Justin “Trauma” Lichter is most recently famous for completing the first ever winter south bound thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail with his long time hiking buddy Shawn “Pepper” Forry. They began at Manning Park in Canada on October 21st, 2014 and reached the border with Mexico on March 1st, 2015. But this is just a small percentage of the long distance hiking Trauma has been racking up since 2002. Over the past 13 years, he has hiked over 35,000 miles, or “equal to nearly and a half times around the Earth.” This includes two Triple Crowns and hiking expeditions all around the world in places such as Iceland, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Trauma has been interviewed extensively and if you do any amount of Google searching, you will find evidence of this easily. There are videos on YouTube and Vimeo; multiple backpacking centered websites and blogs have asked him a round of questions; there are even news and radio stations clamoring for a bit of Trauma’s insight into his journeys. Look here for an interview of Trauma and Pepper on their PCT winter SoBo hike. Check out Backpacker Magazine’s interview on Trauma’s Africa journey.
Below are a few questions that I haven’t seen asked as many times as some others. I tried to delve into a variety of random topics with Trauma to get a more well rounded sense of his hiking style and experiences as a whole.
MTX: I know your trail name is a result of several traumatic experiences during your first long outdoor trip. Do you mind going into more depth about those experiences?
Trauma: I took an outdoor education class in college and the class would spend 12 to 15 days out at a time. These trips in southern Utah were my first experiences with backpacking and within the first few days I had suffered from several traumatic experiences. The first was on a day when I was hiking ahead of the group by a bit. They were about thirty minutes behind me and suddenly there were ravens dive bombing me from above. I tried to run away from them, first one way then another, but they followed me. Finally I found a boulder to tuck away under and wait them out until my group arrived. As they came down the canyon, the ravens let up and then I had to explain why I was hiding behind a rock. On the same trip, a few days later, I was running low on food. Thankfully, I found some MRE’s stashed away but they were in cans. The military stopped making MRE’s in cans in the 1960’s or 1970’s, but I was hungry so I took the risk. There was a can of cheese and a can of chocolate, both of which were in rusted over cans but I opened them up and ate them. There was a third can containing jalapeño cheese and when I opened it, the contents were glowing a bright green color. My hiking partners were convinced they were going to have to carry me out from severe food poisoning but I ended up being fine.
MTX: The transition from first being introduced to long distance hiking to putting down several major trails and their extensions seemed very quick. Can you tell me about what got you hooked so hard?
Trauma: I hiked with a few buddies from the Utah trips in college the year before. Those trips birthed the idea of thru hiking the AT. When we started out we had the same mindset as when we were in Utah. We were carrying about ten days of food, not thinking that we had so many resupply options long the AT. It also took us a while to get used to picking up camp and moving every day. In Utah we could afford to bring some luxury items like a big knife for making a bow drill or lines and hooks for fishing because we only moved camp every few days. On the AT, we realized that we didn’t have as much time for those sorts of things.
MTX: When you first began hiking, did you have any inclination that your life would pan out the way it has with so many trails, expeditions and miles under your belt?
Trauma: It was an organic progression. The days in Utah brought on the idea of the AT; thru hiking the AT was so enjoyable I decided to stay out as long a possible and continue on the International AT up to the tip of Quebec. After finishing up, I knew I wanted to do more, so I saved money and thru hiked the PCT the next year. It’s just continued on from there.
MTX: After so much time out on trails, what keeps you coming back for more and looking for new treks?
Trauma: You get comfortable with one thing and you want to step it up a bit. I look for new goals within each journey and new trials. I like to gain a new skill set either out on a hike or before I leave in order to take on the hike properly. Seeing new places is always a big pull. That and learning new things keeps it fresh.
MTX: What do you do during the toughest moments on trail that helps you get to through them?
Trauma: Some things on trail you can prepare for and some things you have to rely on experience. When it comes to gear, you can and should prepare for it. For example, during our winter hike, we had multiple ways of traveling. Sometimes we were just hiking but many times we were snow shoeing or skiing down a pass to get to a road that was open. We spent a lot of time testing out different styles with those modes of travel to see what would work best. There are several different kinds of skis and ski boots; some are heavy and bulky and other are made of lighter materials so we measured the pros and cons of each of our options before setting out on trail. We just found what worked best for us even though they weren’t made for what we were using them for. When you know your gear really well, you can wing it on trail really well if you have to. Being able to get your shelter set up really quickly in a winter storm, for example, is very important. If you can’t do that then other gear gets wet and the entire experiences becomes more of a struggle and more dangerous as well.
MTX: What is your favorite piece of gear in your pack?
Trauma: My gear set up changes so much from one hike to another but I always enjoy my sleeping bag. I have a MontBell Down Hugger and it is the best feeling to climb into your sleeping bag at the end of a good day of hiking.
MTX: What do you think it is that makes you different from most other long distance hikers?
Trauma: Maybe my foundation. I really enjoyed thru hiking the AT and enjoying it is a big part. The most important thing is having fun. Each trip is different and that keeps it new for me. I just really enjoy walking, particularly in the early morning or in the evening. You see more wildlife and the lighting is beautiful.
Trauma: Most are in awe but I don’t think they fully understand. It’s hard to really grasp the real idea of long distance hiking with out a reference point of having done it yourself. People are impressed but they don’t quite get the ins and outs of hiking.
MTX: Of all your trips thus far, is there one that you would count as the most impacting or your favorite?
Trauma: I definitely pull lessons from each trip I go on but I would probably say that my first AT thru hike was the most influential. It kind of started it all.
MTX: As far as trips go, what’s next? And how do you come up with your trip ideas?
Trauma: There is nothing on the horizon now but I am pretty creative in coming up with things. I find inspiration for future hikes while on a current hike. Like the winter PCT hike, I remember thinking on the first time thru hiking the PCT, “I wonder if this could be done in Winter?” Other times I will see pictures and be inspired to go explore that place.
MTX: I hear you have two more books coming out in the near future. Can you tell me a bit about each one?
Trauma: The first is a book of short stories; just experiences from the trail over the years. That one should be coming out just before Outdoor Retailer, so August-ish. The second is geared towards long distance bike packing.
MTX: Tell me a bit more about your bike packing experience.
Trauma: I’ve done on and off road bike packing but I prefer off road. Biking is just faster than hiking. You can cover more ground and it has all sorts of new gear set up possibilities. There is a lot out there about light weight backpacking gear but I want to look more into lightweight biking gear for long distance bike packing.
For more info about Justin Lichter, aka, Trauma, go to his website and for more insight into his wealth of backpacking knowledge, grab a copy of either one of his books .
Trail Tested is an excellent beginners guide to all things backpacking related. Trauma goes through every type of gear you could imagine and thoughtfully breaks them down into pros and cons. He covers nearly all possible trail situations and best of all there are tons of photos to help explain everything.
Ultralight Survival Kit is Trauma’s second book. It goes into detail about how to be prepared for any and every situation and still maintain a light pack weight. He covers worst case scenarios, the biggest noted fears among most hikers such as bears, lightening and injury and covers backcountry first aid for the ultralight hiker.