Tales of the Talus, Old Man on The Trail

Into the dark, brisk, High Uintas night we shot. Practically racing with our heavy packs teaming with sleep systems, Patagonia chili, and of course, multiple rolls of Kodak Ultramax. As we hiked along the trail with headlamps lit, fueled by caffeine and pure excitement to finally be in a place where we love, we began our journey nerding out about the majesty and eeriness of our wilderness.

Accompanied by my long time friend Connor, this was a trip a year in the making. The summer prior, we had hiked the infamous Highline Trail with our old Boyscout Troop where I had a rather embarrassing mishap. To keep it short (and with my dignity somewhat intact), I had suffered altitude sickness on our climb and had to descend off the back side of Anderson Pass, being almost carried by Connor on the way down. As a promise to make up for us missing the assent, I swore that we would reach that coveted top the next year.

Now, finally here, hiking through the early hours of the morning, our goals were slowly coming to fruition. As we set our ultralights up around 2:30 A.M, thinking of the massive passes that we would meet tomorrow, the exhaustion of our night would hit and we would drift off to the sound of the nearby river.

It’s incredibly easy to get lost in the vastness of the outdoors. Being surrounded by stunning landscapes we often use to participate in exhilarating and exhausting activities, getting lost in the moment is often something we fall victim to. Don’t get me wrong, there’s really nothing wrong with being in the moment and letting go when we spend time in the places we hold dearly, but when the opportunity presents itself, taking the time to appreciate the majesty of the wilderness is so important. This trip in particular, while packed with some of the most epic moments I’ve had while backpacking, was one that was filled with a lot of reflection for Connor and me. Taking time to appreciate the immense beauty of nature and discuss conservation issues was a massive cornerstone in our trip, and after an interaction with one of the most interesting people I have ever met, my passion for sharing the love for the outdoors and its protection would gain a whole new perspective.

As we rustled from our sleeping bags and emerged into the brisk morning, we took a moment to soak in the stunning, stormy valley. Starting towards our first pass, we began to take in the massive wilderness before us. Stopping for breaks to catch our breath never really crossed our minds, but enthralled by the beauty of this alpine paradise, we would stop constantly to take in the gorgeous scenery and nerd out about the incredible biodiversity we witnessed. Hiking up the steep switchbacks, a man appeared just out of the corner of our eyes. Dressed in a blue Northface windbreaker and tan boonie hat, we were introduced to Marty. 

Brandon Long

A 71 year old from Reno Nevada, Marty had been on a journey for days through the High Uinta mountains. At the top of the pass, we stopped and talked while a storm creeped its way up behind us. Looking towards the massive talus slope that loomed over us, we began to talk about our place in this massive wilderness. For us, being in these mountains is purely leisure and adventure, but for those who discovered the Uintas hundreds of years before, it was about survival. We have been absolutely blessed with innovations that have come from the generations before us. From basic topography that guides us to our destination or the ultralight gear that provides us with comfort and luxury in this otherwise formidable environment, we owe all of this to the outdoor fanatics before us. Listening to Marty’s stories of hiking the PCT in the 1980’s and his love for exploring, he began to talk about some of the curses of his generation. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes” he said, adding, “it’s going to be up to people your age that have the passion and love for the outdoors to fix what my generation did wrong. You guys are in your prime, I didn’t peak until I was 40, so it’s great to see kids like you trying to make a difference.”


This single piece of dialogue alone would shape the rest of our trip and be the biggest reason that pushed me to write this story. Hearing the experiences from someone who has grown up in a completely different time period was fascinating and really put my love for the outdoors and the challenges that threaten it into perspective. While doing some research back at home about past conservation efforts and challenges, I read an interesting article by High Country News, one released in 1996. Though almost 30 years old, the article mentions issues eerily similar to the ones that still plague us today. From oil and gas drilling to development projects that threaten to make our wilderness less wild, these issues are some that have impacted multiple generations of those who love the outdoors. While daunting to consider, especially when given the fact that many of these issues have evolved to become more complex now (i.e. climate change) being able to connect with others about these issues is vital in our efforts to conserve the places that we love. By keeping our minds open and stopping to talk to anyone we can about the things we love, a gap of age and differences can be closed just by listening to people. 


While many conservation organizations exist, many are simply unable to stand the test of time. Through the aging of their members or the struggles of opposing bodies, collected groups crumble. What remains, however, is the drive and love of people who live and breathe the wilderness. If you can find someone outside, odds are you can find someone passionate about issues that face their environments. Get outside, make connections, and never pass up the opportunity to connect with someone you may not otherwise have. 


Brandon Long


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