The mountains can bring people together, you learn to watch out for each other, to share and learn from your companions and to be friendly and welcoming to those you meet along the way.
Two years ago a sales rep friend of a my buddy Kevin McGowan, the long time Outfitting Manager at NOLS Rocky Mountain dropped off a fancy new ultralight shelter off for us to look at from a start up company from Maine called Hyperlite Mountain Gear. I have been coordinating the Lightweight program at NOLS for about six years now, so Kev handed me the shelter and asked me to test it out and tell him what I thought. Due to a busy summer schedule, I “pawned” the testing off on another lightweight fanatic who was able to get out a bit sooner that I was. I’ll post on my initial impressions on the shelter, but that’s not so much the story of the mountains and people that I want to share.
This summer I was cruising around the Wind River Range of Wyoming, what I consider my back yard, with an amazing group of people on a NOLS lightweight backpacking course. Our community of folks was really tight and we had traveled the length of the Southern Winds through perhaps the most spectacular route you can do. As we continued North, two of our hiking groups had a chance encounter with these nice fellas from Maine with some fancy ultralite packs. They wanted to know if we were sponsored by Golite because so many of us had the Jam pack. My wife Janeen, who was working the course with me and another Ryan explained the volume of Jam packs and that we were with NOLS. She asked about their packs and this guy named Mike explained that he owned this ultralight gear company called Hyperlite Mountain Gear, and had built these packs.
As Janeen and Mike carried on about the benefits of lightweight backpacking, it came out that I had a role in the NOLS lightweight program and that it would be great if Mike and his hiking buddy/sponsored athlete “Bama” swung by our house for a post course barbeque after they finished their trip. Janeen offered some information on the cool places to go in the winds after they explained that they were coming from the summer Outdoor Retailer Show and a friend and colleague there had said they should hike in the winds before heading home. They were headed the way we had come, and Janeen, being a savvy back-country woman, could describe the route blow by blow.
There are a lot of ways to travel through the Winds, and that day my group took the scenic route. We never saw Mike and Bama. I was excited that the students had been able to talk to them, see the gear they were making and hear about other ways of applying lightweight skills. I wondered if they would actually give a call and swing by at our post course celebration.
Sure enough, the evening we rolled out of the field Mike gave a ring and we guided him into our house where we were hosting the course for our graduation. We grilled up some grub and had an ultralight stove building clinic, I spent a bunch of time talking to Mike and Bama about the gear they build and the adventures they had been on, where they were from and what Mike hoped to do with Hyperlite.
This is the part I find so fascinating. Here are these guys, Bama an accomplished thru-hiker, and Mike with a remarkable story of changing careers from the New York world of culinary arts to being the owner and designer of ultralight gear built in the USA, eating BBQ at my place in the small town of Lander Wyoming, after a chance encounter in the mountains. The people we meet, the stories we share. These are some of the things that are the most remarkable about the outdoors.
To hear the story of Hyperlite in Mikes words, check out this video.
I’ll also be publishing my initial impressions of two flagship pieces from Hyperlite very soon, stay tuned!