- ELISABETH BRENTANO
A REMINDER OF WHY I LOVE BACKPACKING
Last week I returned from a backpacking trip in Wyoming’s Wind River Range with And She’s Dope Too (ASDT), a women’s outdoor collective that offers retreats all over the western U.S. — and has a large online community, supporting all kinds of talented ladies. I first met Jenn, the co-founder in 2015, and after a multi-night backpacking trip with ASDT in the Sawtooths in 2017, I knew I wanted to do more with them.
This latest adventure left me feeling inspired, recharged and extremely thankful to have connected with a group of likeminded women who love being in nature just as much as me.
There were eight women total; four of us who have spent a lot of time in the backcountry — and four who had never done more than car camping and day hikes. There were questions about gear, pooping, food and bears, and as our feet crunched across miles of dirt and rock, we swapped stories about everything from failed relationships to major life transitions. One of our trip leaders, Amanda, served in the army for eight years, and she’s a firefighter and EMT now, and probably one of the most badass women I’ve ever met. Her sister Jacquie co-led the trip, and we experienced everything from stomach-cramping laughter to jaw-dropping mountain views that some of these women probably never dreamed they’d see by way of their own two feet.
Some of the ladies were worried that they might be too slow on the trail, and that the elevation might be an issue. But honestly, everyone crushed it, and the way the trip was organized set us up for success.
ASDT works with brands like Big Agnes, Osprey Packs, Sawyer and Black Diamond to make sure women on their retreats have quality gear to borrow, and food is covered as well, so really, all you have to do is show up with a smile on your face, ready to get dirty. After sorting out tents, packs and bags and grabbing a few last-minute items in Pinedale, we camped at a group site about 5 miles from the trailhead, which had us sleeping at about 8,500 feet.
On the first full day, we hiked about 5 miles from the Big Sandy trailhead, which sits at approximately 9,100 feet, to a group site at the lake, where we set up our base camp. The gain was only about 600 feet and very gradual, so we decided to take a loop around the shore, which was about 2 miles and completely flat. We made quinoa bowls for dinner that night, with brownies for desert. When I go on solo missions (or just with one other friend), I never cook in the backcountry, so taking a break from Mountain House and ramen was a real treat.
On our second day we went to Clear and Deep Lakes, which ended up being 7 miles roundtrip, going from 9,700 feet to just under 10,700 feet. We went swimming and made it back to camp by 4pm, at which point we started prepping our pans for a delicious backcountry pizza dinner. The bugs weren’t bad, we had no issues with bears, and we also spent some time chatting about Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics’ Seven Principles. While most of the women were familiar with how to handle wildlife encounters and why it’s important to pack out trash, there were some questions about campfires and how to minimize your impact on the environment when setting up a tent.
On our third day, we had pancakes for breakfast — and made it to Jackass Pass for a stunning view of the Cirque of the Towers. It was a bit steeper than the trek to Deep Lake, as we hiked from 9,700 feet to nearly 10,800 feet over the course of 2.5 miles (5 miles roundtrip), but the perfect amount of water breaks plus a slow and steady pace had us feeling great by the time we reached the top. After dinner, we were treated to an incredible sunset on Big Sandy Lake, and we also had some time to reflect on the trip, and what it meant to us.
There is no cell service in the Winds, so not only were there all kinds of deep conversations, but we were also able to truly disconnect from emails and post notifications — and connect with nature.
On top of the great company, stunning scenery and tasty food, I really enjoyed how mellow this experience was.
It’s been two years since I’ve done a multi-day trip where I wasn’t lugging a full pack around the entire time, so base camping and day hiking gave me more time to enjoy myself. And isn’t that the point? To slow down and not stress about the pace you’re keeping? To take snack breaks in epic spots, and to sit and stare at a landscape carved by glaciers, while soaking up all the little details around you? I think a lot of women who have never been backpacking are scared that it will be unsafe, or so challenging that it frustrates them, but when you start easy and let yourself fall in love with these experiences, it helps feed the desire to do more. I have no aspirations to climb anything in the Cirque, but I would like to tackle some through-hikes in the next few years, and the more miles I log on trails, the more confident I feel that I can do multi-nighters on my own.
I went on my first backpacking trip in 2015, and I had no idea about LNT, what to pack and I certainly didn’t have a community I could tag along with. I was lucky enough to find a few friends who took me out and got me stoked on sleeping in the dirt, and it made me stronger, smarter and helped me figure out what I’m really passionate about. I love inspiring others to find themselves outside, and watching them discover the same things I did just a few years ago is just as satisfying for me as it is for them.
We still have a group text going with photos, inside jokes and loose ideas of where we want to do a reunion next year. Right now, it seems like a Big Bend rafting trip is the top choice. Below is a video with some of the highlights from our trip.