From Trail to Peak: The Outdoor Adventures of Drew Robinson

Drew Robinson caught the travel bug after a trip to Buenos Aires. His Business website, Trail to Peak, is a resource for planning day hikes, backpacking trips, international adventure travel, and microadventures. Here, Drew talks about his favorite treks around the world, California as his big backyard, and his love of the outdoors.

What sparked this life of exploration?

Walking 20 miles a day for a month really gives the mind the freedom it needs to contemplate what’s important.

My trip to Buenos Aires was the catalyst for my travel bug. I always knew I wanted to travel, but didn’t really have an opportunity until I finished my undergraduate studies. My parents bought me a plane ticket to Buenos Aires as a graduation present, and I spent that summer exploring Argentina before I had to start my first real job. The travel bug died when I returned home to begin my career, and didn’t get a chance to reignite until 2012 when I walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage and backpacked around Western Europe. I took that trip to celebrate finishing graduate school, and vowed to make travel a part of my life.

That pilgrimage changed me in the most beautiful way. Walking 20 miles a day for a month really gives the mind the freedom it needs to contemplate what’s important.

Trail to Peak is growing into a comprehensive resource, with detailed trip reports, gear reviews, and documentaries. How has it evolved since you launched it?

My first attempt at blogging came in 2012 when I walked the Camino. I wanted to create a page that my family and friends could visit to see my photos and read my thoughts while abroad. When I returned home, I made a pilgrimage video and was surprised by the positive response I received from the online community. It gave me a boost of motivation to create and share new content from my adventures.

Tour du Mont Blanc: Courmayeur to Chalet Val Ferret.

In the following years, I planned for and hiked two treks in Peru, the Tour du Mont Blanc, and the John Muir Trail. My greatest resources came from fellow bloggers with sites that included photos, trip write-ups, gear reviews, training guides, and planning tips. In 2014, I reorganized my focus and launched Trail to Peak. I wanted it to be more than an infinite scroll of photos, and expanded my blogging efforts to provide a more comprehensive experience.

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu: lunch spot, day 1.

I’ve learned and gained so much from the hard work of other bloggers, and it makes me feel great to be on the other side now, giving back. Few things make me happier than reading comments from readers who tell me that my posts have helped them train for treks, inspired them to travel, educated them on gear, or simply pushed them to get out and enjoy nature.

Which trail has been the most challenging so far? Do you have a favorite?

The John Muir Trail passes through Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

The most challenging trek has been the John Muir Trail, as it requires that hikers be self-supported. That also makes it one of the most rewarding. Carrying all of your own food, water, and shelter provides for a great deal of autonomy and freedom. With my partner Julia, I trekked through quite a few thunderstorms, which added to the already difficult task of hiking 225 miles with 47,000 feet of elevation gain. There were numerous lung-bursting climbs that took us over mountain passes higher than 12,000 feet. Funny enough, the final day at the 14,505-foot summit of Mt. Whitney may have been the easiest. It was an incredible end to an extraordinary journey.

John Muir Trail, day 11: Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal.

I’ve been to 19 countries and seen quite a bit, but nothing comes close to the beauty of Ausangate.

My favorite trek for sheer beauty has been the Ausangate Trek in Peru. Most travelers visit Peru to see Machu Picchu and usually arrive via the Inca Trail or Salkantay Trek. Ausangate is definitely off of the beaten path, but well worth the long bus ride from Cusco. The 50-mile trek is a lollipop trail that circles around the 21,000-foot Ausangate mountain. The trail begins at 15,000 feet and climbs over passes reaching 17,000 feet. The oxygen-depleted air at these elevations made for some difficult trekking, but the landscapes kept pushing me forward. I’ve been to 19 countries and seen quite a bit, but nothing comes close to the beauty of Ausangate.

Glacial lakes on the Ausangate Trek.
A horse at the Palomani Pass (on the Ausangate Trek).

What big trail is next on your list?

I try not to repeat trips when there’s so much of the world left to see, but I’m actually returning to the John Muir Trail. I hiked southbound last time, but will go northbound from Mt. Whitney to Yosemite Valley for the follow-up. Having the Sierra Nevada mountains a few hours from home is a real treat, especially now that I’ll become a first-time father this summer — they will allow me to get out and explore with a young son at home.

The GR 20, which runs diagonally from north to south on Corsica, is considered one of the greatest mountain treks in the world.

I’m really looking forward to the day when he’ll be old enough to come along. The mountains in California will be a great training ground for the international adventures I’m hoping he’ll join me on. My next big international trek will take me to hike the GR 20, or something in the Dolomites.

On the John Muir Trail: Tuolumne Meadows to Thousand Island Lake.

How do you prepare for a trek?

I really couldn’t ask for a better place to train.

I try to get out and hike every weekend with big days of 20+ miles and at least 4,000 feet of elevation gain. The mountains are dry, hot, and rocky here in Southern California. We have many peaks above 10,000 feet with a lot of prominence which makes for steep climbs. I really couldn’t ask for a better place to train. During the week, I get three days of weights in the gym, one day of sprints at the track, and one day of a slow-paced run.

Mt. Baldy Summit camping for the summer solstice.

Outside of physical preparation, I spend a few months planning the logistics of the trip. I plan every ounce of food and gear that I’ll be taking with me. It’s especially important on the John Muir Trail, as you only have a few opportunities to mail yourself resupplies, and it’s pretty tough to get off of the trail if something goes wrong. Once I have all of my gear and food dialed in, I put together a rough outline of each campsite I choose and how many miles I plan to walk each day. Julia and I hiked the JMT in 11 days last summer, and I’d like to aim for 9 days this time around.

People say that they want to explore like you do, but feel they can’t. What’s the best way to start?

Feed your wanderlust with Drew’s growing archive of treks, backpacking trips, day hikes, hikes with dogs, and more.

The best way is to start small. A huge part of my exploration involves finding local hikes and microadventures. The great thing about local adventures is that they cost close to nothing. Whenever I try a new hobby, I like to start with as little investment as possible. For hiking, people can start with a pair of shoes and a backpack. I didn’t invest in additional gear like trekking poles, trail-specific shoes, or a GPS watch until I had been hiking for more than a year.

On the John Muir Trail: Colby Meadow to Grouse Meadows.

To explore internationally, it’s all about budgeting. I try to live as frugally as possible so I can spend my disposable income on experiences. It’s also important to make the most of what you have, and not spend your time wanting the possessions and experiences of others. As much as I love traveling internationally, I could easily stay in my home state and have just as much fun. With places like Catalina Island, Joshua Tree National Park, Yosemite, the Sierra Nevada, and the entire coastline, California is an explorer’s playground.

Camping at Joshua Tree National Park and Indian Cove Campground.

What’s next for Trail to Peak?

I’ve recently finished a series of posts from my recent trip to Japan. In the coming weeks, I’ll release a documentary of my experience on the John Muir Trail, along with many posts on my trip planning and preparation. It’s taken quite a bit of time to put it together, but having been through that planning process myself, I know there is a need for it.

Being a father will bring an entirely new domain of outdoor adventure.

I think my greatest area of growth in the years ahead will come from more family-oriented posts. Being a father will bring an entirely new domain of outdoor adventure. The gear, trip preparation, and overall experience will be wildly different. There’s a huge community of family bloggers out there with an outdoor focus. I’m looking forward to learning from them and sharing my experiences.

Follow Drew Robinson’s outdoor adventures at Trail to Peak and connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest.

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