When it comes down to making plans and decisions, I’ve found that fear and apprehension can be a positive driving force, rather than an inhibition. It’s Fear of Missing Out (FOMO as the “kids” call it). I think about this a lot when people ask me what’s on my horizon for a next adventure. I’m not worried about letting others down, but of letting myself down.
It would be a shame to mismanage the time we are allotted on this wild and beautiful planet.So how do I move forward in a way that uses my motivation and desires—however overwhelming they feel initially? Whenever I’m planning for a new what next I start by answering these two initial questions, as it will lay the framework for the rest of my thought process.
Why do I want to do this trip, what will excite me?
How am I going to go about doing it?
Soon I’ll be setting off to do a solo traverse of the Wind River Range, hugging the spine of the Rocky Mountains for ~130mi. Why am I excited about this trip? When I came through on the Continental Divide Trail in 2006, I knew that just to my east lay impressive, glaciated terrain, shrouded in mystery, just out of the scope my current map set was offering.
Also - I love being off-trail, high in the alpine, geeking out on micro-navigation and confronting doubt in terrain classification. Will this pass ‘go’? Will the weather hold? When and were will I get cliffed out’? This route will offer ample opportunities to consider these very questions. Engaging the brain is ultimately how I connect with a landscape and feel alive.
In all honesty I’ve spent less time planning for this adventure than I normally do. Mostly out of familiarity in the process, but also to leave some semblance of mystic in the unknown and to honor the sense of adventure. There is a difference in my mind between gross negligence and over-preparedness. For far too long I’ve know that 80% of what you planned for goes out the window the moment you set foot on trail. Here’s how I expedite the process:
Buy the plane ticket, order the guidebook, print the map set! Far too often people talk about what they want to do rather than committing to what they should do. Set a date on your calendar and hold yourself to it. By setting this hard deadline you have to prioritize getting your ducks in a row. This level of commitment will help drive the process in sorting out all the rest of the planning.
ASK THE HARD QUESTIONS (ANSWER HONESTLY)
What do I know for certain? What do I think I know? What do I have no idea about? These types of questions help take a lofty, overwhelming goal and place them into context so you can compartmentalize your next steps.
Have an honest conversation with yourself to analyze what your previous experience entails. This will help set boundaries to prevent biting off more than you can chew.
Don’t have the required skillset? How can you go about getting them to fill in the gaps? Unfamiliar with the region or terrain? Look into what resources are online or available. All pertinent questions have answers. And remember that some level of uncertainty is acceptable and it’s ok to let the experience unfold before you.
This is the heart of planning and a huge part of the overall experience. It’s your experience, so feel empowered to cater to your needs. After completing whatever adventure you found yourself in, you’ll look back at all the hours you slaved away on the computer, posting to online forums, poring over maps and bagging up trail mix into zip lock bags. There are a few key categories I think about when diving into the logistics.
Transportation: How will I get to and from the trail? Are there shuttle services or trail angels in the area? Can I alter the route to simplify these logistics?
For this Wind River high route I’ll be flying into Jackson Hole, renting a car and driving to the southern trailhead terminus. I intentionally planned my route to enter and exit on the east side of the range. When I finish I will plan on hitchhiking back to my car. The town of Lander is beautifully situated to iron out many of the last minute logistical needs.
Weather and Terrain: This will not only drive your gear decisions but possibly your overall comfort and morale. Sometimes life gets in the way of the ideal season, but can you live with less than ideal?
I’m knowingly pushing the envelop on complimentary weather for this traverse, but it was the only time that worked for my schedule. I’m fully anticipating moments of discomfort via rain, wind, snow and sleet. In knowing this, I’m be relying on a lot of the prior experience I’ve gained in managing self-care in these types of conditions.
One of my favorite resources for looking at weather is noaa.gov. This website allows you the ability to zoom in on the exact location you want a weather report for. This can be particularly helpful in mountainous environments where elevation and topography can have a huge affect on the true conditions.
Nearly everything has been done before and the Internet has a wealth of information on tracking down details and specifics on a particular region or place. Doing a search for relevant forums will provide a great platform to asks pertinent questions that others may back perspective or background on. Summitpost.org has a plethora of trip reports and forums to peruse.
Gear: What terrain will I be in? What will the temps be? What hazards will I need to mitigate? What skill will I need?
Having the right gear has its limitations with the overall success of a trip. Skills and systems are far more important. I like to travel as light as possible and the ethos of ultra light backpacking help guide my decisions around gear selection. Cutting weight is all about compromise. What can you live with, what is a non-negotiable and what do you currently have that is working? A shake down trip is always a great way to try out new systems without worry of great consequence.
In knowing this route will traverse several large glacial fields and terrain up to Class 3/4, footwear became a careful consideration. I would need something comfortable enough for putting in long days, yet burly enough to stand up to miles of boulder hopping and talus traversing. The sole would need to have sufficient traction for moderate alpine climbing and be compatible with instep crampons. The combination I settled on what a pair of OBOZ Switchback mated to a set of Vargo Ti Pocket Cleats.
Food & Water: How often will I need to resupply? How close are the towns? Will I need to hitch? What is the quality and frequency of water sources? What level of protection will my food require?
Luckily this trip is short enough that I can carry all of my food in one push. Six days of food is my personal preference of maximum food weight before preferring a resupply along the way. Water will abundant and with the anticipated cooler weather, I doubt I’ll carry or consume much water at all.
Contingencies: What are my options to bail? What level of remoteness do I need to anticipate? What is the timeline if something unexpected occurs?
Emergency response is an important area to consider, but don’t dwell on it. With proper skill and risk management, there is very little that can go wrong in the backcountry. Far too often I find people place too much emphasis on the ‘what if’s’. The Winds have trailheads all along their eastern and western flanks and I wouldn’t be surprised if I come across a few NOLS expeditions while I’m out there since they are based in Lander. With the nature of solo expeditions, I place more personal emphasis on conservative decision-making.
In summary, planning for any trip of grandeur is just a series of systematic questions to resolve. The real tragedy is to not try at all, feeling overrun with excuses. Fair warning in that once the mind has been stretched to new possibilities; it’s hard to return to a previous mentality. Happy trails!