GET OUT: Wind Whetting Appetite

By on June 14, 2016

The recipe for conquering Wyoming’s highest peak.

Left: The author contemplates dessert while on the Sourdough Glacier.  Middle: Lewis Smirl gets his hands dirty in preparation for his mountain meal. Right: The boys soak it all in on the summit ridge. (Photo: Adam Connor)

Left: The author contemplates dessert while on the Sourdough Glacier.  Middle: Lewis Smirl gets his hands dirty in preparation for his mountain meal. Right: The boys soak it all in on the summit ridge. (Photo: Adam Connor)

Adventure ingredients

50 miles of snow and summits

A dash of rain and a touch of wet slab avalanches

Five healthy portions of waist deep river crossings

Heap loads of camaraderie

55 pounds of supplies

Four glacial tanning sessions

Finish with a significant serving of dopamine to make it all worth it

Cooking Instructions

Step one: Establish an overambitious trip plan to act as a foundation for future suffering.

When my friends Lewis Smirl and Adam Connor first told me about a new casserole of summits and vistas that “I had to try” along the Wind River Range, they forgot to mention the grueling hours of baking sun, blisters, and mental fortitude it would take to consume such an exquisite meal.

Once at the Green River Trailhead in Pinedale, however, the truth came out and the full four-course menu was revealed. The appetizer on the first day consisted of hiking three miles up Osbourne Mountain and then skinning another 12 miles on the continental divide. Followed by a mouthful of wrong turns and spiky summits on day two. The main course of summiting Gannett Peak, the highest point in Wyoming at 13,809 feet, awaited us on day three. To cap it all off, dessert on day four would include slippery boulder fields, glacial river crossings, and a 10-mile hike to add a pinch of misery.

Step two: Stir in a plethora of uncertainty.

The recipe really started to take shape when we hit snow line at 10,000 feet, lost our bearings, and almost immediately descended off route. Two GPS systems, three brains, and a map and compass obviously weren’t enough to keep our kitchen in proper order. However, a few puzzled looks and some miscellaneous drainages later we found the right temperature for mashed potato ski turns and belly laughs.

Little did we know the hard work was yet to come, as our route seemed to indicate that 15 miles could be done with the greatest of ease. Zooming out to reality, however, had us stirring together the ups and downs of the continental divide in 60-degree heat. This mental crux brought about a simmering point of internal tension that added the special flavoring necessary for a full-fledged soup du jour adventure.

Turns out our eyes were bigger than our thighs, but we still managed to make it to Baker Lake, our end goal for the day. Setting up camp between a boulder and a basin we soaked in the sunset before passing out from exhaustion.

Step three: Bring physical fitness to a hard boil and keep mental fatigue at a low baking temperature.

As any chef knows, keeping a close eye on your various tasks is the key to a perfect meal; why should a wilderness expedition be any different? Arriving at the Dinwoody Glacier, we caught our first glimpse of Gannett Peak and it looked downright delicious in the afternoon light. After a discussion with my partners and cross referencing ingredients and conditions with other Jackson locals, who just happened to be 30 miles into Nowhere-ville with us, we decided to set up camp and ascend the beast in the morning mist.

While getting to the top of Gannett Peak isn’t the most technical of backcountry meals it does take a healthy dose of endurance to make the full round trip. In total, 50 miles of bushwhacking, boulder hopping, and steamy skinning are required. Sure, there are other approaches from the eastern slopes that are shorter in distance, but why settle for a leg of a chicken when it’s possible to have the full bird?

Step four: Don’t let your guard down in the final stretch.

Summiting Gannett and making the halfway point of our adventure unscathed, we felt confident. But sometimes the downhill slide is when you take your eyes off the prize and end up spilling the milk.

Descending Tourist Creek drainage was what I had been looking forward to the whole trip: No more snow, no more ski boots, and the car within a reasonable distance. However, The Wind River Range had other plans for our gluttonous feast. Ten minutes after strapping our skis onto our packs the rain gods poured their bounty upon us. The powers above then served up some twisted ankles, bruised shins, and humble egos. As we gingerly made our way down a steep slippery boulder field, we were greeted by a swollen spring river in full bloom at the valley floor.

Crossing three waist deep tributaries of the Green River, we attempted to reach the pleasure nirvana of the Highline trail. Two torrents of frothy whitewater still stood in our path, however, and brought the festivities to a dramatic halt. We then faced the dilemma of pushing forward into the unknown current in our waterlogged states or licking our wounds and setting up the tent. Realizing we had gotten too close to the flames, we wisely called it quits and proceeded to dry out our skivvies next to the campfire.

Awaking refreshed the next morning to an azure sky and lower water levels, we strapped on our packs, forded the boiling river and proceeded down the 10 miles of trampled trails towards home.

Step Five: Bask in the glory and tell all your friends how delicious it is. PJH

About Ryan Burke

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