Cole's Climb
Trail Talk
Be Prepared, and Protect the Animals with Casey Whalen

Be Prepared, and Protect the Animals with Casey Whalen

How mistakes can happen to even the most experienced hikers, and how you can learn from the arduous consequences of our wrong turn.

Welcome Back to our Regularly Scheduled Trail Talk

Earlier this week: I had an unexpected special edition for Eldora’s opening day.

This time though, we’re back to our regular programing: more long-form interviews where I share stories from other members of the outdoor community. They range from wild adventures, to survival skills, conservation, and current events.

Look for episodes in your mailbox Sunday mornings at 9 a.m., MST. The stories you’re used to seeing arrive at the usual time, Thursday mornings.

EP 07: Casey Whalen, Florida Man, and Director of Ecology

This week we head to the wild swamps of South Florida to talk with an old friend. Back when I lived in South Florida, Casey and I had quite a few hiking and biking adventures through the state.

We’re breaking down what went wrong on one of my most spectacular trail failures: accidentally turning a five mile hike into 15.

Map of the DuPuis wild area
Map from South Florida Water Management District

Casey and I began our ill-fated hike from gate 2, and followed the orange dotted line. We missed the turn for loop 2, and wound up taking the turn for loop 3, adding roughly five miles to the trip.

On the return, a downed marker near the intersection with yellow trail C caused us to drop the orange hiking trail and pick up a horse trail instead. The trail crossed a long, wide-open field for a long while. By the time we saw the next marker, we realized we had gone off trail.

Back-tracking cost us another mile.

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Interview Notes

1:00 — Florida is actually pretty nice
2:00 — The “Accidentally Way Longer” hike
6:15 — Seeing the forest for the trees
7:30 — Why it rains iguanas in Florida
8:45 — “Uh oh,” or: how things go off the rails quickly
15:30 — Losing the trail
18:00 — Why you wear good hiking shoes
19:00 — No really, buy good gear.
20:00 — Wading through the swamp with Rocket the racoon
24:30 — Rescuing animals as director of ecology
26:00 — Turtles all the way down (the river)
31:00 — Hiking Devil’s Head in Colorado
34:00 — Outdoor rock climbing
40:00 — Avoiding a lightning strike
43:15 — Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should
46:00 — All the Florida things that want to kill you
47:45 — Always be prepared
50:00 — 500 nights of camping
51:30 — “At the end of a day, it makes a great story.”


Florida isn’t Crazy, it just has Character

The sunshine state has a reputation for being a little off the rails. The truth is, it’s just hard to get a good overhead perspective.

a wooden lookout tower against a clear blue sky
A watchtower in the palm scrubs of South Florida

This is a look at one of the highest points in South Florida: A watchtower perched atop a glorified sand dune in the palm scrubs.

The view is still beautiful. But you won’t exactly be seeing the curvature of the earth. Not being able to catch the sweeping landscape views actually inspires something a little different.

Most of the joy associated with Florida hiking comes from appreciating individual up-close moments, like this one:

a wild Florida racoon guides hikers
our magical woodland guide

“You Don’t Have to Look Down at Things to Appreciate Them”

While I love the soaring peaks of Colorado, Florida has always felt more wild. There are no bucket list photo ops for social media. Anyone crazy enough to be out in the Florida woodlands really wants to be there.

The state also has a ton of hidden gems tucked away. Being a part of the outdoor community feels like a tighter-knit family.

Knowledge itself is not a Shield

After I moved to Colorado, Casey was the first person to pay me a visit. His brother and cousins joined as well, with all the gear needed for some fantastic rock climbing.

We headed up to the top of Devil’s Head lookout, and took in some awe-inspiring early morning views.

rock formations rise from the forest at Devil's Head lookout
The view from Devil’s Head lookout tower

Even after climbing for more than an hour, we were out of the area, and back at the cars before 9:00 a.m.

Hours later: lightning struck the exact area we’d been climbing, injuring eight people — one critically. Thanks to a multi-agency rescue effort and more than 30 volunteers, the injured climber made a full recovery.

Some of the other hikers suffered burns, and were temporarily left with tingling sensations, but were all able to walk back to the trailhead, according to a write-up from AccuWeather.

This event will forever remain in my mind as an example of the raw power and unpredictability of nature, and the importance of being prepared.

Cole's Climb
Trail Talk
Conversations in, and about the outdoors and the incredible adventures you can find there. Topics range from conservation, to tackling tough challenges that push our limits.