Adventure November 29, 2012

The Yurting Experience

Enjoying the creature comforts while tackling the backcountry

Even though my hood is drawn tightly around my face and held in place by ski goggles, it flaps like a tarpaulin in a hurricane. I have to turn my head every few minutes to take respite from the constant stinging of snow crystals pelting what little skin I have exposed to the storm.

One second I’m enthralled, the next I ponder the fight I’m involved in—one against the wind and intense cold—and wonder why I, or anyone, would take on the struggle and immense effort involved in moving not only one’s body through waist-deep snow, but also hauling all the gear necessary for survival in order to “recreate” in these wintry woods. I vow never to commit to such adventures as this again. Armchair mountaineering will be pursuit enough.

Inside the Bench Hut in the Sawtooths. Entrance to the Boulder yurt.

(Left to right): Inside the Bench Hut in the Sawtooths; Entrance to the Boulder yurt.

Somehow the storm’s intensity increases, leaving me in a nauseating vertigo-infused white nothingness. I turn to my partner and yell that we need to face the unfortunate reality of a bivouac. Though our packs are heavy with the gear engineered to keep our species alive in its opposite climate, they’ve been keeping our backs warm, so we reluctantly take them off and begin the task of making a snow cave: stomping, adding snow, stomping again, adding more snow, until the accumulation becomes sufficient to dig out a cocoon for two. After hours of sweat-soaking effort, we enter our cramped habitation, crawl into our sleeping bags, close our eyes and began to take in what is sure to be a short rest.

I wake suddenly. It’s still dark. As my eyes adjust to the light, the first sensation is that my entire body is soaking wet and then I realize, by the sound of whipping wind, that the storm is still raging outside. But then reality hits me—I’m not in a snow cave. Rather, I’m on the top bunk in a cozy yurt where I’ve been absorbed in a dream, and my soaked body is the result of an ambitiously stuffed, wood-burning, pot bellied stove. Yes, it is winter. Yes, I am in the woods and it’s bitter cold outside and a storm is raging inches away from where I lay and I’m sweating hot! But it’s not because I’ve just dug out a snow cave and am buried in a bivy sack—for once, reality is better than a dream.

Mike Tremberth enjoying coffee in the Pioneer yurt. Mike Tremberth making telemark turns on Duncan Ridge in the Pioneer Range.

(Left to right): Mike Tremberth enjoying coffee  in the Pioneer yurt; Mike Tremberth making telemark turns on Duncan Ridge in the Pioneer Range.

This article appears in the Winter 2012-2013 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.