Chris Kasper is hard to get hold of. When I propose talking to him on a Friday afternoon in late April, we have to work around times when his phone might have reception.
That’s because he’s in-between REI Adventure trips, on a week off in Zion National Park. The reason his phone has such spotty reception is because he’s spending his downtime scouting new locations to take REI members. On today’s roster: a canyon called Birch Hollow. If this sounds like a dream job, you’re right. But cooler still is who Chris is exploring with. It’s his dad, Steve, who has been leading REI Adventures trips in Death Valley, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon and Zion since 1993.
Bryce Canyon National Park
That’s the year Chris was born, in Lake Tahoe, California, to parents who couldn’t get enough of the backcountry. In fact, he says, even before he was born he got his introduction to wilderness when his mom took him on a 100-plus-mile hike through Death Valley—at five months pregnant. Chris spent his infancy smelling the Sierra Nevada air from a baby carrier on one parent’s back. For a few brief years, his mom led something called “Toddler Trips,” low-key baby-friendly adventures for the Sierra Club in the less-sweltering parts of Death Valley, and brought Chris along. Before kindergarten, his parents amicably split and his mom moved him to Massachusetts. But there was never a break in Chris’s “backcountry education,” because every summer he’d return to California. And it was there, when he was 12 years old, that he went on his first REI Adventures trip with his lead-guide dad.
At first he was just the little kid tagging along, doing day hikes and helping at the rustic Rainbow Lodge at the base of the Sierras. When the lodge trip morphed into a backcountry one, Chris did those, too. With gear-laden horses, he and his dad walked REI Members to Emerald Lake, at the base of Emerald Peak. Along the way, subconsciously or not, Chris was learning his dad’s skills— trip planning, navigation, first aid shooing black bears away from food, and more. In his late teens, Chris attended Boston College, but spent “every break and every summer” assisting his dad on REI trips. By then, he’d begun exploring other places beyond the Sierras—Zion, Canyonlands, Bryce, and Death Valley. Near the end of college, he decided that he wanted to try his own hand at guiding.
Soon he graduated to paid assistant guide, and now he leads several guided trips per year. He says he loves REI Adventures because of the return travelers, common shared passion for wilderness between guides and REI members, and his unique ability—after so much time tagging along with his dad—”to be a local ambassador for places that were my stomping grounds as a kid.”
Occasionally, he also guides with his dad. And often, as you might predict, seniority dictates who will lead. You might also think that the elder’s experience trumps the younger’s. That would be right, too, and in other families might cause serious friction. But not for the longtime-guiding Kaspers, who Chris says work so well together because of their “shared responsibility.” He adds, “As an assistant guide, which I often am when we’re on a trip together, I have the best job, because I get to have all of the fun without making any of the hard decisions.”
Chris’ hospitality, outdoor skills and local expertise have been recognized by REI Adventures’ guests. Earlier this year, he was one of six guides named as an REI Adventures “Top Guide,” an annual honor presented to a small group of our most highly-reviewed guides. Congrats Chris!
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