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After attending the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City this July, I planned on road tripping through Wyoming and Montana before heading to Washington. When And She’s Dope Too asked if I wanted to join their retreat in Idaho’s Sawtooth range in early August, I jumped at the opportunity. Not only was it (mostly) in the area I was planning on exploring, but I’d like to get to the point where I am confident enough to do a multi-day backpacking trip in the mountains solo. I’m not quite there yet, so I figured this would be a great way to connect with other likeminded ladies — and give me the push I needed.

Our group of nine included several women who had never been backpacking before and several others who I’d refer to as mountain climbing badasses. I fell somewhere in the middle, but at the end of the day, we all had the same goal: To challenge ourselves, disconnect and experience something wild and beautiful. The morning light on the mountains was incredible, and from the color of the water to the jagged peaks, the Sawtooths should be on every hiker’s list.

We crunched our hiking boots over rocks, crossed creeks and marveled at the late afternoon light on the meadows and the mountains.

There were some mosquitoes, but we were well prepared with nets, layers and spray. Fun fact: Mosquitoes can’t bite through nylon, so a light windbreaker and a bug net is a great way to beat them. I managed to skip using insect repellent on the first day, but by sunset on day two I was ready for some help. I like Sawyer’s Picaridin repellent, which doesn’t damage gear and isn’t nearly as bad for you (or the environment) as DEET. I explained to one of my fellow hikers why spraying yourself with DEET and then hopping in a lake isn’t the best idea, and we also had some lengthy talks about Leave No Trace principles and what we can do to help preserve our wild lands.

On our second to last evening, smoke from the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest crept into the sky, but we were extremely lucky when it came to weather and air quality. Setting aside nature and the countless jaw-on-the-floor moments, we quickly grew comfortable enough to share some very personal things with one another. From relationships to backcountry bathroom trauma, we had plenty of laughs, a few tears, and a collective satisfaction at the end of each day.

Aside from great company, there’s another huge benefit of traveling in a group: Splitting up gear and food!

I usually eat ProBars (Oatmeal Chocolate Chip is my fav) and Mountain House meals (you can’t go wrong with their Pasta Primavera) when I’m backpacking, but we had the luxury of bringing pots, pans and some seriously delicious backcountry grub. We made veggie quinoa bowls one evening, and we noshed on fully-loaded pizza (and wine!) as we watched the sun set the following night. Coffee was always passed around after sunrise, and one morning we were treated to Kodiak Cakes pancakes and apple syrup, made from scratch by Amy, our amazing expedition leader. We used Sawyer squeeze water filters, and given our proximity to the lakes, staying hydrated was a breeze. Yet another reason why this trek should be on your list...

I’m an ambassador for Big Agnes and I have several Osprey backpacks, so I was obviously thrilled to see both of those brands donating products for the ASDT adventure. I use the Tufly tent and Aura AG 65L bag when I backpack, and it’s nice to know that others share my sentiment that this is some of the best outdoor gear on the market. I know we’re supposed to disconnect, but you can’t NOT take photos in the Sawtooths, and by day two most of us needed to juice up our phones to capture the occasional mountain snapshot. Our Goal Zero Venture 30 chargers came in handy for that, and after the wall charge wore off, we hooked the Nomad 7 solar panels up to our packs and that revived the chargers once again. I had my camera out most of the time, because, well, that’s what I do, but I was able to have a few moments without my face pressed to the viewfinder, and I caught myself smiling. Just because. Even though I was sore and itching for a shower, I knew as soon as I rinsed off in a motel, I’d be planning my next trip.

While backpacking is definitely something many folks do to find themselves, there is really something to be said for connecting with a community of others who have the same goals as you.

From one of the gal’s emotional moments in the mountains to one of the aforementioned peak bagging badasses showing vulnerability when it came to cliff jumping, we connected with much more than Mother Nature. We connected with one another, and we connected with a part of ourselves that maybe we had forgotten about. Or maybe we didn’t know existed at all. Either way, it was amazing, and I highly recommend checking out ASDT’s Retreats page for more info on their upcoming trips. Oh, and be sure to check out my video chronicling our epic adventure in the Cramer divide!

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