[Book Giveaway] “Free Outside,” Jeff Garmire’s Account of His Calendar Year Triple Crown
Jeff “Legend” Garmire was living the fast-paced life of a successful young professional when he gave it up to attempt a Calendar Year Triple Crown (CYTC). In 2016, Garmire became the fifth person to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, and Continental Divide Trail in a single calendar year. The 8,000 miles would be an adventure of a lifetime, riddled with inclement weather, shady characters, wildlife attacks, and injuries. Along the way, Jeff swam frozen rivers, encountered wildfires, and battled his own mind. Hiking through some of the most remote areas in America, Jeff is continually overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of strangers. Free Outside is the story of his journey along the national historic trails that define wild America.
We got some background from Jeff on his hiking career, what inspired him to chronicle his Calendar Year Triple Crown, and an excerpt from Free Outside.
Plus, we’re giving away two signed copies of Free Outside, details at the bottom of this post.
Give us a brief rundown on your thru-hiking career.
The thrill of adventure first spurred me to take a term off college and hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2011. Since then I have hiked over 22,000 miles on eight thru-hikes ranging from 200 to 8,000 miles. I have been charged by grizzly bears, attacked by moose, swam frozen rivers, and sprinted through lightning storms. The simplicity of living out of a backpack, being self-sufficient, and covering every mile on foot is the allure. After my first thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2011 I have gone on to complete the Pacific Northwest Trail (2014), Calendar Year Triple Crown (2016), Great Western Loop (2018), Arizona Trail (2019), Pinhoti Trail (2019), John Muir Trail (2019), and the Long Trail (2019).
When you’re not hiking, what are you doing?
I grew up in Vancouver, Washington, with a brother, sister, and very supportive parents. I have perfected the art of juggling and enjoy reading and writing when I am not on a trail. On every adventure, I keep a daily blog and it eventually spurred the most difficult challenge yet: writing a book. Continually balancing work to fund my adventures and my love of the mountains is something I’m working on perfecting.
Beyond long thru-hikes, I enjoy mountaineering, backcountry skiing, running, and competition. In 2015, while working full time, I climbed the 58 peaks over 14,000 feet in Colorado, along with Mount Rainier in Washington. It was also the year I completed my first backcountry ski race and developed a love of moving in the mountains.
What have you been up to since the CYTC?
By 2018 I was ready for another giant adventure. I settled on the Great Western Loop. The loop connects the Pacific Crest Trail, Pacific Northwest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Grand Enchantment Trail, Arizona Trail, and a cross-country 700-mile route through the Sonoran and Colorado deserts. I became the second person to complete the 7,000-mile route—Andrew Skurka was the first. At the conclusion of the hike I was ready for shorter, faster hikes, and began attempting Fastest Known Times (FKTs, or Speed Records).
I got my first taste of moving fast when I attempted Nolan’s 14 as part of the Great Western Loop. Nolan’s links 14 different 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado on a 100-mile route consisting of bushwhacking and rugged trail. I was able to complete the challenge in 59 hours before finishing out the last 2,000 miles of the loop. With the joy of fast movement cemented in my mind, in 2019 I set off to break trail speed records. I started by breaking the Arizona Trail FKT, followed by the Pinhoti Trail and then the Long Trail. This was a completely different experience than I had ever had but I learned “Fast is Fun.”
What is Free Outside about?
In Free Outside I tell the story of my 2016 Calendar Year Triple Crown. I quit my job in February and traveled to Atlanta with the dream of completing the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail all in the same year. It had only been done four other times and I had no idea what I was in for. It was a race to fit 8,000 miles of hiking into one year. I was faced with blizzards, frozen rivers, wildlife encounters, shady characters, and numerous injuries. It was the true adventure and adversity I was looking for.
There are a few reasons I wrote this book, and one of the biggest ones is to show all the little stories that make up even the largest adventures that people complete. It was not a 252-day, 7,700-mile adventure, but 252 days of little adventures that got slowly woven into a the big picture after the fact. The other reason is to start to shed some light on the way that difficult goals, nature, and especially thru-hiking saved my life.
Excerpt from Free Outside
I was not comfortable with the incline, but I was too deep into the route to change it. Pushing out into the snow, I committed. I dug out the next step, kicking a hole in the snow to rest my foot. The slow process of cutting steps continued. Suddenly, my vision went blurry and my balance grew wobbly. My mind had a hiccup, everything was fuzzy. I leaned into the slope, digging my hands in. I didn’t trust my mind to choreograph the final movements. The feeling dissipated but the insecurity stuck with me. I wasn’t sure what had occurred but I was worried. What had just happened to my brain? This wasn’t the time to think about it and I continued across the slope.
The route had undershot the pass. I needed to climb four feet up and over a cornice. Turning my body to face the slope, my right foot sank into the snow, making a small foothold in the wall. In one movement I pushed my toes into the hold, lunged forward with all my momentum and pulled with my bare fingertips on top of the pass. I pulled my legs up with the strength of my arms and rolled over the lip to safety. I stood up and looked back toward where I had come in a moment of reflection and then turned my gaze forward in anticipation.
The trip down Mather Pass was quick. It was a steep slope that gradually flattened, perfect for plopping down and pushing off. The slide ended at Palisade Lakes where the real fun began. The east side of the upper lake received enough sunlight that the ground was exposed. It was exhilarating to see the bare trail. It meant I had found my way through countless miles and four high passes. And, I was still on route! Turning west, it was apparent the peak snowmelt was in full effect. The exposed granite footsteps were an ankle-deep stream. The staircase set in the stone, called the golden staircase, was flooded with freshly melted snow. My feet would seldom be dry today despite the cloudless sky overhead. Slogging through the water, I lost all the elevation I had worked so hard to gain, only to climb again. Starting from 8,000 feet, Muir Pass was the next target at 11,955 feet.
Traveling along a snowless ground, I thought about what had happened on Mather Pass. Was the dizziness caused by altitude? A calorie deficiency? An unknown problem with vertigo? I had questions but no answers. Hopefully, it was a one-time occurrence. It was not.
The trail was clear up to Pete Meadow. But the remnants of winter soon started to reappear. The snow was patchy at first but quickly blanketed the ground as the sky darkened. It would not be the perfect sunny day I witnessed on Mather Pass. During the long, gradual ascent thunder rang out in the distance. “This could get interesting,” I thought. Muir Pass is the longest and most exposed of the high passes. It is so exposed that the Sierra Club built a hut on top for shelter during inclement weather.
The thunderheads moved over Le Conte Canyon as I climbed up. It was too close for comfort. The canyon walls did not rise high enough to provide ample protection and I sought refuge, crawling under a large rock slab hanging off a stack of boulders. While hiding underneath, I reassessed the safety of my predicament, deciding that sitting under a giant precariously balanced chunk of granite could be hazardous in the event of a lightning strike. Panicked, I quickly moved and found a less hospitable hole in the boulders to sit and watch the storm progress. What I saw was not good. The mountains across the valley slowly began to fade from view as the clouds thickened and dropped snowflakes. I was in a snow and lightning storm.
When the lightning faded, I crawled out and assessed the sky. The weather was poor, but it was safe. I made a beeline for the top. Past multiple small lakes on the Middle Fork of the Kings River, I was running out of time and places to escape the storm. Then suddenly, the water disappeared. The river flowed under a thick sheet of ice. All I saw was white. The snow and fog were too dense to see the cliffs of the canyon. I was walking in a whiteout, only able to follow the outline of the river and the banks of the lakes. I hiked alongside Helen Lake and looked ahead, unable to distinguish between the snow-clad ground and the clouds.
Visibility was zero. I was in no man’s land, committed to the pass. Climbing up what I thought was the final climb, it happened again. My vision went blurry and dizziness washed over me. “No!” I screamed. It was the same spell I had on Mather Pass. I shook it off, tried to force down water and pressed on. Navigating by a sense of direction, I arrived at the hut. I opened the door and saw my first humans in days. Two women had their things set up inside. I was exhausted and did not want to deal with other people. So, after giving the hikers water, I decided to sleep at a lower elevation. Maybe altitude was the cause of my dizziness? I should have stayed at Muir Hut. There was a break in the storm when I made my decision and I was too optimistic about the good weather continuing. Starting downhill toward Evolution Valley, I immediately regretted my choice. Two hundred yards after leaving the hut, post holing began.
There was nothing to do except keep walking and descend as quickly as possible. It was getting dark and I had over six miles before the ground would be clear enough to camp. It was too exposed to sleep at altitude regardless of the snow. Darkness and the storm grew thicker. I kept hiking. I tried to keep a straight path, following the valley floor toward my destination, but when the canyon widened, the walls disappeared into the fog and I hiked by intuition.
My foot landed on something strange. Thinking it was a rock; I took another step and felt the same thing. Now I was curious. I carefully took my left foot and wiped away a layer of snow, looking down. My stomach dropped. I was gazing into the depths of a lake. I moved slowly, turning around to survey where I had come from and deducing where I needed to go. It would be a catastrophe if I fell through the ice. No one would be passing by for hours, and there was not a soul within shouting distance.
Despite knowing the correct decision would be to retrace my steps, I opted for the quickest route off the lake. A rock was poking out of the snow 50 feet to my left and I slowly slid across the ice toward it. I moved slowly, barely raising my feet with each step to put as little pressure as possible on my lifeline. Fifty equally cautious steps later I crawled onto the rock and let out a breath. It was pitch black but I was wide awake. Post holing was a welcome alternative to tedious ice walking and I continued down to 10,000 feet. Below the alpine zone, I was able to find an acceptable spot to camp. It was a race to set up my tent and avoid bearing the wrath of the storm. When home was constructed, I crawled in and passed out, exhausted.
Want to Win a Copy of Free Outside?
Comment below telling us what would possibly possess you to attempt a Calendar Year Triple Crown. We’ll let Jeff pick the two winners by EOB on Tuesday 10/1.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.