Crossing to Safety

From beginning to middle to end and back again, one adventure leads to another. So hold tight—it's a long ride

Apr 1, 2000
Outside Magazine
The goal was to go as light as possible without turning the trip into a sufferfest (no tent, no stove, no fun). Light and fast. Lightning fast: the one-size-fits-all mantra for mountain travel you either figure out, or you better go back to bowling. We thought the trip would take eight days, including (since we'd be in the neighborhood) a speed-ascent of 13,804-foot Gannett, the highest peak in Wyoming. We wanted our packs to be under 40 pounds, which meant no storm rations, no radio, no food drop, no pulp fiction, no extra fuel, no extra clothes, no extra nada. Word of our plan naturally brought out the naysayers.

A veteran instructor from the nearby National Outdoor Leadership School told us it would be so cold we'd need 40-below sleeping bags, expedition parkas, and crates of fuel—so much gear we'd be forced to haul sleds. (But having spent our share of 16-hour nights trapped in January snow caves, we chose to do our winter trip in late spring—mid-June, to be exact. T-shirt weather. Twice the daylight, three times the Fahrenheit, half the pain. No mosquitoes.)

A fellow backcountry skier said we'd be killed by avalanches. The snowpack was 200 percent of normal. Weaving through the high peaks would be running a deadly gauntlet. (But Ken booked us a ride in a souped-up Cessna 172 and we flew the length of our route, spotting and carefully noting only the occasional point-release slide.)

A glaciologist said the crevasses could be wide open, waiting to swallow the unwary. We'd have to carry a mountain of mountaineering gear to be safe. (From our flyover, most of the crevasses appeared to be filled in, so we forsook climbing ropes for a one-pound, 100-foot section of five-millimeter Kevlar cord; swapped harnesses, pickets, ice screws, deadmen, and all other winter ironmongery for three slings, three biners, and two finger-size ascenders apiece; and traded in our heavy steel ice axes and crampons for their lighter aluminum cousins.)

A gearhead said we'd need big fat telemark skis, big fat plastic boots, and big fat cable bindings to negotiate the steep terrain, all of which would demolish our ridiculously optimistic predictions for daily mileage. (We took lean, short, featherweight racing skis and wore nordic boots.)

Ken and I did a quick shakedown trip, testing and tweaking, and then took off for our ski traverse of the Winds, stopping in the Lander Bar en route for a send-off toast.