January 31, 2018

“Survival Holidays” are becoming the trendiest new way to travel, and I can understand why. It’s tough to relax on a beach when I can hear my emails coming in and see my Facebook engagement declining each hour. So how do we cast off the restrictions of Western life during our vacation?

Conde Nast Traveler shared some of the ways adrenaline-seeking millennials can embark on “travel that challenges, and drives a deeper sense of connection to the place they’re in,” through an “earned experience.”

Image of Conde Nast article headlineReally, really hard work and a little bit of uncertainty affords “an immense feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment,” to use the words of Tom Marchant, co-founder of Black Tomato, a luxury travel and bespoke adventure company.

Black Tomato and others now provide extremely challenging, tailored vacations where you may be left in the middle of nowhere with minimal supplies to fend for yourself, where you must master a skill like mountaineering to reach a destination, or where you pack for a surprise experience that isn’t revealed until you’ve been ‘stranded’ on an island. And all this for only $20,000?

I can understand the “extreme vacation” attraction. But I have to wonder, why survive your vacation when you can thrive in it—and after you return home? I think it might be most rewarding—and far less expensive—to “cast off the complexities of Western life” in the real Wyoming of Wind River Country:

Learn to lead in the wilderness and in the boardroom with NOLS

NOLS, one of the original wilderness getaways, at one time even had the word “survival” attached to the final few days of its courses. It is the gold standard of wilderness education. The school was founded near Lander in Wind River Country in 1965. NOLS has grown around the globe and now offers expedition courses like mountaineering and backcountry rock climbing in Wind River Country.

“Naturally there is the constant allure of learning to climb big mountains, navigate coastlines in a sea kayak or rappel through a canyon, but I find the true power of NOLS in the small details of our day to day existence in the backcountry. The in-between moments which offer space for personal ritual, the creation of positive habits and preparation for impactful moments which demand full focus.,” said Abigail Hunter, Rocky Mountain Instructor Course graduate.

Survival holiday perks, without the sting to your wallet:

  • Digital Detox
  • Bragging Rights
  • Earned experience
  • Skills mastery (leadership and outdoors)
Reconnect with yourself and the mountains
Heading down into the valley. Photo Courtesy: Rachel McKeehan

Sarah and Heath of Bear Basin Adventures provide heart-opening guided trips into the Shoshone National Forest. One experience they provide is a ladies’ trip built around yoga, meditation, and horses. You’ll venture deep into the high country of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. There, your small group will explore the breathtaking scenery, learn from and about horses, and go through daily movement and meditation practices tailored to create ease in your body and mind. The Dunoir is a spectacular glaciated volcanic valley of high plateaus between lush open meadows. During your horseback summit of Dunoir Butte, you’ll see a wide diversity and abundance of wildflowers and wildlife, including moose, elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep.

“It was exactly the vacation I wanted. No phones, peace, quiet, beautiful scenery, fabulous food, new friends and lots of laughing. We will be talking of our “Wyoming Adventure” for a long time,” Teresa, from Maryland wrote.

Survival holiday perks, without the sting to your wallet or your muscles:

  • Digital Detox
  • Wellness
  • Transformative

High Elevation Riding. Photo courtesy: Sarah Woltman
Try being a knight in stony armor

Castle Gardens, 45 miles east of Riverton, is rich with sandstone forms turrets and towers resembling a castle. It is also a premier rock art site. Some of the finest shield art in the West can be found here, a style that depicts warriors with shields and the shields alone. After being etched into the sandstone, they were painted with pigment you can still see to this day after over 1,000 years.

Castle gardens with sunset in background
Castle Gardens Sundown Photo: Timothy Rockhold

Your greatest comfort will be the picnic facilities and interpretive signs provided by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and what you bring with you (and that should include maps, a spare tire, gas, food, and water, as it’s off the beaten path and cell service can be nonexistent). But the exploration and discovery will be worth the effort. The freedom of a personally planned and self-guided step back in time is, after, all what you seek, isn’t it? And after a full day on your quest, you can either spend the night in a tent nearby (you can’t camp within Castle Gardens, but you can on the BLM land surrounding it) to extend the experience or head back into the comforts of town for a more balanced vacation.

  • Digital detox
  • Earned experience
  • Bragging Rights
Learn to communicate on a horse

“Confidence Through Knowledge” is the foundation of horsemanship clinics with renowned horseman Chris Cox, new owner of Triangle C Guest Ranch near Dubois. Chris will teach you, through intensive classes at the stunning and comfortable guest ranch near Dubois, confidence, leadership and horsemanship. Whether a teen or an adult with a strong foundation of horse skills, you’ll be challenged and held to a higher level of yourself.

“Packed days full of riding, hiking, fishing, cattle working, horsemanship clinics, wildlife watching, eating hearty meals, dancing, sitting by the campfire and making new friends for a lifetime. There is no limit to the cowboy way of life,” The Triangle C website promises.

Horsemanship and hospitality are central to the experience Chris Cox and his staff are designing at the Triangle C. Photo courtesy of Barbara Cox/Triangle C
Horsemanship and hospitality are central to the experience Chris Cox and his staff are designing at the Triangle C. Photo courtesy of Barbara Cox/Triangle C

You don’t have to get stranded, and neither does your savings account for these perks:

  • Digital Detox
  • Bragging Rights
  • Earned experience
  • Skills mastery
Reach new Heights: Climb the tallest peak in Wyoming
Three climbers walk a snowy ridge on Gannett Peak
Skilled climbers make their way to the top of Wyoming. Photo: Scott Copeland

Wyoming’s tallest peak stretches up from the midst of the Wind River Range. Gannett Peak stretches to 13,809 feet, adorned by five glaciers and surrounded by thousands of peaks and unnamed mountain lakes.

If you have extensive, technical backpacking, mountaineering, and navigating skills and experience (if you don’t, see NOLS above), set out to reach the top of Wyoming. Depart from Dubois, hiking in 23 miles to the base of Dinwoody Glacier. The demanding ascent up Gooseneck Ridge and Gooseneck Gully will take you to the summit ridge. Reach incredible heights entirely by your own power.

Get the same rewards of extreme vacations on your technical peakbagging adventure:

  • Earned experience
  • Bragging rights
  • Digital detox
Posted in Notes From the Field