Matt Graham - Tarzan of Southern Utah
We are so pumped to announce that we have added to the Spring Team Matt Graham - Professional Survival Instructor, TV Host for top rated shows on both the Discovery and National Geographic networks, Author, and all around badass who is referred to as the real “Tarzan” of Southern Utah. We hooked up with Matt recently for some Q&A to get to know this fascinating human and what he has currently been up to in the wilderness world.
How did you get into the outdoors and later become a survivalist?
I’ve always loved nature and grew up doing Martial Arts and Triathlons as a teen. At the age of 17, I moved to Yosemite Valley to work and take up climbing. It was probably the best decision of my life. I fell in love with the mountains and also regularly began running the Half Dome trail (18 miles with 5k vert) about twice a week. Connecting backcountry climbing routes with long ones became my favorite jam. Over time the runs became longer and the appeal to staying in the backcountry overnight with no gear is what fired my interest in Ancestral survival skills.
How did you end up on TV? What was it like shooting on location?
TV came unexpectedly. I liked the idea of being in martial arts films as a boy, though as I got older, the idea of being on screen seemed a distant reality. I had primarily led wilderness trips as my profession, then started consulting for a few television shows. This exposure led to networks wanting me on location. My first Discovery channel show “Dude you’re Screwed” was a bit of a whirlwind from my cave-life existence. There was lots of travel, lots of shenanigans for ratings, though I found I really liked the team work involved and presenting authentic material. That’s what kept me going with it. I’ve filmed over 6 series now, about 75 episodes, though I haven’t counted.
What are the most important primitive skills to have?
The most important survival skill to have in the wilderness is a good attitude. That’s where it all starts and we are out there because we love the wilderness. As an Ultra Distance runner, I think learning how to shelter and stay warm at night with no gear are most valuable. Plus, it’s fun to see how adaptable and creative we can be in new environments. I also think having a basic understanding of wild food nutrition is important. There are many key elements that a runner needs available out there if you know how to source them.
What other types of sports or training do you do?
Currently Ultra Running is my main sport. The Survival Skills are sort of a sport in themselves as well. I also still practice Martial Arts at times and I cross train for health and balance. I love to surf when there is a good wave, though I’m not that good at it.
Tell us about your longest run on the PCT.
Running multi-days and combining survival skills is what gets my juices flowing. At age 23 I ran the length of California on the PCT (about 1,675 miles). My goal was to travel as light and simple as possible, even at the expense of being cold and going hungry, and to “run” the majority of the miles. I took chia seeds, sunflower seeds, power bars, cliff bars, and would buy bags of chips when passing through towns. I tied my gear around my waist in a 5x5 cloth in the fashion of early Native American runners. I didn’t carry a sleeping bag for most of it. I would curl up under the 5x5 foot cloth in a bivy at night. My total gear weight, including clothing, was less than a few pounds. It was actually a beautiful experience and set the precedent for a lot of my running approach today.
What is your approach to lifestyle and health?
I bought my first Nutritional Almanac (version 2) when I was 9 years old. By the time I was eleven, I became obsessed with healthy eating and exploring diets as an athlete. I had eaten vegan for 5 years and experienced some amazing performances as a young athlete, including running the 18 mile 5k vert half dome trail in a time of 2 hours 31 minutes. I never reported it, though it was 11 minutes faster than the FKT set by a pro Italian runner back then. It took 15 more years before a runner went faster than my 19 year old self on it. I also have run times in the Grand Canyon in my early 20s on popular trails that currently have not been run faster by today’s best athletes.
What was the latest adventure you just completed in June?
Early spring for me was set aside to teach wilderness classes and retreats. I am currently on a big sabbatical of exploring our local lands on foot starting from the doorstep of my yurt. The past two weeks I’ve run and explored about 150 miles of wilderness traversing the Aquarius plateau, then descending into the canyons of the grand staircase Escalante monument. It’s been an amazing time to reconnect!
What is your current adventure or next adventure?
Currently I have my sights set on some longer trails. I may run the Colorado Trail next month. I also like the idea of doing fully “unsupported” attempts. Meaning all food and fuel is carried start to finish. 500 miles in this case. Spring Energy will be important to that journey.
Any other plans this year?
I’m working on some other primitive skills projects. Planning on spending a lot of time on the AZ trail this October helping Mike McKnight with his FKT and I’m really looking forward to some long races.
Rapid Fire Questions:
Current go-to shoe: I run often in sandals, but lately my go-to shoe has been Altra Mont Blanc. I’m on my second pair.
Favorite distance to run or hike: The 50 mile has been my favorite jam for a long time. I’ve covered this distance in a day probably close to 50 times.
Favorite place to explore: I love the west. Grand Canyon, the Sierras and Southern Utah. Also fond of the Juan’s.
Race or adventure you haven’t done that you really want to race: Western States and UTMB
Favorite non-running thing to do: Surfing or Climbing, or napping in the hammock.
Favorite Spring Flavors: Speednut and Wolfpack
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Matt! We look forward to following along on your adventures and keeping you fueled! You can follow Matt on instagram @mattgraham_earthskills
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