I deeply admire wilderness artists. No, I’m not referring to those who paint pictures of landscapes and wildlife on canvass, though those individuals deserve respect too. Instead, I’m talking about folks who have a tremendous knack for linking together ridges, rivers and grueling bushwhacks resulting in super creative backcountry routes.
These wilderness artists care much less about the destination and much more about the creativity of their route. They tend to be grizzled, tough and quick to smile. They love running along alpine ridges and packrafting backcountry rivers, and don’t much mind a slog through dense willows either. For them it’s not about a momentary adrenaline rush, but rather that feeling of being out there, really out there. It’s a mentality that you either have, or you don’t, and those looking in at this clan from the outside are often quick to spit out descriptive words like “crazy” or … ummm … “out there.”
I’ve always had a bit of an endurance mentality and a craving to explore remote, unknown spots. So, in a way, I consider myself part of this clan. But in the last couple of years, I’ve tended to stick to my tried-and-true excursions, complete with well-maintained trails and clear destinations. This shift no doubt has had a lot to do with being a new mom. I have, on occasion, taken a creative approach to being an outdoor family, such as the day I used a packraft, mountain bike and Chariot for a bikerafting expedition with my toddler. But it’s not quite the same as pouring over a map and then setting out to see what lays hidden within those topo lines.
A few months back I started heading into the outdoors with a pair of adventure racers. I immediately had a feeling of “these are my people.” On one of our first trips out into the mountains together, we picked four random points on a map, recorded the GPS coordinates, and then set out to locate these points. When we believed we’d navigated our way to these pre-selected points, we’d flip on the GPS to check our competency as map readers and route finders.
As autumn’s first snow squalls descended on us, we circumvented a pond visited mostly by moose. We climbed a peak. And we came to a literal crossroads just as night was descending: do we wade through a waste-high icy river to get back to our cars or do we do a mile of bushwhacking through willows by the light of headlamps to get to a bridge? We chose the bushwhacking, although I’m pretty sure that if it were a race situation we would have gone through the river.
Inspired by my excursions with my adventure racing gurus, my husband and I have been getting more creative in the backcountry too. Yesterday was a blue sky, high avalanche day in the Teton Mountains. So instead of paying for a lift ticket to ski, or worse, staying home, we decided to try a ridge ski traverse that we’d been eyeing for some time now.
We looked closely at the map, set our car shuttle and then headed out in search of new vistas and secret powder stashes. We paused often to check our route and we worked to stay high on the spine of the ridges we were following. The mixture of warm sun and biting wind added spring to our step. At the end of the day, as we teed up our last short descent, a wave of accomplishment washed over us.
We’d be back, no doubt, for those new-found powder reserves. And, we felt emboldened to go find new ones in places yet unknown.
What’s the most creative and/or random outdoor excursion you’ve ever done? What helps you to get out of your comfort zone?