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Wilderness Trekking School - Ultralight Boot Camp Photo Essay

The ultralight boot camp is exactly like it sounds; it prepares you to meet unexpected challenges in the wilderness. Plus it's a lot of fun and the scenery is stunning.

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by Ryan Connelly (Photos by Emily Beers) | 2014-01-28 00:00:00-07


Is there ever a wilderness trip that goes exactly as planned? Maybe you’ve been more fortunate, or better planned, but I’ve yet to experience a trek with no surprises. Those surprises can lead to the classic wilderness epic, or they are simply a unique memory that makes the post trip story more entertaining. The difference, epic or entertaining story, is determined by the successful application of both soft skills and hard skills.

All of the Backpacking Light Wilderness Trekking School courses aim to build those skills. Thankfully, all of our expedition planning and course curriculum polish never removes the educational opportunities of adapting to the surprises found on a wilderness trek. The following photos are a small sampling of the skill building opportunities we encountered in October 2013’s WT2-ULB. (Note: All well composed photo credit goes to Emily Beers, a student on the course. All the blurry amatuer shots were taken by me.)

Click here to learn more about the Wilderness Trekking School

The Trip

 - 1
Lion’s Ridge, the starting point for all of our longer courses, allows us to thoroughly examine, critique, and discuss our gear choices during the “Gear Explosion.”

 - 2
The first and most important lesson before entering the greater Yellowstone ecosystem is bear country protocols. Note: Only highly trained instructors should assume the role of Grizzly Bear in this demonstration. Please don’t make me tell you this is NOT real bear spray.

 - 3
Day one of WTS is typically a short hiking day to a well used backcountry campsite. The short hiking day provides ample time to introduce shelter, cooking, and camping skills. In WT1 courses this may be the first time a student has slept under a tarp so we work hard to demonstrate good shelter habits and camp site selection.

 - 4
Here Instructor Pat Starich and student Dick builds the first of many cook/warming fires in one of the most unique natural fire hearths I've ever encountered. LNT principles are a core component of every course. In this case, the established fire “ring” was a no brainer cook site selection.

 - 5
PatS and Dick take the opportunity to discuss backcountry nutrition and caloric management on a short break during our longest day of hiking. On this course that meant almost 13 miles and 3000 ft of elevation gain.

 - 6
That same day we followed this black bear track for almost 6 miles. We never saw our phantom hiking partner, but a local hunter had seen him the day before.

 - 7
A beautiful look up the Flood Creek Drainage, but as we experienced on the previous day’s exploratory hike, you do not want to plan a long foray into young pine region. Unless, of course you enjoy wading through 9 foot tall pines growing over a field of blown down logs. Fun way to kill time while one instructor is down with the flu (surprise!), yes. Good choice of route for putting down miles, no.

 - 8
A shoulder season trek in the Beartooth Wilderness is not complete until you spend a few nights in the snow. Notice in this photo the variety of layering required by different people. The question of “will I be warm enough with _______” is oft repeated in pre-course discussions, but never answered until you have personal experience in cold climates.

 - 9
Although not all pictured here, we had four cooking systems represented on this course. Open Fire, Liquid Alcohol, Solid Fuel Alcohol (ie Esbit), and upright canister Iso-Bu-Pro-pane. Exposure to other student skillsets and experiences often ranks as some of the most helpful information gleaned from a WTS course. Not as noticeable, but this course also saw the successful application of WPB shoes, shoes with no WPB barrier, and shoes with WPB socks.

 - 10
No, I don’t have a picture, but my Tenkara rod did coax a few reluctant trout out of Jordan Lake. It did require quite a bit of Mountain Goat rock hopping as I was not inclined to wade for a fish.

 - 11
Good on the fly route selection and an excellent group dynamic led to a casual hike out of the wilderness and ample time for quietly enjoying the wilderness. Here, Dick and Bob share the last hours of one more night of peace and quiet in the Beartooth Wilderness.

 - 12
In our original gear explosion at Lion’s Ridge we decided as a team to employ the wonders of the internet and share only on camera on the trip. Emily was the designated photographer with gracious permission given to allow others access to take a few pictures. As shown in this photo, we also chose not to bring a tripod.

 - 13
See… no need for a tripod.

 - 14
The wilderness is the best classroom. The pre-course WTS curriculum is deeply thorough, dense and detailed. Our online discussions are lively and informative. However, that content leaves the virtual spot in your brain and take quickly takes root in the “I really did that” spot on the trekking portion of the WTS courses. P.S. Emily, I made this one my desktop background. :-)

Click here to learn more about the Wilderness Trekking School


"Wilderness Trekking School - Ultralight Boot Camp Photo Essay," by Ryan Connelly (Photos by Emily Beers). (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2014-01-28 00:00:00-07.


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Wilderness Trekking School - Ultralight Boot Camp Photo Essay
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Maia Jordan
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Wilderness Trekking School - Ultralight Boot Camp Photo Essay on 01/28/2014 20:33:01 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Wilderness Trekking School - Ultralight Boot Camp Photo Essay

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Wilderness Trekking School - Ultralight Boot Camp Photo Essay on 01/28/2014 20:57:47 MST Print View

Great pics. What camera is Emily using?

Emily Beers
(ebeers) - MLife

Locale: upstate
WTS essay on 01/31/2014 05:47:31 MST Print View

It's a Canon 6D with a 16-35 2.8 lens. So about as non-UL as they come, but I was so happy to have it along! More photos available on the interwebs here:

And I really can't speak highly enough about the WTS experience. Our mission suffered quite a few setbacks- 24 hours in our instructor Pat became very ill, and we had to significantly modify our route plan for the possibility of heading back to drive him to a hospital. Thankfully he recuperated well, and we pressed on into that beautiful backcountry. Not pictured is the frozen pink vomit just outside my tent 48 hours later, sigil of my bout with the same illness. Nothing like a fever with rigors, teeth chattering in all of your layers while sleeping on snow. Ryan and Pat really made the experience the best it could be, despite high odds against it. It helped that we had a great crew of students, all of whom were able to be flexible and accommodate 2/5 of us with sudden incapacity derailing our plans. Bottom line: if we could go through all that and still have an amazing trip, the bar was set pretty high. WTS goes highly recommended!

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: WTS essay on 01/31/2014 07:39:15 MST Print View

Thanks for the info Emily. Sorry about the illness. I have been through a GI viral illness while desert hiking a few years ago. It was no fun at all.

Ryan Connelly
(Ryanundertrees) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Re: WTS essay on 02/03/2014 15:01:57 MST Print View

Thanks Emily! I think much of our success on that trip can be attributed to the high level of compassion and the universally positive attitude of the students. When the data looks sour its attitude that sugars the lemons.

And for a last post trip recommendation... don't play with RyanC's toddlers 24 hours before a wilderness trek unless you've been previously exposed. Right Pat?