The Dirtbag Diaries

The Dirtbag Diaries

United States

This is what adventure sounds like. Writer Fitz Cahall presents stories from unclimbed cliff faces, wind-swept ridges and the people who call the mountains their home.


Mileposts--Greater than the Sum of its Parts  

In the fall of 2015, photographer Pete McBride and writer Kevin Fedarko embarked upon a journey to rally support to protect one of our most awe-inspiring national treasures: the Grand Canyon. Their method? A 700+ mile sectional thru-hike of the wilderness that lies between the rim and the river. They knew the trek would challenge them, but they had no idea how quickly and completely the canyon would leave them demoralized and physically destroyed.

The two of them were contemplating giving up when, as Kevin puts it, 'A miracle happened'. 

Today, a story about three people who have dedicated the better part of their lives to developing a unique skill--and a project so complicated and important that it required their cumulative experience to pull it off. It's also a story about friendship, and how friends working toward a common goal can lead to something greater than the sum of its parts. 


You can find Pete's photography and film at:

To hear more from Kevin, pick up a copy of his book, The Emerald Mile, or listen to the Diaries episode, "The Threshold Moment."

To learn more about Pete and Kevin's journey, check out these two articles: "6 Painful Lessons I Learned by Hiking the Grand Canyon" and "Are We Losing the Grand Canyon?"

To learn more about the current threats to the Grand Canyon and what you can do to help, visit:

The Shorts--The Dirtbag Ministry Co-Op  

"The days and months on the road had unspooled before us and we'd simply followed the thread. But the bobbin was empty now," writes Dave McAllister. "Fine Jade would be the last cumulative "now" we shared, the final adventure we'd have as a group. At least on this trip. Maybe ever." 

Last spring, Dave and his band of dirtbag travelers celebrated their last moments together and helped their friends get hitched in style--atop a desert tower. Today, we bring you a story of gumby ingenuity, spring in the desert, feather boas and a little tale of 'dirtbag theology' in motion. 


You can find more of Dave's writing at:

Paul's Boots--An Update from the Trail  

Last winter, we received an email from M'Lynn Markel. Her late husband, Paul, had a dream to hike the Appalachian Trail. He never made it to the AT--but, M'Lynn thought, maybe his boots could? 

Maybe they could serve as a reminder for all of us to live our dreams while we can. Maybe they could go one step further and literally pull someone off the couch and onto the trail.

We asked you, our community, to help us make that dream a reality. More than 400 emails poured in, from seasoned thru-hikers to first-time backpackers. We heard a resounding, 'Let me know how I can help'. We knew we were part of an incredible community, but damn. We're floored. 

Today, we bring you an update on the journey Paul's boots have made over the past nine months, introduce you to some of the hikers who carried Paul's boots and hear M'Lynn's reaction. 


Listen to the first Paul's Boots episode. Learn more about the Paul's Boots Project.

Mothers Have It Hardest - Kyle Dempster Tribute  

"Maybe you and I would have the same recommendation--from my standpoint to the climbers out there, and from your standpoint to the mother's of those climbers out there," Kyle Dempster said to his mother. "Talk about the worst case scenario. Don't pretend that it doesn't exist. Express the love that you have for each other, and also the insurance that, in the event of worst case scenario, life will go on." 

On August 22nd, 2016, Kyle and his climbing partner Scott Adamson went missing on Pakistan's Ogre II. After days of bad weather, friends and family, with incredible help from the Pakistani government, were able to conduct a search, but found no trace of the two climbers. 

Our hearts go out to Terry and to all of Kyle's friends and loved ones. We know that he understood the risks involved in the activities he did, and we know that still doesn't it any easier for the people close to him to live with the hole he's left in their lives. Kyle was one in a billion. 

We originally aired a version of this episode in 2014--a story from Kyle and his mother, Terry, about the struggle of loving an adventurer. The struggle between loving them so much that you don't want to see them hurt, and loving them so much that you want to support them in pursuing their dreams and doing the things that make them tick.

Last year, we reworked this piece to submit to the Third Coast Audio Festival. We have never aired this version publicly. It seemed like the right moment. 

No Way Around It  

Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic are the expedition kayakers. Over the past decade, the duo have made first descents of over 120 rivers in wildly remote locations across 36 countries and 6 continents. In 2016, Ben and Chris traveled to Myanmar to complete a source to sea descent of the Irrawaddy River. 

The both say it was the first time they failed completely to accomplish their objective--and also one of the richest experiences they've ever had. 

"Had we floated freely down the Irrawaddy, I don't know that we would've learned nearly as much about what actually was going on," says Ben. "The corruption that's occurring in that area stopped us from running the river. It wasn't just a side note. It was directly in front of us." 

Today we, bring you a story about the intersection of politics and adventure, and about the richness in failure. 


You can read more about Ben and Chris's trip to Myanmar here

Mileposts--Calling Home  

"I think all of us -- dad, me, my brother -- recognized a window of opportunity in which our flexibility as freelancers overlapped with dad's entrance into the golden years of being both retired and fit," says David Hanson. "Plus, it felt like dad and I had some things to figure out. Our differences weren't just that he liked park lodges and I preferred remote bivy sites." 

For the past five years, David's father, Scott, has visited a cluster of National Parks. And every year, David and his brother take turns accompanying him. Today, we travel with David and his father to Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains and Big Bend in search of two of the greatest gifts our public lands give us: family time and common ground. 

You can find David's writing, photos and video at:

Start Saying Yes  

"Over two weeks I went from pretty 'fine'--I have to say 'fine' with air quotes and an eye roll because it's that kind of fine--so, I went from 'fine' to 'I'm out'! I just needed a life restart," says Katie Crafts. 

For her thirtieth birthday, Katie gave herself a trip on a cruise to Antarctica. In the other, older passengers on the ship, she caught a glimpse of her future if she continued on the path she was on. In the ship's crew, she saw something else: a superwoman equivalent of herself. Today, we bring you the story of a journey to the far reaches of our planet, and of what it takes to see the person you want to be, and then become that person. It starts with saying 'yes'. 

Mileposts--The Grit to Make it Happen  

"If you go on some really big, really ambitious trip or you have some enormous goal, if you look at the big picture all the time, it's too intimidating, it's too big, it seems too insurmountable," says Jim Harris. "If you break it down into the next move, or the next pitch, or the next day of hiking, or the next rapid or whatever it is, those chunks are manageable. And there's a lot of aspects to spine injuries that are that same way." 

A year and a half ago, Jim traveled to Patagonia to attempt a 350-mile traverse of the Patagonian ice cap via kite-ski and packraft. But before the team even made it out of town, Jim was practicing with his kite when an errant gust of wind pulled him into the air and the slammed him back into the ground, breaking seven vertebrae and rendering him paralyzed. 

For the fifth installment of our Mileposts series, we travel to Grand Teton National Park to bring you a story of how much these places we love can take away from us, and about how, sometimes, those same places can teach us the skills we need to come back. 


You can find Jim's photography at:

The Suffer Vest  

"I'm not what you'd call a 'runner.' I prefer it to getting fat, but not by a lot," writes Brendan Leonard. "The most I'd run in the past fews years was probably close to 12 kn. I ran a marathon once, and although it felt pretty recent, it was nine years ago." So what's a non-runner to do? Sign up for a 50K trail race with less than 25 days to train, of course. Ready, set, race.


You can find more of Brendan's writing at

The Ultimate Weekend Warrior  

Jim Herson and Anne Smith live in the Bay Area. They're in their fifties. Jim has worked the same computer science job since he graduated college in 1982, and he and Anne have been together nearly that long. They have two kids, a 17 year old daughter and a 13 year old son, who they shuttle around the city in a maroon Subaru wagon. An all-around American family. 

Except for one thing-- Jim and his kids get their family bonding time a thousand feet off the deck on Yosemite's classic routes. 


Little Explorers Club  

"Tommy grew up in Estes, but you notice that so many families and so many kids just don't go into the the National Park," says Becca Caldwell. While Rocky Mountain National Park is just a short drive from Estes Park, CO., Becca found parents gravitated to the local playground and coffee shops for playdates. "Why aren't we going out on the trails and letting the kids run loose? How can we change that for my sons's generation?" she asked. It's a question that many experts have been asking too. 

Today, for the fourth episode of our Mileposts series, we hike with the Little Explorers in Rocky Mountain National Park, and see how Becca's simple act is forming a community of kids and parents out on the trails. 

Live From 5Point Vol. 9  

Before, Brendan Leonard wrote a Short for The Dirtbag Diaries called Sixty Meters to Anywhere. He recently published a book with the same title, documenting his journey from handcuffs to hand-jams, from rural Iowa to the mountains of Colorado and from business casual to assignments for Climbing magazine. We returned from our sixth annual pilgrimage to the 5Point Film Festival with something a little different this year: a lightly edited version of the presentation Brendan gave to a packed house. See you there next year? 

You can order your own copy of Sixty Meters to Anywhere, see the schedule for Brendan's 2016 book tour and find more of his writing at

Green Light  

Looking west from Seattle, the skyline of Olympic National Park is defined by the notched peak of The Brothers. "I see it stuck in traffic. I see it from meeting rooms in downtown Seattle. I see it on my evening runs that I use to stay in shape for my days in the mountains. I've looked at that skyline and imagined the light, the wind and thought, 'I could be standing on that peak,' -- instead of dealing with 'this', whatever 'this' is," writes Fitz Cahall. 

It can be easy to wallow in the constraints, responsibilities, and duties of life. It can be so damn easy to play the grass is greener game. When Fitz takes a spring Friday to go and climb The Brothers, he gets a chance to look back in the opposite direction and realizes that it's not about which side is greener. It can be as simple as going when you get a green light. 

The Shorts--I Poo, A Love Story  

"My new husband, Bix, consulted the map and asked if I thought we'd make it to Bowknot Bend that day. Lots of honeymooners probably have similar conversations, except for one small detail," writes Emma Walker. "Unlike those couples who coyly take their twos at the gas station down the street, my spouse of less than a week sat discussing the finer points of canoe rigging from his perch atop of the river toilet." 

Today, Emma shares her take on the ingredients for an awesome relationship: honesty, openness, unconditional acceptance of ourselves and of each other--and a solid foundation of poop jokes. 

You can find more of Emma's writing at:


"You have to imagine that you're on the frozen Arctic Ocean. You're six miles from shore, you can't really tell where the ocean stops and the white shore begins. All you see is white--and this thing where they're dumping crap into the ocean to make this island," says Dan Ritzman. "And there, stuck in the ice, is a sign that says 'No Trespassing'."

It was 1999, the beginning of the climate movement. Oil companies had started to talk about green energy, but continued their dogged search for fossil fuel. At the time, Dan worked for Greenpeace, who was determined to expose that hypocrisy by any means necessary. 

Today, we bring you the story of a Danish ex-special forces trainer, some very cold weather, some crooked State Troopers, a group of activists and the sometimes thin line between standing up for our wild places and adventuring in them. 

Mileposts--The Miracle of Darkness  

"The sky above you goes on forever, and the landscape appears as endless as the sky. The world is expansive and you are tiny. All of your problems shrink down to the head of a pin," writes Melina Coogan. "This is why places like this matter--places like Great Smoky National Park: they give us perspective." 

Just months after Melina got married, she walked out of a doctor's office with a sobering health diagnosis. Today, for the second episode of our Mileposts series, we travel with her to Great Smoky National Park to see what perspective we can take home. 

You can find more of Melina's writing at:

A Slosh in the Bucket  

Eric Johnson lives in Sturgis, South Dakota with his wife and three young daughters. He works as a high school English teacher. He's responsible--well, most of the time.

Half way into his thirties, Eric emptied his retirement account to buy a raft, despite the fact that he lives in a state without any navigable whitewater. Just over a year later, he found something too good to be true: a group of experienced guides advertising an open spot on a pre-season trip down Idaho's Main Salmon. 

Today, we bring you the story of what happens when you ignore the red flags that pop up when something is actually too good to be true and of what it feels like to bob around in the bucket of someone else's bucket list.

The Shorts--Tower Climbing, Baby!  

"I unclipped the hot belay device from my harness. I looked over at Conor, smiled and announced, 'This is the best part of my day so far'!" writes Jen Altschul. "For a moment, a smile of pure joy spread across his face--which, just as quickly, flipped into disappointment when he realized that I was talking about being back on the ground." 

The first time Jen tried to climb a desert tower, her and her partner bailed after the third pitch and returned the guidebook. Today, we bring you a story of abrasions, frustrations, failure and an eventual, unlikely love for the peculiar formations of the desert southwest. 

Mileposts--Celebrate with a Milkshake  

"Sometimes, when I'm hiking somewhere near Moab and chatting with other people, I think about saying something like, 'You know what's great about this hike? In about 75-minutes, you can be at Milt's Stop & Eat'," says Brendan Leonard. "Milt's is a 19-mile drive from Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, it's 55-miles from Indian Creek and 75-miles to Canyonlands' towering red and white striped sandstone needles. I mean, when you think about it, it's kind of the nucleus of all that rad stuff."

In the first episode of our Mileposts series, we explore the national parks around Moab, Utah--and celebrate with a milkshake. 


You can find more of Brendan's writing at:

Roll The Dice  

"We started the trip without much of a purpose," writes Fil Corbitt. "We wanted to be pushed around. Wanted to find something we didn't know we were looking for. We wanted to take some small chance and see where we landed. And see which side was facing up." 

But how do you find that kind of serendipity when you only have a week? Fil created a game. Each morning, he and his friend would wake up and roll a single dice. The rules? A one meant go north. 2 = east, 3 = south, 4 = west, 5 = stay put and 6 meant to cross the nearest state border. The only rule? No backtracking. 

Today, we follow Fil as he and his friend Brian figuratively and literally roll the dice and see where they land. And which side is facing up. 


This episode originally aired as a six-part series on Fil's awesome podcast, Van Sounds. We cut quite a bit of material to turn it into a single piece. You can listen to the full version of the Dice series as well as other awesome travel stories, like the Freight Train episode, at:

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