Swimming Slots and Intentional Living

Last spring, I spent 10 days exploring the water, canyons, slots, and mesas of Glen Canyon. One of my fondest memories was taking my friend and his 70-year old parents on a little bit of a day hike.

I didn’t divulge all of the details of the hike – I was too afraid they wouldn’t come. But I did scout it the day before, so I knew what I was leading them into.

So I sold them on things like “incredible beauty!” and “fantastic sand!” and “smiling lizards!” and other flowery descriptions of landscapes that indicated nothing but sheer awesomeness.

Being responsible, I did follow all of this up with…”(Oh yeah, bring your PFD.)” And then with, “It should be really sunny!” and “I’m pretty sure we’ll be back before dark!”

It turns out that swimming a deep and shady slot canyon filled with freezing cold water, followed by a twisty walk where body contortions were required to go from points A to B to … Z, was the right amount of adventure for an American Senior Citizen. Boy, will my friend’s mom have something to tell her book club group back in New York City.

No normal person wakes up and says, “You know, I think I’ll go swim a slot canyon today. There’s just something about wearing neoprene and PFDs in algae-choked waters and then coming up onto a hot sandy shore with scorpions and snakes that really makes me feel…alive! Back by dinner!”

People do this because they want to live an intentional life and enjoy the unexpected benefits of taking intentional risks where the outcomes are unknown.

This is a particularly difficult thing to impress upon both youth, and seniors.

My experience as a Scout leader tells me that if you leave a group of boys to their own devices, and allow them to plan some sort of activity without restrictions, I can almost assure you that the activity would include a cabin with electricity and a wood stove vs. a remote trek in a wild place. So, as a leader (guide, Scout leader, father, husband, etc.) you sometimes have to offer a framework in which the people you are leading are stretched a bit – so they have that opportunity to experience that beautiful thing I call quite simply exploring your wild side.

As a wilderness guide, this is the part I love the most. I have developed a reputation amongst my clients (at least, my repeat clients – ha ha!) of providing experiences that are completely unexpected. I really, really like this part of guiding. And, I really like the clients that come back a second (or third, or fourth…) time – these are the ones that crave the growth that intentional living reveals.

My wife and I reviewed most of our photos from 2012 this year, and she kept gravitating back to one. It’s a picture of our family hiking in the snow in May. I looked at the photo and remembered being cold, and wanting a hot cup of coffee back at the car. She looks at the photo and remembers how incredible it is to feel alive out in the hostility of a wild place.

Bridger Range, Montana
But this is what we like to do, so we don’t allow the weather to negotiate with us (very much).

We know that making the intentional choices to pursue our passions comes with a bit of risk in what might be revealed when things don’t go how we expect them to go.

Therein lies the beauty of living with intention. It’s not about what you are able to control, but about jumping into an unknown abyss and being excited for what will be revealed in the end.

Last year, our troop’s high adventure expedition was to be a hard one. We were doing a traverse of the Spanish Peaks, which are steep. We had days where we climbed several thousands (that’s plural) of feet per day in elevation. That’s a hard sell to a youth culture addicted to video games and easy living.

Only five kids in a troop of twenty signed up for the trek.

Some will argue that we pigeonholed our high adventure program into an experience that excluded (by nature of their “interests”) most of the kids in the troop because of physical ability, personal preferences, or skill level.

Sure, we could have shortened the duration of the trip. We could have shortened the mileage. We could have traveled during a season where the thunderstorms would have waned. We could have changed our route to something easier. We could have camped closer to the trailhead. We could have camped at the trailhead. Heck, we could have camped in a cabin at the trailhead and taken day hikes! We could have brought two-burner car camping stoves for gourmet meals! Or a solar shower, or a …

But we didn’t.

We planned and offered something big so the quality of adventure was preserved for those that wanted it, rather than something small for all that provided a more diluted experience.

And for the five kids that went, they experienced something at a level most kids will never, ever get to experience…

…by choosing instead, to take it easy. And by not living an intentional life and seeing what’s beyond that next pass.

Five thousand feet of elevation gain leads to this lonely spot, where these five young boys (and a few parents) found something they didn’t quite expect, but celebrated nonetheless.
If you’re in a position of leadership, consider what you do to provide a framework that allows for these unexpected paths of self-discovery. All you have to do is trust that the outcomes will be what they will be, and that your character is revealed in how you respond to them (for better or worse, right – but heck, who of us willfully admits to “bad” character – we all want our character to be developed and revealed, no?!).

In Scouting, we just call this “being Brave” – the tenth point of the Scout Law. Choosing the lower trail, the easy trail, the sanitized trail, the trail where you control everything – this is quite the opposite of bravery, is it not?

Trust what these experiences might have in store for you, and pursue them with intention.

You just might like what is revealed. 


“I just want to be with my friends…”

Photo: Teenagers are social creatures. Why not let them enjoy each other on top of a 10,000 foot ridge instead of a bunk bed in a cabin down in the valley? When they earn and work and suffer together, they just might be more likely to stick together. This photo features the high adventure crew from Troop 676 of Bozeman during our August 2012 traverse across the Spanish Peaks in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness of Montana, standing atop Indian Ridge listening to our oldest Scout tell an animated story about another adventure from the past.


As a Scoutmaster, I’ve heard this one a lot: “I just want to be with my friends.”

Usually it’s in the form of an excuse not to go on an outing, because maybe the outing activity just isn’t their thing.

That’s why as a Scout leader you have to aggressively develop a sense of loyalty and brotherly love amongst your kids.

Loyalty and love – both of which require self-sacrifice – are key ingredients to true friendships. Kids are learning about loyalty and love – they may not have a strong sense of what either really means.

This is why I think high adventure activities in remote wilderness are an essential ingredient to a successful Scouting program.

Wait – what does loyalty and love have to do with wilderness trekking?


You see, when you drop kids into a wilderness, they are put in an environment without temptations for selfish ambition. In wild places, self-serving interests not only result in a failure in group dynamics, but a failure in self-gratification. Remember, Scouting is about cultivating the Patrol Method, which requires cooperation, and if that cooperation is missing, a lad will get mightily uncomfortable mighty quickly on a long trip in a wild place.

But when they have a sense of love for each other, they see a need to serve each other, and they understand what self sacrifice means. Loyalty is a logical outcome – loyalty results from love in action. Some might say that loyalty leads to love in action. Maybe it’s a chicken-and-egg argument. It may not matter, because neither loyalty nor love should be earned, but given freely.

The result of unconditional distribution of loyalty, service, and love? The building blocks for friendship, perhaps.

Then, the next time an opportunity for high adventure comes along, you just might hear “I wouldn’t miss it for the world – my friends will be there.”

About the Author

Ryan Jordan is an Eagle Scout, a former High Adventure and Program Director at Camp Parsons (Chief Seattle Council), a former Scoutmaster, and currently – an Assistant Scoutmaster with Troop 676 in Bozeman, MT and the Montana Council BSA’s High Adventure Committee Chair. Ryan is a frequent author and speaker in a number of Scouting venues, and focuses his Scouting outreach efforts on preserving and cultivating High Adventure as a critical component in the development of Scouting’s young men.

Group Gear for Lightweight Wilderness Travel


Last week I spent four days in the Bob Marshall Wilderness with Scout Leaders from around the country training them in the art and practice of ultralight backpacking techniques for the Backpacking Light / Montana BSA course. Our goal is simpler, yet more profound, than just playing with gear: thinking about the best ways to impart the knowledge to Scouts in a way that helps them grow, and be encouraged about traveling through Wild Places.

We split the twelve of us into two crews of six. We traveled separately along our own off-trail routes throughout the week, and then camped together two out of our three nights, so we could share war stories.

I like traveling as a group, and sharing gear, and relying on each other. Camp routine as a group is a rewarding way to achieve comradeship. Two people gather firewood, start the fire, and prepare the meal. Two people set up the shelters. Two people hang the bear bag and treat everyone’s water.

My crew in May 2011 in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, an enjoyable lot of fine company from diverse backgrounds, united with common interests in Scouting and lightweight wilderness travel.

When it’s all done, we’ve accomplished something together quickly and efficiently, and strengthened our connections to each other. Connections that you can’t get when you have six people traveling solo with all of their own gear.

This connection culminates at dinner time. We say grace, we eat together, we clean up together, we enjoy a fire together, and we chat about the glorious day behind us.

This all happens better when we share stuff. This post is thus about Group Gear.

Group Gear

My approach to group outfitting has been cultivated by the following:

  • Adherence to and support of the Patrol Method in Scouting;
  • Travel through the high mountain environments of the Northern Rockies
  • Travel with group sizes of 6-8 people
  • Travel with groups of like-minded individuals.

Consequently, you may come from a different framework than I, and may need to adjust your approach accordingly.

Pre-trip collaborating: planning an expedition route across the Beartooth Plateau on a wall map tacked to the outside of a remote USFS Forest Service Cabin.

When I travel with groups, we share the following:

  • shelter gear
  • cooking gear
  • firestarting gear
  • water storage and treatment gear
  • bear bag hanging gear
  • navigation gear
  • first aid gear
  • breakfast and dinner food

Here’s a comprehensive group gear list for a typical three-season trip with a group of six persons. Weights aren’t indicative of resolution achievable by using scales accurate to a tenth of an ounce, because even though tenths of ounces matter to gram counting solo hikers, nobody really cares about them in a group.

This list was pretty close to what our crews took into the Bob, except where noted.

Shelter Gear

  • GoLite Shangri-La 6 Shelter – 55 oz
  • Qty (2) Seek Outside Carbon Fiber Adjustable Poles – 16 oz
  • Qty (6) 8″ Easton Tubular Stakes – 7 oz
  • Qty (10) 6″ V-Channel Aluminum Stakes – 4 oz
  • 210d oxford nylon stake bag – 1 oz
  • 30d silnylon shelter bag – 1 oz
The GoLite Shangri-La provides an environment of bustling activity for kids and adults alike. Here, Boy Scouts enjoy the business of morning preparation for the day ahead while chatting, laughing, and dreaming together.


  1. When possible, putting the entire group into a single shelter creates a great sense of connection. Four-man groups can be accommodated under a large (10′ x 14′) silnylon tarp or large pyramid (10′ x 10′). I like putting larger groups under one of the double-pyramid GoLite Shangri-La’s, and I generally prefer pyramid shelters to tarp shelters in the winter (better protection from cold wind and blowing spindrift, along with steeper walls for snow-shedding), and smaller (more wind-resistant) shelters in high mountain environments.
  2. Carbon poles are not recommended for winter, or with less experienced hikers, because they require extra care, and break under heavy snow loading. Aluminum ones are available for about 30% to 40% more weight, and much more strength.
  3. I like using long stakes for the four corners and at least two guylines for large shelters. Small stakes can round out the rest. Large shelters grab a lot of wind, and generally, are inappropriately matched to thin skewer stakes.
  4. A thick and durable stake bag allows the stakes to be stored with the shelter, and the stake bag packed with the shelter, thus protecting the shelter from being punctured by the stakes.
  5. When traveling with this type of floorless group shelter system, each group member should pack along a lightweight ground cloth or bivy sack for ground protection in the shelter.
  6. For our last Scout Leader trek, we took one two-man flat tarp and one four-man pyramid tarp, to give the leaders a little more experience with multiple shelters.

Cooking & Firestarting Gear

  • Primus Express Spider Stove – 7 oz
  • MSR Windscreen – 3 oz
  • Open Country 4 Quart Billy Pot – 13 oz
  • MSR Alpine Folding Spoon – 1 oz
  • Adventure Medical Kits BAK Hand Sanitizer – 1 oz
  • Light My Fire Firesteel Firestarter – 1/2 oz
  • Tinder-Quik Firestarting Tabs – 1/2 oz
  • Esbit Tablets – 2 oz
  • 4×5 Loksak Bag – 1/2 oz
  • Poly Bag – 1/2 oz
A simple, fast, light, and very effective group cooking system based on the Primus Express Spider and the Open Country Billy Pot. This setup, from a group traverse of the Teton Crest in September 2010.


  1. The Primus Express Spider is a compressed gas canister stove that can be used with an inverted canister, which extends its applicability to winter conditions by allowing for the fuel to be liquid-fed to the stove (thus eliminating canister cooling that degrades compressed gas stove performance in cold conditions). In addition, the Spider is light, durable, and has the large flame head required for rapidly boiling water in large pots.
  2. The windscreen is essential for conserving gas, especially in windy conditions.
  3. Open Country makes two types of pots – the 4 Qt Aluminum Kettle, and the 4 Quart Billy Pot. The Billy Pot is 3 oz lighter, has a nonstick coating on the inside, and more rounded edges that allow for slightly easier packing.
  4. Cooks use the MSR Alpine Folding Spoon to ration out dry foods into personal mess kits, which can be as simple as a bowl and spoon (mug optional). Generally, with this style of cooking (see Foods section below), you simply add hot water to dry food, and let it rehydrate in personal bowls. I recommend that each person carry a Glad Ziploc Bowl with a homemade “cozy” made from Reflectix that can be used to insulate the bowl after the water is added while it is “cooking” – a process that takes 5 to 10 minutes with most dry foods.
  5. Hand Sanitizer is kept in the cook kit to make it as easy as possible for cooks to maintain good hygiene. We use BAK instead of alcohol because in high mountain environments, dry skin results in cracking, especially on the hands, and alcohol stings!
  6. Our firestarting kits are stored in the 4×5 Loksak bag and include the firestarter (which is used to light the stove, too), firestarting tabs, and Esbit fuel tablets. I recommend saving the fuel tablets for emergencies only (e.g., when you absolutely have to get a fire going fast in wet conditions).
  7. All of the supplies will fit into the cook pot, which then goes into a cheap poly bag, such as the Backpacking Light size S Pack Liner, for storage inside somebody’s pack. I recommend the poly bag in case you cook over fire, thus protecting pack contents from soot.
  8. On the Scout Leader course in the Bob, we cooked quite a bit over fire, and only used the stoves here and there. Fire is more fun. Stoves are more useful in sensitive areas, or when you’re in a hurry.
Two Open Country 4-Quart Kettles preparing dinner water for a crew of 12 in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Water Storage and Treatment Gear

  • Platypus 6L Bags – 4 oz
  • Aqua Mira Kit – 3 oz
  • Aqua Mira Pre-Mix Bottles – 1/2 oz
  • Water Kit Storage Bag – 1 oz


  1. When all members of our group are carrying enough water bags or bottles for “a few to several” liters of capacity per person, then we usually don’t bring any big water bags like the Platypus 6L. But if we’re traveling through some place like the Beartooths or Wind Rivers, where water is plentiful and you only really need to carry a single 1L water bottle, a large group bag is nice for in-camp use.
  2. The trick to making Aqua Mira efficient for group travel is the pre-mix bottle. I use a Backpacking Light MiniDrop bottle for this purpose. In the morning, we add about 100 drops of Part A and 100 drops of Part B into the pre-mix bottle (e.g., enough pre-mix to treat 14 liters of water). Then, when it’s time to treat water, we dispense 14 drops of the premix into a 1 liter bottle of water that needs to be treated (28 drops into a 2L bottle, etc.). With large groups or on treks where we’re consuming a lot of water, we might have to make another bottle of pre-mix during the day.
  3. Like any group gear “kit” that contains small parts, I like to have a dedicated storage bag, which is well worth its minuscule weight for its ability to contribute to group gear organization.

Food (Bear) Storage Gear

  • AirCore Pro Rope – 6 oz
  • #3 S-Biner – 1 oz
  • Rock Sack – 1/2 oz
Troop 676 Boy Scouts get ready to 'hang' their bear bags over granite cliffs near Rough Lake in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, July 2010.


  1. If everyone brings their own food storage stuff sacks (and odor resistant plastic bags to line them with), then group bear bag hanging gear can be as simple as a big rope.
  2. I like to use Backpacking Light AirCore Pro Rope for group hanging because (a) it’s strong enough and (b) it’s nice and slick which makes it easy to pull over tree branches with a lot of weight. Food weights that are heavier than about 30 pounds are hard to pull, so consider having multiple ropes on trips where you have to hang more than 15-20 person-days worth of food.
  3. The rock sack is simply a little stuff sack that is big enough for a baseball-sized rock. Put the rock in the sack, tie the end of the rope to the sack, and sling it over a tree branch. This saves the pain of tying a slick rope around a round rock and watching the rock sail into oblivion while the rope falls into a lifeless clump at your feet because it fell off the rock.

Navigation & Emergency Gear

  • Satellite Phone – 8 oz
  • Maps – 4 oz
  • 12×12 Loksag Bags (Map Case) – 1 oz
  • Brunton 7DNL Compass on Lanyard – 1 oz
Navigating the old fashioned way - by map and compass - in the Tobacco Root Mountains, March 2010.


  1. The GPS and SPOT are optional devices. A GPS can save time, and a SPOT is a neat device for blogging your trip locations to your friends.
  2. With groups, I highly recommend a satellite phone. With a satellite phone, you have the flexibility to change exit logistics, get an emergency weather report, and as needed, deal with a life-threatening emergency fast.
  3. I like sharing the map and compass with the group. Navigation is an activity ideally suited for collaboration, and having everyone looking at one map connects group members.

Learn More About Group Travel

I explore group gear and techniques in more detail in the Ultralight Backpacking Boot CampExpedition Planning, and BSA Leader Training online courses, including:

  • Group travel philosophies and styles (Boot Camp & Expedition Planning)
  • Personal vs. group first aid supply considerations (Boot Camp & Expedition Planning)
  • Group food planning, packaging, and cooking (Boot Camp, Expedition Planning, and BSA Leader Training)
  • Case studies in group travel (Boot Camp, Expedition Planning, and BSA Leader Training)
  • Group social and psychological dynamics (Expedition Planning and BSA Leader Training)
  • Group leadership considerations (Expedition Planning & BSA Leader Training)
  • Executing the Patrol Method with lightweight gear (BSA Leader Training)

[ilink url=”http://ryanjordan.com/online-courses/”]Learn More About Group Travel in My Online Courses[/ilink]

What Would You Use?

I’m interested in learning about your favorite group gear, and what you might consider for shelter, cook systems, water treatment, and more when you hike with your family, troop, or crew of pals. Please leave your feedback below!

Are You Stealing Opportunity for Character Development From Your Scouts?

An 11-year old Boy Scout shines his headlamp on a 20-degree night while skiing in the dark late on a Friday night, searching for a remote cabin in the Gallatin National Forest, Crazy Mountains, Montana.

“It’s too cold!”

“Trekking is a summer activity!”

“Sleep in a snow WHAT?”


When I bring up the prospect of a ski trek, I expect these sorts of reactions from some mothers, a few fathers, and certain types of boys. I don’t expect them, nor do I hear them, from the types of boys that love adventure – which lies at the heart of most of them.

The types of boys that love adventure and are willing to try anything are the types of boys that Baden Powell served, and the types of boys that will perhaps flourish the most under the Scouting program.

A troop that doesn’t offer grand adventures, like ski trekking, isn’t a bad troop, per se. Ski trekking, 50 Milers, and rhino wrestling aren’t required in order for a troop to carry out the BSA’s Mission and Vision, and sanitary outdoor activities like summer camping near cars and other picnics can be designed with enough justification that a troop is even carrying out the Aims and Methods of Scouting.

After all, the development of character in a boy really is the most important thing – not whether or not he knows how to pack, or pull, a pulk across Montana.

However (you knew this was coming) –

Character is a muscle.

And if you don’t flex it, you won’t develop it.


I propose that one can maximally develop strong character only through a combination of mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual hardship.

There are no shortcuts. While you develop some, you don’t develop *much* character by speaking to your boys (but don’t stop doing this), helping them memorize the Scout Oath and Law (don’t stop doing this, either), or reflecting on how bad the ants were at the annual Troop picnic (please stop doing this).

I propose to you that an essential part of developing strong character in a boy is by exposing them to a consistent, challenging, and exciting program of multi-day outdoor adventures that test their physical strength and endurance, maximize their ability to rely on each other to accomplish the adventure’s objectives, and offer opportunities for failure with a lack of guaranteed outcomes.

Troop 676 Ski Trekking - Crazy Mountains, Montana
Troop 676 Scouts embark on a 3-day ski trek, starting in the waning evening hours of a Friday night after a long week of school, pulling pulks towards the wilderness of the Crazy Mountains. Ryan Jordan photo.

There isn’t one way to develop character of course, and good character can be developed outside the framework of outdoor adventure.

But I have to ask:

Why would you steal that opportunity from your Scouts?

“What?! Who? Me?” you ask. “But I do _____, and _____, and ______ – and my boys have good character! How dare you accuse me of —”

Save your breath.

If you are not providing opportunity for the boys in your troop to flex their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual muscles – all at once – and in the absence of The Net (you know the one – the net that removes all risk, all guarantees of failure, and protects you from fielding complaints from Scouts and parents) – and you are not doing this outside and away from all the stuff that dilutes their engagement (electricity, car heaters, radios, fluffy beds) then you are robbing them of their full potential.

Don’t be a thief. Sleep on that.

And then, when you wake up, call your Senior Patrol Leader, and start a brand new day.

Let your boys explore their wild side – outside. They’ll thank you for it.


Ryan Jordan is an Eagle Scout, former High Adventure Director and Trekking and Mountaineering Guide at Camp Parsons (Chief Seattle Council), and currently, serves as the Scoutmaster of Troop 676 in Bozeman, Montana and as the High Adventure Committee Chair for the Montana Council. Ryan has a heart for training Scout leaders to do epic things with their boys and is the lead instructor for the BSA High Adventure Leader Training School offered by Backpacking Light and the Montana Council.

Scout Leader Training: Ultralight Backpacking

In May 2010 I had the privilege of teaching one of the most exciting courses ever to Scout Leaders from across North America.

They came from Alberta, the District of Columbia, Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Washington, and other faraway lands to little old DuPuyer, Montana at the foothills of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

Their mission was simple: “Help me help our Scouts enjoy backpacking more.”

That’s the easy part, just lighten them up with cheap, light, decent gear, and show them how to use it.


Therein lies some of what we do in this course. After all, it’s a pretty cool thing to play with a bunch of ultralight gear and try out new things.

But that isn’t the most important part.


Scout Leaders from across the country convene in the Bob Marshall Wilderness near DuPuyer, Montana for a training course in ultralight backpacking gear, skills, and integration with Scouting Aims and Methods. SIGMA DP2s.




The really cool parts of the course are all about how this whole Ultralight Thing fits into the Aims and Methods of Scouting, and especially, how we integrate ultralight gear and skills to:

  1. Maximize opportunities for the Patrol Method to work;
  2. Build expedition leadership skills among young people;
  3. Identify and address the unique challenges and benefits of immersing Scouts, their parents, and their leaders into the ultralight paradigm.

The course proved so popular (we sold out in a matter of days), and the participants recognized it to be such an important part of their training as Scoutmasters, High Adventure program leaders, Outdoor Program Chairpersons, etc. that we’ll be cementing the course into our calendar for the next few years.

And where else to do this than in the beauty of Montana Wilderness?

So, save the date for 2011: May 12-15. Reserve your spot now by contacting me! Alumni, of course, are welcome (bring a friend!) – our program will change from year to year to provide everyone with a fresh experience.

This course is provided in partnership with Backpacking Light, The Boone & Crockett Club, Montana Council BSA, and United States Forest Service.