Meet the Explorer: Kurt Kowalski

Adventurer. Lover of Dogs. Good Time Haver.

While attending college at West Virginia University, I had a new group of neighbors move in my sophomore year. I had my doubts about this rowdy group at first, but after just a couple weeks we became great friends. We would talk about exploring, go hiking, take Spring Break trips out West…anything to satisfy our hunger for adventure. On of my fondest memories with Kurt was the time we took a sunrise hike at Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area not too far from our town home complex. We got out there in time to see the sun come up behind the mountains and paint a beautiful scene. After, we got out our hammocks, set up in the trees and enjoy the peaceful sounds of nature as it woke it. We then had our PB&J’s and hiked back out to head to class for the day. The memories and stories go on and on! Lets hear what you have to say now, Kurt.

Short Biography

My name is Kurt Kowalski, I am an engineer born in Pittsburgh, PA but went to school in Morgantown, West Virginia. My girlfriend Abby and I live together now in WV and we live with our coonhound Hank (Aka Hanky, Hanky Boy, Mr. Hanky…ect). Traveling, exploring, and enjoying the outdoors has been a huge part of my life since I can remember, but getting to do it with Abby and Hank has added a whole new level of fun to it.

What do you do for a living, how did you end up in that field?

Engineering/ a little bit of everything. I try to keep it interesting.

When did you first start enjoying the outdoors?

Since I could remember I would go fishing in and around the Allegheny National Forest in North West Pennsylvania.

What is your favorite place to explore?

Favorite place over all is Yosemite, kind of hard to beat it. But for a more convenient quick getaway, you can’t go wrong with Ohiopyle.

How many of the 50 United States have you visited? Favorite?

I have travelled to 19 states so far, but ever since 2013 I have to give my favorite state to WV. Such a diverse landscape and tons of memories.

How many countries, where?

Just Mexico outside of the U.S., but fortunately I got to do some awesome cave adventuring there.

Best hike you have ever had?

Best hike ever was the 45+ mile Zion traverse. A close second would be clouds rest from the tuolumne valley in Yosemite.

Essential items for summer /winter adventures in your opinion.

For winter a kayak and no shirt. A few winters back a couple friends and I did a kayak day trip on December 1st. This was a terrible idea and of course one of my friends did it shirtless. For summer it is always nice to have a compact towel so you can hit up any secluded swimming hole you come across. In reality it is always nice to have the best gear but it’s even more fun to see how well you can do with what little you have. There is always going to be some new equipment or gear, but what fun would that be.

Most comical hike/adventure story?

Most Comical hike has to go back to Zion. This was the hike that got me hooked on overnight back packing, but the entire trip itself is what made it so memorable. We had a group of six, for what was our first spring break trip of college. While most people were on cruises or at the beach, the six of us did a little research (very little) and concluded that we wanted to go to Utah to hike the Zion traverse. We all skipped class the Friday before our Spring break and took off from Morgantown, West Virginia for Zion for a hike that we had no permit for, nor were we sure of how to get one. We took two cars and for whatever reason we took two separate routes to get there, making stops where we could fit in our 10 day schedule. Of the 10 days, we stayed in a tent about seven of them. Keep in mind these were two 3-person backpacking tents only enough room for 3 people and nothing else. With 37 hours of driving and the tiny tent, our sanity was questionable by the end, or maybe from the beginning hard to tell. To keep things short, I’ll skip through the lack of planning, especially for food, but somehow we managed to make friends with some Idaho folks who made us gourmet three course meals every night on a kettle over the fire. We really missed that food when we were on our three day backpack expedition across Zion.

When we finally got some more information on the permit for our hike, we had to send a couple volunteers to wait in line at 4 am, and when they asked how many people we had in our group and we told them ” just 6″. I will never forget the look on the park rangers face when she repeated back to me with sarcasm “just 6”. Apparently that is a big group. But we got our permit and were off the next day. There was never a dull moment. One of our friends was documenting the entire trip through selfie videos on his phone, with hysterical commentary, another member got blisters so bad that at mile 20 he told us to leave him behind to die with the most sincerity a person can have. We went from 85 degrees at lower elevation to two inches of snow the second night at 9000 ft. elevation. Every night of the hike we fell asleep by Seven O’Clock and woke up the next morning at Seven AM. With a lack of food and water the only thing keeping everyone going was the incredible view around the next corner. It was a landscape that none of us have seen before. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending at the top of angels landing surrounded by 3000 ft. shear cliffs.

Scariest hike/adventure story?

When  I first was introducing Abby to backpacking we did a 2 night loop on a small portion of the north country trail. Of course this is bear country and of course that’s the only thing Abby can think about. We came to a logging road crossing and what do you know, Abby who was behind me at the time, comes what she claimed to be within 30 ft of a black bear. But the best part is that after reading up and obsessing over bears she was telling me before the hike what to do when you see a bear and it depends on what kind of bear it is. Well, for a a black bear, you should stand your ground and make yourself big. What does Abby do when she see the bear…..runs. I never got to see it, but I had no choice but to run too. Naturally I was upset because I spent many years of my childhood in those woods and never got to see a bear.

Upcoming trips planned?

Nothing major right now. Maybe a small camping trip back at Ohiopyle but might have something in the works for fall time with the old Zion crew.

Favorite outdoors gear/lifestyle companies? Any local?

Keen hiking boots have been my go to. Switched over from Merrill. They don’t last quite as long but it’s well worth the comfort.

What does conservation mean to you?

To me it means not to take what we have for granted. Having a greater appreciation for the outdoors, and conservation go hand in hand.

What can we do to make sure our parks and wild lands stay clean and pure forever?

Everyone treats them like they are their own…..because they are.

Kurt, thank you so much firstly for being a great friend and adventure pal! Secondly, you make all around you better and you strive for greatness, I am beyond happy for others to read about you and be inspired. Hope to grab a trip soon, until then keep exploring!

Follow my Trail: @Gtcarden

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