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Get to Know Professional Adventure Guide: Ian Fairchild

On a steamy afternoon in Yosemite National Park, Ian Fairchild, an outdoor adventure guide and educator, led a procession of six children up a steep trail of switchbacks. As the group of Lasting Adventures summer campers hiked past meadows laden with vibrant wildflowers, Ian told riddle after riddle, all of which were cleverly solved by the time they reached their destination: Lake Eleanor, a crystal-blue reservoir located in the Hetch Hetchy area. One of the largest bodies of water in the park, the lake is surprisingly removed from Yosmite’s usual tourist traffic. Arriving on its tranquil shores, the adventurers found themselves on their own private peninsula of sand. They immediately dropped their backpacks and sprinted into the water. Shrieking with the thrill of their freezing plunge, the children bolted back towards the shore. They continued to run back and forth between the sand and the lake for the remainder of the afternoon, pausing occasionally for frisbee breaks. Ian kept watch, and began to cook a dinner of freeze-dried pad thai. 

Campers play games on the shore of Eleanor Lake in Hetch Hetchy

Ian Fairchild, the beloved adventure guide of many Lasting Adventures tours, was born in Westford, Massachusetts, a suburban town whose population was largely uninterested in outdoor activities. Seeking to connect with nature despite this, Ian attached himself to the scarcely numbered, but wonderfully wild, land preservations near his childhood home. “This land meant a lot to me as a kid” recalled Ian, “I spent a ton of time just biking and walking there, and then I started working there with kids at after-school programs when I was only thirteen.” As the older brother of six sisters, Ian was constantly teaching and caretaking. He grew to love working with children, and said, “having spent so much time working with kids three years old and up, I really started to figure out how they worked developmentally, and understood each age bracket differently.” To pursue these interests, Ian enrolled at Plymouth State University in 2019 as a psychology major.

But Ian could not part with the outdoors for long. During the spring of 2020, after his freshman year of college, he embarked on a backpacking adventure into Death Valley. Ian’s prior experience with backpacking consisted of trips up mountains with his high school’s hiking club, whose adventures relied more on stubborn interest than on practiced outdoor skills. He explained the horrors of one such trip, when he was “walking in gear that you should not bring backpacking. I remember sleeping in a sixty degree bag in zero degree weather, with gloves on my feet.” With this in mind, Ian hired an adventure guide to lead him on an ambitious week-long exploration between hidden underground water sources in Death Valley. “I saw rattlesnakes, wild horses, and cacti. I was challenged physically, and I remember being blown away that my guide could sleep without a tent,” Ian eagerly told me. “It was a trip where I thought, oh, I could not have done this by myself.”

Ian explains glacial geology to an guide service trip.

Upon returning to Plymouth State for his sophomore year, Ian immediately switched his major to adventure education. Finally, after his time in Death Valley, he felt confident that a passion for the outdoors is not just a hobby, but a foreseeable career. At school, he devoted himself to adventure courses in paddling, backpacking, and climbing, as well as classes in teaching and philosophy. When he graduated in 2023, Ian was immediately hired as a backpacking guide by Lasting Adventures. Ever since, he has spent the summer doing what he loves most: teaching others, by leading adventures through Yosemite National Park. 

As an adventure guide with a background in education and psychology, Ian sees Lasting Adventures trips as more than just a fun way to get outside. He takes them as opportunities to help young adventurers grow by developing relationships with nature and one another. “But most importantly,” he said, “they get to know themselves.” Ian’s attention to growth is demonstrated through his use of a long-standing Lasting Adventures practice: assigning a Leader of the Day (LOD). Every day, Ian asks a child on his trip to assist the group by setting the hiking pace, assisting guides in problem-solving, and collaborating to ensure that everyone is happy and healthy. Ian said, “Leader of the day is a great way to find a kid who is maybe more quiet and give them the space to be creative and figure out who they are as a speaker. You see their confidence go up, and it’s really gratifying. And other kids, maybe they distinguish themselves as a lone wolf, and you can have them work with others instead of getting things done themselves.” Many Lasting Adventure kids have never spent a night outside, dug a cat hole in the woods, or hiked in a rainstorm. When Ian leads hikes, he practices tactics such as LOD to give them agency in an unfamiliar environment. 

Ian believes that an adventurer’s mindset makes or breaks their every journey through the wilderness. This is evident in his explanation of the Three Types of Fun, another treasured Lasting Adventure’s principle. Type One Fun is pure and easy enjoyment, while Type Two requires that enjoyment is accompanied by a challenge: imagine a hike past beautiful views, but it’s been raining for the past few hours. “Type Three”, recites Ian “means it is not fun. It was never fun. But it makes a good story.” He told me that the difference between these three types is mental framework. “On kids’ trips, type two is very important because they’re out there sleeping on the ground, carrying a lot of weight, and still enjoying themselves despite adversity. I find that type two fun, where people are most challenged, is where they do all the learning.” Ian does more than recite this mantra when he guides adventures, he puts it into practice. 

Ian points out North Dome, above the Washington Column.

On an eight day trip up Yosemite Falls with kids who appeared to be “afraid of the outdoors”, Ian noticed a twenty percent chance of rain on every night of their trip. He told his group it was about to pour, and frantically showed them how to string a rain tarp erect between hiking poles. They repeated this practice every night, and it never rained. On the final day, however, a fierce hail storm began. The kids rushed through their final miles of the day to reach a campsite, where they immediately set up their rain tarp independently. But much to Ian’s surprise, the shelter went unused. “All of these kids that were scared of getting dirty and wet were, they were wrestling themselves in the mud and rain, just covered head to toe with the biggest smile on their face,” Ian remembered, wearing his own big smile. In only eight days, with the help of Type Two Fun, his group’s relationship with the outdoors was transformed. 

When Ian is not guiding trips through Yosemite, he is always busy tackling his own big adventures in the backcountry. “I like to make some sort of distinction between work and play,” noted Ian. “So it’s either climbing on my off time, or a hike that would absolutely not be on the itinerary.” One such “hike” includes Mt. Lyell. Standing at 13,120 ft as the tallest peak in Yosemite, the twenty-seven mile hike does not have a defined trail. Summiting the mountain required a combination of free solo rock climbing, the use of ice picks for self-arrest on glacial ice, and glissading (sliding across snow pack). Such dynamic journeys display the breadth of Ian’s talents as an adventure guide, and he told me, “I took an alpine mountaineering class in college that got me really into ice climbing, so that’s really where I started. Recently I’ve been able to combine ice climbing and backcountry skiing, which is the best of both worlds!” Last winter, battling freezing temperatures with alpine skis strapped to his back, Ian ice climbed the ascent of Mt Pielson in Oregon and Mt Ritter in Mammoth. Then he skied through expanses of untouched snow fields on his descent. “Now, I’m planning a day to do Hoffman to Clouds Rest to Half Dome to Glacier Point (all Yosemite hikes) in a single day,” he said. When I asked how many miles that would be, he responded, “that’s something where I would do the math afterwards. Probably somewhere in the forties.”

On his second summer camp trip to Lake Eleanor, with the previous discovery of its beauty and solitude in mind, Ian’s group wanted to speed up their approach so that they could spend the entire following day there. Attentive to their wishes, Ian helped the group leader to set a quick pace, and they arrived at Eleanor two nights later. The next day was spent on blissful exploration and imagination. At the far end of the lake, where a dam catches debris, the children discovered pieces of driftwood. Using paracord, they bound tree trunks together into rafts that four passengers could sail around the shore using stick-paddles. Overlooking Eleanor’s vast surface, Ian judged a series of races around their private peninsula that day. Afterwards, the children splashed in a nearby creek and fashioned fishing poles out of sticks, before laying their sleeping bags out and reflecting the day’s events in a group journal. With the giddiness of someone who absolutely loves what they do, Ian concluded his recollection of the day by telling me, “I’ve been to some incredible spots. It’s always exciting to see what the kids do with their creativity, because I’m just a big kid.”

Campers make a raft out of drift wood and float around lake Eleanor.

-Claire Kosky, Marketing Assistant

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