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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

First up, the Wind River Range, redoubt of old-school alpinism, a favorite escape since college, and a mere five-hour drive from the house. Not the Cirque of the Towers, where everybody goes, but an innocuous peak to the north, Mt. Osborne, where I knew of an unclimbed route on the south face–four years earlier, I’d failed on it due to a July snowstorm.

After burgers and shakes at the Sugar Shack in Pinedale–a time-honored tradition–Lander climber Kirk Billings, 33, and I checked in with photographer Fred Pflughoft at The Great Outdoor Shop and learned that a blowdown had made getting to the base of the south face via the standard trail practically impossible. Pflughoft suggested circling in from the north, which turned out to be a sweaty, noon-till-dusk, mosquito-swatting, 4,000-vertical-foot humpbuster. However, en route we spied a heretofore unknown wall on the east face … and the south face was instantly forsaken.

After camping at 13,000 feet, Kirk and I glissaded in the predawn pink down to the base of the mysterious 1,200-foot east face. With no guidebook and no topo, no bolts and no chalk marks, the magnificent wall presented us with joyful, unfiltered exploration.

We moved fast, keeping one eye over our shoulders at a spreading quilt of clouds. In alpinism, there are always doubts, mouthy little imps in the back of your mind–one of us could fall and break a leg, we might get rained off, we might be forced to bivy. Not this time. We summited after a dozen handsome pitches, straggled back to camp, and collapsed in exhaustion and exhilaration. Just a few hours from home, we had discovered and then climbed an unknown alpine wall, doing more technical pitches than you’d get on the trade route of an 8,000-meter peak.

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