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Backpacker Magazine – March 2009

Stateside Adventures: Closer Than You Think

A veteran traveler discovers a world of adventure in his backyard.

by: Mark Jenkins

Illustration by Dushan Milic
Illustration by Dushan Milic

The Anti-Expedition Guide
  • Bring a map, not a guidebook.
  • Don't hire a guide; go with a friend.
  • Plan your trip no sooner than three days before departure.
  • Pack light. Bring only: cupboard food, gear you pack in 10 minutes, gas money.
  • Drive at dawn, hike until dusk.
  • Field time must be longer than windshield time.
  • Do something that hasn't been done.
  • Expect to suffer.
  • Bring whiskey.

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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Reader Rating: -


Jun 06, 2012

I'm confused, I enjoyed the article (what I understood of it) but itsn't this a backpacking magazine?

Alex H.
Apr 20, 2009

This is supposed to be a story about accessible adventure, and yet it goes on to describe three utterly impossible trips for all but the most skilled and experienced rock climbers. I might get it if this were a climbing magazine, but it's not. I am getting sick of reading about these trips that require super human strength, bottomless pockets, or both. Sadly, despite advertising to the contrary, this article misses the mark.

Apr 17, 2009

I always enjoy Mark Jenkin's stories--he doesn't mind telling you both the good and the bad . . . You wish you were good (and interesting) enough to accompany him!

Apr 16, 2009

Great to read Jenkins in Backpacker again. Pampered? I don't think so . . .

the real world
Apr 16, 2009

nice buzz words you pampered, pompous jackass. We're so proud of you for not leaving the country to get an adrenaline rush...did wyoming still feel like wyoming? ass


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