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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

“It’s all about partnership,” said Bob. The success of which is not determined by an expedition’s duration or distance from home. Given companions of high character, short and intense trips can forge great friendships just as surely as the long and remote.

Granite and Osborne turned out to be mere training trips for the summer’s final micro-expedition. Two years ago, while hiking the length of the Big Horn Mountains in northeastern Wyoming with my daughters, I’d discovered a massive, unclimbed prow on the east face of Cloud Peak, 13,167 feet. I’d been fantasizing about it ever since. Ken Duncan, a Colorado hand surgeon and climbing legend (Duncan, 51, did his first 5.12 more than 30 years ago) picked me up in his Prius, and we made it to Buffalo, Wyoming, in five hours using only six gallons of gas.

Now, one reason for going on an expedition abroad is to experience another culture, but small-town Wyoming is another culture. In the local fly-fishing shop, everyone had all kinds of advice despite the fact that no one had ever been where we were going–just like in a Nepalese village. At a hole-in-the-wall diner, as in a Pakistani café, the kitchen was out of the first three things on the menu.

The first six miles followed a rocky horse trail regularly marked with steaming cairns; the last six, a treacherous talus traverse. We camped between Sapphire Lake and Diamond Lake, as wondrous as they sound, and got an alpine start.
The prow looked just like the Nose of El Cap, albeit considerably smaller. We swapped leads and cruised: 5.7, 5.11, 5.9, 5.11, 5.11. Halfway up, Duncan took a 30-foot fall on a pitch that I would barely be able to second with tension. We topped out at dusk too exhausted to risk rapping in the dark. We curled up on our ropes and began shivering immediately. The night lasted a month. Once, I arose, hoping that by moving around I could warm myself, but the opposite occurred: My extremities were so cold, any movement pumped cool blood to my core. (If you ever hear someone speak with romance of bivying, you can be sure he hasn’t done it.)

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