Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Two Sides of "Mountaineer" Matt

My self appointed title of "Mountaineer Matt" has always been a dual purpose phrase that encapsulates some of the things about myself that I hold most dear. With my blog's apparent focus on my recent spate of far-flung adventures across the Western United States, many to lofty peaks, it's easy to think of my moniker as pertaining only to the sport of mountaineering. But that's only half the story.

Mountaineering was a logical progression from the backpacking I learned in Boy Scouts and the rock climbing I learned with my friends at the Coast Guard Academy. When I found myself out in Washington State I decided to combine the two - backpacking into the mountains and then rock climbing up some enticing pinnacle. I was fortunate to find a mentor to bridge my gap in experience on snow and ice, a requisite for mountaineering in the Northwest.
Forbidden Peak, North Cascades, Washington (photo credit Trevor Clark)
I loved climbing mountains. There's something about sweeping views, physical challenge, and a little bit of real risk that made it so appealing to me. Many have written lots of metaphors and philosophy about mountain climbing and life. I don't buy into much of that. It's fun, it's hard, and "it's there."

I've been fortunate to climb some beautiful mountains: Mt Olympus, Mt Shuksan, Cathedral Peak, Forbidden Peak, East Temple Peak. I've been shut down on some difficult trips: Luna Peak, Mt Adams, and Mt Assiniboine come to mind. And one of my all time proudest personal accomplishments was the result of mountaineering - a first ascent of a previous unclimbed peak, known only as "11,430," deep in the Alaskan wilderness.   
A first ascent in Alaska (photo credit Scott Peters)
I feel that mountaineering played a tremendously important role in my development as a young man in my mid-20s, laying a foundation of fitness, risk management, tolerance for adversity, adventure, technical proficiency, and confidence. But even just five years later I've found myself re-evaluating my relationship with mountaineering. I've not climbed anything particularly bold and yet I've found falling rocks whizzing by my head, I've triggered small avalanches, I've nearly crapped my pants hearing snow "settle" underneath me, I've witnessed a helicopter rescue, I've lost feeling in extremities, I've been blown off my feet, and I've stood unroped on a small ledge frozen with fear. I think mountaineering can be pursued safely, but only to a point. There are always objective hazards that we can reduce or mitigate but never truly eliminate unless we stay home. 

I’m come to view the sport as a giant game of Russian roulette, played with a hundred-cylinder revolver. Many folks might never even approach 100 climbs, but what if the trigger is pulled on the 50th climb? The 30th? Can we ever guarantee our safety? As I move into the next phase of my life after all my unencumbered adventuring, I feel that my more selfish pursuits have run their course. My ego has been sated and I’ve got nothing left to prove. I'm eager to take on the responsibilities of career, relationships, and family and I think "hard" (a relative term) mountaineering is on some level incompatible with those responsibilities. I've read too many stories of young people taken in the prime of their life, leaving others behind. It's easy to justify that by saying they were doing something they love. And I get it. I love mountaineering. It would be a cold and lonely way to go, but still probably better than a car wreck. But I love a lot of other things too. Mountaineering is a part of me, but it's not the only part or even the biggest part. I respect and appreciate the role it has played, but my tolerance for the risks is rapidly declining. As I analyze my two remaining mountaineering objectives, I feel they are quite moderate, appealing to me more for the difficulty in the approach and distance travelled off trail just to get to the bottom of the climb instead of a daring ascent or any hard climbing itself. 

A solo mountaineering adventure in California

So that’s my relationship with mountaineering as it stands now. I thank everyone for following along on my (primarily) mountaineering adventures, and while there are a few more of those yet to come I’m eager to introduce you to the other side of “Mountaineer” Matt.

Despite a considerably lower altitude than say Colorado, West Virginia has always been known as the “Mountain State.” Residents of West Virginia, and our University’s mascot, are known as the “mountaineers,” a legacy of the frontier days when the only mountains in the country were the Appalachians and the tools of the trade were flintlocks and buckskins, not ice axes and Gore-tex.

Those of you that know me well are aware of my fierce pride in West Virginia. Despite the long distance hassle, I kept my WV ID and plates on my truck during my time in the Coast Guard. My trusty WVU ball cap has graced my head and started innumerable conversations across the four corners of America. I even have our state motto, “montani semper liberi” (mountaineers are always free) tattooed on my left arm. Even after, nay, especially after my travels to all fifty states, I’m happy to find myself back in West Virginia. Many areas of our country are breathtakingly beautiful, but they never exactly felt like home.

This is about as "alpine" as it gets in West Virginia, atop Seneca Rocks (photo credit Adam Swisher)

West Virginia has more than our fair share of problems. I’m not blind nor na├»ve. But where others see problems I see opportunities. I’m excited to build my new life here, start a second career, raise a family. I feel that my experiences and travels thus far allow me to look upon my native state with fresh perspective. Check back in a few years to see if I’ve become cynical, but I truly believe the stakes are worth the fight and I’m invested in the outcome.

Toward that end, I’ve partnered with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, a non-profit group that tackles water quality and recreation issues in the state. Specifically I’m focused on an initiative to protect the headwaters of six important watersheds, dubbed the Birthplace of Rivers. We’re asking state and federal leadership to designate the area as a National Monument - celebrating the recreational opportunities of the area, better safeguarding the watershed from industrial development, and providing a much needed boost to local economies. No matter your political leaning, I don’t see why any West Virginian vested in a successful future wouldn’t want to see our leadership come together on the National Monument proposal. I wouldn’t be behind something I didn’t truly believe in, and I’m all in on Birthplace of Rivers.

Middle Fork of the Williams River in the proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument, West Virginia 
So now I hope you have a better understanding of “Mountaineer Matt.” It’s something that I do but more importantly it’s who I am. One defining chapter comes to a close as another one opens; at the end of a year on the road I’m interested in focusing more on the opportunities available in the Mountain State. As far as the future of this blog is concerned, you can expect me to write about all the fun adventures I’m cooking up within West Virginia and cover some of the issues I’d like to see moving our state forward - the other side of "Mountaineer" Matt. 

Check out the opinion piece I got published in the local paper about the National Monument. And visit the Birthplace of Rivers website. While you’re at it, go ahead and sign up for our newsletter. Thanks!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Best Gear of 2015

A little delayed, but it's been busy since I returned home. Working on grad school, a new job (more on that later), and enjoying fall in West Virginia. None of these "reviews" are sponsored. It's just things that I found to work really well for me this summer, proven over 15,000 miles on the road and 3 months living in truck and tent.

5.10 Guide Tennie - The best pair of shoes I've bought in a long while. These are "approach" style shoes, with definite climbing influence. Unbeatable for boulder hopping and scrambling. I felt comfortable enough on easy rock climbs with these to not warrant bringing a pair of dedicated climbing shoes, making for a more comfortable climb and eliminating the need to carry "walk-off" shoes in my pack. I saw some folks in Wyoming wearing these while backpacking, but they aren't as well padded as a dedicated pair of hiking shoes or boots. Light hiking no problem, but I didn't want to wear them with a 40lb pack over 10+ miles day after day.

Astral Brewer - Another pair of shoes (I feel like Imelda Marcos). But it seems that nearly every outdoor activity calls for its own specialized footwear. These aren't your father's water shoes. You can, and I have, get away with wearing these for some post-river beer. I quickly ditched my dorky water shoes when I discovered these. Well thought out features, including amazing wet-rock-sticky-rubber and minimalist quick drying construction.

Icebreaker Hoody & Tshirts - Could be viewed as an endorsement for Icebreaker specifically, and perhaps so, but what I'm really promoting here is merino wool. It's expensive but worth every nickel in my opinion. You might not think of a wool tshirt as cool and comfortable, but think again. I practically lived in my merino hoody every day at NOLS and whenever the temperatures dropped this summer. Which brings me to one of the biggest benefits - little to no stink factor. I'm able to pack less clothing and go longer between washings, decreasing (but probably not eliminating) my "dirtbag-ness."

Battery Powered String LEDs - This is one of the cooler items on this list. Big Agnes just came out with a line of fancy tents with this integrated "Mountain Glo" feature. You could spend big bucks on a new tent or buy a three pack of these ( for $16, and you could even split that cost with two of your friends (if you have that many friends). Let loose your inner MacGyver and figure out how to rig them up to create a nice homey atmosphere in your tent, eliminating the need to blind your tentmate with your headlamp while you play cards. I also used some velcro to attach them to the inside of my carpet lined truckbed canopy for a similar effect.

Princeton Tec Sync - My trusty headlamp of 5 years gave up the ghost this year at NOLS. I must have tried half a dozen before settling on this one. It's not necessarily the brightest model out there, but evaluate what you really need. Are you trying to summit Everest in the dead of night or are you really just putzing around camp trying to light your stove? It's lightweight, a good value, made in 'Murica, and has an intuitive and foolproof "dial" for output control. The red mode is surprisingly handy. I tried the more popular Black Diamond Spot and promptly returned it to REI. The darn thing kept turning on in my pack, despite the "lock" feature and requires you to memorize a specific "tapping sequence" to switch modes. Annoying.

Suncloud Sunglasses - Sunclouds have been one of my go-to sunglasses for a couple years now. And I'm always wearing sunglasses. Very reasonably priced. Polarized. Style. Lifetime warranty. What more do you need?

Gaia GPS App - Last year I extolled my Garmin Oregon 600. It's pretty good. Still is. But I also discovered a $20 app for my iPhone that does nearly the same thing as my $400 GPS. And since I've got the iPhone with my anyway (love the panorama feature), it helps me lighten my load when appropriate. By appropriate, I mean that for extended backcountry trips, nothing will replace my enthusiasm for a dedicated, stand alone GPS unit with field-replaceable batteries. Or my preference to have a good map & compass. But on an overnight trip or a dayhike where I'm not as concerned with the battery life on my phone, I've come to really appreciate this app. Topo maps for the entire US and Canada are free, just remember to download them to the phone so you can access them without cell service in the boonies.

REI Flash 18 - I'm a sucker for backpacks. I have a bunch. But this is the one I reach for time and time again. I find it's best used as a daypack or summit sack on longer trips. It easily stuffs inside of your big pack and simplifies those forays from camp. I've had mine for years now and it's been up dozens of Western peaks and down a few slot canyons in the Southwest. Wait until it goes on sale and you could probably buy it with this year's REI dividend.

Rite in the Rain Journal - I started keeping a journal in 2014 knowing that I was embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and wanting to capture it in perpetuity. Rite in the Rain, a Tacoma, WA company, was what I used. I'm a firm believer in taking nothing outdoors that isn't weatherproof and my "adventure journal" has kept up with me, showing practically no wear and tear despite snow, rain, desert heat, and whitewater. My journal entries, appropriately edited for a greater audience, formed the foundation for most of my blog posts (apparently I have some non-PG-rated thoughts on mosquitos, paddling into headwinds, and the crowds of Yellowstone National Park).

Kindle - This item is my lone exception to my "weatherproof" rule above. But safely ensconced in a ziplock bag, my trusty Kindle hasn't let me down. It's lighter than even a single paperback and can store hundreds of books which is quite important at the rate that I read. On solo expeditions my Kindle keeps me from going insane. For backcountry use, I'd recommend a model without a fancy backlight. The battery will last longer (mine goes for two weeks on a single charge) and with the DIY LED lighting I mentioned previously, you won't need a backlight to read comfortably in your tent.

Alpaca Raft - I can't say enough about my packraft. At only 5lbs and the size of a rolled up tent, it has opened up a whole new world of amphibious adventure opportunities that I'm just now beginning to explore. From accessing isolated campsites in Isle Royale to river trips in North Dakota and Wyoming, the packraft represents true freedom, flexibility, and spontaneity. I've got some great adventures in mind for the east coast, including some combination bike-and-float trips along West Virginia's extensive rail trail network, most of which parallel fun, moderate whitewater rivers.

Astral Brewer shoes and an Alpaca Yukon packraft cruising down the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Colorado to West Virginia


Rocky Mountain National Park turned out to be a slight bust. I had ambitions to climb Longs Peak and set up some nice early fall foliage shots up near Sky Pond but the late season weather shut me down pretty hard.

Up at 14,000ft, Park Rangers were reporting high winds, snow accumulation, and the formation of "verglas" - an icy glazing on rocks that's too thin for traction with crampons and too slick with boots alone. I had done plenty of climbing this summer and didn't want my final attempt to turn into a wintery epic. I contented myself with my previous accomplishments and therefore wasn't too disappointed that I wouldn't get my "14er." Wyoming's Fremont Peak (13,745ft) will likely be my personal altitude record for quite some time, maybe forever.

I did drive up to the high country on park roads to check out the alpine scenery and crested the Continental Divide at over 12,000ft. The winds buffeted my truck and made steering difficult. I watched clouds race overhead at warp speed. And I was glad I wasn't on top of Longs Peak.

The following day I got up early to hike to popular Sky Pond. I needn't have rushed; once I arrived in the parking lot it started pouring. I curled up on my bench seat and snoozed for another hour, waiting for a break in the rain. Which I technically got only because it stopped raining and instead started to snow. I hiked anyway. On the way to Sky Pond I passed a smaller body of water known as The Loch. The ferocious wind that blew in with the snow whipped up a steady barrage of whitecaps. The Loch was 100 yards long, only twice the length of an Olympic swimming pool and there were whitecaps! I was pretty cold and miserable, so I turned around without getting my pictures.

I finished my time around Rocky Mountain National Park down in the lower valleys where the weather was better. Elk bugling signaled the start of the mating season. I holed up in a coffee shop, reading for a down day in the small town of Estes Park, biding my time to drive to Denver to pick up Phil.

Phil is an yet another Coast Guard friend of mine and he offered to help me make the drive across the Great Plains back east. We spent the day of his arrival sampling Denver's beer scene and enjoyed a fine meal of bison and elk steaks at the Buckhorn Exchange, one of Colorado's oldest saloons and restaurants. They have the state's first liquor license on display!

A toast to Liquor License #1!  
Driving the Flyover

Leaving Denver I had a roundabout cross country trip in mind, designed to finish off my 50 States, of which I was missing Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Armed with Phil as a backup driver, endless music on my satellite radio, and copious coffee to keep us awake, I prepared for a long, boring drive. Turns out it was anything but! I realized that the Heartland is just as important to the American experience as any other place in the country and our stops along the way proved to be some of the most unexpectedly enjoyable sights of the entire trip.

In Nebraska we drove east along part of the historic Oregon Trail, passing the distinctive form of Chimney Rock. It was cool to see the famous landmark that features so prominently into the game I played often in my elementary school days. Thankfully this time nobody caught cholera and I didn't lose an axle while crossing the Platte River.

The remainder of the long drive thru Nebraska was fairly uneventful (lots of corn) but we did stumble upon some of those super tacky cliched tourist traps.


Entering Kansas, we were only a short detour away from the Geographical Center of the 48 States. The Heart of the Heartland. We had to stop.

Kansas impressed me with its subtle aesthetics. A local author aptly described it thus: "mountains and oceans shout an easy beauty, the prairie only whispers." Phil and I took a seven mile hike thru Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, one of the few places left in the Great Plains that never felt the plow of farm or development, to listen to the whispers.

Bison are an integral part of a healthy prairie ecosystem
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas
An old one room schoolhouse at the edge of the Preserve
The pleasant surprises in Kansas kept coming. A local space-nerd philanthropist turned a museum in Hutchinson into the best aeronautical exhibit outside the Smithsonian Air and Space, and the largest collection of Russian space capsules in the Western Hemisphere. With such a good display of Soviet technology it was easier to understand the back and forth of the Cold War space race, from its Nazi V-2 origins to the early Russian success and the final American lunar triumphs.

A full SR71 Blackbird, the fastest plane ever built. If they even tried to put machine guns on this thing, it would fly into its own bullets!!!

We spent so long on our day in Kansas that we didn't make it all the way to our planned overnight in Oklahoma City. Phil did find a great little town to spend the night, Guthrie, OK. Guthrie was Oklahoma's first state capitol, before it was "stolen" by Oklahoma City (they still don't seem over it). As such, Guthrie caught a wave of early development in the late 1800s and then everything just stopped, leaving a downtown full of well preserved Victorian style buildings and architecture. In the morning we grabbed coffee and just strolled around before finishing the drive to OK City.

Holding a grudge after all these years? 
Our time in Oklahoma City was spent exploring the rich cowboy history of the area. The city boasts an excellent Museum of the American Cowboy and Western Heritage with terrific exhibits on ranching, rodeo, western clothing & style, weapons, frontier life, and Hollywood's love affair with cowboys and Indians. Downtown in "Stockyard City" they still auction off live cattle in the streets, which you can then eat as a delicious steak at places like Cattleman's Restaurant. After lunch, I did some shopping in the western stores.

General Custer actually had two Gatling Guns at his disposal. He left them back at his fort for the Battle at Little Bighorn. I wonder if he regretted that? 
The moving sculpture "End of Trail." Sympathetic to the plight of the Native American or lauding the supremacy of white dudes? You decide. 
Cattleman's Restaurant uses the brand "33" on all their stock. Back in the 40s, Cattleman's changed hands in a high stakes game of dice when a "hard six," two threes, was rolled. 
We left Oklahoma and headed east toward my final state, Arkansas. We chose to get off the interstate and take a more scenic backroad that would have a good place to pull over on the border. As luck and fortune would have it, we couldn't have picked a better spot - a "state line" bar straddled the border between OK and AR. I entered the establishment thru the door of my 49th state, drank a beer somewhere in the middle to celebrate my travels with Phil, and came out on the Arkansas side of things, having finished my quest to see all of America.

America is awesome! 
And so is this state line bar on US 270! 
The celebrations continued the following morning in Hot Springs National Park. I treated myself to a vintage spa treatment, the same as the visitors to the park enjoyed in 1912. "Taking the waters" includes a hot mineral bath, steam room, towel wrap, cold shower, and plenty of drinking the "restorative" water. Squeaky clean and relaxed, Phil and I grabbed some of Arkansas' best BBQ at McClards. Best ribs of my life.

Legend has it that President Clinton (born in Hot Springs, AR) would have McClards ribs brought out to Air Force One whenever he was passing thru.
Tennessee & Home

Tennessee wasn't new ground for me, but it sure made a nice finale to my 2015 travels. Phil and I checked out the blues scene in Memphis before continuing across the state to Nashville, spending my final night on the road in one of my favorite places for a night out on the town.

Good, cheap(ish) digs right downtown.
Watch out ladies! Cowboy boots and pearl snap I picked up in Oklahoma. 
Just over three months, 14,000 miles, and a lifetime a memories later I returned to my favorite of the 50 States. I'm exactly where I hoped I'd be when I left the Coast Guard in May 2014. I took control of my life, crossed dozens of the biggest items from my bucket list, took the time to figure out the next steps, saw the entirety of this great country we call home, snapped some great photos, earned some good stories, learned and experienced more than I could have ever imagined, and have no "what if" regrets.

I may be done with the adventure of the open road for the time being, but I'm excited for the adventure of grad school, a new career, family, new friends, and embracing fun a little closer to home. Thanks so much to everyone along the way for such a great year and helping me thru my travels and transitions. Keep in touch.

Country Roads Takin' me Home (ok, it's I-64, but still) 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wyoming - Part 2

The second half of my time in Wyoming eclipsed that of my first. Epic adventuring, good weather, and beautiful scenery forever secured a place for The Equality State in my top favorites.

From Jackson, Grand Teton National Park is just a short drive to the north. I didn't have a climbing partner for this phase of the trip, so I settled on a fun scramble up Teewinot Mountain in lieu of a climb of the Grand itself. It was way less crowded to boot! I set off at 0330, intending to beat any potential afternoon storms. I tried to pace myself for the 5,600ft climb, but the last month living at higher altitude and all of my climbing thus far had left me in better shape than I expected. I hiked much faster than I planned on and had to don all of my extra layers and huddle in the lee of a boulder for 45 minutes waiting for first light so I could better find my way through the tricky part instead of relying on my headlamp alone. Good views of the Grand Teton from the airy and exposed summit.

The Grand Teton from Teewinot
Good morning Jackson Hole! 
I waited out a one day storm reading a book in the massive lobby of the Jackson Lake Lodge, enjoying a cup of coffee, sandwiched between a roaring fireplace and enormous picture windows that (in clear weather) have great views of the mountains.

The storm cleared that night and I got up super early the following morning to capture some sunrise shots that I had scouted a few days prior, just waiting for the right conditions. Hard to beat a crisp, clear morning with a cup of coffee in hand, watching the alpenglow move from the tips of the summits down the mountains into the valley.

Tetons from Schwabacher's Landing

A few hours later I floated this portion of the Snake River
After my photo extravaganza, I packed up my paddling gear and hitchhiked north along the highway to the Pacific Creek tributary of the mighty Snake River. A few minutes later I was floating back to my truck in my packraft, enjoying a Class II paddle with great views beneath the Teton Range. As the afternoon progressed I had to buck an ever increasing headwind, turning my leisurely trip into a solid workout. My little raft turned the heads of guides and fisherman and was quite the conversation piece at the takeout.

Teton adventuring complete, I picked up Coast Guard buddy Tim Ozimek from Jackson. I had done some of my very first mountain climbing with Tim and his dad when we were stationed together in Washington. Tim has since transferred to DC and I was able to stay out in the Northwest, gaining enough experience to start leading the climbing trips myself. We planned a weeklong trip in the southern part of the Wind River Range, climbing in some of the most picturesque places in the country but hoping to avoid the notorious crowds with our post-Labor Day timing.

Wayward calves creating a Wyoming traffic jam
From Big Sandy Trailhead, we hiked past Shadow Lake and across the Continental Divide at Texas Pass, a "backdoor" into the Cirque of the Towers, our first destination. One of my favorite former NOLS instructors was leading a course in the Winds and before he left we made plans over a beer in Lander to meet up in the Cirque. I found Logan napping in the sun, resting after leading some hard climbing with students. We caught up over tea and cake, baked over a backcountry stove.

Tim crossing the Continental Divide at Texas Pass
NOLS pressed on in the morning and Tim and I had climbing to do ourselves. We choose Pingora, an aesthetic round spire of granite. Our East Ledges route (5.2) was warmed by the morning sun and we made quick work of the fun route. Pingora is one of the most popular mountains in Wyoming but our timing seemed to pay off - we had the mountain entirely to ourselves until our very last rappel!

Pingora, 11,883ft
Tim on the East Ledges
Tim making the final approach to the summit. Lonesome Lake beyond.
The Cirque of the Towers from the summit of Pingora
Descending the South Buttress
We were back in camp by early afternoon, napping and playing cribbage. The next day we broke camp early to position ourselves atop Jackass Pass (Continental Divide crossing #2) for good morning photographs back down into the Cirque.

Warbonnet Peak lords over Tim's shadow and the top of Jackass Pass
The entirety of the Cirque of the Towers from Jackass Pass
We then booked it 6 miles into Deep Lake Cirque, dominated by the imposing north face of East Temple Peak, one of the most beautiful mountains I've ever seen.

Deep Lake Cirque and East Temple Peak
Fortunately, one does not have to climb the sheer face to the top; a climb along the righthand ridge system is more casual. Views from the summit of East Temple Peak were amazing, encompassing the plains and basins on either side of the Wind River Range, the bulk of the Range itself stretching away to the northwest with the glaciated summits of Fremont Peak and Gannett Peak (the Wind's highest) just visible on the horizon. In the lower valleys you could see the beginning of fall with the aspen turning yellow contrasted with the drab and dead white pine forests ravaged by the invasive pine beetle.

Gaining the ridge to East Temple Peak. Deep Lake behind and Haystack Mountain right. 
The amazing view to the northwest from East Temple Peak
The bold could venture out onto East Temple's "diving board" a fantastically exposed and precipitous shard of rock protruding from the summit, with 2,000ft of nothing between your feet and the lakes and rocks below!

The diving board. Don't drop your camera! 
Later that evening, Tim and I were treated to an incredible sunset progression within the Deep Lake Cirque, the waters of Deep Lake stilling enough to capture the reflections of the peaks turn from yellow to orange to red before the stars came out and treated us to more incredible views of the Milky Way.

Pingora and East Temple Peak were the primary objectives of our trip. But with continued good weather and an extra day of food, we roped up again for a "bonus" climb up Haystack Mountain. It was windy and exposed, giving it a definite "alpine" feel, but the climbing was easy and straightforward, if a bit longer than expected. Tim and I wanted to rename the peak "Energizer Mountain" because the number of false summits made it appear that it kept going and going. We eventually made the top and enjoyed the views.

The summit of Haystack Mountain. East Temple behind, left. 
Our adventure complete, we headed back to civilization, appropriately stopping at the Wind River Brewing Co. in Pinedale for celebratory beers and gluttonous burgers (topped with beef brisket!) on our way to Jackson. A few more beers atop the saddles in the Cowboy Bar finished our toasts to mountains, weather, and friendship, and I bid goodbye to Tim at the airport the next morning.

It's on to Colorado for me (#46), checking out Rocky Mountain National Park and picking up yet another Coast Guard buddy in Denver for my final drive across the country to finish all fifty states!