I’ve been exploring Colorado’s backcountry for the past decade. With each new adventure I find myself continually awestruck by the amazing gift we’ve all been given – the chance to experience the natural world. Sparkling glacial lakes, thick forests and (literally) breathtaking  peaks that soar above 14,000 feet in elevation are just some of the amazing experiences that Colorado’s high country has to offer the backcountry explorer.

Few things are more exciting than a backpacking trip in the Colorado high country. Weeks before we hit the trail I start planning what gear I’ll need to pack, the  meals I’ll want to cook and the scenic vistas I’ll want to visit during the adventure. Summer is the perfect season to incorporate trail running into a backpacking trip because it presents an opportunity to explore the natural world in a totally new way.  Trail running elicits an invigorating rush similar to when I’m on my snowboard weaving in and of a forest – especially on the downhill part of the trail.

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Whenever I’ll be in the backcountry for any length of time, my thoughts inevitably turn toward the writings of famed naturalist, conservationist and Sierra Club founder John Muir, whose reverence for the natural world inspires me to relish every minute of my time in the wilderness. Muir loved running in the forest. He loved the exhilaration as he bounded down a trail. It was a way for him to view wilderness in a new way. And it was a spiritual experience as much as it was adventurous.

It’s because of Muir that I rarely use the word “hike” to describe my forest explorations:

“People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. A way back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them” (The Mountain Trail and Its Message Boston: The Pilgrim Press, 1911).

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Reflecting on Muir’s inspirational words and packing for a summer adventure in Colorado’s high country, I’ll bring along a good pair of trail running shoes. Unencumbered by heavy packs, trail running to a nearby summit or hidden glacial lake a short distance from our basecamp is a unique and exhilarating way to enjoy the forest.

Basecamp. There’s something tremendously comforting about that word when you’re out in the raw beauty of the natural world. Food plays a huge role in creating the comfort of basecamp. So does a cozy tent and the company of family and good friends sharing stories. But basecamp takes on a whole new feeling when it suddenly comes into view after you’ve blasted through a deep forest or open meadow with your trail runners.

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As with all adventure activity, if you do plan to do some trail running while you’re in the backcountry, it’s imperative that you exercise extreme caution and sound judgement. Being safe means wearing appropriate gear including trail running shoes that will provide proper ankle and arch support. It also means bringing a small daypack with first aid, extra water, water purification, a light bivy, maps, a compass, the skills to use all your tools, and running with at least one other partner.

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I’ll leave you with one of my favorite trail running quotes from Muir for some inspiration while you’re packing for your next adventure:

“If for a moment you are inclined to regard these taluses as mere draggled, chaotic dumps, climb to the top of one of them, tie your mountain shoes firmly over the instep, and with braced nerves run down without any haggling, puttering hesitation, boldly jumping from boulder to boulder with even speed. You will then find your feet playing a tune and quickly discover the music and poetry of rock piles – a fine lesson” (The Fountains and Streams of the Yosemite National Park, The Atlantic Monthly, Vol LXXXVII, January 1901, No DXIX, page 565).

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