Teacher recalls backpacking in Rocky Mountains

‘Mindblowingly Glorious’

When one gets lost in the mountains after hiking for fourteen hours with a 50-pound backpack on one’s  shoulders, one would usually want to go home as soon as possible. English teacher Brian Winkel  would like to do it again.

This summer, Winkel embarked on a solo backpacking trip for eight days in the Wind River Range in the Rocky Mountains of western Wyoming. Winkel said he drew the idea from a book he had read by Rich Osthoff, “Flyfishing the Rocky Mountain Backcountry.” This is not the only wild idea Winkel has had. Adventure has taken the form of floating down the Mississippi and traveling to the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota.

How would one ever get prepare for such a physically demanding trip? Winkel said he walked a 3.1 mile route in his neighborhood every day, yet the steepness of the Wyoming mountains was still a shock compared to the flatness of Iowa. Coupled with the thinner air of the mountains, Winkel said it was much harder to breathe. “I had to stop and rest a lot, and put my head down on my (trekking) poles,” Winkel said.

Winkel also described the task of preparing his food. In order to carry everything on his back, he had to dehydrate all his food, and even then, he didn’t have many options. He prepared muesli (a sort of cold oatmeal) for breakfast, G.O.R.P (nuts and raisins) for lunch and tabouli (a Middle Eastern salad with bulgur, vegetables, olive oil and lemon juice) for dinner. Even though he loved these foods, he quickly grew tired of eating the same thing. Winkel said that he accidentally packed portions that were too big for him, but the calorie dense food was needed for all his strenuous hiking.

It wasn’t always easy either. Winkel said he lost his way a few times and ended hiking in the wrong directions. He recalled the second day of his trip when he chanced upon a dynamite crew blowing up the trails in order to improve the switchbacks, or hairpin turns on the trails. After chatting with the head crew member, Winkel hiked down the mountain, and unknowingly followed a deer trail into nothing. He found the real trail again, but hiked back up the mountain, discovering his mistake only when he saw the dynamite crew once again.

Even though this cost him about four hours in total, Winkel tried not to grow too frustrated. “There are two types of people,” Winkel said. “People who laugh about their mistakes, and people who cry about their mistakes. Adversity builds character, they say.” It’s abundantly clear which type of person Winkel is.

Winkel followed the Glacier Trail, which is known for the rare species of brightly colored golden trout that thrive in the high altitudes. Winkel even caught a golden trout, a proud personal accomplishment. He even caught brook trout in nine consecutive casts.

He remembers the “mindblowingly glorious” views from the mountains: the crystal-clear waters, the wildflowers in bloom, the elk feeding on grass even above the treeline, even the cute, fuzzy pikas making high pitched goat noises.

Winkel said he loves exploration and seeing new things, and is always looking to go where other people don’t because usually those places are the most beautiful. “I was exhausted but proud,” Winkel said. “I wanted to stay there.”

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