Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sky Pond with the Friddles

"What?!" I shout over the howling wind.
"I said, this is the most adventurous thing I've ever done!" Micah repeats as he clings to the edge of Timberline Falls, wind and rain pounding our faces.  Sarah's poncho flaps uncontrollably as she descends the precarious cliff, step by careful step.
"Awesome!"  I shout back.

Music to my ears.

I'm so happy my sister (Sarah) and brother-in-law (Micah) were able to make it out to Colorado for a few days of adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.  It was so much fun hanging out with them.  I'm glad they were able experience a slice of the Rocky Mountains.

By the time we made it back to the trailhead, we were all soaked to the bone.  It was definitely time for a hot meal and a cold brew.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


The stars are the only light as I pull into the Bear Lake parking lot.
I click on my headlamp.
Hiking past the eerily quiet black water of Bear Lake, I begin my ascent to Flattop Mountain.
The rocks and dirt and twigs feel welcome beneath my boots.
A faint orange light begins to appear through the trees on the horizon.
The stars begin to fade away.
I stop for coffee at treeline just as the orange fireball bursts over the horizon.
The squirks of a thousand pikas fight to be heard over the howling wind.
I climb higher into the alpine tundra.
A lone bull elk watches me from afar and trots down the mountainside.
The wind tries to push me over as I approach the top.
There is no other sound but the howling in my ears.
Alone on Flattop with the howling wind.
I pause.
And join in the howling before retreating back down the mountain.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Uncle Wes

As I type this, I’m flying high above the mountains and clouds with a deep blue sky and brilliant sun.  Back to Denver after an unexpected trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Being back in Oregon for my uncle’s funeral was extremely bittersweet.  I have so many happy memories from our annual family vacations growing up.  The last time I visited was in 2011, and it was so happy.  The most recent of a long list of wonderful trips out West.  It helps to have these happy memories during difficult times.

I did not imagine the next time I’d be in Oregon would be for a funeral.  When I heard the news of my uncle’s passing, I was in shock like the rest of us.  It was unexpected and difficult to accept.  It still is.  And will be.  I knew I wanted to be there with the rest of my family.  To comfort and to receive comfort.  It was great seeing all of them again.

My uncle was a huge part of my life even though he lived thousands of miles away.  His overflowing generosity and loving encouragement were and still are an inspiration to me on how I should live my life and treat others.

We said goodbye, and his legacy lives on, and I’m so thankful for the memories I have with him.  And for his encouraging words over the years.

Below is a comment he left on my blog shortly after my visit in 2011 and just before I began my career with the National Park Service.  I can’t read it without crying.


July 17, 2011

I had no idea, well some maybe... that you were so John Muir like. No wonder you felt cheated when I reduced your "Fort to Sea" trek by half a mile by dropping you and your family off on the trail at a spot that mostly just us locals know about without reading a brochure.

Ken Burns perhaps is right. The NPS could be "America's Best Idea." You'll fit right in with their purpose. God's greatest handiwork is in such areas and dedicated people such as you need to keep them secure.

Your Mom told me of your blog spot here. I'll check in from time to time and see what you have posted.

God's blessings on all your adventures.

Uncle Wes*


Obituary: Wesley Soukkala

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Blood and Sand

"Remember, pain is temporary, film is forever."
- Peter Jackson

I'm so thankful my mom and dad got to come out and visit and hike around for a few days with me.  It was an exhilarating and challenging trip up to Thunder Lake, and I'm still madly impressed by my parents for doing such a great job coming straight from Georgia elevation and hiking up to over 10,000 feet.

My brother came on his own about a week later, and what an adventure that was!  I love my little brother, and I always have the best time with him.  I'm also glad we didn't die.

Below are the two videos documenting each adventure.  See if you can notice a difference in the level of danger between the two...

I'm also really looking forward to having my BEST FRAND come visit next week, followed by my seester and brother-in-law in September.

Adventure is out there!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Craving the woods.
Craving rocks and roots and dirt beneath my boots.
Craving the soft stillness of the midnight forest.
The smell of my pack like sweet perfume.
The sound of my trekking poles clicking and clacking against earth.
The sensation of crisp mountain air against my bare skin.
The sun rests behind the peaks, and as I crawl into my musty tent...
I am at peace.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Liebster Award

The Liebster Award is a Blogstöcken (Blogstöcken translated means Blog Stick, apparently).  This award has been around for nearly a decade, and the idea is to tag bloggers to learn more about them and their blogs.  I was tagged by Hiking Forward... check out his blog! 

Here are the rules:

1. Link the Person who “tagged” you.
2. Answer the 11 questions that the person has asked you.
3. Look for 11 Bloggers and nominate them.
4. Come up with your own 11 question for your 11 nominees.

Yeah... I'm lazy.  But I will at least answer the questions Hiking Forward posed for his nominees.  I'm honored to have been thought of!

1.  What do you consider your first outdoor experience?
I can't really pinpoint a first experience, but I credit my love for the outdoors to my parents.  Summer vacations with my mom's side of the family on the Oregon coast, and my dad, especially, would take us hiking and camping in our local Georgia State Parks growing up.  I may not have always appreciated the "long" 1-mile hikes we would take, but I believe those outings in Georgia and Oregon ingrained a passion for Nature within my soul.

2.  When out on a multi-day excursion, what is the one thing you dream about doing or having when returning home?
Chinese food and Diet Dr. Pepper.  Always.

3.  What long trail do you want to complete or complete again and why?
Next on my list is probably the PCT, though I also want to finish my SOBO trek of the AT so that I can have both directions under my belt.  Long distance hiking can be incredibly addictive.

4.  Trailname?  And how did you get it?
ManCub.  I chose it a few months before my 2012 thru-hike because I didn't want to get stuck with something I didn't like.  I wanted something "earthy-sounding" while also representing myself.  I often (and by often, I mean always) am told I look younger than I am, so I think ManCub fits.  I also love The Jungle Book... Mowgli was raised by mother effin' wolves.

5.  What do you want to do when you retire?
As long as I'm doing what I love, I'll be happy.

6.  Last outing, where, when, etc...?
Well, today I hiked up to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.  My last "big" outing was hiking 1,000 miles on the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail over the winter.  That was cold.

7.  Favorite backpacking meal?
I still have not gotten sick of instant couscous.  It's my go-to meal in the backcountry.  Add some packaged chicken to the Mediterranean flavor couscous, and it's practically gourmet.  Also, Snickers and Reese's.

8.  Favorite memory on trail or camping?
I could give several for this one, but I'll keep it to one... Being on top of Mt. Madison in the White Mountains and watching the clouds crash over us at sunset.  Honestly, thinking about that brings tears to my eyes.

9.  Goal for the year?
Haha, again, I could list several, but one of mine for this year is to learn how to play my banjo.

10.  Have you ever been tweeted to or RT'ed by a celebrity?  Who?
Not really, but Nick Kroll favorited one of my tweets a few months ago.

11.  Favorite National Park and why?
I'm kind of biased right now since I currently work at Rocky Mountain National Park, but besides RMNP... Great Smoky Mountains National Park holds a special place in my heart.

Again, thanks to @HikingForward for tagging me.  This was fun!  Happy hiking, everyone.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 2010

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Return to Rocky

It feels great to be back at Rocky Mountain National Park.

I arrived just in time for a little snow storm to sweep across the area.  Even after all the snow I received on the AT this winter, it was still exciting to see.  We got over a foot of fresh snow at my house... truly a beautiful scene.  The few days I've been back, there have been deer, elk, and moose hanging out in my backyard.  Watching them from a cozy interior makes for delightful entertainment.

Driving out here from Georgia, I decided to go out of my way a little and see South Dakota and the National Parks along the way (Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Jewel Cave, and Wind Cave).  I loved the drive, and I loved the parks I stopped in, but the thing that made the trip completely worthwhile and incredible for me was seeing the bison.

I had never seen them in the wild before, so when I glimpsed them way off in the distance as little specks on the Badlands horizon, I immediately jumped out of my car and started snapping a series of blurry photos.  Little did I know that I would soon become the bison paparazzi for the next few days.  THEY WERE EVERYWHERE.

I arrived in the Badlands campground, and there was a herd of them grazing among the tents and car campers.  I couldn't believe it.  These massive North American beasts were just a stone's throw away from where I was distractingly setting up my tent.

I finally crawled into my tent with a fresh cup of coffee and watched the sunset.  The bison continued to graze nearby, and as the clouds danced over the grassy hills, a chorus of coyotes struck up an ancient song.  I was mesmerized.

Moments such as this demonstrate the importance and magic of our National Parks.  I remember seeing my first bear in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I can recall rounding that corner in Arches National Park and being dumbfounded by Delicate Arch standing defiantly before me.  My jaw dropping above the infinite Grand Canyon of Arizona, and seeing my first herd of bighorn sheep in the Rocky Mountain wilderness.

A fresh wave of excitement and pride washed over me knowing what I was returning to.