Backpacking: Camping the way it was intended

Wind River Range Backpacking

It's been more than five miles since I've seen any signs of human life. It's been three miles since I've seen any semblance of a trail. It's been one mile since I've lost my mind. Venturing solo into the backcountry for the first time in my life, I might have over-reached a bit. I'm deep in the mountains of the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) and not that far from some of the most remote country in the lower 48 states. Every bush is a hungry bear and every rustling of sage a mountain lion.

I try to calm myself: "I'm an EMT and am on Search and Rescue for heaven's sake," I say out loud. "I've spent dozens of nights in the wilderness and was even my own porter all the way to Everest Base Camp. I can handle this." This is a 70-mile backpacking adventure down the spine of the main mountain range in the BTNF. I do not believe myself, however, and, standing in an open field at 10,800 feet, I am close to tears. This is not the way camping was intended. But I am nothing if not stubborn (just ask my boyfriend). Rather than turn around and spend a comfortable night sans imaginary bears back in my bed in Jackson, I decide to pitch camp right there. My initial plan of attack had called for me to make it six more miles before settling down, but crawling inside a tent has always had a cathartic effect on me in the past. I hope it will again, and maybe restore some of my sanity. Bushes are not bears and I am too big for a mountain lion to carry off.

As I suspect, I fall asleep nearly immediately, but am awoken within four hours by one of the brightest moons I have ever seen and a pack of coyotes dancing and yelping just outside my tent's front entrance. I step outside, the moon bright enough to silhouette the mountains encircling me in all directions and illuminating the cacophonous coyotes. There is absolutely no sign of another human or civilization anywhere; no bears or mountain lions either. My sanity returned, I heft myself onto the top of a small boulder nearby and just soak it all in. Now this is the way camping was intended.

I'm a fan of any and every type of camping, be it car camping with plush sleeping pads and down pillows or in a forest service cabin with a wood-burning stove. But, for me, the undisputed king of camping is backpacking: hiking into the wilderness with all the necessities for surviving the next night, or two, or three, on my back. Little else in life feels as good as finding the perfect spot for the night and settling in. Filtering water, getting the camp stove going, pitching a shelter, hanging the food out of the reach of bears, pulling your sleeping bag out of its stuff sack, crawling into that sleeping bag and falling asleep to nothing but the sounds of nature are all part of the routine. Just writing about it brings me a sense of peace.

In order to spare you the temporary insanity I endured, here are three different backpacking options throughout Wyoming, rated for ability and remoteness (it takes a while to feel comfortable knowing you're the only person, or people if it's a group of you, around for miles).

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