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Stateside Adventures: Closer Than You Think

A veteran traveler discovers a world of adventure in his backyard.
closer than you think illoIllustration by Dushan Milic

I took out a bank loan for my first expedition to the Himalayas.

Almost $8,000. I was a graduate-school rube, had no clue how I’d pay it back, just had to go. Our team rode night trains across China, flew to Tibet, stayed in army barracks in Lhasa. This was 1984, there were no hotels, and Tibet still felt Tibetan. We spent six glorious weeks climbing, sent letters out by yak train, and made the second American ascent of Shishipangma, 8,013 meters. Everyone summited, no frostbite, no injuries; we all came home friends. I worked as a steeplejack to pay off the debt.

Every year since then, I’ve done an expedition abroad: Bolivia, Bhutan, Pakistan, Peru, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Siberia, Suriname. Like a moth to light, I am constitutionally drawn to the difficult, dangerous, and remote. Can’t help myself. Give me a solid partner and a blank on the map, a culture where I can’t speak the language and food I can’t identify, and I’m gone.
So I’m the last guy on the planet who should question far-flung adventures. Yet I do. Call me a hypocrite, but last summer I decided that going overseas, just for fun, was an unacceptable indulgence. Carbon guilt and the high price of air travel had finally forced me, like so many other Americans, to reclaim a 1970s mantra: Less is more. I decided to go back to the kind of trip I grew up doing: the micro-expedition.

This downsized journey is to adventuring what the indie film is to Hollywood: It has all the elements of a big-budget expedition–travel, risk, suffering, and a chance at triumph–but in smaller proportions. Travel is by car rather than plane, radically reducing the trip’s carbon footprint; time away is measured in days instead of weeks. The micro-expedition applies to all types of adventure–mountaineering, backpacking, kayaking. My outdoor drug of choice is alpine climbing, so my goal last summer was to make three significant first ascents close to my Wyoming home.

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