Backpacking Light's Wilderness Trekking School

Don W. plots a course across the Beartooths.

Video: About the Wilderness Trekking School

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Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 1Wilderness Trekking I - Lightweight Backpacking (WT1-LWB)

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 2We spend plenty of time prior to your trek carefully planning your gear and food, to help make your trek as successful as possible.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 3The low student:instructor ratio at the Wilderness Trekking School gives plenty of 1-on-1 time between students and instructors.


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 4While the real benefit of a community school is the cross-pollination of experience between instructors and students, our instructors are expert teachers and practitioners of lightweight backpacking, and are able to effectively communicate its philosophy and technique to students.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 5The Wilderness Trekking School is an open environment where student questions - and experiences - are shared among the group.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 6The main room of our retreat center is multi-use - we use it for dining, learning, and just shooting the breeze in front of the fireplace!


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 7There is just enough (but not too much!) science to satisfy INTJ's, with plenty of experiential learning opportunities for all.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 8Students attentively listen to a Wilderness Trekking School lesson about food and nutrition.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 9Outside learning remains the core of our program, even during the classroom time at the retreat center.


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 10Our remote, high-mountain retreat center provides a peaceful and rustic environment for preparing for your trek and learning lightweight backpacking skills.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 11Group immersion is a vital component of our learning philosophy. Eating, sleeping, listening, talking, walking, and laughing are all a part of it!

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 12Plenty of time on the trail is spent learning about the wilderness we're in, learning about each other, and sometimes just relaxing and doing nothing!


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 13You'll enjoy entry and exit from the wilderness from remote trailheads that themselves embody the simplicity of wild Montana!

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 14Navigation skills are a key component of our curriculum at all levels.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 15We are not passive about our Big Sky views! You'll have the chance to experience highline hiking with expansive vistas.


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 16Hiking high in Montana is not as hard as it sounds. While the mountains are rugged, Montana's wilderness is well known for its gentle tundra slopes.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 17Our wilderness backyard - the Yellowstone Ecosystem of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming - provides an endless supply of mountain terrain.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 18In addition to trail thoroughfares, the mountains offer more interesting travelways, including skyline peaks and ridges.


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 19Do you see that blue sky? We can't promise that it won't rain, but the mild weather of Montana during the summer offers magical experiences at higher altitudes.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 20Don't worry, it's not all uphill! But with inspiration like this, how can you not want to climb higher with such a light pack?

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 21The first graduating class from our Wilderness Trekking I program, assembled on a 10,000 foot ridge high in the Gallatin Mountains during their course.


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 22The beauty of lightweight backpacking is the ability to enjoy walking at all hours of the day (or taking a nap in the middle!). Nothing quite beats the majesty of a high walk as the sun sets.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 23Early morning and late evening provide contemplative times for enjoying the Wilderness as the light warms the landscapes around you.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 24People who carry heavy packs have a hard time enjoying the view. We like taking you places where there's no way up - but down again!


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 25The outdoor classroom is a critical venue for experiential learning. Here, an instructor displays the art of packing a pack with lightweight gear.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 26Our instructors are not passive about interacting with you, asking questions, and following up on your understanding of what you are learning.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 27With a classroom like this, how will you ever go back to night school in the city?


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 28We take advantage of every opportunity we can to build your skills while on the trail, without, of course, overwhelming you so you can also enjoy your time in the Wilds!

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 29Lightweight backpacking gives you the flexibility to adjust your trek as you see fit. There is plenty of time to explore various options. Let the wilderness be your guide.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 30We place a high emphasis on safe travel with a light pack, including routefinding, a critical skill in the mountain environment.


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 31This ridgeline rises to more than 11,000 feet and is nearly 90 miles in length. You can walk the whole thing without crossing a road. It typifies the type of wilderness that provides the venue for the Wilderness Trekking School.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 32Majestic vistas and enjoyable companions are just about guaranteed. Blue sky likely, but ... !

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 33'Look at those guys in the valley with the 50 pounds packs! Poor souls...'


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 34Backpacking is supposed to be fun - especially while you are carrying the pack! That's a core premise of the Wilderness Trekking School.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 35You'll have plenty of opportunity to try out various pieces of gear, including those products not normally found in your outdoor shop at home.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 36For those that want to learn about tarp camping, we offer plenty of opportunities and gear options.


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 37Yes, we sit sometimes, too. Lightweight backpacking is not all about speed, miles, and physical accomplishment. The difference between sitting in the Wilds at the Wilderness Trekking School, and sitting in the Wilds at other schools is that we sit because we want to, not because we have to.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 38Lush tundra, jagged peaks, tall evergreens, and snow - the ingredients of the Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 39Water, water, everywhere! Few, if any, of our course routes require you to carry more than a liter or two of water at any given time. Some courses are held in areas so rich with water that a water bottle is almost optional.


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 40We love maps. You will too: before, during, and after your trek! All maps are customized for each course.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 41Lightweight backpacking helps you walk faster, farther, and more efficiently. But more important, it's simply easier, more comfortable, and more fun.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 42The drama of a Montana landscape is sometimes based on its simplicity: land and sky. The beauty for you is that you live at that boundary continuously. It's a rewarding type of Wild Place.


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 43Ruggedness of the landscape is something you'll appreciate. Carrying a light pack means that it's not something you won't be able to accomplish safely and comfortably.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 44In addition to core skills of walking, camping, and sheltering, you'll learn the lightweight approach to everything related to wilderness travel, including hydration strategies and water treatment.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 45Many people view backpacking as a walker's nightmare and a camper's joy. The Wilderness Trekking School empowers you to bring the joy out of walking without sacrificing your camping comfort./p>


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 46We give you time alone as well. Sometimes, you'll want to take advantage of the opportunity to look out upon what you've accomplished and think about your place in the world.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 47The Victory March starts the moment you pick up your lightweight pack! We don't expect that it will ever end.

Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 48Yes, we have snow in August!


Backpacking Light's 2008 Wilderness Trekking I - 49Like little kids on Christmas Day, we enjoy summer snowfields!


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 1Wilderness Trekking III - Expedition Traverse (WT3-EXT)

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 2Kevin Sawchuk tries to discover terrain weaknesses in the 1:100k map.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 3Jorgen Johanssen, Mike Clelland, Don Wilson, and Brian Doble invest collective mind energy into finding a route through a seemingly impenetrable wilderness.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 4The Beach Boys watch the landscape unfold at dawn on Day 1.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 5Navigating around Frozen Lake, towards the Beartooth Plateau (horizon line).

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 6Looking backward, thinking forward, routefinding on the Beartooth Plateau.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 7Backpacking Light's Wilderness Trekking III, October 2007. Copyright (C) Ryan Jordan.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 8Seldom carrying water, we were able to drink directly from streams and ponds high on the plateau.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 9There is a difference between mapping your route and navigating. In the latter, you find your way forward. In the former, you mark where you've been - an essential skill in fixing your position en route.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 10Climbing up to the plateau required us to weave our way through cliff bands choked with verglas and ice formed in the freeze-thaw cycles of recent days.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 11The main plateau is a vast expanse of 11,500+ foot snowfields that cap the hydrologic divide of the Beartooth Range. The Plateau makes for wonderful walking - until it runs out and turns into a dragon's tail of technical ridgeline that would force our trekkers south to easier ground.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 12Don Wilson of Tucson, Arizona gazes back along the Plateau at our route.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 13Pilot Peak, the 'Matterhorn of the Absaroka Range,' is the most obvious landmark viewed from the Beartooth Plateau. It's a critical triangulation point, and failure of both groups to accurately map its location (it was not marked on our maps) proved costly in terms of their ability to fix a position after Day 2.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 14Climbing knolls, ridges, and peaks was essential to navigating in the Beartooths, where jumbled terrain hides features. Don Wilson and Mike Clelland try to reconcile a low-detail (> 100k) map with terrain normally traversed with 24k topographic maps.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 15Snowshoes became essential at elevations over 9,000 feet. We donned them early on Day 1. Our snowshoes of choice: the Atlas Race - titanium crampons and only 1 lb/foot.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 16The Beartooth Highway, our starting point about 10 miles south from where this photo was taken, is nicknamed 'Top of the World Highway'. At a crest of 10,900+ feet, it's one of the highest scenic roads in the United States. Here, our crew is trekking near 12,000 feet on the Beartooth Plateau, with dramatic drops to both sides, giving the feeling that one really is on top of the world.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 17After several miles of travel on the crest, we made the decision to descend here, motivated primarily by Brian's AMS and the fact that the south side of the divide offered terrain we know we could walk through, while the north side offered terrain accentuated by steep peaks, avalanche slopes, and the unknown prospects of technical scrambling.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 18Making the decision to descend the south side of the divide came with the known reality that we'd now be traveling off our maps. Mike and Don try to sort out minor fractures in a seemingly random arrangement of granite that would allow efficient walking.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 19Mike Clelland of Driggs, Idaho, begins the steep descent down avalanche terrain across from the massive north face of Lonesome Peak, which would prove to be a key landmark for maintaining a back bearing as we traveled across the Beartooths for the next 36 hours.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 20Brian Doble rests after descending from the Plateau, in the throes of suffering from nausea and a severe headache as a result of living in Maine - and trekking at 12,000 feet - in the span of only a few days./p>

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 21Weaving our way through avalanche slopes and talus fields, we intersected a bear track (sloping down, left to right) en route to finding a campsite with wood for cooking.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 22A reminder that we were traveling high in winter conditions.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 23And to think we actually considered leaving snowshoes behind. That would have proved disastrous and severely limited our route options to low elevation bushwhacking.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 24In deep winter, when lakes are frozen solid and covered in snow, traveling down drainages is easy. However, in spite of their frozen surface, lakes were difficult to manage. The ice was too thin to safely travel across and many were rimmed with talus that threatened our footing with every step - a disconcerting situation when the light is fading, temperatures are dropping, and no wood is in sight.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 25The complexity of the Beartooths begins to unfold - in stark contrast to the simple navigation of following a plateau ridge, as we did for most of the early part of the day.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 26We encountered all sorts of terrain that is easily navigable in the winter, but 'spooky' with only a thin cover of snow (and sometimes, verglas), such as this steep granite slab, which we descended in snowshoes.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 27Pilot Peak announces sunset, as we finally descend enough to discover a tiny stand of subalpine fir that would supply us with enough dead wood to fuel our Caldera Cones for hot drinks and dinner.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 28Our group selected the GoLite Shangri-La 8, a six pound haven of protection from spindrift and wind that erected rapidly and became a haven of cameraderie at night as we discussed navigation options for the next day.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 29We used prototype titanium 2L Caldera Cone kits for wood fire cooking. With dry wood, we were able to have 8 liters of water boiled for drinks and meals within the span of 45 minutes, using two kits. Fire pans and a remarkably efficient system meant that our environmental impact would be all but unnoticeable, even at high elevations where wood is sparse.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 30Jorgen learns the art of cooking in the Caldera Cone system on our first night.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 31Jorgen and Don fire up stickfires built in titanium 2L Caldera Cones as the morning dawns with blazing color.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 32Waking up in these surroundings - with this light - it's almost ... indescribable.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 33Jorgen enjoys a hot cereal breakfast out of an O.P. Sak on Day 2 while staying warm wrapped up in his Cocoon Hoody and Pants.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 34Jorgen's carbon fiber nordic walking pole suffered catastrophic failure on Day 1 that was unrepairable in the field. We tested ultralight gear to the limits: poles, snowshoes, and clothing all suffered breaks, rips, and bends.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 35Mike Clelland negotiates a steep pitch to the crest of a granite dome.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 36Traveling high in the Beartooths feels like it should be duochromatic - rock and snow - but Beartooth granite has a warm feel to it, offering its feldspar intrusions and tundra pockets as part of a landscape that appears more inviting than what the map alone can show.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 37Mike checks the thickness of the ice while navigating a pond shore at 11,000 feet.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 38Traveling efficiently in the Beartooths requires the abilit to pick routes across domes, peaks, plateaus, and shelves, keeping a careful eye on the elevation loss - and subsequent gain - while traveling between those high points. Here, Mike drops into a spectacular ravine that would take us directly towards Pilot Peak (background).

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 39Pilot Peak welcomes more unknown terrain (what drops off the horizon line in the foreground?).


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 40Go right, over the dome, or down, where we can see the route? By this point, we were interested in routes that were as flat as possible. The prospect of dropping into the trees and bushwhacking was not attractive.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 41There is something about going down towards water lit by sunlight that skews your emotional well-being. This inviting ravine led to a jumbled mess of terrain that slowed our progress down dramatically. The day before, we covered twelve miles. Today, we'd cover less than five.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 42The Beartooths are infamous for their talus. In the summer, tundra edges among talus fields invite easy routefinding. During the deep snows of winter, talus is covered and easy to navigate. Now, however, massive holes are protected by a thin snowpack, and hip-deep plunges are common, stressful, and ankle-wrenching with our trail running shoes.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 43We carried little water, and only a single one-liter bottle each, opting instead to enjoy the fluidity of drinking from the sources, most often, without treatment of any sort.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 44The massive flanks of Sky Pilot Mountain beckon our descent into Sierra Creek, where we'd meet up with the other trekking group for a brief moment before separating along different routes once again.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 45Sometimes, views were helpful; other times, they just confirmed the nondescript terrain, flat ridgeline, and more slow travel ahead. This was one of the few times - about an hour of travel - that we removed our snowshoes.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 46Both groups made a costly mistake - failure to locate critical landmarks on their maps - early in their treks, resulting in the inability to accurately pinpoint their position along their route later on. Here, Don makes valiant attempts to triangulate our position from landmarks on a nearly featureless ridgeline.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 47Crystal Lake and the 12,000 foot peaks beyond force us down and out of our slow progress. Leaving the drainage, we'd happen onto a natural fissure of geology that would provide the key to rapid, efficient travel for the next 24 hours.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 48Crossing Sierra Creek would prove - in retrospect - the beginning of bliss and the accidental discovery of a natural line of travel that would remain absolutely straight for many more miles.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 49Jorgen climbs a bench along a granite wall that revealed our view of the Great Fissure for as far as the eye could see.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 50Our group discusses options for navigation before clouds - or a pending storm - obscured our view. Mounting disturbances in the weather were of some concern, since we were thin on gear that could keep us warm and dry in a tempest.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 51Mike shares the results of taking a backbearing on Lonesome Peak, which convinced him that the Great Fissure that was visible early yesterday would finally reveal rapid travel for our group. The calculation proved exactly correct.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 52We used Atlas Race snowshoes - one pound wonders with titanium crampons that we fell in love with soon enough. A perfect match for our trail running shoes.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 53Carbon fiber trekking poles provide outstanding stiffness to weight ratio - a key metric in evaluating pole efficiency when climbing. However, failure can be catastrophic, as Jorgen found out with his Komperdell Nordic Walking Poles, and Mike Martin with his Gossamer Gear Lightrek 3 poles. Wide baskets, careful talus use, and thick-walled carbon are essential ingredients to making poles work in these conditions. Shown: Backpacking Light Stix, 2008 Model.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 54Now in full view, we finally had a fix on the entry point to the Great Fissure. With fading daylight and building clouds, we didn't dally. By now, we are once again on a quest for camp, wood, food, and warmth.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 55About an hour before dusk, we made the decision to descend to wood. As the sun dropped, so too did temperatures and our metabolism, forcing us into jackets and warm clothes at the end of the day.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 56Don identifies a perch rimmed in waist-high subalpine fir that he's convinced would make a scenic campsite.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 57Anchor Lake provides little weather protection, but tremendous scenery, with plenty of high benches surrounding the lake for scenic camping.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 58The Race snowshoes handled the terrain admirably - the ability to trek across talus, granite slabs, and streams without removing snowshoes was a great timesaver. Don Wilson crosses the inlet creek to Anchor Lake before climbing up to our camping perch.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 59An aptly named shelter in an aptly named place.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 60Brian and Jorgen enjoy a hot meal on a cold night, a welcome reward for a difficult and inefficient day of trekking.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 61Our camp at Anchor Lake was riddled with dead wood - but wet. Nevertheless, we managed our routine of 8-10 liters of water in the evening and morning quickly and efficiently with the Caldera systems.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 62The storm system proved to be a weak one - coating the high country with only a thin layer of snow and rime. The icy conditions brought a chilly feeling as we started out this morning, Day 3.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 63Step by step, we began to unlock what would be an efficient day of travel, simply by following a series of subtle fault lines along a compass bearing, that Great Fissure discovered two days ago by Mike near the top of Lonesome Peak.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 64As we traveled further West, the snow became deeper. We found drifts in gullies as deep as five or six feet, and avalanche risk was on our mind as we traveled up and down the catchbasins.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 65Now knowing that major fractures in the Beartooths are capable of providing easy route travel, we finally enter one of the three largest fractures in the Range: "The Great Fissure". Running at an elevation of 9,500 to 11,000 feet, the Great Fissure runs from Castle Lake in the East to Rough Lake in the West - a distance of nearly 12 miles. Unfortunately, we wouldn't find the fissure until this point - Desolation Lake - and so would only enjoy travel along it for a day.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 66Mike confirms the magic bearing - 283 degrees - that reveals our line of desired travel along the Great Fissure.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 67Brian Doble stands in the middle of the fissure, with the next pass on our horizon.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 68In addition to trail thoroughfares, the mountains offer more interesting travelways, including skyline peaks and ridges.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 69Traveling along the fissure was fast but it did not negate the sometimes dramatic changes in elevation that occured regularly. Fortunately, the drops - and climbs - were short. In the summer, this route is a spectacularly fast walk over tundra and easy talus.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 70If you draw a straight line intersecting Brian (in back) and Don (3rd), you'll see our line of travel ahead.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 71We crossed a lot of creeks in snowshoes. Thankfully, all but a few were less than ankle deep.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 72Don and Jorgen discuss route options around the ('I wish this were frozen') Lake of the Winds. To the right: granite slabs leading to an icy plunge. To the left: a long walk through granite talus and slabs. Our choice: the non-swimmer's route, a.k.a., 'The Long Way 'Round'.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 73Scenic and serene, walking around lakes provides some comfort of place in the Beartooths, but at this elevation, these walks are not without their challenges. Both trekking groups would face difficult navigation aroudn high lakes that included steep granite slabs and large talus.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 74The essential ingredients of any good wilderness trek: rock, snow, and tundra - Beartooth Majesty.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 75Far and away the most distressful ingredient of Wilderness Trekking III was the entrapment of rather inflexible lower legs into talus caverns hidden by layers of snow too thin to support our body weight.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 76Late on Day 3, we exiting the Great Fissure down a treed slope above a tiny lake, crossed this stream, and intersected a summer trail - the first sign of manmade travel since we left the road three days ago. At this point, with less than a day remaining, we made the decision to keep descending on a bearing to our exit point at Cooke City.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 77Trekking above 10,000 feet since leaving the road, we had no opportunity for bushwhacking. Ironically, we scouted this route down a steep ravine littered with talus and deadfall towards Russell Lake, not knowing that there was a summer trail only a quarter mile away. Such is the nature of traveling with maps that don't reveal all the data!

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 78Our Russell Lake Camp was a welcome comfort and change of pace from the higher, windy camps on the plateau above. We found a hunting camp, complete with fire ring, bear pole, and flat ground for camping.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 79On each of my expeditions, I experience emotional turmoil on my last evening in camp. While it affords me the opportunity to reflect on accomplishment and experiences, it signals impending travel through the gate to another domain: civilization. There is something about woodfire cooking, pleasant comrades, and hot meals that ease that pain. Watching Don Wilson practice the art of cooking over wood and traveling out of his element (snow, as opposed to desert) was immensely rewarding to me.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 80Packing up on the final morning, Jorgen secures the top of his homemade, 12-ounce pack.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 81Mike and Jorgen take first steps out of camp on the last day of our trek along the shore of Russell Lake.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 82Now in full frontal view of our Navigation Nemesis, Pilot Peak. Had we had the foresight to place this peak on the map early in the trek, we would had an important key to fixing our location at almost any point along the route.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 83Wilderness Epitaph.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 84By now, we were convinced that the other trekking group was exiting the Beartooths via the same drainage - as evidenced by a conspicuous set of fresh tracks on the trail.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 85Four days later, we leave the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. L to R: Brian Doble, Don Wilson, Jorgen Johanssen, and Mike Clelland.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 86With precious little time left to enjoy the experience, we prolong our trek in a forest-rimmed meadow, enjoying the view of the plateau from which we just descended.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 87A more physical adaptation of Rock-Paper-Scissors, Bear-Ninja-Cowboy can be a valuable tool for maintaining group welfare in expedition decision-making. Here, we decide which way to go - left or right - upon reaching the road.


Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 88Mike Clelland leads the group into the hamlet of Cooke City, Montana, 7,800 feet.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 89Walking into a town provides absolute finality to an expedition that is not always realized when arriving at a trailhead. It completes the transition from wilderness engagement, and I enjoy it immensely.

Backpacking Light's 2007 Wilderness Trekking III - 90L to R, Standing: Kevin Sawchuk, Mike Martin, Jim Bailey, Darin Banner, and Don Wilson. L to R, Kneeling: Jorgen Johannsen, Brian Doble, Ryan Jordan (instructor), Ryan Connelly (instructor), and Mike Clelland.