Timo Holmquist

I have an outdoor problem, and it started early. My family moved a lot during my youth, so my siblings and I would often band together to make our own reliable fun. Whether it was street hockey, baseball, soccer, neighborhood-wide games of manhunt (basically tag in the dark), or making up a 9-hole golf course around our yard, the activity had to be outside. 

Pretty soon, for me anyway, that focus bled into outdoor recreation, first with hiking, then backpacking, mountaineering, scrambling, and backcountry skiing. 

In 2015, after hiking my way through high school and college, I moved to Colorado and secured a gig as a trail builder in the San Juan Mountains. I ended up doing it for three summers; setting up basecamps in beautiful remote basins, cutting tread, and building intricate rock staircases on the side of 14,000-foot mountains. 

Each winter, I worked as a ski instructor at Beaver Creek Ski Resort and racked up hundreds of ski days a season. By 2018, I’d finished hiking all the highest peaks in Colorado and began shifting focus to scrambling and backcountry skiing. 

I’m happiest on long backpacking trips into little-known pockets of wilderness, skiing down backcountry mountains, and on all-fours, scrambling the rocky spines of alpine ridges. 25 years after my outdoor problem first revealed itself, I’m pleased to report that it shows no signs of resolving.

The keyholes and Pawnee Couloir to the right, two fantastic backcountry ski lines.

Timo Recommends: Alpine Scrambling

Scrambling occupies that vague category between hiking and rock climbing. It’s not full-on roped climbing, but you are often on all-fours, moving along thin ridges with shocking exposure. I absolutely love it.

While not as difficult as rock climbing, the un-aided aspect certainly ratchets up the seriousness. With no safety net or belay, you have to rely on all of your appendages moving in lockstep to overcome challenges. 

It's incredibly tiring, but you become more nimble, enhance your ability to think creatively and gain a deeper appreciation for the mountains at large. 

The catwalk ridge between Mt. Eolus and N. Eolus, with hundreds of San Juan Mountain summits bleeding into the horizon behind.

Scrambling, like most outdoor recreation disciplines, is just a different way to play outside. To me, it feels like creating natural play gyms out of pinnacles, rock faces, and ridges. It’s also a nice segway into geology. Not all rock is made the same, and a brittle red shale is much less fun to clamber over than grippy conglomerate rock or chunks of granite. 

When you begin to identify good scrambling potential, the look, and feel of mountains you’ve hiked dozens of times before starts to change. I think that sensation, like unlocking a room you’ve never been in before, supplies a lifetime's worth of anxious energy to people like me. 

Timo’s Favorite Adventures

Colorado has been the center of my outdoor universe for the past seven wonderful years. The adventures below offer only a snapshot of what the state has to offer.

Scrambling Upper Glacier Gorge: RMNP

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited parks in the nation, and getting in requires passes and planning. It has two major road corridors that attract most of the attention, but this has always been a hiker’s park. Once you get away from trailheads and dive deeper into the backcountry, the rugged character of the park begins to reveal itself. 

One of the most jaw-dropping places to play around in is Upper Glacier Gorge. Between Black, Blue, Green, and Frozen Lakes, you have plenty of otherworldly bodies of water to relax near, while giant granite slabs more reminiscent of the High Sierra than the Rockies dominate the surround. From the upper gorge, you can scramble up the famous Longs Peak, Pagoda Mt., Keyboard of the Winds, Spearhead, Arrowhead, Chiefs Head, or the always phenomenal McHenrys Peak.

Upper Glacier Gorge from the slopes of McHenry’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Backpacking into Lone Eagle Cirque-Indian Peaks Wilderness

Tucked into the western side of the Continental Divide of northern Colorado lies Lone Eagle Cirque, a very popular and stunning backcountry location. If you plan well, you’ll be richly rewarded with one of the prettiest glacially formed areas in Colorado. Crater Lake is the central lake and provides plenty of opportunities to get into the water, but the whole area is loaded with scrambling opportunities. 

Hopi, Achonee, and Cherokee Peaks all have fantastic routes, along with the area's namesake, Lone Eagle Peak. In the winter, this is a gorgeous camping and backcountry area with loads of steep skiing potential. Despite the substantial approach, when you finally settle into the area, you’ll quickly see why the effort was worth it.

Crater Lake and Lone Eagle Peak rising up on the opposite shore.

Camping and scrambling in Chicago Basin- San Juan Mountains

Home to my trail crew for an entire summer, this basin has always had my heart. Rimmed by numerous 13,000-foot and 14,000-foot mountains, this is high-elevation Colorado at its finest. The scrambling is unique, the basin is gorgeous, and the Twin Lakes situated between the taller peaks demand a cold summer dip. As far as approaches go, this one is memorable no matter how you do it. 

Twin Lakes and the uppermost part of Chicago Basin.

The first option is to take an old narrow-gauge railroad from Durango that can drop you off within 6.5 miles of the basin. A second option is to hike in from near Purgatory Ski Resort (~15 miles). A third option is to thread together a path from the south through high meadows, slanted mesas, and sharp ridges, where a twist of the head one way reveals towering peaks, and a twist the other way reveals the southern slope of the mountains tilting down to touch the desert. It’s an area that certainly leaves an impression. 

Timo's favourite brands

We’ve made it our mission to make decisions easier by helping you choose from the top options available.

Black Diamond is a one-stop-shop for all things mountaineering. We particularly depend on its technical climbing gear, including ropes, harnesses, rock and ice protection, carabiners, and rescue equipment.

Patagonia is our go-to brand for outdoor clothing for all seasons. We especially love Patagonia’s base and mid layers – there are tons of ways to mix and match to suit any season.

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