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Monday, November 22, 2021

Weekly Post, High and Wild: Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers (#101+)

High and Wild: Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers
by Robert Glenn Ketchum



After receiving my MFA from CalArts, I was invited by Bill Lund, Sharon Disney’s husband, to come stay at the families' Diamond-D Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming. Bill thought I might like to photograph in the nearby Wind River Mountains, which I did, backpacking through them extensively over the next three summers. Welcome to a world of big granite walls and huge alpine lakes!
~Robert Glenn Ketchum



Monday, November 22, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #223 
Wind Rivers, #223:  
Our trip into the Wind River Range when Travis was 8yrs.-old must have left an impression, because when my daughter, Talja, turned 8yrs.-old, Travis came to me and said he thought we should take her on a similar trip. At this point, I am just a few months shy of 60, and I am wondering if this is a good idea, but he did have my interest. I was also divorcing their mother, and I thought that perhaps a GREAT road trip would be a good way to spend time with them, so I set about some planning. We now owned a black lab, named LiLi, but that should not be a problem, because for 3yrs. in the early 70’s, I backpacked all through the range with my first black lab, Belle Star. It also happened that a couple we made friends with through school, had a son Travis’ age, and a daughter that was Talja’s, and, they too, were getting divorced, so I asked the wife if she wanted to meet us in Pinedale, and join in a gang-camp. She was quite fit, and thinking about moving to Aspen, so she liked the idea and said yes. I took my tribe to Sun Valley first to get in some local day-hiking with my old friend, Gordon Williams, whom I wanted my kids to meet, then we continued on to Pinedale, where we spent a couple of days adjusting to the altitude, while staying at the Log Cabin Motel, the spectacular grouping of cabins that I staged my backpacks from in the 70’s. Here is my entourage in 2007, on the porch of our cabin.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Monday, November 15, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #222 
Wind Rivers, #222:  
By the time our 10-day journey came to a close, and we started our walk out, Llama master, Travis, was in complete control. Normally each of us would lead one Llama, but he wanted to be the whole show, and I was happy to let him do it. We passed many backpackers, and horse-packers, who were going into the range, as we were heading out, and everyone had some comments about what a cool young man he seemed to be, and how polite on the trail, he and HIS Llamas were. This is the final picture of our trip as we are quite close to the Elkhart Park trailhead entrance/exit, and behind them in the low gap of trees, lies the heart of the Wind River Range. Once we got out, the Llamas were picked up, and we drove from Pinedale to Jackson Hole, where Travis was astounded by the “antler arches” that marked the entrance to the town square park, and just before lunch, he witnessed a “shoot-out” on main street. A good time was had by all.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Monday, November 8, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #221 
Wind Rivers, #221:  
Of the many things my 8yr.-old son accomplished in our 10-day Wind River Range adventure, summiting an 11,000ft.+ peak, catching his first trout, and building a lot of self-confidence, I believe the most important to him was becoming Llama master. Pack Llamas are VERY friendly. They have been bred to serve, and carry. They loved attention from us, and they always wanted to be with us. They did NOT like being left in camp when we went day-tripping, and they were always excited to see us return. Travis grew up with our Rottweiler, Gretchen, whom he loved, and when she passed away, I think he missed communicating with animals, so this camping trip was his chance. On the first day we were on our own, and our friends had left us, Travis wanted to feed and care for the Llamas, and I was glad to have him enthusiastic about something, rather than be intimidated by the vast wilderness around us. Here he is serving up some dinner by hand, because he liked feeling their soft, fuzzy noses.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Monday, November 1, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #220 
Wind Rivers, #220:  
Seneca Lake is huge, nearly 2-miles long, and the northern end of it is paralleled by the well traveled trail to Island Lake, so a lot of backpackers fish that part of the Seneca shoreline. However, if you look at the link I have provided, you will see the smaller lake at which we have established our new camp, in the middle at the bottom. It is my plan to traverse the edge of the dome in the center of this image, and reach the southern end of Seneca (upper, left), which is hardly ever visited. So, the next morning, Travis, and I, have breakfast, pack a lunch, hobble the llamas, and explore what turns out to be an effortless traverse that brings us directly to the southern edge of Seneca. It is a warm, beautiful day, and we catch trout every time we throw out a line. Catching what we need for a trout pig-out that night, we munch our lunch, scramble around a bit on the nearby domes, and then head back along the traverse ledge to our camp. Llamas don’t like to be left alone, so they are very excited to see us return, and while Travis feeds them, I cook up some hefty trout for a yummy dinner.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, October 25, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #219 
Wind Rivers, #219:  
If you are going to go out for an all-day hike in the Wind River mountains, you have got to start the day with a hearty breakfast. While Travis is finishing off his oatmeal laden with raisins, I am preparing scrambled eggs, and spicy sausage, thanks to the freeze-dried wonders of Mountain House meals. After breakfast, we are going to break this camp down, and drop about 750ft. from Tommy to a small group of lakes below us. These little lakes are way off the main trails, and as a consequence, they have never been stocked so they don’t offer up any successful fishing, but from the lower lake group, we will have access to Seneca, a huge trout-filled lake that rests in a nearby granite pocket.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, October 18, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #218 
Wind Rivers, #218:  
My 3yrs. of long summers backpacking in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, (detailed by this blog) left me with a profound love of wilderness, mountains, and high altitude adventuring. My ensuing career took me to a LOT of adventurous places, but none of them stuck in my mind like the Wind Rivers, and yet, I was so busy, I never got back to hike in the range again. Life seemed to fly by, filled with many successful projects, exhibitions, and books. Then I married for a second time, and did something I never thought I would do,..have children. When I was 48yrs. old, Travis Gaard Ketchum was born. In his first 8yrs., my wife and I took him, and our daughter, born 4yrs. later, camping many times, but always to places that were campgrounds with facilities. When Travis turned 8yrs. old, and I, 56, I decided he should have a high altitude, wilderness experience, and I should see the Wind Rivers one more time before I got too old. My wife trusted my judgement, I hooked up with another dad who had a son of the same age, and instead of backpacking, we rented llamas to carry the weight. We four, and our four llamas, drove to the 9,000ft.+ trailhead at Elkhart Park, and began our walk in. The other dad and son could only stay 4 days, so we “adjusted" to the altitude, and never went above 9,500ft. When my friend and his son left, Travis was apprehensive, and wanted to go as well, but I told him we had come a long way, and we were fully prepare for ten-days, so I thought we ought to stay. That night, while sitting on a rock watching a GREAT sunset, a “magical” elk came into our meadow quite near us, and, then and there, Travis made up his mind to go for it. The next day we took our two llamas to a small, high lake called, Tommy, at 10,500ft. We had a great campsite immediately adjacent an 11,600ft summit, which we climbed the next day. It took me two years to summit in the Winds. My 8yr.-old son did so on his fifth day. After the climb, standing in our camp, I took this picture of Travis, with the summit behind him, so he might always remember his youthful accomplishment.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Monday, October 11, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #217 
Wind Rivers, #217:  
Another dangerous aspect of falling was not just that the process of getting back up was incredibly tiring, but as we grew more tired, we made more mistakes. Falling also had another dangerous feature. If the fall was bad enough (such as the one shown here), you could easily bury a ski tip, and get torqued around injuring your knees, or possibly breaking a leg. All of us took some brutal falls, many of them, but the gods were kind, and late in the evening we all reached the flatlands tired, but uninjured. Courtney had a radio, and signaled the ranchers we were out, so they would come and pick us up, which presented the final challenge. Some of the snowmobiles were used to tow the numerous sleds. The others towed us, once again like water-skiers. Going in, this stunt was terrifying, but we were morning strong, and not worn out. Now we were exhausted, AND carrying packs, so although nobody fell, I reflect on this as the most dangerous thing I have ever done on skis. I was SO glad to reach the ranch, dump my gear, and head for my hotel room. What a day!

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, October 4, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #216 
Wind Rivers, #216:  
Towing a sled was a nightmare, but sometime, if the downhill line was treeless, you could lower the sled in front of yourself, until it came to rest below you, and then you could ski down without it chasing behind you. Nonetheless, wearing a full pack made us top-heavy, and it was extremely difficult to stay centered over your skis. Most of us fell repeatedly, and if you fell forward, you were buried facedown by the weight of your pack. To facilitate getting up, you would have to take your pack off, tamp out a place to put your skis back on, and then re-shoulder your pack. This could happen repeatedly every few feet, meanwhile you are sucking snow, sweating, and getting colder. It makes for a very long day.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, September 27, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #215 
Wind Rivers, #215:  
We arose early this morning, as we needed to ski many miles to reach the flats where our rancher friends would meet us with snowmobiles. The entire day would be downhill, and WAY more dangerous than skiing off of 11,500ft+ Mount Baldy. There were many factors that played into the danger of our retreat. For one, we had been out for 10-days, and we were tired, having expended a lot of energy to ski and stay warm. Secondarily, we were going to spend the day skiing downhill with full packs, which is an exhausting struggle to stay over your skis, and not go down. Lastly, we were all dragging sleds, also heavily laden with gear. This image gives you a good idea of the danger in that. Gravity pulls the sleds downslope, even if you are traversing to control your descent. It is not just a matter of skiing around, and through, the trees, you must also navigate so the sled does not get pulled into a wind hole around a tree base.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, September 20, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #214 
Wind Rivers, #214:  
We arrived back at our camp at about 4p.m., immediately beginning meal prep, and the reorganization of our now consolidated gear. Tomorrow we will have a long, difficult, and dangerous ski out, and will need to get started early, so all packing has to be done before we retire tonight. Except for a few emergency snacks, breakfast the coming morning, and lunch for the next day skiing, we tried to eat all the other food that was left, as no one wanted to carry that weight back out. Dinner lasted quite awhile, and was a complete pig-out.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, September 13, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #213 
Wind Rivers, #213:  
Around noon, it was finally time to strap on our packs, and head back to the tent camp that we established as the first site of this expedition. In this shot you get a good sense of the load each of us carried. The food weight was now gone, but there was still a lot of fluffy gear to be shouldered. In this background, you can also see 11,500+ft Mount Baldy, that we summited and skied down from yesterday. Our downhill run took us along the ridge that slopes to the right, and although we did do it, now it seems crazy that we would even try. Ahhh! The collective conscious of a determined group!

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Monday, September 6, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #212 
Wind Rivers, #212:  
As the morning wears on, some high clouds begin to drift in, but it does not look like rain, or snow. Nonetheless, our leisurely crew begins to collect itself for the ski back to our tent camp, several miles away. This is a great perspective of the entrance to our massive snowcave, which I am actually sorry to be leaving. It is much warmer and more comfortable than the tents.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Monday, August 30, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #211 
Wind Rivers, #211:  
Eventually, we finish our downhill journey off of Mount Baldy, and return to our campsite / snowcave. After a big meal, and the consumption of more alcohol, everyone tucks in for the night. When we arise in the morning, we are greeted by a clear, and relatively warm day. Our mission for the next 24hrs. is to leave this camp, and return to our tent camp, which is not a very long ski away, so no one is in a hurry to begin the journey, and we all kick back in the sunshine, using it to dry out our gear. In this shot you can see many innovative “structures” created by skis and poles.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Monday, August 23, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #210 
Wind Rivers, #210:  
Well, we are all having fun MOST of the time. That flat light can be tricky, as I pointed out in the last post, and here, one of our merry band has just faceplanted. A faceplant is not only sobering because you suddenly have snow in your sleeves, and down your neck, but because we are all wearing packs, you can be pinned in difficult positions. This guest is struggling to get up, because his ski has buried its tail, and he can’t pull it out. I actually went to his aid, and freed the tail, so he could roll over, and get to his feet.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, August 16, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #209 
Wind Rivers, #209:  
Oly Skinner (left) is still stylin’ his parallel turns, as is Monte (right), while the rest of us are just trying to get by. The slope has grown less steep, and the snow conditions are good, but the light flattens out as the passing clouds blow through, so it is easy enough to misjudge the terrain and catch a tip, or an edge. Even so, we are all having fun.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, August 9, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #208 
Wind Rivers, #208:  
Moving farther down the slopes of Baldy, the terrain begins to be less steep, so, likely fueled by the celebratory birthday beers at the summit, the Skinner brothers do a little showing off. Oly, in particular, has been making me a bit crazy, because he has been skiing flawlessly, so I have some revenge when he is the first to take this rock ledge jump, and does a full-on faceplant - note the snow dusting on his clothing. Courtney follows suite, and as you can see is touching down here, after a few seconds of being airborne. He, too, faceplants. Hahaha! I guess you can only be so perfect. In the end, the mountain gods punish us all a little bit, but no one gets hurt, and a good time is had by all.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, August 2, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #207 
Wind Rivers, #207:  
The Skinner brothers are starting to piss me off because they make the downhill skiing look so effortless. Not one of them has yet taken a fall, all three of them are linking good parallel turns, and as you can see here, Oly is in perfect parallel form on a long traverse. The weather is scuttling by, providing some dramatic lighting, but except for an occasional flurry, it does nothing to interrupt our downhill adventure. We are now about halfway home, so ski on!

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, July 26, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #206 
Wind Rivers, #206:  
Oly Skinner, and I, watch as two very different ski styles are on display before us. Farthest down the slope, Monte Skinner is rocking some successive parallel turns with grace. However, the person behind him is snowplowing, and side-stepping around their turns, which is a great way to assure an eventual faceplant, and most of us do one, or two, in our decent.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, July 19, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #205 
Wind Rivers, #205:  
All three Skinner brothers, Courtney, Oly, and Monte, teach skiing at the local downhill ski area in Pinedale, and they are the best skiers amongst us. Even though we are working with boots less stiff than traditional downhill ski boots, we still can maintain some decent edge control, and here, Oly is sporting pretty good parallel form, linking a smooth series of turns. I am the most cautious of the group because I have two cameras hanging around me, and if I go down hard, I could break a rib. I need to make these pictures, however, if I expect to get this story into POWDER magazine (which I do).

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, July 12, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #204 
Wind Rivers, #204:  
With the last beers in hand, and all of the gear repacked, we are about to step into our skis once again, so Oly climbs the summit cairn for a parting shot. We are also showing off our various ski and binding set-ups. You will note that although we have been skiing cross-country style to get here, none of us has cross-country skis. All of our equipment is downhill, with a variety of unique bindings that allow us to ski cross-country with our heels “free” (not locked in place), but then they can convert, locking the heel down so you can ski downhill style as well, which we are about to do. A couple of last gulps, and we are off! (We are DEFINITELY off!)

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, July 5, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #203 
Wind Rivers, #203:  
Pictures have been taken, snacks have been consumed, but there are still several unfinished beers, so we continue to imbibe while slowly packing our gear, and preparing for the ski down. The passing weather opens and closes the view, and it also flattens the light, which will make skiing tricky, but for the time being, we are just enjoying the fact that we summited. Courtney Skinner is to the left in blue, and Oly is sitting in front of the summit cairn, a structure of rocks constructed to mark the true summit. This cairn also holds a summit “diary” located beneath a couple of the big stones on top, and people reaching the summit traditionally sign-in, date their visit, and say something. We are the only ones to sign-in during the winter.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, June 28, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #202 
Wind Rivers, #202:  
Many different snacks, and several beers later, we are about to end our 50th birthday party for Monte, and step back into our skis for the descent, so I take one last look over the edge of the north face of Mount Baldy and record some of the summits in the Cook Lakes Basin, faintly emerging from the clouds. Most of these peaks are in the 11,000ft-12,000ft range, and during summer backpacks in this basin, I have climbed around on many of them. Seeing them like this in the winter is a VERY different take. They are much steeper than Mount Baldy which we have ascended, and to my view, they look pretty intimidating.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, June 21, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #201 
Wind Rivers, #201:  
At the summit of Mount Baldy (11,500ft+), the 50th birthday party for Monte is underway, and the beer has been broken out, so I join the festivities, and we take a lot of pictures of each other, while we snack and guzzle. Every so often, however, I venture over the the edge of the north face, and peer into the basin below us, where the weather show continues. Working with my telephoto again, this image gives me a sense of scale because of the spare trees. The expanse of the basin is huge, and this is about 1/20th of it!

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, June 14, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #200 
Wind Rivers, #200:  
I was building a portfolio of work that would eventually be published as “WINTERS: 1970-1980,” and so I switched cameras to shoot in B&W. This moment of weather passing over us on the summit of Mount Baldy (11,500ft+) gave me 3 images that made it into the portfolio. This first one is a telephoto of the event shown in the last post. Cloud shadows, and Fool’s Holes are racing across the distant basin, as the weather blows through at a rapid pace. Just FYI, "Fool’s Holes" is an adventurer’s terminology for the bright spots of sunlight. A “fool” would see them and say, “Oh, the weather is breaking off.” NOT likely!

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, June 7, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #199 
Wind Rivers, #199:  
There are still two skiers behind me when I reach the summit. The others that arrived before me have shed their packs, put on their parkas, and they are breaking out the food and beer. Just as I arrive, a low level snow squall engulfs the summit, and we all disappear into a momentary fog of flying flakes. From our current vantage point, looking off the opposite side of Baldy from that which we ascended, it drops steeply into the Cook Lakes basin, where I have often camped in the summer. As the cloud surrounding us passes by and lifts slightly, I get my first view (above) of the basin below, bespeckled by Fool’s Holes and cloudshadows that are racing across it. The scale of it all is breathtaking.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021,
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Monday, May 31, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #198 
Wind Rivers, #198:  
Oly Skinner is making his last push here, and I will be about 10mins. behind him. There is more wind at this altitude, and we are all occasionally pelted by flurries of snow, but because we are working to climb, no one is cold, and most of us are skiing in sweaters or thermals. I will ski to the left, then kick-turn, and follow Oly’s ascending track. By the time I do that, Oly will have joined Courtney and two others on the exposed rock summit, where we will eat, drink, and be merry for awhile, before skiing back down.

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Monday, May 24, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #197 
Wind Rivers, #197:  
The last traverse is finally upon us, and the summit quite near. It is a good thing, too, because the weather has become sketchy. Not only are there clouds blowing through above us, periodically they blow right through us. Visibility is marginal momentarily, and we are pelted by blobs of wet snow. It is no big deal, as long as it does not get worse. Courtney Skinner, who is in the lead here, says the exposed rocks on the highest point to the left is the summit, and they expect we will now all be there in just some minutes.

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Monday, May 17, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #196 
Wind Rivers, #196:  
This is a good example of how we spaced ourselves to minimize any risk of an avalanche. There are three of our party in this shot, and the lead skier, and I, are very close to the summit now. It is a good thing too, because as you can see, the weather seems to be changing, and we are hit with occasional flurries of snow. No one has any plans to retreat, though, as we have come this far, we ARE going to celebrate Monty’s 50th birthday on top of 11,500ft.+, Mount Baldy. I can taste those beers now, they are just a sip away! The ski down should be amusing.

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Monday, May 10, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #195 
Wind Rivers, #195:  
As the terrain grows ever steeper, I am sure we all wish there was a ski lift, but since there is not, we just keep angling upward with our lines of traverse. We all stop now and then for water and snacking, but our pace is pretty steady. There is definitely weather blowing over us, so we are collectively determined to get this climbing done sooner rather than later. Since we have come this far, no one wants to be turned back now. Besides we carried all those beers to celebrate Monty’s birthday, and we fully intended to drink them on the summit cairn. Time to bear down and push up, it is not that much farther and then party can get started.

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Monday, May 3, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #194 
Wind Rivers, #194:  
And so it begins! Slowly, ever upward using big, long traverses to the point where something blocks you, then you kick-turn and crisscross back. It is a meditative, methodical process, and everyone is spaced apart so that if someone sets off a slide, it won’t take out the person below them. The snow is VERY firm from windpacking, however, so I doubt we are going to see anything slide today. Notice in this shot how completely on the surface crust his ski is, there is no sinking in whatsoever. There is no powder to be found, so the ski down is going to be like skiing on spring snow. The wind has picked up a bit, and some clouds are blowing in, but it does not feel like storm conditions, so we are pretty sure we will summit, perhaps in the next two hours.

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Monday, April 26, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #193 
Wind Rivers, #193:  
As we glide past the last small dale of alpine trees, we come to the base of the actual summit. It has not been hard working our way through the foothills, but what comes next is an entirely different animal. The new terrain is exclusively rock and snow, and it is steep. Some clouds have drifted in as well, and the light has become very flat. At this point, no one doubts that we will summit, but the day is changing, and we are now moving into early afternoon. It is planned that we will have lunch on top, so before we hit that upslope in front of us, everybody waters up, and I break out a couple of Heath bars to munch on. The trick now is to draw a traverse line as steep as possible without any slippage, and keep switchbacking across this face until we hit the exposed rock at the top. Assuming we make that, I begin considering the ski back down, which could be very amusing,..or not! This will certainly be an adventure.

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Monday, April 19, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #192 
Wind Rivers, #192:  
Rather than trees with meadows of snow spaced between them, we now stand at the very foot of Mount Baldy, and are confronted by small patches of alpine trees, and vast pitches of wide-open, snow-covered slopes. The snow beneath us has been very firm, and there is no evidence of any avalanching in front of us, so we are now going to begin the upslope traversing that hopefully will take us all the way to the summit without any accidents. The Skinners have a good deal of experience in doing this in the Wind Rivers, so the rest of our group seems very comfortable with their decisions, and no one appears nervous or frightened. From this vantage, however, it is clear how steep our ascent is going to be, so my only concern is the amount of work in front of us. Excelsior!

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Monday, April 12, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #191 
Wind Rivers, #191:  
After a snack break at the top of the first foothill, we track the last section of substantial trees, as Mount Baldy summit continues to glow above us in the sunlight. Once through this section, patches of trees will become smaller, and farther between as we begin to rise. Snow conditions are perfect, and the temperature is warm enough that everyone is skiing in sweaters or wool shirts, and no one has put on a shell or a parka. Between the food, and the exhilaration of the approach, we are jacked, and striding at a good pace, so we should hit the lower slopes of the summit in about 1/2hr. Then the work will begin.

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Monday, April 5, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #190 
Wind Rivers, #190:  
The slowly ascending saddle as we pick our way through the trees, finally opens up considerably, and offers all of us our first direct view of the summit of Mount Baldy. It is going to be all up from here, but the snow conditions are so excellent, it has taken us little effort to come this far, and no one seems tired. In fact, we are pretty much jacked up on adrenaline as this climb is about to start. Baldy is still glowing in sunlight, beckoning us on, and our skins are biting into the packed snow track so no one is slipping. It is full steam ahead. At the top of the first rise in front of us, we will stop for water and snacks, and after that respite, point our tips at the 11,500+ft summit and begin our traversing upward. Even with skins, we will not have enough traction to just go straight up, so the line of attack will be a series of linked traverses, each rising as steeply as what traction we have will allow.
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Monday, March 29, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #189 
Wind Rivers, #189:  
With Courtney Skinner breaking trail, and Mount Baldy gleaming in sunlight before us, we head toward a low saddle in the trees, to the right of the granite dome in this shot. As you can see from the ski tracks, although there is several feet of snow beneath us, we are not pushing through deep powder because the surface has been wind-packed, which makes for great skiing conditions, so we are gliding along in timely fashion, and not wearing ourselves out before we even start the climb. The sky has intermittent clouds, but it appears that a good day is to be had by all. We are off to see the Wizard!
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Monday, March 22, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #188 
Wind Rivers, #188:  
Monty Skinner's 50th birthday has arrived, and although there is a broken cloud cover, it appears that it will not prevent us from our attempt to ascend Mount Baldy, so we fix an early breakfast and begin to prepare our gear. Our daypacks host extra clothing, food, avalanche protection devices, shovels, and most importantly, we each carry several cans of celebratory beer with which we plan to toast Monty, if we summit. All of our other equipment will stay in the snowcave. There is a certain restless eagerness in all of us, with a lot of ski, binding, and boot adjusting going on, as we all prepare for the task ahead. Shortly we will be on our way.

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Monday, March 15, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #187 
Wind Rivers, #187:  
We all sleep well in the warmth of the huge snowcave, and when we emerge in the morning, it is apparent that it had been a very cold night. Everything metal is encrusted with rime-ice, and it is 14˙ colder outside the cave than within it. The sky is not clear, but slightly hazy, although there does not seem to be any serious weather approaching, so camp immediately begins to buzz with the prepping of breakfast, lunches for all, and each of our daypacks. We all carry ample food, and water, as well as some birthday beers, so if we summit, we can properly celebrate Monty’s 50th. We have extra clothing as well, plus avalanche lines, pieps, and snow shovels. The daypacks are not unusually heavy, but they are definitely stuffed with fleece layers and parkas. While skiing today, most of us will wear longjohns, vests and shells. The climb will keep us comfortably warm, and we all want to avoid sweating into our base layers, which would then chill us rapidly, anytime we stop. In this image, the peak in the distance is Mount Baldy, and we hope to assemble on that point about the middle of the day for a birthday “party.” (The red skis in the middle are my downhill, The Skis, with Rohrer bindings, state of the art for back in the day. Today the top-of-the-line Rohrer binding is $521. WHAT!)

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Monday, March 8, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #186 
Wind Rivers, #186:  
The huge snowcave The Mole has dug has grottos to store our packs and small gear, and benches above the floor on which we can sleep. There are some lanterns for light, and in some places, spoons have been stuck into the walls to support single candles. It is relatively bright, and warm, so much so that most of us are in shirtsleeves with a vest, and we have taken off our heavier fleece, and parkas. There is some modest consumption of alcohol, and a lot of discussion about the next day, as we are all anticipating that decent weather will allow us an attempt on the 11,500ft+ summit of Mount Baldy. If it is clear in the morning, it is a go for sure, and the lower slopes of the mountain are less than one-mile from our encampment. Sweet Dreams!

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Monday, March 1, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #185 
Wind Rivers, #185:  
Having chosen a location for our Camp #2, it is now time to have our crew member nicknamed, The Mole, go to work on building our snowcave. He, and one other in our group, have carried wide-blade, non-collapsing shovels, strapped to their backpacks, exclusively for this purpose. Because the snow deposit we have chosen has been created by small avalanches, and snow sluffing off of steep granite domes, this snow is really compressed, so the cave will be very stable, and easy to carve out. The wide blade shovels are used to punch a square into the snow wall, and on the last punch, a mere flick of the shovel pops out a near-perfect brick of snow. While The Mole keeps doing this quickly, another in our merry band loads the snow bricks onto a sled, which Ole Skinner is managing, and he drags it out, dumping those bricks nearby, and returning to the cave entrance as quickly as possible. It is getting to be late in the afternoon, and this will be a big cave, so they want to get it finished before it gets dark. Outside the cave, others in our group work on carving out a kitchen with benches, and the remainder of us have teamed up with Monty and Courtney to do dinner prep. The cloudy weather has cleared completely, and we all know that means it is going to be a cold, clear night. It will be great to be inside the much warmer cave while we sleep.

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Monday, February 22, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #184 
Wind Rivers, #184:  
The blustery winds have actually been blowing the dark clouds away, and as we stand pondering our view of Mount Baldy, the sky clears, and the sun comes out, illuminating us, and giving us a glowing view of the summit we hope to ascend tomorrow. First things first, however. We have come to Camp #2 without our tents, in anticipation of making snow caves,..actually ONE huge snow cave, as Courtney thinks there is enough snow, and we will all be warmer, sleeping together. For such a large cave, we must find a substantial deposit of snow, more than just what has fallen on the ground. The location of choice is the small chute between the two exposed rock faces to the left side of this image. Deep snow has built up behind the screen of trees, because of what has sluffed-off the rock walls, and been transported downhill by small avalanches in the chute. Now the work begins! Among our crew is an assistant of Courtney’s, a big college kid, occasionally referred to as, The Mole. This is his moment. The big shovels come out, and the gear is taken out of the largest sled. Courtney, and The Mole, do some snow depth probing, determine the best location, and the digging begins. At the start, there is only so much room in which to work, so the rest of us just stand, snack, and stare, at the spectacle of the snow cave being created.

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Monday, February 15, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #183 
Wind Rivers, #183:  
The weather appears most ominous about 2pm. because it has not only grown darker, and now a wind has arrived. However, fearless leader, Courtney Skinner, says that we are nearly at our destination, and he expects we will arrive (wherever “there” is) by 3pm, so on we go. As we cross what he believes is the last lake, we are buffeted by some substantial gusts that are blowing ground snow around, but not bringing any snow from the sky. At the end of this last lake, there is a modest rise, and then we confront a small open space with few trees, surrounded by snow-covered granite domes. As we ski towards the middle of the open space, Mount Baldy comes into view, and it is not all that far away. We have arrived at Camp #2, now we just have to create it.

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Monday, February 8, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #182 
Wind Rivers, #182:  
As we approach our lunch break moving from Camp #1 to Camp #2, the sunny morning gives way to ever-darkening clouds, and it looks like it might snow. The temperature has dropped also, so when we do stop for lunch, everybody’s layers come out. The food break refuels us, and jump-starts our body heat, so once we step back into our skis. Most feel rested, and immediately get warmer with our activity. There is almost no climbing involved in today’s ski. Our line of approach crosses several lake surfaces and then slips through narrows between the rolling hills, which are probably the frozen over surfaces of streams that connect the lakes together. The sky remains threatening, but there is no wind, nor is there any snow falling as of yet.
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Monday, February 1, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #181 
Wind Rivers, #181:  
Our entire morning, moving from Camp #1, to establish Camp #2, is blazingly sunny, with dark glasses and sunscreen being requirements of the day. During lunch, however, some clouds drift in, and a breeze picks up. It does not appear like an assault of weather, but it definitely grows colder. My fishnet shirt, becomes layered over for the rest of the afternoon, but the skiing is pretty effortless. We are not gaining much in elevation, we are just crossing some large frozen lake surfaces, as we move ever closer to Mount Baldy. When we get there, we will not have our tents, so we expect to dig snow caves, and thus we need to find a suitable location by mid-afternoon, in order to finish our cave digging before nightfall. According to Courtney, we are doing well on time, so I expect we should see our new campsite shortly.

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Monday, January 25, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #180 
Wind Rivers, #180:  
Thanks to one of the crew, this is yours truly. I hate sleds, so I have opted to shoulder my backpack in spite of the hefty load. The day is warm (26˙), and skiing with my pack load is going to make me hot. I do not want to sweat into a shell, so I have quite another approach that is not intended to be a macho posture. The base layer of my winter clothing is a fishnet shirt, over which I wear a turtle neck, and then a wool shirt. I have the turtleneck, a wool shirt, and my wind shell, handy, at the top of my pack, but I am going to begin this ski wearing nothing but my fishnet shirt. The rest of the crew think I am crazy, but I am actually quite comfortable, and once we get moving, I know I have made the right call. I am not overheating under my pack weight. Eventually, when we stop for lunch, I will don the additional layers.

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Monday, January 18, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #179 
Wind Rivers, #179:  
After a day of “play,” and another great campfire dinner, we all sleep soundly and awaken to a sunny, warm (26˙) morning. Today we leave Camp #1, and hope to establish Camp #2, near the base of Mount Baldy. A good bit of our food stash will remain at Camp #1, which we hang high in the trees. Always cautious, however, the Skinners know that things can go sideways in a hurry, and stay that way for a good while in the Wind Rivers, particularly in winter, so we are carrying all our clothing, and a sizable stash of food with us, which makes our packs very heavy because of the numerous canned goods. Although we do not have to make this trek dragging a sled, many would rather do that than shoulder their backpack, so they lash it to a sled and harness-up (the red leg and waist cords showing are the sled harnesses). There is A LOT of sunscreen, and zinc oxide, slathered on, as well, because with current conditions, we are going to have some serious sun exposure over the course of the day. Monty, and I, are absent from this picture, but this is the group shot of our crew, just before we start our journey. Motley, to say the least!

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Monday, January 11, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #178 
Wind Rivers, #178:  
The slope we have been skiing has excellent snow conditions, that get even better as the relatively warm day wears on. Inspired by the antics of the rock-jumpers, other guests decide they want their pictures taken as well. None of them care to plunge, but they all do climb higher on the hill so they can build some turn rhythm in their runs. Although everyone has fun, two do face-plant themselves, stuffing powder snow into their long-john layers, but everybody comes up laughing. This guest, however, has a GREAT run, and links dozens of well-carved parallels as he approaches my camera and I. With the shadows of the afternoon growing longer, we have spent a good deal of energy climbing up to ski down, so after another run or two, we set our heals free, put our layers back on, and head home to Camp #1 for another dinner feast. It has been a fun day, and tomorrow we will move on to Camp #2, but with lighter packs, no sleds to drag, and not much elevation to climb, just some big lake surfaces to cross.

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Monday, January 4, 2021

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #177 
Wind Rivers, #177:  
From Camp #1, we do not have to ski very far to find workable slopes to downhill, so an afternoon of fun unfolds. The touring has warmed us up, and taken away our stiffness, so everyone is feeling pretty good, and in the warmth of the direct sun, most of us shed some clothing layers. I ski a couple of runs with others, as we all build our confidence in using our skis in their downhill mode. Then, I pick a nice sunny spot, and breakout my cameras. Ole Skinner, and another of the guests are notably good skiers, and I want to get some “action” photos for my POWDER magazine story, so the two of them step up, and we plan some specific shots. The snow conditions on the slope we have been skiing are excellent, and the lighting is good, so it is agreed that my two volunteers will climb above the slope, to a snow-draped, rock perch, jump-launching from there into a downhill run. It is a good opportunity to face-plant, but both pull it off without doing so. In the right-side shot, Ole watches as the guest shreds.

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Monday, December 28, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #176 
Wind Rivers, #176:  
After the previous long, exhausting day of skiing into Camp #1, we all sleep deeply, and get up mid-morning to have a leisurely breakfast around the campfire. As the master planner of our expedition, Courtney knows that we are still tired, and also stiff, so today is an “off” day, and we can choose to stay in camp, or, without packs, go skiing,..as in downhill. It is not freezing, but it is cold, moving and eating are the way you warm up, so first we do a lot of eating, then everybody chooses to gear up, and strap into their skis. We all have downhill style skis, and our bindings are heel free, but can be locked down. Most of us are sporting relatively ridged boots as well, so although it is not like downhill resort skiing, you can still muster decent turns, and the better skiers among us, will show-off later in the day by jumping off rocks and ripping true parallels.

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Monday, December 21, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #175 
Wind Rivers, #175:  
After a very full and warming meal, there is nothing like sitting around the old campfire, drinking and telling tales of adventure, so that is exactly what we do. Pate on crackers for hors d’oeuvres, steak and veggies for dinner, and chocolates, both liquid and solid, for desert, all chased by a beer or two, while sitting around a fire. There is ample wood to burn as we are surrounded by trees which have many dry limbs, but I was unclear as to what surface we would use to support the fire, since we are atop many feet of snow. The answer is, throw the branches on the snow, sprinkle on a little stove fuel, and light the fire. The fire does melt the snow, but if you keep feeding in branches, the meltwater does not put the fire out, it just burns itself into a pit. Again, Skinner ingenuity - as the pit descends, dig a shelf out at the edge of the pit, that is below the snow upon which we sit, and then you can dry clothing, boots, and gloves, by placing them on the shelf without risking getting them burned.

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Monday, December 14, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #174 
Wind Rivers, #174:  
Courtney Skinner is our expedition leader and strategist for this ski trip. He has planned out all the meals and snacks, and designed the Camp #1, Camp #2 approach Mount Baldy. He also is a mother-hen about making sure we all stay warm and hydrated. So with his brothers, Ole, and Monty, setting up their tent, Courtney digs out a kitchen “bench” and starts water boiling so we can all drink some more jello shots, and rush warmth back into our exhausted, and now cooling down bodies. He has wisely made the kitchen a pit, blocking the stove and pots from any breezes, and keeping all but his head out of that same flow of cold air. By the time dinner will finish, it will be a starry, 10˙ night. It is also worth noting that on my various winter camping adventures with my DFC&FC friends in Idaho, we had a lot of dried pasta and freeze dried meals, but seldom carried any canned food because of weight. Not so on this trip. There are cans galore, as you can see, and many have unexpected treats inside.

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Monday, December 7, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #172 
Wind Rivers, #172:  
After three lakes, the last of which was the largest, and longest, we finally reach the forest edge where we intend to establish Camp #1. Although skiing on the frozen lake surface offered flat terrain, and was easier to manage than the steep terrain of the morning, we are still all dragging, and carrying, A LOT of weight, so by the time we get here, we are all clearly burned out again. It is a GREAT relief to untie the sleds, and get the packs off of our backs, but as soon as that is accomplished, we all slip into a daze of exhaustion, and start growing cold very quickly. The winter sun is setting, so the Skinners have two objectives. The first is to create a kitchen and get a stove going, so they can make more hot jello drinks, and then, when that sugar burst hits us, they want to see the tents go up before it gets any darker. When we go on to Camp #2, these tents, the sleds, and some of the supplies will be left behind, so it is also important that we situate the tents so primary anchor lines can be tied off to the trees. There will also be stakes in the snow, but in a raging wind storm, they might be pulled out, so the tree tie-offs are essential to prevent the tents from being blown away.

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Monday, November 30, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #171 
Wind Rivers, #171:  
With lunch behind us, and the light snow still falling, we saddle up once again, and continue slogging upwards. The lunch break, and the jello “shots” have restored everyone, and about 2pm., Courtney announces that we will soon hit the first section of lakes, which will completely change the dynamic of our ski. Shortly thereafter we come out of the trees, to expansive sections of flat land, which are the frozen-over lake surfaces. Now we are able to ski in straight lines, not winding around through the trees, and not struggling to pull the heavy sleds uphill. For those of us skiing behind whichever Skinner is breaking trail, the task seems nearly effortless compared to the last 6-7 hours of this day while we were climbing. We expect to cross the largest of the several lakes we encounter to establish Camp #1, a tent encampment amongst the trees, at the edge of the lake. In the picture above, Courtney is enjoying the moment we emerge from our climb, and the flat lake terrain lies before us.

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Monday, November 23, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #170 
Wind Rivers, #170:  
If you follow this link you can get some sense of the terrain we must cover to get to Mount Baldy, which I have pinned on the map. The ranchers that brought us to the edge of the designated wilderness area, ferried us across the flat ranch land below Fayette Lake. From there, we spend the better part of 8hrs. working our way up through the foothills. The first upward pitches are pretty gradual, the weather stays pleasant, and the forest less than dense, but by midday, the terrain has grown MUCH steeper, the trees much closer together, and a light snow has begun to fall. The sleds are a real pain in the ass to pull up steep terrain, and navigate through the forest, so by the time we break for lunch, everyone is worn out. The Skinners, however, are VERY organized, and they have not only a designated “lunch” sled, but all complete meals are kept in their own stuff sacks, so in a matter of minutes after we stop, stoves are out and on, food is being prepared, and everyone is hydrating with Courtneys “secret replenishment drink,” hot water with Jello powder stirred into it. It sounds weird, but it flavors the water, and the high fructose goes off in your system, immediately providing an energy rush, and flushing heat through your body. In persistent cold exposure, it is amazing to realize how everything you ingest immediately affects your comfort and your warmth.

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Monday, November 16, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #169 
Wind Rivers, #169:  
The snowmobile cowboys drop us and our gear in the foothills of the Wind River Range, at the edge of the Bridger Wilderness Area. Having offered us all well wishes, they depart, and we are left to shoulder our packs, and rope line our sleds to ourselves. We are going to ascend about 3,000ft, carrying, and towing A LOT of weight, so there are no traditional cross-country skis in this group. Everybody is sporting modified downhill skis and sturdy boots. Neither is anyone using wax for traction. Everyone has sealskins adhered to the bottom of their skies. This makes steep climbing much less of a struggle, and it also helps to slow downhill speeds a bit, so you do not get out-of-control. This is a staged expedition as we have MANY miles to cover in order to reach Mt. Baldy. We hope to establish, camp #1 today, but it will be a long, and VERY uphill day. From camp #1 to camp #2, Courtney expects we will be skiing flatter terrain across alpine meadows and frozen lake surfaces.

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Monday, November 9, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #168 
Wind Rivers, #168:  
After the snowmobile tow across the open pasture land, we are deposited with our gear at the edge of the Bridger Wilderness Area, and it is all uphill from here. In this shot, Ole Skinner is sitting on one of the machines, and the only woman in our party is watching as others approach the drop zone. Apparently, she is a very good skier, but she has never done a trip like this before, so I loved it when I asked what she thought of the tow-in, and she replied, “That is the craziest thing I have ever done. I hope the rest of this trip is less challenging.” Soon we will find out. As you can see in these first 4 posts of this story, the day has started off sunny, with passing clouds, so we all remain hopeful, that the weather holds, and we don’t encounter an infamous, and epic Wind River storm.

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Monday, November 2, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #167 
Wind Rivers, #167:  
And they’re off!!! With packs packed, and sleds loaded and lashed to the snowmobiles, it has become time to traverse several miles of pastures to reach the foothills of the Wind River Range. I am pretty sure most in our party thought the dangerous part of our adventure was going to be summiting 11,500+ft. Mount Baldy, but we are all wrong. Going in, and coming out across these pastures while being towed on your skis by a snowmobile is among the most dangerous things I have ever done. Fortunately, we did not have to wear our packs (on the inbound trip) because there were many snowmobiles and quite a number of support drivers, but even without packs on, being towed behind a speeding machine is akin to holding on to a car bumper while riding a skateboard. Additionally, even though there is snow on the ground, it is only about 4” deep and after that it is just dirt and rocks. If you go down, you are going to be hurt. The other complication is that many of us are two people being towed, and you can’t take the chance of being too near each other, so you have to ski on your edges to keep from drifting together into the middle, behind the snowmobile. It proves to be a wildly excited, nerve-wracking experience.

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Monday, October 26, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #166 
Wind Rivers, #166:  
The morning of our departure into the winter backcountry of the Wind River Range is clear and sunny. It is cold, but standing in the sun has warmth, and there is a lot of activity. Some ranching friends of the Skinner brothers, have invited us to stage from their home, and they will take us, and our loaded sleds, by snowmobile, across several miles of flat plains, into the foothills of the Winds, at which point we will be on our own. As the sleds are loaded, and the gear lashed down, the children of the ranchers look on as we prepare (above). The seated women is part of our expedition party, and the man standing to the left of her, is Monty Skinner, who, if the plans work out, will celebrate his 50th birthday with all of us on the 11,500ft + summit of Mount Baldy, before skiing down. Things are about to get started in a very big way. Some snowmobiles will just tow the ladened sleds. Others will tow two or three of us at a time on our skis, a tricky exercise to say the least. And, they're off!

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Monday, October 19, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #165 
Wind Rivers, #165:  
In between backpacks in the Wind Rivers, Vicki Golden, and I enjoy the luxury of lodging and restaurant food in Pinedale. At the time, I am also doing backcountry skiing stories for POWDER magazine, and it occurs to me that maybe I could find a guided ski trip into the Winds. We often frequent the local sports store, so on one of our visits, I inquire if such winter trips have ever been staged, and I am told that some local ranchers, the Skinner brothers, have done several. So, I get their phone number, and directions to their ranch, setting up a meeting between us to discuss the possibility. There are three brothers, Courtney, Ole, and Monty, and they all instruct skiing at the small resort above Pinedale. They are also part of the ski patrol. They have, indeed, done winter trips into the Winds, and they explain how we can make that happen. The are not cheap to work with, and POWDER will only cover part of the expense, but the Skinners want this to be a large group, and say that they can muster other people to share the cost. I am grateful for that offer, and consequently, we set a date for early next spring. Vicki does not feel up for it, but I am good-to-go, so when spring arrives, I drive back to Pinedale for a new adventure. It has been decided that we will celebrate Monty’s 50th birthday, by staging a 10-day trip that will culminate by summiting 11,500ft +, Mount Baldy on is birthday, and then we will ski down. Vicki and I have previously camped in Bald Mountain basin, so I know the summit, and I realize the Skinners have planned a SERIOUS trip. On the morning of our departure, I meet the many other members of our expedition, when we all assemble at a ranch south of town. These ranchers are friends of the Skinners, and they will take us by snowmobile across several miles of flat plains, to the foothills of the Winds, at the edge of the designated wilderness area. During the ski trip, we will ALL pull sleds loaded with our gear, and shared supplies, and here Courtney (above) is lashing down equipment on a loaded sled.

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Monday, October 12, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #164 
Wind Rivers, #164:  
In three summers of being high and wild in the Wind Rivers, Vicki Golden, and I have backpacked a LOT of miles, camped in numerous basins throughout the range, and suffered some awesome storms, but none like this. We have, literally, been blown out, and driven into our first full retreat - a strange way to end, so many successful months. This was to be our final trip, and for a moment at our North Fork Lake camp, we thought it actually might be. After a 22-mile hike out in a torrential downpour, we are finally dry and safe in our van, and headed for a hot shower, restaurant meals, and a comfy bed at our fav place to stay in Pinedale, the Log Cabin Motel. From Pinedale, the view to the west is of the high plains of Wyoming, above which the storm is raging as well. While we unload the van into our cabin, the storm continues coming at us, building in fury with deafening thunder, and lightening, everywhere. Feeling glad to be safely out of the Winds, I take a walk to the street in front of the motel and make this last shot for the day - cloud-to-cloud lightening. The horrible weather continues throughout the night, but dissipates at dawn, and clears completely off in the morning. We have a nice breakfast in town, and a beautiful drive to Sun Valley, where we hope to hang out with Gordon Williams and other friends for a few more weeks.

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Monday, October 5, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #163 
Wind Rivers, #163:  
The relentless rain and wind continue unabated throughout the night, and are still raging when we wake in the morning. There is no sign it is going to let up. We shelter in the tent for awhile, pondering what to do, and I finally suggest we fold up camp and flee. I don’t want to spend another entire day in my sleeping bag. Vicki agrees, so the process begins by trying to get as much gear stashed as possible without getting it wet. The tent is the last item to fold, and there is no saving it, it is soaking, but we get it down and into its bag, we shoulder our packs, and then, begin our descent. It continues to pour, and in spite of our rain gear, water is streaming off our faces, and making our hands numb. Having not yet discovered neoprene gloves, something I found useful some years later in the Tongass rainforest, all she, and I, have at the time are wool mittens, which have become like soggy sweat socks. The trail out is a slippery, muddy mess, and steeper sections are flowing like small streams. When we arrive at the lower lake where we camped on the way in, the lake has doubled is size, and the meadow has completely disappeared. If there was any thought of stopping here for the night, it is quickly dispelled. That means we are walking out to the van, and we will log a 22-mile day before getting there. Fortunately for us, after an entire summer of backpacking elsewhere, we are fit enough to believe we can do it, even with loaded packs, so as it now well past noon, and we have a long way to go, we pick up our pace, put our heads down, and plow through the downpour. About 6:30pm, we are completely exhausted, but we hit the trailhead at Boulder Lake, and collapse in the comfort, and shelter of the van. The storm is still raging, and the thunder, and lightening, have returned, so before we drive back to Pinedale, and a warm shower, I take this one last shot of the low pass (illuminated by a brief sun ray - lower,middle) from which we have descended.

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Monday, September 28, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #162
Wind Rivers, #162:  The pounding rain that follows the terrifying one-hour lightning assault, continues all day. Our tent remains mostly waterproof, and small leaks can be easily addressed with our sponges, but outside the meadow is turning into a pond. We have enough high ground that it does not reach us, but the flow past the front of the tent, down to North Fork Lake is beginning to look like a viable stream. There is little interest on our part in going out into this mess, and for all we know, there may be more lightening to come. Besides, it is REALLY cold. Now that things seem have calmed down a bit, we decide to re-deploy our ensolite pads, and crawl back into our sleeping bags. All of this is just fine with Belle Star, as she has been clearly shaken by the storm, and is perfectly happy to stay in the tent with us. We have snacks for lunch, while the rain continues to pound down, and we sleep on-and-off throughout the day. About 5pm, the rain abates, so once again, not taking any chances, we bolt out of the tent to prepare a full meal. Everything is flooded, so we have to move the kitchen a short distance, but our stoves are working, and the freeze-dried meals are abundant, so we chow down. Our judgement to do this is wise, because after a 1-1/2hr reprieve, the rain and wind begin again. Thankfully without the thunder and lightening. As we drift off to sleep, the rain continues to intensify, and Vicki, and I agree, this is the worst weather system we have encountered in our 3yrs. of hiking in this range.

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Monday, September 21, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #161 , 
Wind Rivers, #161:  Considering it is August, the storm which moved in during the night brought FREEZING cold with it, besides the pounding rain. There is no point in getting out in it at the crack of dawn, so Vicki Golden, and I, linger in our sleeping bags, and snuggle with Belle Star. About 9am, the rain tapers off, and there are some blue holes that appear in the sky. Not wanting to take any chances, Vicki, and I, bolt to the “kitchen,” and down a hearty breakfast. As we eat, the wind begins to pick up, which I am hoping, signals the storm is blowing off. Unfortunately, it does not. Rather, it signals that a new one is blowing in. Within an hour of our meal, the wind reaches another rage level, and clouds, once again, begin to pour over Round Top Mountain. It looks as though we will NOT be climbing up there today. Then suddenly, there is a massive roll of thunder directly above us, and there are two lightning strikes on the other side of the lake. Belle hates thunder and lightning, and we are not fans of it, either, se we all flee back into the tent. Belle is terrified, and shivering, so we put the sleeping bags over her, and keep petting, and assuring her, it will be OK. However, the intensity of the storm continues to build, and it is rolling right over us. We have a reasonably safe location with taller rocks and trees around us, but this is a massive electric system, and it is striking everywhere. When we close our eyes, we can see the flashes in various colors, and there are often several at once in a kind of strobe effect. Over our three years of backpacking in the Winds, we have lived through some fierce storms, but this one takes the cake. We are actually so frightened, we pull our ensolite pads from beneath our sleeping bags, fold them in half, and balance on them using our tip-toes and fingertips, so there is as little of our bodies in contact with the ground as possible. After about an hour of this unrelenting assault, a torrential rain moves in.

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Monday, September 14, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #160, 
Wind Rivers, #160:  As our after-dinner stroll around the lake continues, Belle Star revels in meadow rolls, we all love the fact that the mosquitoes had been blown to the East Coast, and the warmth of the late light grows richer, and richer. Then, it suddenly occurs to Vicki, and I, that the wind is dying down. Miracle of miracles, considering the last three days. It is not yet completely gone, but waves on the lake have turned to a radiant shimmer of reflected color, and the clouds have stopped scuttling entirely. We have provisions for four more days, and since today, having accomplished our goal of crossing the Continental Divide, the question before us is, what should we do tomorrow. On our less-than-perfect small quad topo, we can see that, at our end of North Fork Lake, there is a rising basin that ascends Round Top Mountain which looks doable, and although we may not actually reach several other lakes, we would likely have a great overview of them, so that becomes our plan for the morning. Interestingly, during our walk back to camp, the night becomes VERY cold and clear, unusual for August in the Wind Rivers. When we retire it is a stargazers delight, but about 4a.m., I hear the first drops to hit the rainfly, and for the next two hours, the momentum of the storm builds, and rain drops become a steady drumbeat on the fly.

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Monday, September 7, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #159, 
Wind Rivers, #159:  Battered as Vicki Golden, and I, have been all day by raging winds, our skin care regimen, and a good meal restore us, so we can enjoy a stellar sunset. The cloud-passing, skyshow continues, but we notice the wind is dying down somewhat, and they scuttle by more slowly. We are comfortable with leaving camp, and taking a stroll along the shore of North Fork Lake. While not exactly alpenglow, as the sun in the west drops lower and lower on the horizon, the color of the light warms considerably, and sets off the granite around us with a luminous hue. This perceived “warmth” also restores us somewhat. Even though we had a great day, and accomplished our first crossing of the Continental Divide, by the time we got back to camp, we were beat to s*#@, and not in a particularly cheery mood. What a difference a little repair, some warming food, and a brief passage in time can make. Even Belle Star is happier (especially after some trout in her dinner bowl), and she is bounding wildly around, occasionally finding just the the right patch of meadow to dive on her back with her legs in the air, and wriggle around like a fish, making all sorts of guttural noises of joy. We can all say one thing about the windy day, there were no mosquitoes to fend off. I am actually hopeful that they have all been blown to Kansas!

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Monday, August 31, 2020

High and Wild:  Three Years of Wandering in the Wind Rivers, #158, 
Wind Rivers, #158:  After crossing the Continental Divide for the first time, Vicki Golden, doggo, Belle Star, and I, are heading back to our campsite at North Fork Lake. Although it is all downhill on an established trail, we are now walking directly into the wind, which has been raging all day. We have on ALL of our layers, and head coverings, but it is so chill and brutal, I regret I do not have the leather face mask that I bought for winter camping. It never occurred to me that it might be useful on a summer adventure. By the time we are finally back at our tent, and slightly sheltered by the boulders around us, we realize we are, literally, wind-burned. Between the all-day buffeting to which we have been subjected, and the extremely dry air of our high altitude location, our facial skin, and lips, are cracked and painful. Before starting dinner, we take emergency action, retreating inside the tent, to repair ourselves. We have a large variety of lip balms which we goop on, but we also have Nivea, which we slather on our faces. When we finally emerge to initiate the evening meal, we look like greased weasels. On top of it all, we are also sunburned, and my nose hurts so much, I actually put “trout grease” on it after dinner. Ah! The joys of camping. Hahaha!

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