How one step turned into a 100 mile, 50-summit traverse of the entire spine of the Teton range.
By Ryan Burke
Looking up at the Teton skyline, my eyes settled on Ranger Peak, the first objective of a fifty summit traverse. If everything went to plan, I would be running and climbing off trail in technical terrain for seven days with a 40lb backpack. The elevation of my mission equaled the same distance it would take to hike up and down Everest from sea level – twice. Reaching the trailhead, my thoughts wandered in many directions, but my only real contemplation was how would I explain my failure to others. They would understand, I told myself, it’s never been done before, and my mind started giving me permission to give up. Blood rushed to my legs in preparation to flee.
The biggest physical challenges of my expedition had not yet begun and my mind was serving up the largest obstacle I would face. My inner critic, determined to promote self doubt, pleaded to stay with what was comfortable.
In the end – which was really just the beginning – it was momentum that won the battle. I had stepped out my front door and showed up to the starting line, forward motion slowly building in my favor. My attention shifted towards hope and the present moment, and I let one idea consume me: “keep moving.”
This mantra motivated me forward for the next seven days as I climbed and descended 112,000 ft and pushed through 100 miles of wilderness, navigating the entire spine of the Teton Range. I ran into a grizzly bear in head high bushes, dislodged rocks in no fall zones, and sucked in thick smoke from neighboring forest fires; but the doubt never returned.
I had been preparing for these moments everyday of my life, through trial and error and testing myself by choosing the uncomfortable. When 65mph winds hit on the north ridge of the Grand Teton, split second decisions lead to security and safety as I kept moving forward. When a mid-summer snowstorm slowed my progress on Static Peak, I left the fears and doubts behind in one footprint after another.
Approaching the last summit of the fifty peak traverse, thoughts of shivering in my sleeping bag and free soloing above 2000 ft drops were distant memories. With a trail of fears, panic and self-doubt scattered across the summits behind me, I moved closer to the finish line and started planning my next adventure.
About The Author:
Ryan Burke is an endurance mountaineer and full time addictions therapist who lives in Jackson, Wyoming. He is currently developing The Mindstrength Project which works with athletes and survivors of addiction in risk composure education.