As backpackers, we know the effects of climate change better than most. We’ve hiked to the areas on the bleeding edge: the glacier that has dramatically receded so much that its days are numbered, the ponderosa pine forest weakened by drought and ravaged by pine beetles on overdrive, that secret valley where wildlife was once abundant. Thankfully for the wilderness—and us—there are hikers that are devoting their lives to reversing those trends. Here, get to know their projects—and the trails that inspire them.
WATERBURY CENTER, VT
Executive Director, Green Mountain Club, greenmountainclub.org
Some organizations fighting climate change have been around a long time but are refocusing their efforts in new ways. The Green Mountain Club is one such organization. Founded in 1910 to build Vermont’s Long Trail, the GMC pursues a century-old stewardship mission, managing over 500 miles of trail.
“We saw a 35 percent increase in trail use in 2020,” Debonis says. “What does that mean for trails not originally built for that? Locally, our spring mud season now stretches throughout the year, consistently altering trail access. We need to look at trail-building through a climate change lens to blend rustic amenities with modern trail construction materials.”
On the ground and in its Waterbury Center facility, the GMC drives sustainability through its Long Trail Patrol and Corridor Monitors. The former are seasonal staff who rebuild or restructure trail surfaces. The latter ensure conservation restrictions such as easements are upheld. GMC also offers group hikes to educate trail users and the community at large. “Regional conservation efforts in the northeast are strong and our user group is the platform to inspire resource use awareness on a larger scale,” Debonis says. “Climate change can be a politically charged topic, but we need to be honest about what we’re seeing; opinions don’t matter in crisis.”
TRAIL THAT INSPIRES
LONG TRAIL, VT
“My first camping trip as a kid was near Mt. Abraham, one of three peaks in Vermont with an alpine tundra ecosystem,” Debonis says. To follow his childhood steps, hike north from the Lincoln Gap trailhead through maple sugar bushes and krummholz on the way to summit views of sprawling, forested valleys and Lake Champlain on this 5-mile out-and-back.
Documentary filmmaker, hikethedivide.com
Five days after graduating from Loyola Mar ymount University in 2014, Connor DeVane set out to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Along the way, he realized something profound about the hiking scene: “There’s a huge body of people in the outdoor recreation community who are passionate about the places they hike, but not many of them are plugged into conservation efforts,” he says. This realization drew him into grassroots activism to create a bridge from loving the outdoors to fighting for it. In 2016, he thru-hiked the Continental Divide Trail and made Hike the Divide, a documentary film about how his hike drove his own journey from resignation to hope in the face of the climate crisis. His personal transformation happened through meeting local activists and problem-solvers along the trail who work on climate solutions like land regeneration and the municipalization of utilities.
DeVane’s current focus is on ecosystem repair and climate change-fueled water shortages. He does organizational and media work with groups like Sonoma County’s Sunrise Movement, a youth-led campaign to address the climate crisis and create jobs through political activism. “I’m constantly inspired by young people fearlessly advocating for their future,” he says.
TRAIL THAT INSPIRES
PIONEER NATURE TRAIL, CA
The Continental Divide Trail remains his main muse, but DeVane often looks for stoke closer to home in Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. “There’s a 1,400-year-old redwood there that’s about nine feet in diameter, and the ‘Icicle Tree’ with burls hanging off the branches,” he says. See these giants on the leisurely 2-mile Pioneer Nature Trail—and add 3 miles more with a grind up the Pool Ridge Trail’s switchbacks through emerald green woods.
WILDERNESS AND PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER, CONSERVATION COLORADO, CONSERVATIONCO.ORG
Colorado’s forests are thirsty. Bark beetles run rampant, and wildfires have scorched vast tracts of alpine landscapes. Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest climate protection organization, addresses these issues as well as accessibility and trail maintenance. The group works directly with communities and local conservation leaders committed to environmental protection through visible, pervasive campaigns. Jared Bynum’s Montana roots sowed a love of the west that he brings to his work with Colorado wilderness conservation efforts.
“We build a more inclusive environmental mindset to inspire big-picture thinking on issues impacting our own neighborhoods,” he says. “For example, air toxins in Denver are a big problem, and we are working with governments to stymie heavy polluters through policy change, while creating campaigns to provide area communities with tools to get involved.”
Bynum is cautiously optimistic. “Everything we see is tied together,” he says, and he feels we’re on the right track with efforts like the 30x30 initiative (the Biden Administration’s plan to protect 30 percent of U.S. land and waters by 2030). Conservation Colorado does its part by aiding efforts to elect pro-conservation leaders to public office and ensure accountability thereafter.
TRAIL THAT INSPIRES
GRAYS AND TORREYS PEAKS VIA KELSO RIDGE, CO
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
I Survived A Polar Bear Attack
In July 2013, Matt Dyer was lucky enough to see a polar bear in Canada’s Torngat Mountains. His good fortune ended there.
A New Path
When Covid canceled their wedding, one hiker and her fiancé went backpacking instead.
In October 2021, Christopher Fisher, a 26-year-old, Texas-born endurance athlete living in Breckenridge, Colorado, climbed a whopping 400,332 vertical feet in one month. That’s the equivalent of summiting a 13,000-foot peak from sea level every day for 31 straight days. It’s likely a world record, too (he’s submitting it to Guinness), and maybe just a bit, well, crazy. Here’s what Fisher had to say about the feat.
Have Gear, Will Travel
These eight products are versatile companions for every adventure.
Finding My Footing
A hiker pulls confidence from an unsolicited gear critique in the Catskills.
Light in the Darkness
In winter, as the nights stretch and daylight disappears, there’s a certain beauty to be found in the darkness.
Off-Season Tempo Training
During the winter, focused training can help ensure your next hiking season will be even better than the last—and help snowsport performance, too. Tempo training allows you to zero in on issues like shaking quads on descents, sore glutes after ascents, or tender calf muscles. Complete the following workout once or twice a week.
Standing at the Edge
A winter trip through Crater Lake National Park nets a once-in-a-lifetime photo.
The Best Hikes for Spotting Winter Wildlife
These ten routes will show you that nature never stops bustling, no matter how much snow is on the trail.
Emerging from Darkness
For one hiker, nature is the best place to confront her past and consider her future.
Even if you log thousands of vertical feet at your local mountain beforehand, heli-skiing can wreck you after one day. Here’s how to beat the bonk.
The Haunting Of The Backpacker Murderer
One year since killer Ivan Milat’s death, the horrors of the past continue to torture the families of his victims