Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! (well, tomorrow it will be, anyway)

I will admit, writing this letter began as a challenge. Typically, a New Years’ letter written to friends is a pretty easy thing to pull off. “Happy New Year, best of luck in the coming year, all the best on any resolutions you make,” will usually cut it. 

But this has not been a typical year.

Many might label 2020 as the worst year ever. Or, at least, as one of the more difficult years in recent memory. The events of 2020 have certainly hit some harder than others, and there are blessings to be counted as well as sympathies and humility to be extended. No need to go into great detail here as it’s all been said and analyzed enough.

The question remains though: how do we all turn our collective sights towards next year, one we all desperately want to swing on an axis of hope beginning tomorrow? 2021 will still hold challenges. 

It’s that word, I guess. “Hope.” Hope is something we know that we have, no matter what, and is perhaps exactly what we need to use going forward in order to “drop-kick” 2020 to wherever it belongs. 

Backcountry Journeys faced a challenging 2020, as most businesses did. Especially those in the travel industry. After some reflection, it became obvious that because of the challenges we were able to grow. To become better. Being forced into a sticky situation, one where the core of what we do was taken away and there were few, if any, answers, led to real positive growth.

In March, we began to produce webinar features as a way to continue to connect with our guests. To give something that would be of value while we were unable to travel. We developed a unique and interactive approach to our Lightroom & Photoshop courses, making them even more accessible than before. We have started video production and created a YouTube Channel so as to take our photography education and entertainment offerings to a new level. Expect all of these to not only continue once things are “back to normal,” but to expand and develop in 2021, and beyond. This will be part of the legacy of our 2020.

As these letters often do, let’s reminisce for a bit, shall we? And what better way than through the eyes of our trip leaders, as they wrote about highlights from a few of our 2020 trips. Yes, we did run a few trips in 2020, starting in Hawaii, in January. 

Big Island of Hawaii (Jan)
We really lucked out on the water for our first day. It took us a bit to find whales, but once we did, wow! We had one whale that fully breached three to four times, and then fin slapped for a few minutes. It really put on a show for us! Watching the Humpbacks breach has to be one of the coolest wildlife experiences that I have seen. After the awesome whales, we ran into a pod of roughly 100 Spinner dolphins. The light was great, and many dolphins went airborne for us as well. The morning did not stop there though, we found a pod of slightly bigger Pacific bottlenose dolphins and even saw a monk seal, a very rare sighting! I don’t think our boat charter experience could have gone any better. We battled rough seas but had such a productive morning!”  -Matt Meisenheimer
[…read full Trip Report]

Costa Rica eventually closed to many with 2020 travel plans to the gorgeous Central American country. In February, before the “gates” closed, BCJ was able to make it to our favorite wildlife mecca. 

Wildlife of Costa Rica (Feb)
“The trip into Corcovado yielded dozens of photographic opportunities, including monkeys, three species of trogan (the same bird family as the resplendent quetzal), a Three-toed sloth, and more. But, the highlight was surely what happened at the very end of our tour when we encountered a female Baird’s tapir with a calf. They were eating in the comfort of a thicket when we encountered them. We were able to approach within ten yards and sit and quietly watch them feed. They were unperturbed by our presence and ignored us completely. Such intimate wildlife sightings are what make Corcovado, and by extension Costa Rica, such special places.”  -Ben Blankenship
[…read full Trip Report]

And then came March. BCJ (myself, specifically) was in southern Utah just getting started with our spring Canyons of Utah: Arches & Canyonlands tour when the world halted. 

Canyons of Utah: Arches & Canyonlands (March)
“The trip was forced to end early, something I’ve never had to do prior. And we set off for home with feelings of unease and few answers. I for one have never seen Moab, Utah, empty like as it quickly became. There were literal tumbleweeds blowing through town, and if that doesn’t properly describe it I don’t know what would. For anyone reading who has been to Moab, you are aware of the bustle of that small town, where tourists nearly always outnumber folks who actually live there. It’s a busy, thriving town. It had become a ghost town, where locals went from asking “how can I help you?” to “why are you still here?”
-Kenton Krueger
[…read a Trip Report]

Then things went on hold for most everyone, and BCJ went several months before another tour would run. Not until September, in fact, when a small group made it to Alaska, and to the Brown Bears of Katmai. 

Brown Bears of Katmai: Brooks Lodge (Sept)
“There’s 809,” I hear someone over my shoulder claim. “There are Holly and her cub,” retorts another. Instantly every camera turns in the famous bear’s direction. Holly is a 20-year-old female who’s known to be a stalwart mother and an icon of the Brooks River. While we watch, Holly leads her cub along the river in search of food. Her cub has a noticeable limp. One, which we later learn from a ranger, was caused by the cub’s curious swipe at a porcupine. The cub still had quills lodged in its paw and hence the gimpy behavior. Holly, though, protected her cub from territorial boars and kept the cub fed while it convalesces.” -Russell Graves
[…read full Trip Report]

That was 2020, give or take. And, at the stroke of midnight, it’ll (finally) be over.  

So, what’s in store for 2021? We can only guess as a lot continues to be out of our control. I can safely say that those of us at Backcountry Journeys would like to see the world get healthy again. We’d like to see it become safe to enjoy travel together, again. We’d like to dust off all of our camera gear and get back out there behind the lens. We want to visit together amazing spots like Costa Rica, Alaska, Africa, Yosemite, and all the others.

Hope is on the horizon when that calendar page gets ripped off, and we can all for sure do a couple of things together, no matter what. We can choose hope over fear. We can wish each other a Happy New Year! We can still say, “best of luck in the coming year,” and we can support each others’ resolutions. Just. Like. Normal. 

I guess it is still easy to write this letter, after all. Happy New Year, everyone! We’ll see you in 2021. 

Kenton Krueger








Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers, and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica & Brazil. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and spent roughly five years writing and photographing for the award-winning Omaha World-Herald newspaper, out of his hometown, Omaha, Nebraska. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of trip leading and guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens, to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.


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