifestyle, since we both live simply.
Vargo: You’re about to embark on a seldom-completed snowy traverse from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney in California. What drew you two to do this trip and what do you hope to get out of it?
P&T: We have been excited and talked about doing something like this for years. We know and love the Sierras and have been there a lot in the summer and also early in the hiking season when things are still pretty much snow covered. However, this will be a full month earlier than on any other trip and we are hoping that things will be completely snow covered. We try and build upon previous experiences with new skill sets, landscapes, and challenges. Our ultimate goal with this trip is to further explore the possibilities that lie in ultralight winter travel.
Vargo: How are you getting from Point A to Point B?
P&T: We are going to be skiing from start to finish……….hopefully. Things started off really well with snowpack through early January, but things have gone downhill since then, including the driest January and February in the history of the Sierras. We are hoping for some more late season snow so that we’ll be able to ski the entire way. There’s nothing worse than hiking in ski boots and carrying your skis!
Vargo: What terrain, climate, and difficulties will you face?
P&T: The terrain will be very mountainous. We will be climbing over passes at 12,000-13,000 feet elevation. The climate can vary in mid-April through mid-May. In can storm and be wintery for a few days and then sunny and 60 degrees the next. It’s a tough mix of conditions to be prepared for. Additionally, the conditions can change by the hour, which will make for some interesting times. Snowfall can lead to high avalanche danger and limited visibility. Clear, warm weather can lead to wet-slide avalanches, rock-fall, high water crossings, rotten snow, post-holing, waxing nightmares and sunburn in our nostrils!
Vargo: What ultralight techniques and skills are you planning to use and/or hone on this trip?
P&T: Since we using added gear to our typical quiver we are trying to make sure that we have our kit dialed for any conditions that we will hit, including waxing and winter travel.
Vargo: What is some of the gear you’ll be using on the trip? How much gear are you expecting to carry?
P&T: About 90% of our traditional 3-season Ultralight kit will transfer over for this trip. Many standard systems like cuben fiber shelters, minimal yet versatile layers, frameless backpacks and quilts will be used. Pepper will be using a wood burning stove from Caldera for the first time and Trauma will be using the new BOT water bottle/pot combo, which will mate perfectly with his Steripen.
Probably the most exciting piece of gear we’ll be utilizing is the ski set-ups. We’ll be on ridiculously light ski set-ups with patterned bases. The ski boots alone way less than most hiking boots! We hope this combo will help us cover bigger miles each day by minimizing our transitions between skiing and skinning.
Vargo: How will Vargo products be helping you both on your journey? How much of an advantage will they give you in completing this trip?
P&T: The Vargo products are awesome because of their blend of durability and weight. Because of their versatility and multi-use potential we can double up on systems like utilizing the BOT for water and cooking and the tent stakes for shelters and cooking stands. The BOT also has the side benefit of reducing your BPA consumption caused by the leaching effect of your water bottle when baking in the sun.
Vargo: Any advice to those who are new and to those who are experienced ultralight travelers?
P&T: Above all, make sure your skills match your environment. Ten years ago neither of us could have predicted the style of trips and locations we would be embarking on today. Be patient with your development, but most importantly don’t let your imagination limit you. Follow your dreams!
Vargo: How can people follow you on your adventure?