Nature Is the Best Engineer

Standing on top of a grassy ridge in Colorado’s Elk Mountains, Pete McBride watches a snowstorm rolling in.
He seems unperturbed, despite the disconcerting way an afternoon of dazzling sunshine has suddenly given way to menacing dark clouds. Zipping up his jacket and pulling on a beanie, Pete pauses to point out two peaks of purplish mudstone rising above a glassy lake—the Maroon Bells—before they and the landscape are enveloped by clouds. Pete is taking it all in his stride: he’s prepared, and he’s seen worse.
Pete McBride is an award-winning National Geographic photographer, film maker, and adventurer who has explored some of the most extreme environments on earth, documenting expeditions from Everest to Antarctica across more than 75 countries. “I spent years travelling to remote regions to document other parts of the world,” muses Pete, “Now I try to do more work at home, focusing on the rivers in my home state.” This means Colorado with its diverse landscape of snow-covered peaks, spectacular river canyons and wide arid deserts. It is an environment Pete is committed to preserving and protecting by exploring, photographing, filming, and writing to raise awareness of the challenges facing the Colorado River and its greatest creation, the Grand Canyon.
Last year, Pete became one of only a handful of people to continuously hike the entire 700-mile length of the Grand Canyon National Park—more people have stood on the moon than have completed this trek. With no trail to follow, it’s a gruelling, dangerous, pathless journey of extreme temperatures and perilously unstable terrain that has claimed many lives. When Pete speaks about surviving in the wild, he speaks from experience. “If you’re not well equipped,” he warns, “nature can feel like the enemy.”
Gearing up for another day exploring the Elk Mountains, Pete reflects on how drastically equipment has changed over time. “It’s interesting,” he says, “that it’s actually taken a return to its historic roots with wool. We used to use wool about a hundred years ago because it’s a natural, effective product.” Today, the benefits of wool are being rediscovered by manufacturers and explorers. Thinking about his 71-day trek across the Grand Canyon, Pete reflects simply, “I wore wool the whole time.”
Carefully folding a layer of active wear into his pack, Pete explains that Merino wool has an outstanding reputation among professional adventurers. The secret of its success is that as an active fibre, it creates tiny, insulating air pockets that keep bodies warm in the cold and cool in the heat. “The weave of wool today is amazingly comfortable,” adds Pete, “It has incredible breathability, odour resistance and it’s durable.” Little wonder that the majority of the world’s leading outdoor brands incorporate Merino wool into their clothing.

Source: National Geographic, photography by Matt Hobbs

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