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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.

"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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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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