Logan Tyler, owner of guide service Basecamp Ouray, sat down at Rick and Sandra Wilson’s kitchen table in 2020 to pitch the idea of stringing up a via ferrata on the Wilson’s private 1,200-acre property, Gold Mountain Ranch. “They didn’t know what a via ferrata was, but they were looking for ways to make the property more inclusive… so people could go up there and recreate,” Tyler says. They agreed to the idea on the spot.
For the uninitiated, a via ferrata, Italian for “iron way,” is a climbing route made up of iron rungs and a cable that you clip onto via two short lanyards attached to your climbing harness. The Gold Mountain Via Ferrata, Ouray’s second course (there’s also a public via ferrata that winds through the Ice Park in the Uncompahgre Gorge), is unique in its connection to Ouray’s mining history. Tyler installed his via ferrata so that it literally passes through mining structures, including a 50-foot-long mining tunnel with ore cart tracks and a 100-year-old blacksmith shop. The guided-only route affords breathtaking views of the San Juans and the town of Ouray, some glimpsed from two cable suspension bridges. The optional “Hardman’s Route” ascends a 5.9-rated overhang and traverses a knob of rock with 800 feet of airspace beneath your feet. Via ferratas are becoming increasingly popular across the West—with notable new routes at Arapaho Basin and Jackson Hole resorts—but this iron way is one for the bucket list.
Overlanding? It’s Nothing New
In 1955, six students from Oxford and Cambridge universities in England embarked on a truly original and remarkable journey. They drove 16,000 kilometers (nearly 10,0000 miles) from London across Europe and southern Asia to reach Singapore. It took them more than six months, traveling over bouncy, disheveled roads, across roadless stretches of the Persian Desert, and through overgrown sections of the Southeast Asian jungles. They used two vehicles—1955 Series I Land Rover 86-inch station wagons loaned to them by Land Rover for the expedition.
Why did this team of six 22- and 23-year-olds go for it? For the same reason most adventurous souls (especially of that age) do things: It had never been done before and they were told they couldn’t.
For the most part, the six had to take care of any problems they encountered on their own. The same was true if they wanted to modify their vehicles somehow to make life on the road a little easier. This was a common marker of adventurers of all sorts at the time. Not only were they forging new paths geographically, they were also doing so mechanically and conceptually. These were tinkerers—the original DYIers.
Over time, certain modifications, inventions, tools, and gear proved to be best practices, and the DYIers found themselves starting businesses to sell their creations on a broader scale. This, in part, made the equipment for overlanding more accessible, and the activity started to draw a larger range of interest.
Today, the innovation continues—sometimes in private garages to solve a very specific problem, though usually in the R&D departments of the brands that have made a name for themselves in this industry. And because of the self-sufficiency in the wild, overlanders need a lot of the same camping equipment as car campers. Because they are often sleeping right next to (or in, or on) their vehicles, there are some differences. Nevertheless, there is a strong merging, or overlap, occurring between traditional overlanding experiences and car camping setups. In many cases, car camping is used as a basecamp to launch into human-powered adventures. Hence, along with all the car camping and overlanding gear, the vehicles also need to carry the skis, bikes, or boats to venture beyond the established basecamp at the end of the road. And sometimes that can be a very rough road requiring a high-clearance or 4×4 type of vehicle. This is how it was for the six members of the 1955 Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition—while much of it was rough going while on the road, they also enjoyed themselves with sight-seeing and taking a few days off from driving along the way.
These days, no matter if you identify as an overlander, car camper, or even van-lifer, your adventures are made possible in part by standing on the shoulders of those who dreamed, tinkered, invented, and built before you—a great legacy of adventure to continue.
Local Hero: Pemba Sherpa
A disastrous earthquake strikes Nepal in 2015 and Boulder restaurateur, philanthropist, and businessman Pemba Sherpa, 50, springs into action, helping to restore a hydropower station, erect a suspension bridge, and rebuild homes.
Today, Pemba’s Sherpa Chai (sherpachai.com) company and Sherpa’s Adventure restaurant employ 50 people from numerous countries, donate food to the North Boulder homeless shelter, support the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, and resettle newly arrived Nepalis.
Born into poverty in the Himalayas, Pemba came to the U.S. in 1991. He soon started working as a restaurant dishwasher five days a week and as a stable hand shoveling horse manure the other two days—and he attended Emily Griffith Technical College in Denver. Later, he established his own climbing and trekking company, Sherpa Ascent International, and has been guiding clients from around the world for the past 20 years.
“I see my life as a journey of experiences both good and bad, with lessons learned along the way,” he says in his book written with James McVey called Bridging Worlds (Sherpa Publications, 2019).
“I believe the experiences of my childhood taught me survival skills that have served me well in life, instilling the values of hard work, resourcefulness, perseverance, and patience. I know the meaning of struggle and hardship,” Pemba says.
His success in business allows him to continue assisting the Khumbu region on the Nepalese side of Mount Everest. A fixed-wing pilot, he wants to build a hospital in Nepal specializing in telemedicine, and qualify for his helicopter pilot’s license to conduct rescue work in the high-altitude world he calls home.
“More people who are in a position to help like I am should lend their time, ideas, and financial support to improve the lives of others in need,” Pemba says. We say follow his lead.
Cacti and Conservation
While some associate prickly pear with a mean margarita, for Noah Swartz, founder of desert-inspired footwear brand Erem (eremlife.com), the cactus is ripe with possibility for a sustainable future. Case in point: A single plant has the potential to sequester 400 pounds of carbon annually—and it can do so in arid environments on just 1–2 gallons of water per day (comparatively, fruit trees consume 25–45 gallons per day). “Trees are amazing at pulling out [the carbon that] currently sits in the atmosphere,” says the entrepreneur and environmentalist. “Except trees don’t grow on the third of the world that is desert.”
That’s why Swartz, through Erem, has committed to planting one million prickly pear in some of the driest areas of Colorado and other Mountain West states. Each year, these super sequesters will remove the equivalent of 40,000 cars’ worth of emissions from the road.
But the eco-friendly efforts of this third-generation bootmaker–his father and grandfather both helmed Timberland–don’t stop there. The values are also infused into his “bio-circular” desert-focused hiking kicks, which are made with full-grain leather, cork insoles, and other natural fibers that return completely to nature. “We think it’s our obligation to positively impact people, place, and planet in everything that we do,” Swartz says. “It’s all aimed at this North Star of using private enterprise to try and positively impact the world.”
I’ll drink to that.
Neptune Events are Back!
After a two-year pandemic-driven hiatus, Neptune Mountaineering (neptunemountaineering.com) Boulder’s locally founded outdoor gear shop has brought back its Thursday Night Events. These events have been a long-standing staple for Front Range outdoor enthusiasts since Gary Neptune himself kicked them off after being inspired by a similar event at a shop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the 1970s. In May, Estes Park-based climbing legend Tommy Caldwell took the stage to reboot this popular local community event series by talking about the update to the TC Pro climbing shoe he created with La Sportiva. He also showed and talked about his latest film to an intimate audience of just over 100. “One of the things we were most excited about when purchasing Neptune was the long-standing history of events. We have been looking forward to reviving these weekly gatherings and the sense of community that they build,” says owner Maile Sprung, who purchased Neptune in October of 2021. —C.M.