My top 5….

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For basically no reason whatsoever, today on Facebook I asked my friends to name a topic in which they were curious to know my top 5. It’s one of those silly little meme style posts that generally has very little substance, but I had so much fun making the lists I decided to post it here. Sort of like a FAQ, but way less formal. More like a group interrogation from people who know all my weirdest quirks.

Dylan –  Easy one to start. Top 5 90s TV shows?

  • Catdog
  • All That
  • Rockos Modern Life
  • AMERICAN GLADIATOR
  • Rugrats

Mychal – Balls

  • Tennis
  • Base
  • Masquerade
  • Bouncy
  • Golf

David – How about top five views in Colorado?

5. The Three Apostles from the summit of Mt. Huron
4. West Maroon Pass looking back towards Crater Lake
3. Loch Vale, RMNP
2. Summit of Arapahoe Pass looking down on Caribou Lake
1. UR MOM LOL

Erin – Places to poop outside

I actually do have a list for this and I talk about it almost every time I go hiking 😂

5. I found this awesome bush in the maroon bells wilderness with a great view
4. Moab. It’s weird because you have to poop in a bag, but like deserts are beautiful, and no mosquitos to bite your business.
3. Down near Pagosa. The hot springs smell like sulphur already so you’re off the hook for the smell.
2. Alaska. Makes you feel wild and manly.
1. The best poop of my entire life was in the Quetico Wilderness in Ontario, Canada. I was on the edge of a cliff overlooking a beautiful lake at sunset, with a perfect log to lean against (comfort is key). The amazing view was complimented by a mother Rough Grouse sitting on her nest and singing me songs.

Sydney – I’m amazed nobody has asked about beers? So beers.

Oh god. In no particular order;

  • Focal Banger
  • Nightmare on Brett, Port Barrel
  • Palisade Reunion (this beer is brewed by a friend of mine, so I tagged him and told him to suck it. Dudes are weird)
  • Weiheinstephaner Original
  • All Day IPA

Jessica – Cheeses!

Oh lort. Ok here we go.

  • Cambozola
  • Comté
  • Sharp Cheddar
  • Fresh Mozzarella
  • Havarti

Trevor – Sleeping Positions

  • Left Side
  • Right Side
  • Face Down
  • Awake
  • Awake

Seriously though I can’t sleep on my back.

Chris – Top Five aphrodisiacs?…

  • A good home cooked meal
  • Massage
  • Love
  • Talent
  • Sunshine (yeah I know that’s weird, sue me)

Jason –  Top 5 places you would live at?

  • Dunedin, NZ
  • Canmore, Alberta
  • Whitefish, Montana
  • Hood River, Oregon
  • Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica

    I actually had Boulder on that list because I like it here but I guess that’s sort of a cop out.

Wendi – Top five people who SHOULD be held responsible for the Batmobile losing a wheel and the Joker getting away.

  • The Michelin Man
  • George W. Bush (economic decline caused the collapse of the American Motor Industry, thus shoddier batmobile construction and therefore the lost wheel)
  • Bono (just don’t like him, not sure why)
  • Mrs. Claus (She’s in charge of all Christmas time transportation maintenance)
  • Batman. Come on man, it’s your own car. Make sure the wheels aren’t going to fall off.

Kreig – Top 5 celebrity baby names

  • Bear Blu (Alicia Silverstone)
  • Peaches Honeyblossom (Bob Geldof and Paula Yates)
  • Buddy Bear Maurice (Jamie Oliver)
  • River Rocket (Jamie Oliver AGAIN WTF)
  • Pilot Inspektor (Jason Lee)
 
BONUS; Moon Unit. Frank Zappa’s kid. Because wow.

Kyle – Top five categories to make a top 5 list of.

  • Heirloom carrot varieties in order of sowing season from earliest to latest.
  • Sandwich condiments
  • Balloon animal shapes
  • Best ways to die
  • Things you want yelled at you by Gordon Ramsay

 

 

Ok there you go, now you know everything about me. If you have another top 5 list you want me to make, drop it in the comments and I’ll get to you when it’s time for part 2!

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The Importance of #OptOutside

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Nature was never an “option” for me growing up. Born in Montana to two avid enthusiasts of anything outside and raised in the mountains of Colorado, I spent the entirety of my formative years fully immersed in fresh air, sunshine, and long walks.  I never stopped to consider if I wanted to go play in the woods, because that was the only after-school activity I knew of.  Rumor has it that one of my first baths was in the sink of a Volkswagen Westfalia parked on the side of the road in Glacier National Park because my parents (rightfully) chose to not let a little thing like childbirth slow down their thirst for adventure. Only 3 weeks old and I was already living the dirtbag life, sleeping in a towel closet and bathing in a sink on an old hippie bus. My family was FAR more likely to spend a Saturday cross country skiing around the neighborhood than at a mall searching for deals on the latest trendy accessory. I asked for an Xbox and got a violin, asked for a playstation and got a camping trip with the Boy Scouts.

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Just sitting on a glacier like every other boring family in America.

It’s because of this fresh-air upbringing that I always had a hard time getting in the consumerism spirit around the holidays.  The first flakes of autumn snow begin to flutter down from above and we’re supposed to go cram ourselves in a shopping mall and spend money we don’t have on things we don’t want.  Thanksgiving brings a spectacular weekend of friends and family, delicious meals and charming memories punctuated by the leaves outside shifting from brilliant green to nearly iridescent orange. Rather than savor the moment with our loved ones we’re expected to sleep in a parking lot and bludgeon a stranger with a toaster in order to save a couple bucks on a TV?  I would rather cut off my own legs.

At least with no legs I could finally try one of those cool sit-down skis.

Then, in 2015 REI announced that they would be closing every single one of their stores nationwide in an effort to encourage both their employees and customers to go enjoy this beautiful world. The movement was called #optoutside and was one of the first times that a marketing campaign has truly connected with me. It may seem obvious for a company that sells outdoor equipment to encourage their customers to get outside, but to completely shut down on the biggest shopping day of the year so employees can join in is absolutely revolutionary.

Multitudes of nationwide brands realized the importance of experience over profits and joined the movement, while REI took it a step further. Rather than just encourage people to get out and see the world, they teamed up with transportation startup Skedaddle and drove busloads of people to various state parks around the country. For many people, this marked the first time with literally no obstacles to the outdoors, and the turn out across the nation was exceptional.

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First time skiing with my sherpa/dad.

The crew that gathered on the Skedaddle bus on Friday morning was more or less what I expected. People from all walks of life showed up: millennials meeting up with their girlfriends to hike off the pumpkin pie from the night before, and middle aged stock brokers simply looking to clear their head (and escape the thanksgiving family drama) with some cold, fresh air. Perhaps the most charming for me, however, were the youngsters. Much as I spent every weekend as a young child traipsing about the woods, these whipper-snappers were forming their first thanksgiving memories in a Colorado state park. Spending my formative years in the woods made me into the passionate environmentalist that I am today, and my heart was filled to the brim witnessing these children building early memories, not of shopping and fighting, but snowy trails and rocky overlooks.

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The Author learning to be nice to the world.

An entire new generation is coming, a generation learning that counting snowflakes is more valuable than counting money. Learning that nights under the stars are infinitely more important than nights in the bars, and learning that getting sweaty and dirty is worth it for the view at the top. Learning that amazing companies like Skedaddle are willing to offer their services entirely free of charge for the sake of the great outdoors, and that hundreds of people are willing to wake up early on a weekend to join them. These are the children that will grow to be the future environmental stewards of our planet, and so far they’re off to a good start.

Nate is an enthusiastic admirer of rock cairns and asperatus clouds. For more gratuitous nature pictures and tree jokes he can be found on Instagram @nateinthewild and Twitter @Nate_Loobz

The Great American Roadtrip… to Canada.

 

Roadtrips have always been a bit of a double-edged sword for me.  I spent the last 12 hours sitting in a tiny metal box, snacking on awful gas station food and listening to random local radio stations fade in and out. I parked my car at a Wal-Mart (directly adjacent to an oil refinery) and walked every single aisle of the store just to have an excuse to move my legs. I fought off the noise of industrial machinery and passed out in the back of my car, only to wake at sunrise and start the whole cycle over. If one were to devise a torture specifically for outdoorsy adventurers such as myself, this would be a fantastic starting point.

But as I continued north I couldn’t help but admire the incredible simplicity and versatility provided by living out of a car.  I didn’t have a flight to catch, or a hotel to book. There was no need to google nearby restaurants and attractions. I was making my attractions – going where I wanted, when I wanted, with absolutely no schedule whatsoever. If I saw an amazing looking ridge that just begged to be climbed, I could pull over and do just that. If the daylight hours dwindled there was no need to plan a retreat to the nearest town, because my hotel had 4 wheels and was waiting for me at the trailhead. Hell, some mornings I didn’t even get out of the car, I simply climbed into the front seat, put my shoes on and drove to the next trailhead to catch sunrise. I was literally living wherever my unquenchable wanderlust dragged me, without a single worry about whether or not tomorrow would have an adventure waiting. It would.

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Probably the ugliest trailhead I’ve ever woken up at.

My trip drew me north to an area I’d long been seduced by, but hadn’t visited since the ripe old age of 2 – Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.  Truly one of the worlds last unspoiled lands, the National Parks of Alberta are unrivaled expanses of wilderness whose immensity is nearly impossible to fully grasp.  Every hike deserves to be in some sort of “best of” list, transporting  you from a sunny flower-filled meadow to the base of a jagged glacier in under a mile. For literally hundreds of miles in every direction this unparalleled wilderness extends, uninterrupted.

For this reason I chose to forgo the classic “home base” of a hotel or campground, and instead explore in a more nomadic fashion. A parking spot or tent site would never be repeated, allowing me to explore every possible inch of the glorious Canadian Rockies in my limited time frame. This was a very unusual approach for me – I’ve always done multi-day backpacking trips, spending days and weeks at a time on the trail without seeing another person. I’m comfortable eating freeze-dried food, sweating for 12 hours straight and sleeping on the ground, so the opportunity to have a comfortable “home” to return to every night, in the location of my choice is just fantastic.  And I seriously owe a huge shout out to the Sierra Designs Frontcountry Bed. A sleeping bag the size of a twin bed, with a built-in comforter turned my tiny Subaru into a luxury road palace. Combined with strategic placement of the food cooler, a headlamp and an actual pillow meant I had a legitimate home on wheels.

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The combination of hiking and driving allowed me to see a massive amount of the greater Banff/Jasper area in just a week, and as the weather turned for the worse I decided to head south. On a particularly cold and damp day I crossed back into the States and arrived in Glacier National Park. As a born and raised Montana-native the return home in such dreary weather initially felt underwhelming and disappointing. After a very cold, windy and wet hike the clouds broke just near sunset and I was treated to the most spectacular sunset I may have ever seen. Montana was welcoming me home.

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Turns out Glacier National Park is neat also.

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Just the absolute neatest.

After all the mobility and exploration up north my appreciation for car camping was renewed nearly immediately as a Grizzly mother and her cub wandered directly through my campsite as I was setting up the tent. Although I’m experienced and comfortable in bear country, the added security of bear lockers for food and sleeping in my locked car was a nice added bonus to my protection from the elements. But perhaps the biggest advantage is the ability to wake up warm and dry in the middle of a raging tempest and begin a sunrise hike in good spirits. Something about stuffing a sopping wet rainfly into a stuffsack at 5am really makes it hard to remain chipper.

After a few weeks of exploring it was time to head home.  While I was used to traveling on my own two feet, living out of a backpack and intimiately exploring a single area, the thought of extended driving had initially seemed extremely restricting. But the freedom of mobility, exploration and comfort are unparalleled while camping out of one’s car.  I feel like I’ve just barely returned home and I’m already planning the next opportunity to toss my pack in the car and drive off into the sunset.

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Seriously go check out the amazing stuff from my friends at Sierra Designs. They made this whole trip possible, and absurdly comfortable. 

 

The FjallClassic 2016

I got home from my last backpacking trip less than 15 minutes ago. I sit here, dirty, sunburnt and nursing a blister on my foot, but smiling ear to ear. As worn out as I am, I would pack up and head back out without a second thought if that was an option.  The First Annual North American FjällClassic brought nearly 200 people together for a 20+ mile backpacking trip through one of the most remote sections of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. An American interpretation of one of the most extraordinary outdoor events on the planet, it walked a delicate balance between gritty backcountry camping and plush corporate partying in a way that immediately cemented it into my calendar for next year.

The original Fjällräven Classic is held in Sweden, and features over 2,000 people from 30 countries on a 100km trek through the Scandinavian wilderness. It’s a celebration of life outside, and the joy that comes with it. Day after day of grueling hikes are celebrated with a warm meal and drinks around the fire, and lasting friendships are inevitably forged. Over the last decade the Swedish event has become such a massive hit that Fjällräven decided to host a trek in North America; and I was lucky enough to be invited as a local photographer. After 3 days of Swedish Fish and Lingonberry Juice (I’m completely serious) I figured I should write up a trip report.

Day 1.

Pickup on Friday was set for 6 a.m. at the Fjällräven retail outlet in Boulder, Colorado. After some free coffee and light snacks around 75 of us loaded onto an enormous bus and headed out to our undisclosed launch point. The drive was considerably longer than expected, but after about 4 hours we arrived at State Forest State Park.  The arrival scene was unreal; an enormous tent setup housed tons of free goodies for all of the nearly 200 participants, and a local celebrity chef was preparing fresh, hot breakfast to help us start the hike off well nourished. We all stuffed our faces and our bags, and then proceeded to the start line.

The most decisive difference between the Fjällclassic and a standard hike is the amount of assistance and refreshment on trail. Every 4-5 miles was a “checkpoint” featuring trail mix, Swedish fish, and various other treats ranging from hot soup to shots of whiskey. The first day was very much alpine autumn, so after 4 miles of hiking in rain, hail and temps in the 40’s taking a quick break for a crockpot of soup felt like a miracle.

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Funny how weather can be “shitty” and “gorgeous” at the same time.

The hike was long and damp. Eight miles of straight uphill towards our first night’s camp on the banks of a timberline lake known as Ruby Jewel. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many tents pitched in an alpine meadow, but after such an exhausting day the atmosphere was a little less “party” and a little more “survival.” We all boiled some water, ate a nice hot meal and watched as the clouds floating down valley faded from brilliant golds into deep velvety purples. We were treated to a spectacular sunset, and everyone passed out shortly thereafter.

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Like some kind of spontaneous tent-city.

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Sunsets, am I right?

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Day 2.

I woke up to the sounds of people shuffling around and decided it was time to join the pack. As I unzipped my tent I was showered in frost from my rainfly and decided that maybe a 2-season tent wasn’t the smartest choice for early fall at 11,000 feet. Frosty toes went into frosty socks and into frosty shoes. It seemed that the theme for the night was shivering and exhaustion, but the crew was lively and excited to hit the trail again. After some hot coffee, freeze dried eggs, and jumping jacks to warm up we started down the trail. Day 2 was a leisurely 5 miles, with only half the elevation gain of day 1. The 5 miles to our next lake (and campsite) only took my group an hour and a half and gained us a reputation as “whippersnappers”.  We were greeted with the standard snacks, plus a bottle of whiskey and a hammock. I could get used to camping like this!

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I expect one of you to have this waiting for me on my next hike.

Since the hike ended and whiskey began at 11am, we obviously spent the rest of the afternoon playing in the lake, napping in the hammock and socializing with the other participants. Fjällräven made some very intelligent choices on their guest list; seemingly everyone in attendance was either a professional photographer, writer, social media icon or some combination of the three. After some extreme networking and photosharing a small group of us decided our hiking wasn’t done for the day, and we headed back up the ridge to watch sunset from 12,500 feet.  You know you’re really in the spirit of the outdoors when a 5 mile hike carrying a 40lb pack doesn’t quite cut it, and another 3 miles sounds like a fun way to pass the time for the evening.

I’ve never seen a disappointing sunset from that elevation, and being there with 3 other professional photographers was beyond inspiring. Without further ado, I present “Way too many pics of basically the same thing.”

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Our camp was on the far side of that lake. This is what lunatics like me call a “nice evening walk”.

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Get a bunch of photographers on a mountain with lighting like this, you’re bound to start goofing off. John Lloyd with the power pose.

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My friend Will McKay sure knows how to make a goofy Nate look good. 

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Seriously, how badass do we look? Thanks, Will!

 

Day 3.

The final day. Always a bittersweet mix, as the days on the trail wind to a close, but a hot shower and fresh meal draw closer. Since we camped at the lake we had a long, but gentle 8 miles back to the initial launch point. The checkpoint halfway there featured fresh cooked pancakes, lingonberry juice and coffee. I repeat: I could REALLY get used to camping like this!

As we approached the finish line we were treated to the sounds of a live band, handed beautiful medals to celebrate our completion, fresh charcuterie and a cold beer.  Is this even real life?  For 4 straight hours all the participants gorged on delicious food cooked by local chef Kyle Mendenhall, danced to live music, passed around cameras to share pictures and exchanged contact information.

I’m not really one for tradition. There is only one thing in my life that I consider an absolute mandatory annual experience, and it’s been in my life since I was 13 years old. After this weekend, sleeping under the stars,  learning photography, writing tips from some of my major influences, and eating fresh pancakes 18 miles into a backcountry hike I now have TWO summer traditions. See ya next year.

 

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I took a date to Chef Kyle’s restaurant in Boulder once. I never saw her again because the food was so good I didn’t listen to anything she was saying. He must still have that magic touch because after this picture I put my camera down for the rest of the party.

5 best ways to keep your beer cold in the backcountry.

I’m a man who carries two different business cards. One reads “Professional Brewer” for one of the largest craft breweries in Colorado. The other, “Professional Adventure Photographer.”  I spend a LOT of time outside, and I take pride in bringing delicious golden suds with me wherever I go. However, being a literal card carrying beer nerd creates certain standards and expectations. I’m not going to hike a liter of Dortmunder with an authentic stange in to the backcountry, but I have enough pride to at least drink my beer cold!

So until someone invents a portable, solar-powered fridge that fits in my tent, I’ll keep using the elements. Here are Nate Luebbe’s tricks to chilling your beers in the backcountry.

 

1. Rivers, Lakes and Streams!

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If this picture doesn’t make you thirsty, I’ll sell my camera.

Alright, let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. Rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, tarns, puddles. Nature’s drinking fountains, with a secondary (better?) use as a beer cooler.

Nothing goes together better than river sports and beer.  Standing thigh-deep in a creek casting flies can work up a mighty thirst; so fill that net with a 6-pack of your favorite local brew and plop it in the water. Floating some whitewater?  Tie a mesh bag to the back of your raft and fill that puppy with cans.  I’ve even used my mosquito headnet and hung it off the gunnel of my canoe to make sure I had some proper refreshment when the paddling was finished. Plan ahead for diminishing stocks, it seems that my “post paddle” refreshments always seem to disappear during the trip… some mysteries just can’t be solved.

It’s worth noting that beer cans are just about the same density as water so they will float away if you just toss them in a river. Be smart and protect our wilderness, wedge those suckers behind a rock or better yet use some sort of bag or tether. Also please no glass, for reasons that I hope are obvious.  There’s a reason that every good outdoorsy brewery packages in cans.

 

2. Get high!

Upslope Can

I’ve literally never drank a warm beer at high elevation. It’s a miracle to break 45°F (which is the correct serving temp for IPA’s) even in the dead heat of July when you’re at 13,000 feet.  If all the trunk time warmed your cans on the drive to the trailhead, just store those babies near the outside of your pack and let Mother Nature work on refreshments while you work on some elevation!

This works as a wonderful odometer too. If the beer isn’t cold, then you must not be done hiking yet. If you’re on the summit and they still aren’t cold, then maybe it’s time to pick a higher summit. Use your beer as motivation to push yourself, it’s like dog treats for people!

Remember, It’s always good practice to plan ahead and bring a few extras. Almost everyone on the mountain mentions how good a beer sounds, but few people take the time to pack a can for the summit. A full 6 pack only weighs 4lbs, and pulling out a few spares is a sure-fire way to make new friends.

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Up to you if these are the kind of friends you want to make. (Humboldt Peak, 14,065)

If you’re passing around beers on the summit, always double check that the empties are getting packed out. Pack it in, pack it out, even if you didn’t get to do the fun drinking part.

 

3. Ice and Snow!

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The mountains didn’t turn blue, but I think it’s cold.

If you’re a true fan of delicious beer and outdoor adventures, then you don’t need a sweaty summer afternoon to crave a frosty beverage.  A hard ice climb up a frozen waterfall or grueling skin to the top of a mountain can get me as hot an sweaty as any summer sport,  and a cold can of beer is the perfect way to cool back down. I usually just store the cans in my backpack and then toss them in a snowbank for a couple minutes at the top while I recooperate from the climb.  The best part is how quickly they cool, if you decide on one more (and you probably will), then 5 minutes in the snow is all it takes to chill a can to drinking temp.

This may seem obvious but I’ve seen people pack a cooler with ice to go skiing in January. Let Mother Nature do her thing and save the fossil-fuel produced ice cubes for the warm months!

Quick note; if it’s cold enough out to have frozen waterfalls, then it’s probably cold enough to freeze your beer as well. I recommend stuffing the cans into the snow because snow actually insulates to 32°F on the dot. Your beers will be cold and delicious but won’t turn into frozen chunks of disappointment.

 

4. Evaporative Cooling!

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A cold beer in a very hot place.

In the warmest of summer months I often find that rivers and lakes near me are warm enough to not adequately cool a beer. Thanks to the power of thermodynamics and (I’m pretty sure) straight witchcraft, there’s a beautiful workaround; evaporative cooling. You see, transitioning water from liquid to gas requires a substantial amount of energy to break the molecular bonds holding the water in it’s liquid form. This transition (known as a phase change) absorbs heat from nearby molecules and as a result hot steam floats away and the surface that water evaporated from is left considerably colder. This is the entire basis of how sweating works.

So since beer cans can’t sweat (thank God, am I right?), we can mimic that and cool our beers off using just a gentle breeze on a warm summer day. Sounds like the next #1 hit on the country music charts.

  • Take a piece of thin cloth and get it wet. If it’s super fancy “wicking” fabric this will work even better, as it’s literally designed to evaporate and cool.
  • Wrap it around your most favorite beer.
  • Put that can in the shade. Of course it will dry faster in the sun, but the direct heat of sunlight will be very counter productive.
  • Wait a little while. Continue to rehydrate the cloth as needed.
  • Drink up!

This effect won’t ever get you down to ice-cold, but as discussed you should really be drinking your delicious craft beers at cellar temp (45°-55°F) anyway. Plus you get to talk about science to all your friends, and who doesn’t love to sound smart?

 

5. Keep it warm?!

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Not a waterbottle. Insulated Growler. We don’t mess around.

Ok this one is kind of a trick. But sometimes enjoying a delicious beer in the wild means putting effort into keeping beer warm enough to remain a liquid. I’ve had some amazing days skiing in the backcountry with 3-4 cans of PBR stuffed into my parka. Finding a pocket that perfectly balances your body heat with the piercing cold of January at 12,000 feet takes a bit of trial and error, but you’ll be deliciously rewarded once the balance is struck!

The good news is that beer will stay a liquid below the freezing point of water, thanks to the alcohol and pressure of the can. Usually keeping the beers in the center of your backpack, or jacket pocket should be enough to prevent freezing. If a beer does freeze, it should fully homogenize and be completely delicious and drinkable once it thaws, so don’t throw it out! If you’re lucky enough to have a big winter beer like a chocolate stout, grab a spoon and eat that sucker like a slushy. It’s totally not that weird, I promise.

 

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Nate Luebbe is a professional brewer and adventure photographer/writer from Boulder, Co. For more, visit NateLuebbe.com or Instagram.com/NateLoobz

 

 

Why I Bring a Camera

I like to know things.

There it is – basically my entire existence summarized in a single sentence. My unquenchable thirst for knowledge and skills borders on fetishism. Unsurprisingly, such a thirst seeps into every facet of my life; work, leisure, even romantic questions are exhaustively researched.  Many hours have been spent googling what most would barely glance at on their phone, bored, waiting for their latte. How much does the length of each day differ as the seasons change? How much farther south will the sunset be in the winter? Where are the best natural hot springs in Colorado? Can you actually pulverize a golf club in a blender? (spoiler alert – yes. And it’s AWESOME.)

Of course I never wanted to just learn. What good is knowledge unless it’s put into practice?  So, with this new knowledge came new adventures and eventually my life was filled with extraordinary experiences and wonderful memories.

Memories are powerful, but as with any avid adventurer I wanted to relive those moments, and be able to share them with anyone who wasn’t able to attend.

Words have an incredible way of painting a mental image, but if words are too sparse, the story lacks luster. If the recounting is too rich in descriptors, it’s too tedious to be enjoyable. And so, my foray into photography began.

At first glance it was too good to be true. Just point this thing at a sunset and my friends will see exactly what I saw?

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Nope.

Turns out cameras take a bit of skill too. In this age of iPhone bathroom mirror selfies and shaky GoPro footage it seems that cameras are everywhere and I definitely misjudged how hard it was to capture a quality moment. Not just the colors and the lighting, but the emotion, the feel, the memory.

So I went down the photography rabbit hole, reading and absorbing everything I could about framing, exposure and processing. I was in my element. There was stuff to learn, and I had the passion to take my nightly googling from “casual” to “weirdly obsessed.”

But with any new skill, reading is only step one. Practice makes perfect, and practice I did (though perfect I’ll never be). Every spare moment was spent shooting and editing. Waterfalls, sunsets, action sports, my roommates on a hike, my roommates in the kitchen, even some classy portraits of my roommates dog. Not kidding.

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Classy. Dog. Portraits.

I submitted my pictures to various websites for approval (thanks for the thrashing Reddit), and even entered several photography contests. I transitioned my Instagram from pictures of my beer (still not kidding) into scenic photography.  With careful deliberation and invaluable feedback from the digital communities I finally started cranking out some pictures I was proud of. I still have a thousand things I want to improve on but I’ve actually begun getting paid for pictures, which does a far better job of paying the bills than Instagram likes.

Eventually my photography progressed to the point of autonomy. I no longer felt like the camera was an unwieldy tool to manipulate, but rather an extension of myself. I realized that I had stopped focusing on things like shutter speed and aperture, and had begun learning something new; the landscape around me.

My everpresent quest for the ultimate scenic landscape had subtly forced me to explore the area around my home. I had accidentally built a vast mental collection of nearby hikes, scenic vistas, beautiful drives and picnic spots.

Once I had found a landscape, there was more learning to be done. In the process of a sunrise photoshoot I would spend hours studying the landscape before me. The way the crest of a peak interplays with the lines of hills below, or the subtle contours of clouds drifting down-valley. While dozens of photographers line up at the scenic pulloff, I explore nearby. Zooming in and out, walking to different vantages, playing with every composition I could think of. A small hike up a nearby hill can change a picture from stereotypical to revolutionary.

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This picture brought to you by random exploration above oxbow bend, a world famous photoshoot location in Grand Teton National Park.

I understand that many people don’t want to be tied to a camera when they’re outside, and of course they enjoy their time outside every bit as much or more than I do. Occasionally I will get told to put the camera down and live in the moment. However, I learn so much more in a moment through my lens. I find zen in capturing the fiery oranges fading into silky purples of twilight, and noticing when and where the first stars make their appearances.  I have to notice when the sky is brighter than the forest, and the times when it’s not. Those things used to happen all around me, with no acknowledgement. Now, I notice. My surroundings have become my priority and so much previously-unseen beauty gets stored in my memory.  I no longer simply exist in the moment, I internalize it. In the process of trying to freeze an entire existence into a single frame I’m forced to obsessively dissect everything around me, and the takeaway is so rich in detail and love that I’m nearly overwhelmed when reliving the moments on my computer screen.

I no longer remember, now I re-live. And that is why I bring a camera.

The 5 things I learned when I lost a friend on the mountain.

I’m fortunate in this life to have many friends who share my same passions. I never need to look far if I want to share a nice hike, good beer, or night of live music. It is rare, however, to meet someone whose fiery passion for everything they do is so contagious that it inspires everyone around them to push their limits.

I met Justin on Craigslist. He sent a single sentence reply to an ad I had posted looking for a new roommate. Since I was broke and the deadline was coming up, we scheduled a time for him to come by and see the place. He introduced himself as Jarstin McFlarstin (an actual nickname that everyone, even family, calls him).  The apartment was an absolute shithole, but only minutes after his arrival we were already swapping stories of grand adventures – summit conquests and life changing hikes. I was immediately inspired. My Friday plans changed from beer and video games to 8pm bedtime and grueling hike in the morning.

We lived together for 3 years, even working side by side as line cooks in a Thai restaurant in downtown Boulder. We egged each other on, as guys in their early-20’s often do, to see who could run the fastest, eat the hottest chile, or get the cute girl’s phone number.  He even convinced me to wake up at 3am one day to go climb TWO 14,000 foot mountains, then drive back to Boulder for an 8 hour shift in the kitchen. We came down the wrong way and had to summit a third peak to get back to the car.  I literally fell asleep fully clothed on my living room floor when our shift was finally over.

We hiked and climbed everything we could think of, and continuously pushed each other to go harder.

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Summit number 1. Notice how we’re still happy.

One day Jarstin and some friends took off to Grand Teton National Park to climb the middle Teton.  His friends came back. Jarstin didn’t.

Losing a friend is never easy. But Jarstin and I had jokingly covered the topic before and I knew that he had very literally died exactly how he wanted to; pushing his limits in some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. It was almost poetic. It reinforced for me that we are simply visitors in nature. Things can, and will, go wrong. But beautiful life lessons emerged from the shadows of that day.

Here are the 5 things I learned from losing a friend in the mountains.

1. Making excuses is the same as preemptively quitting. 

You see, Jarstin was born with a rare condition that caused severe curvature of his spine, and deformation of his legs. He grew up wearing Forest Gump style leg braces and didn’t even take his first unassisted steps until age 10. When the braces came off the ONLY thing Jarstin wanted to do was walk. He walked to school.  He walked around the local parks in Benicia, California.  He enjoyed his walks so much that he landed a job on the trail crew in Sequoia National Park. A man at age 24 with one leg still deformed and significantly shorter than the other had chosen a career in hiking. Grueling 14 hour days of physical labor, no creature comforts beyond a simple sleeping bag and a worn-out tent, and dehydrated food for months at a time.

Jarstin straight-up kicked my ass on the hiking trails, but there was no excuse I could think of to not keep up.  If this lopsided goofball could practically jog up the side of the mountain while telling dirty jokes and whistling old showtunes he learned from his father, then my fatigue was downright pathetic. He would fall multiple times during a hike, but be back on his feet so fast I almost thought he just took a break to do a quick pushup.  I was exhausted, sweaty, and hungry, but here was Jarst – stumbling uphill faster than I could even run back down.  I had no excuse to stop. I ended up in the best shape of my life that summer.

If you want something, go get it. Making excuses is just another way of giving up ahead of time.

2. Live fast, die young. 

I know that’s just about the most cliché sentence I could ever type, but I seriously mean it. Jarstin packed more life into his 27 years than most do in 40. At one point he had bought a ticket to Laos, arrived with $25 to his name, and spent the next 2 years hand-building a bar on the Mekong. With some clever marketing and hard work he  eventually sold enough drinks to tourists to buy a plane ticket home.

That’s the kind of adventure seen in Hollywood movies, but very few people have the guts to gamble like that. I still don’t, and probably never will, but the lesson has stuck with me. This is your only trip through this life. Not everything will go exactly as planned, and not everything you experience will be pleasant. But you should arrive at the finish line satisfied with your attempt. Give it your all. Take risks, gamble, push yourself, and make a serious lasting impression.

Who knows, maybe some day your friends will even write about you.

3. Trade comfort for memories. 

Your grandkids aren’t going to want to hear the amazing story about the time you Netflix-binged an entire season of House of Cards without a bathroom break. You won’t fondly reminisce about how you once wore sweatpants for 3 weeks straight because you were too lazy to do laundry.

But spend a couple of nights in a tent when the weather dips below 0°F (did it). Have a float plane drop you off in the middle of the Canadian Wilderness with some food and a canoe so you have to paddle back across the US border (did that too).  Walk into the woods with nothing but a jacket and a pocket knife and spend the night in a handmade shelter, eating dinner that you foraged yourself (surprise, did it).  Or, spend 14 hours climbing mountains before a full kitchen shift. Thanks, Jarstin.

I find that most of the best stories I’ve heard in this life involve some sort of discomfort. A broken tent, a flat bike tire, lost luggage. Comfort is temporary, but amazing experiences turn into life-changing memories.

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Out of my comfort zone. Into my life-long memories.

4. Nobody is beneath you.

 

One of Jarstin’s best friends was a part-time dishwasher in our kitchen. Jorge spoke almost no English, and for the most part kept to himself. But Jarstin took it upon himself to learn enough Spanish to ask Jorge when he needed help, ask how his day was going, and just generally be a friend. Maybe one of the only friends Jorge had in town.

A year later Jorge got a new job as a line cook at a very expensive restaurant in town, and Jarstin and I were repeatedly treated to exquisite cuisine for free, simply because we had taken the time to treat him like an equal when very few others would.

Don’t forge relationships for your own benefit. Forge relationships because all people are truly worth knowing. If you’re genuine and true, the good will follow.

5. Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. 

Jarstin lived his life on stage. He was always singing, doing impersonations, whistling or cracking jokes. Sure, some of it was dumb, but nobody bats 1.000 in this world. Having the guts to throw it out there and let the world see the real you is terrifying, but overcoming that fear is true freedom. I’ve heard countless people retell stories of Jarst, and his incredible freedom of expression is always the centerpiece. Nobody remembers the stupid jokes, and nobody remembers the failures. But everyone respects the effort, and the selflessness of going for it.

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Does this look like a man who cares what you think?

The  greatest men in history have failed, very publicly. The gumption to get up and carry on is the measure of the (wo)man, and all success are born out of first learning how to NOT do it.

You have no reason to not. Go out and do.