Ambassador Spotlight: Richard Oppelaar

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do when you’re not hiking? 

When I'm not out on the trails with my dog Shasta, I am teaching high school students their favorite subject… math! But even at my school I've managed to carve out time for hiking. For the last few years I've taken small groups of students on local day hikes once a month, and even get to take them on an annual camping trip to Big Bear.

What has the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge meant to you? 

I was already into hiking when I moved to Southern California in 2012, but didn't know where to start with all the peaks this area has to offer. The original SoCal list gave me a beginning set of core goals. After years of living and hiking here, I still return to and enjoy the original six. And now that I've curated my own lists for the Arizona Summer and Winter Challenges, it means I get to guide others on their hiking journey in another region that I've spent a lot of time exploring.

What is your favorite hike in the Six-Pack of Peaks and why? 

My favorite peak would have to be Humphreys Peak from the Arizona Summer Challenge. It's beautiful in all seasons, the hike goes well above treeline, and it's a state high point. State high points are another list I'm working on – I have been to 36 so far. Humphreys is particularly interesting to me because it's the remains of a volcano that was originally close to 16,000′ tall! It's a reminder that even these massive mountains are only temporary.

Share one of your most memorable adventures. What makes it so special? 

In November 2019 I organized a trip with four friends to summit Picacho del Diablo, the ten thousand foot high point of Mexico's Baja Peninsula. I love logistical challenges and this trip had it all – driving to another country, limited beta on conditions, no real trail for over half the hike, language barrier, conflicting trip reports, etc. It was five days door-to-door including the drive into Mexico, camping at Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park, hiking down to the bottom of Canyon del Diablo where we camped with ring-tailed cats, hiking up a class 3/4 route to the summit of Picacho del Diablo, returning to camp in the dark, hiking back out of the canyon, and driving back to California. We didn't see one other person the entire three days we were backpacking. At the park entrance they photographed the bottoms of our shoes so trackers could find us easier if we didn't return. It was just so amazing to feel like we were on such a challenging exotic adventure, and we didn't even have to get on a plane.

What’s one piece of gear that you never hike without?

Satellite communicator – specifically the DeLorme inReach (now Garmin). I do a lot of solo hiking and it's great to have as a potential lifeline in case something goes wrong. I haven't had to use it in an emergency for myself, but I did help someone call for assistance on Mount Whitney a few years ago after they fell and tumbled a few hundred feet on rocks and snow.

Share a quote, song, or another inspirational item that helps get you through the toughest hikes/life moments.

​”It's the CLIMB!!!!!” – Miley Cyrus

What upcoming adventures are you looking forward to in the year ahead?

This September I'll be part of the safety team for the Heroes Project's Climb for Heroes fundraising event on Mount Baldy. They work with wounded veterans, helping them rehabilitate and climb mountains all around the world. This is my fifth year volunteering for the event, which is always a lot of fun!

For my own hiking, I've been focusing on the Hundred Peaks Section. It's a list from the 1940s of various peaks above 5,000 ft. all around Southern California. I'm almost at 100 peaks, but contrary to the name, there are 280ish on the list!

As for “big trips”, no set plans, but I have been considering Mount Elbrus in Russia.

Share a fun fact about you that most people wouldn’t know.

I've been to all 50 states.

Is there anything else you wish I would have asked you or anything you would like to add?

Favorite trail snack? Mine is Hostess Snoballs

You can find Richard here on Social Hiker, and on Instagram @foxtrax

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