Years ago, inspired by my friend John Mackey, I created what I call The List. When I would meet someone, and find myself thinking, “it would be fun to go backpacking with this person…”, I would add their name to The List. The List currently numbers 67 people. They vary, from close friends I have known for decades and hiked with multiple times, to people that I’ve met at speaking events, to people who emailed be about some ultralight backpacking question and we struck up an online conversation.
I have three criteria for inclusion on The List. The first criteria, which is the most important and non-negotiable, is that the person should be good company on the trail. I am looking for people who are leading interesting lives, and are willing to share their interests and experiences, but also willing to go beneath the surface. But since it’s a group, I’m looking for people who don’t have to be the center of attention at all times. People who are not just interesting, but interested in others. I express this quality in shorthand as “People with something to say, but nothing to prove.”
The second qualification is that the person be reasonably fit. While I can sometimes vary the trips slightly based on the makeup of the final participants, a general level of fitness will allow participants to better enjoy the trip.To show them some of my favorite remote backcountry places, we need to get some steady miles in.
The final qualification is that they have their gear kit down pat. What they carry should be reasonably light if they’re going to do the miles I set out, and they should know how to use it. They don’t need to be expert backpackers, but my trips aren’t designed for people who are new to the sport. While I’m happy to share a tip here and there on how to be a better backpacker, I don’t have the patience or expertise to do a systematic, organized, educational effort on backpacking.
So once or twice a year, I’ll get extra permits for someplace that I’m familiar with. I’ll send out a blind copy announcement to The List, and assemble the roster on a first-come, first-served basis, though I give priority to people who haven’t done that particular trip before. Trips usually fill within 24-48 hours, and then I create a wait list.
The trips are great, because we are hiking in amazing places, with interesting people. Typically I’m the only common denominator, so people meet new friends, who often go on to do trips together. This year’s random group in Buckskin Gulch last week, besides having four guys who are UL backpacking experts, included an accomplished Triple Crown hiker, the writer who came up with the title for the movie Groundhog Day, a retired pilot who ended a flight in Boston on Sept. 10, 2001 only to watch the next day as that same plane with its new crew flew into the World Trade Center, a best-selling author and speaker, a guy who once played on Spain’s national Ultimate [Frisbee] team, and, go figure… three experts on Excel pivot tables. Everyone has an interesting story if you have time to hear it. And when you’re walking all day with someone, you have time. My list is geared towards backpacking trips, but I’m thinking I may need other lists. I could have a Cruise List for people who would be fun to cruise with. Maybe an Overseas List for people who would be fun to spend time with overseas.
Who’s on your list? And whose lists are you on?