Words and photos by Sofia Jaramilo
The Pioneer Mountains are not well known and are not easily accessible. They span nearly 50 miles between Arco and Sun Valley. When you drive between them in the spring, you see alfalfa fields, sheep farms, green hills and a glimpse of their snow-capped peaks. In the winter, the towering peaks resemble the spine of a prehistoric dinosaur with steep couloirs plummet toward the valley below. Needless to say, a trip to explore these mountains was in order.
Even with the best preparation, the unexpected is inevitable. Poet and writer, Gilbert K. Cherston said it best, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” After my trip to the Pioneer mountains, I couldn’t agree more. The perspective you bring on a trip matters and so does the way you share that perspective with others.
Most of what we see on social media barely scratches the surface of what adventure is. It would have been easy to post one image on Instagram and make it seem like the trip was a piece of cake. We’re so used to curating our lives on social media that we forget to share what makes an experience real. For me, the truth of this adventure in the Pioneers was found in its imperfections.
The approach into the yurt was about 6 miles. On our way in we observed massive avalanche slide paths. The mountainside to our right was stained with long funneled trails of snow and mud. Debris piles over 50 feet tall nearly filled the gullies below them. We traversed over snowfields of snapped trees and pine needles and started to understand the type of adventure we were in for.
The next day we got an early start. Everyone’s breath was still visible as we slapped on our skins and began climbing. The morning alpenglow painted everything blue and eventually the sun peaked over the jagged mountains to our east. The slopes were icy, so we put on our ski crampons. On the way up, my boot binding broke to the point of no easy repair. It made for a sketchy ski down, but slowly and steadily I made it back to the yurt.
Luckily our friends were coming in that day with a snowmobile and were able to get me a pair of rental boots, but their journey in was also challenging. The debris piles from past slides proved difficult to maneuver through and it took them twice as long as they expected just to get in to the yurt.
To lighten the load of the snowmobiles we skied down to meet them and carry a few things back to the yurt. To top it all off, on the way back up to the yurt I developed some gnarly blisters from the rental boots. It seemed like nearly every day of the trip presented its own challenges.
Since temperatures were warm, we hung out at the yurt in the afternoons. We took stumps from firewood and set up an outdoor table. The sun glimmered down as we sat in an open snowfield playing Farkle and listening to the sounds of the birds.
I thought about all the cities below us, full of people, running around trying to get things done. We felt lucky to be away from the hustle and bustle and privileged to experience the unique landscape surrounding the Pioneer Yurt. In those moments we could just be, in our own little world, surrounded by pine trees and snow, tucked up in the Pioneer mountains.
Although it wasn’t exactly how we hoped to be spending our days, there was value in letting go of our expectations. We learned to be content and present.
The challenges we faced on the trip reminded us of the real reasons we seek adventure in the outdoors. While some may be just as stoked to drive along a beautiful mountain highway, for us the adventure was about the hard work we put into the trip and the unexpected lessons we learned from it.
Each steep step up and every unforeseen challenge was worth it for the time we spent laughing and taking in the alpine sights - something I’m happy to trade for a few blisters.
The journey wasn’t perfect, but that’s the reality of being active in the outdoors. The best and the worst part about it is that you do not have full control. It is the unknown and unfamiliar that make these experiences so rewarding and, in the end, help you grow. Nothing is guaranteed and that is true adventure.