Legacy of Love and the Outdoors – Scott Crook

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Chally Sims, Scott, and Carolyn Crook, celebrating Pack Rat’s 40th year

“When I was 19 he gave me a chance to come and work for him. That changed my life and opened opportunities I would have most likely never have had. I’ll never forget his dry wit and work ethic. Farewell friend.” ~ Rick Spicer, Pack Rat Outdoor Center

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Rick Spicer, with Pack Rat Outdoor Center

Rick’s words of tribute were the kindest way I could have heard of Scott’s death. Rick is one of many excellent young people that Scott and Carolyn Crook employed over the years. Scott and Carolyn sold outdoor supplies from their garage in the early 70s and built it into a thriving business that has a positive impact on Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas. On my many visits to the store, I learned that employees view working for Pack Rat Out Door Center as much more than a job. There’s a team mentality and those who work there have a passion for the outdoors, the environment, and low impact business practices. 

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Photo courtesy of Pack Rat

I first met Scott in 2001 while in a photography workshop taught by Tim Ernst. The class portion was at the Pack Rat, the most amazing outdoor store I had ever visited.  After a day of photography in the Ozarks, the soft-spoken Scott showed up in a sports car to pick up our slide film and race it back to Fayetteville, so we would have photos for analysis during our evening session.

A few years later, I got to know Scott and Carolyn as the sweet couple who brought supplies and made coffee for Ozark Highlands Trail Association (OHTA) meetings. I also noticed that whenever funds were needed for a project, Scott or Carolyn would quietly make a donation. When the OHTA needed leadership, Scott stepped up to fill in as president of the organization.

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Stone memorial for Dawna Robinson, one small example of Scott’s donations

During one of our visits, Scott mentioned that he had fond memories of building the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) west of Dockery Gap. That was my adopted section to maintain, so I often think of him when walking or checking those four miles. I can imagine him doing some of the original side-hilling as I walk along.

Scott and I also visited about our mutual love of the Grand Canyon. Later, when they were moving their store, I got a call from Carolyn to see if I would like a large geological map they had of “The Canyon.” She sent the map to me, and I used it in presentations with students and other hikers.

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Photo courtesy of Pack Rat

Several years ago, awards were presented to volunteers who were instrumental in the development and maintenance of the Ozark Highlands Trail. Scott and Carolyn Crook received an award for their commitment and many years of service.

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Scott and Carolyn receiving the Eagle Service Award from Boy Scouts of America

Nothing brings out someone’s strength like adversity. When Scott became ill with Parkinson’s Disease, his tenacity and dedication became all the more evident. He continued to attend OHTA meetings and would still speak up when wanting to put funding behind a project. Carolyn demonstrated amazing commitment as she assisted in his care and remained active in work and as a volunteer.

Scott was a quiet person, but I noticed that heads turned and eyes fixed on him if he spoke. When his speech was unclear due to Parkinson’s Disease, no one minded if it took a few seconds to understand what he was trying to say. As his illness progressed, he would often communicate his thought to Carolyn, and she would relay it to the group. I only saw portions of their lives, but they were a lifelong team and their love for each other, and the outdoors, was evident in everything they did.

Farewell to our wonderful friend.

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Photo courtesy of Pack Rat

Scott Crook’s Obituary

We are very sad to inform you that our founder and owner Scott W. Crook, 72, departed this world for his next adventure June 10, 2019 surrounded by loved ones and family.

Scott was born February 6, 1947 in Atlanta, Georgia to James and Mary Crook, who raised him, his brother and two sisters in an Air Force family moving all over the country.

Scott earned a degree in Chemistry from Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, he moved to Fayetteville to pursue a post graduate degree in Organic Chemistry at the University of Arkansas, where he met and married the love of his life, Carolyn while she was pursuing post-doctoral research. They were married on September 30th, 1971.

He loved the outdoors and animals. Scott’s father started him fishing from the time he could hold a pole, and he pursued becoming an Eagle Scout to be outdoors as much as he could. Growing up, Scott’s family always had small pets, including flying squirrels. Carolyn and Scott have kept up the Crook tradition of keeping flying squirrels as pets to this day. Barney and Simon are both about 10 years old.

After a backpacking trip with some friends in Wyoming, Scott and Carolyn realized the nearest outdoor outfitting store was over two hours away in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Wanting to bring outdoor supplies closer to home, they opened Pack Rat Outdoor Center in 1973. Pack Rat is a Fayetteville icon and has become one of the most influential and philanthropic local business in the Northwest Arkansas region.

Scott was one of the original members of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association and with Carolyn, he remained committed to the outdoors with his involvement in the Southern Utah Wilderness Association, the Nature Conservancy of Arkansas, National Audubon Society, Trout Unlimited, the Sierra Club and a life-long member of the Ozark Society.

Scott made Northwest Arkansas and the world a better place through his passion and devotions to the outdoors. His contributions will be remembered and missed.

A packed pack and John Muir Trail gear talk

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Granite Gear Crown 60 backpack and Keen hiking shoes

There is something beautiful about a fully loaded backpack. I can almost hear it whisper, “Where are we going and what shall we see?”

This pack will soon travel the John Muir Trail (JMT) and may have some stories and photos to share when it returns. I’ve purposely avoided posting anything about our John Muir Trail plans. Maybe it’s my fear of failure, but successful or not, there will be new learning to share.

Many variables work for or against a successful trip. Present physical condition, preparation, weather, and elevation changes are the most significant variables to me. Here in the Ozarks we hike at anywhere from 600 to 2,700 feet. On the JMT we’ll be between 4,000 and 14,000 feet in elevation. Preparation can impact our conditioning but not those areas involving Mother Nature. I hope she’s kind to us.

As often happens, the beginning of our JMT planning can be traced to a book. Elizabeth Wenk’s John Muir Trail: The Essential Guide to Hiking America’s Most Famous Trail gave me the confidence to say “Yes!” when asked if I wanted to join some friends on this trip.

A significant task (and possible deal-breaker) is getting a JMT permit. Nick, Bob, and I faxed a different application itinerary each day for five days, receiving courteous “Thanks for trying” emails the next day. I remember where I was when I received an email forwarded from Nick that was different. I stared at the text for several seconds before realizing this message was granting us a permit! We’d “won” the lottery! Our planning was no longer theoretical but for real!

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One day’s applications received at the JMT permit office. Notice the two stacks on the right contrasting JMT confirmations and rejections. Thanks to Justin Gordon (actor/backpacker) for the photo.

For this post, I’ll share some of the equipment changes made in preparation for this trip. I hope to share some food preparation ideas and recipes in a later post.

The John Muir Trail (JMT) came along at a good time because some of my equipment was due for an update. I’ll mention brand names and sources, but have no financial arrangements with these businesses. Some links are to online sources, but when possible, I purchase from area outfitters because they invest in local trails and stand behind their products. They’re also good people to know when you need advice. I’ll list links at the end of this post.

Backpack: Replaced my Equinox Katahdin pack (that I loved) with the Granite Gear Crown 60 pictured at the beginning of this post. It is light, strong, and large enough to accommodate a bear canister. It was on sale, too! When you say 40% off, you have my attention (a good reason to frequent local vendors).

My Equinox ultralight pack was old, and I feared it might fail on a long trip. It will still make overnighter trips in the Ozarks with me. I can’t imagine throwing it away. We have traveled many miles together. I don’t usually form emotional bonds with things, but some items become icons that hold special memories.

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Equinox backpack loaded for OHT thru-hike.

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Enigma down quilt

Sleeping System: I replaced my down sleeping bag with an Enigma 20-degree down quilt by Enlightened Equipment. The workmanship is excellent, but allow 8-12 weeks for delivery because they produce the quilt after you place your order. I’ve been using sleeping bags like quilts for several years. Now I’m not sleeping on top of a zipper, and the quilt is much lighter.

I updated to the Sea to Summit Comfort Light sleeping pad and silk bag liner to use on top of the air pad. I’d just about destroyed my old silk liner with all my squirming around over the last ten years or so.

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Sea to Summit air mattress

Tent: I studied this purchase for several months and considered some very technical (and expensive) ultralight tents. I decided to go with something familiar (and freestanding) in the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 2. I’ve enjoyed my earlier Big Agnes 2-person for several years and will still use it for overnighters. Using a 2-person tent is my nod to backpacking extravagance. I like the extra space for my pack, well worth the 9-ounce difference in weight.

Water bottles: Added a couple of Vapur 1-liter water bladders instead of bottles. They fold up when not in use and are light at 1.5 ounce compared to 6.3 oz. for a Nalgene bottle.

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Vapur water bottle full and folded

Shoes: Loved my Oboz, but was ready for a larger toe box and went with the Keen waterproof Koven (pictured at the beginning of this post). I’m not brand and model conscious because I had to look up these shoes to remember the name. I will not purchase shoes online or by brand. The shoes’ fit is the most important factor. I’d prefer trail running shoes, but for extended backpacking, I need something a little beefier without being a heavy boot. For camp shoes, I’m using Crocks. They’re good for creek crossings and comfortable camp shoes.

Electronics…. I have a love/hate relationship with electronics on the trail. My preference is to leave the stuff at home (or in the car). Since we’ll be out of cell range most of the trip, I’ll carry my inReach and a cell phone that allows me to text using satellite. The downside of electronics is weight! I have a solar panel for backpacking but opted to leave it at home due to weight. I’ll carry a small battery pack and a dual USB wall charger to speed things along with the limited outlets at JMT resupply points. Everything stays turned off until needed.

My camera must always travel with me. I don’t think of it as part of “electronics.” since it’s for capturing memories, not communicating with civilization. I’m not very brand-conscious, as long as the camera has manual settings if needed and is small and light. Right now I use a Canon G7x. It is fragile so I try to handle with care. The lens cover malfunctioned in my first one, but the fine folks at Bedford Camera exceeded expectations and replaced the camera. I carry three fully charged camera batteries in hopes they’ll last between resupply stops. A small flex tripod is a light-weight addition but more often a tree or rock serve the role of a tripod.

Maybe/maybe not items… 

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Yaktrax ICEtrekkers and gators on a snowy Lake Alma Trail

Yaktrax ICEtrekkers: These are great because they grip in snow and ice, but allow you to walk easily over patches of bare ground or rock. I’m taking them so I can decide whether to carry them or not once I’m on location.

Gators: I don’t like my gators, but they are nice to have when snow gets deeper than three inches. They’re heavy if not used, so I’m taking them and deciding once on location.

2015 John Muir Trail Survey Take/Leave Report:  A resource for gear decisions unique to the JMT. It can also inform decisions about backpacking in general. John Ladd and George Greely collect and compile this annual survey of JMT hikers asking two questions. “What type of item did you leave at home, that you would bring on the next similar trip? And why?” and “What type of item did you bring but would leave at home on the next similar trip? And why?” John Ladd provides a nice narrative at the beginning sharing general impressions from the survey results. The John Muir Trail Hiker Survey Facebook page provides updates on snow levels, etc. Good reading!

Outdoor outfitters that I frequent on a regular basis: All good people here!

Pack Rat Outdoor Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas: This business began in a garage in the 1970s. They have a strong history of supporting trails of Arkansas! Owners Carolyn and Scott are charter members of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association and long-time trail volunteers. Employee owner and store manager, Rick Spicer, is a hardcore outdoorsman with great experience and knowledge.

Lewis and Clark Outfitters in Springdale, Arkansas

The Woodsman in Fort Smith, Arkansas

Ozark Outdoor in Little Rock

Bedford Camera and Video in Fort Smith and other towns in Arkansas: They’re not outfitters, but Bedford’s is my camera store due to the way they’ve stood behind their products.