I often think of the time I spent in the Wind River mountain range in the autumn of 1982. I was a student at NOLS — the National Outdoor Leadership School, based in Lander, Wyoming. I was 25, then, and was attending the Fall Semester in the Rockies course along with eleven other students. Carrying heavy packs, we spent our first six weeks learning wilderness safety and practicing the Leave No Trace Principles. Decades later, I saw an alumni service trip in a NOLS course catalog. I signed on for a week of trail work and bridge reconstruction. That experience whetted my appetite for more. In 2015, I summoned my NOLS skills for a solo hike of the John Muir Trail in California’s Sierra Nevada. And before I’d finished storing my gear back home, I was planning my next hike. For this hike, however, Daniel, a soccer teammate of mine and novice backpacker, would join me. His enthusiasm reminded me of my own some 34 years earlier. It seemed fitting he was born precisely when I was attending my NOLS semester. In mid August 2016, we traveled from our home state of Maine to the place where I first met the high country. The Wind River Range, south of Yellowstone National Park and part of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, stretches for more than 100 miles in a spur of the Rocky Mountains that is home to two national forests and three wilderness areas. The Continental Divide slashes across the state following the spine of the Winds and includes Gannett Peak, the highest point in Wyoming at 13,804’. The legendary Continental Divide Trail, which runs from the Mexican to the Canadian border, tracks mainly to the west of the geographic divide as it weaves through the Winds. With a generous budget of twelve hiking days, I customized a popular Wind River High Route by accessing the Winds from the east side of the range. Starting near Lander and finishing near Dubois, we would cross the Divide four times and climb seven high passes with Blaurock Pass near Gannet Peak the highest at 12,800’. We camped a night in the Lander city park and shuttled our car the next morning to our exit trailhead. Just after lunch, with storm clouds threatening, we began our trek at the Middle Fork trailhead. During the planning of the hike, I made sure to craft a route to take us over the bridge I had helped to build. I was happy to see that after four years our puncheon bridge was holding up well. Roughly 45% of our journey would be off trail, but from our entry trailhead to the Cirque of the Towers, where we planned to camp our second night, it’s approximately 20 miles, and 3000 feet of elevation gain on a well-maintained trail. For most of the gradual climb, we hiked in obscured views. TIM: “That was a tough day.” TIM: “So tomorrow we do Texas Pass… …with pretty heavy packs.” DANIEL: “We’re hoping tomorrow is going to clear up… … and that we’ll have a clear day… …to be able to see everything around.” Though seeing occasional paths and cairns, we followed no real trail as we climbed Texas Pass in the welcomed sunshine. Views of Pingora Peak, considered one of North America’s classic climbs, dominated the ascent. Though sometimes steep and often slippery in loose gravel, there is a fairly well-defined trail coming down Texas Pass from the south. By the time we crossed Washakie Creek and soothed some sore feet, the day was getting late. We set up camp at Pyramid Lake in time to enjoy our first glimpse of a clear night sky. That morning we headed north toward East Fork Valley and Raid Pass. We soon met up with a solo hiker named Eric, also from Maine, who was nearing the final section of his 60-day Winds wandering. ERIC: “I just come down the pass and I see you guys pop out of the bushes. You must have just been leaving camp. And we start talking a little bit and somehow we discover that we live basically next door, as far as the country goes. Couldn’t get much closer. And we seem to have a bit of, you know, connection. We were chattin’ for a while, and I was like We’re goin’ in the same direction. Let’s just keep movin’. And, then, here we are.” The climb up Raid Pass from the valley was slow going, with plenty of talus to navigate. It would prove to be good practice for the difficult passes to come. I was already concerned about Blaurock Pass 45 miles ahead, which my research had shown would be the longest and most challenging climb. By then, we would be committed, with no easy bailout options. DANIEL:”So far, so good.” We also needed luck with the weather. DANIEL:”Ah! That was cold!” By now we had hiked roughly 35 miles and had learned that on good, level trails we could travel about 2.5 miles in an hour, but for off-trail route finding, boulder hopping, and bushwhacking, we could only count on one mile per hour. After breakfast, Eric helped us review our detailed topo map of the day’s proposed route. We were a little behind what I had planned, but luckily I had allowed an extra day as buffer in our schedule. After descending Bonneville Pass, we stopped for lunch next to a fishing hole between Lee and Middle Fork Lakes. I think this might have been the smallest one there. Shortly after lunch break, Eric slipped on a brush-covered rock and took a nasty fall. An experienced hiker, he carried a well-equipped first aid kit, and was soon hiking again. ERIC:”Just like that?” TIM:”Yea.” ERIC: “Neatness counts, right?” TIM: “Yup!” ERIC: “That way, when I run into the hot hiker babes, they’ll be like, ‘Ah! Look! He can even bandage himself neatly!'” The memory of Eric’s tumble kept us vigilant in choosing our steps the rest of the trip. ERIC: “Today, I’m going to hike with you guys for about half the day. We’ll stop at Europe Lake and I’ve got to pick up my resupply, so I’m stoppin’. And you’ll continue on past Long Lake—beautiful place.” ERIC: “I really like backpacking. I like the feeling of independence and doing it all yourself and carrying everything that you want and need. The people out here are really nice, they’re pretty serious, they know what they’re doin’, and they really want to be here. Anybody who comes here here has to make an effort to get here. And the Winds, seems to me, like the epitome of wilderness backpacking out West.” After lunch, we said goodbye to Eric, and headed north past Long Lake toward Hay Pass and on to Dennis Lake where we planned to stop for the night. DANIEL: “It’s been a long day—about a 9-mile trek. Up and down…multiple blisters…pain, but the location is just amazing.” Though seldom seen, grizzlies and black bears are known to roam the Winds. As recommended, we each carried a can of bear spray. DANIEL: “So I lost my bear spray yesterday. Hopefully a bear doesn’t maul me, but Tim’s going to defend me.” Now, we were down to one. The treeless, open basin allowed us to evaluate our best approach to the pass. Once in the talus, the micro route finding was much more tedious. Like Raid Pass, ascending Angel Pass was time consuming —and also, for me, very familiar. This is the one place I do remember visiting during my NOLS semester. 34 years earlier, I had clambered over these very rocks. DANIEL: “That was tricky.” TIM: “That WAS tricky.” I used online resources caltopo.com and Google Earth to plot our route. I then downloaded our track onto an iPhone GPS app and printed daily detailed topo maps. We also carried 1:48000-scale maps that gave us possible bail-out options if needed. TIM: “Do you have the map?” DANIEL: “I always have the map.” DANIEL: “I may lose the bear spray, but I’m not going to lose the map.” DANIEL: “We need to do yoga.” TIM: “Yeah, I know. I need to …. stand up.” DANIEL: “We’re the most inflexible people…” TIM: “So, we’re this far behind.” DANIEL: “Yep.” TIM: “So, I think we can make it past this, and get down into the…. right below the pass.” It hadn’t rained in six days, but that evening at Wall Lake, the weather pattern was changing as clouds were building and a cold wind picked up, though it didn’t rain that night. In the morning we made our way toward Island Lake. When we crested the saddle, we were met by another lone hiker. Dan was exploring the area on a day hike from his base camp at the popular Island Lake. We shared our plans to climb Indian Pass and he decided to join us as part of his day excursion. Island Lake lies at the foot of Titcomb Basin and I had tried to chose a route that would take us through there, but logistics dictated getting back to the east side of the divide, so Indian Pass made more sense. As we made our way through Indian Basin on the well-established trail, clouds grew thick and the western skies darkened. It was getting late in the afternoon, so with dubious weather approaching, we decided to retreat to a lower altitude, and Dan headed back for his camp at Island Lake. DANIEL: “We are looking for shelter, ’cause there’s a storm coming.” DANIEL: “But we really don’t know what happened to Dan right now… We don’t have a way of knowing. I mean, we assume he’s fine. Hopefully, he’s OK… and made it back to his tent. The squall passed and we were graced with a quiet sunset. 67 miles into our hike, we were headed back over the divide— committing ourselves to finishing our proposed route. TIM: “So today we’re headed up to Indian Pass.” And here we go! We’re at about 11,000 feet here, and then the pass is 12,200 (??). So we’ve got about 1200 feet to climb this morning in a very short distance. TIM: “Looks like a lot…of…rubble.” DANIEL: “Yea.” Traction devices on the textured ice were unnecessary, as we crossed the lower, relatively flat section of Knife Point Glacier. The route we took down to Bull Lake Creek Valley from Indian Pass was apparently the same route taken by horse-mounted Shoshone for centuries, though the glacier has receded significantly in recent times. Like the previous day, the clouds thickened in the afternoon. Anticipating the gentle snow would be short-lived, we decided to nap under some boulders to wait it out. Soon, the skies cleared and we weren’t the only creatures stirring. TIM: “Look at the cloud over that.” DANIEL: “Oh, cool!” DANIEL: “This is amazing!” Now at the base of Blaurock Pass, we needed the weather to cooperate. The clear night sky was a good sign. TIM: “I’ve been nervous about this thing the whole time. I mean, it’s a… it’s a beast. I think it’s a beast both ways, going up and down.” TIM: “This is our last big obstacle.” TIM: “Maybe we ought to just cut across… …go up that thing.” DANIEL: “Right through the middle? Climb that?” DANIEL: “This stuff is loose.” DANIEL: “Climbing over boulders and doing all that, really reminded me of when I was a kid, because my little sister and I used to climb every tree that you could see, you know, like roofs, and I loved doing it. And I haven’t done it in a long time, but there’s something about, like just propelling yourself above. You can just, kind of like, keep going because you can see that goal up there and you want to kind of make it happen.” DANIEL: “So that loose rock was pretty dicey?” TIM: “Yea, it seemed like, you know, if you pulled one rock out, it could just let ’em all out.” DANIEL: “We’re, like, 50 feet from the top. Ya see it?” TIM: “Yea” TIM: “You know it was fun making decisions together, because you would see something that I didn’t see, and sometimes I would see stuff you didn’t see and we would figure out the best way. And it worked out that way.” Relieved that the weather had held, we had made it to the highest elevation of our hike—12,800’. We were now 23 miles from our exit trailhead with more than a mile of altitude to lose, but after the scramble down Blaurock Pass to Dinwoody Creek, we would be on a well-travelled trail the remainder of our hike. DANIEL: “There’s a visual language to moving through a place like this. I feel like I have tools to know how to prepare, how to move through that space a little bit better, and how to actually, like, pace yourself. At nearly 60 years old, I’m still grateful for my semester at NOLS, and for the chance to pay forward that experience so many years later. I am going to die but probably not today. What shall I do with this wonderful news? One day the lights will go out, the engine room will grow cold and quiet, I’ll be surprised to realize that I’ve just exhaled for the last time, this will all come to pass, but probably not today, this newly excellent day. I’ve made mistakes, but none today. I have trespassed and been trespassed against, I’ve broken hearts and had mine broken, I have caused and felt all manner of difficulty, but today, so far, everything is more or less perfect and balanced and harmonious. What shall I do with this perfect day?