July 26, 2016

By Shelli Johnson/YourEpicLife.com

Every year I lead a group of women into the Wind River Range as part of my Epic Women program. These women come from all over the U. S. Most of them come live and work in cities, and most of them are not experienced backpackers. Last year, some had never slept in a tent before our expedition.

Tina, from North Carolina, hikes above Arrowhead Lake, in the Wind Rivers.
Tina, from North Carolina, hikes above Arrowhead Lake, in the Wind Rivers.

The expedition is, well, epic. We start out at 9,000’ elevation and spend a fair amount of time just below 12,000’. Our backpacks are pretty heavy, the country is rugged, and we climb two mountains over the course of 5 days. In the weeks leading up to last year’s expedition, I received a text from one woman, asking: “Will we get an opportunity to shower somewhere during the expedition?” My response was something to the effect of, “Um, no, but there will be numerous opportunities to take a polar plunge in a mountain lake.”

I am so inspired by these women. It takes courage to sign up for a backpacking expedition in the mountains of Wind River Country, especially if you’ve never backpacked before. After all, they could go on a spa vacation if they wanted. Instead, they sign up for something that promises to be very challenging. And by the way, I could have my Epic Women Expedition in any wilderness area in the country. I choose to have it in my backyard – Wyoming’s Wind River Country – because it just happens to be some of the most spectacular wilderness scenery in the world.

Every year I hear from many of the women that they’re “nervous but excited.” They are scared of the unknowns, of being out in the wilderness for an extended time, unplugged and with no contact with their loved ones, etc. Yet they are also excited. They’re excited about the new discoveries they will make, the prospects of becoming more capable, about the new friends they will make, and the scenery they will get to see.

Tina, of North Carolina, was among my Epic Women group last year. Before our Epic expedition in the mountains of Wind River Country, she had never spent a night in a tent in the wilderness.

“I was a proud city girl from Chicago. I had never gone 6 days without a shower or makeup. I was scared to death of being able to survive among the bugs, and without today’s luxuries and conveniences… Turns out I found my big girl panties in those mountains! I did something scary, tough and completely outside of my usual self. This trip reminded me that sometimes you have to lose yourself to find your best self. The day before going home I didn’t want it to end… The sheer magnitude of the beauty in the Wind Rivers serve as an excellent reminder to how small each of us is. We think our lives, our problems, our stresses are so huge and even feel insurmountable at times. Realizing how big and beautiful this world is without TVs, phones and gadgets can be quite an epiphany that leads to your best life yet. I think about all of the hidden lakes we discovered as we ascended higher and higher, and I’m amazed to know that very few people on the planet will ever lay eyes on these same lakes.”

Meredith, from Arkansas, crosses a river in Wind River Country
Meredith, from Arkansas, crosses a river in Wind River Country

Meredith, of Arkansas, was also a part of last year’s Epic Women program. The scenery helped her persevere through the challenges of the adventure. “When I woke up the first morning, I walked from camp and saw steam rising from Big Sandy Lake, against the rising sun, and thought to myself, ‘This is going to be all right.’” It’s a good thing the scenery was there to help with what was a challenging adventure, because Meredith compared her time in the Wind Rivers to childbirth. Ha! As a mother of three, I couldn’t wait to hear her explain what she meant by that.

“At times it was mentally and physically excruciating, and other times, I wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner. The best part is after all of the hard work, I had something very special that is unique to me that will enrich the rest of my life,” she explains.


By the way, I have also led men into the wilderness. Alan, from CA, went backpacking with me a couple of years ago. Extremely fit and a marathon runner, Alan had never backpacked in Wyoming’s Wind River Country before. After his return from our 5 days in the Wind Rivers, he told me the experience changed his life. He said he was so deeply inspired. “The space for me to grow is so much bigger than I thought it was,” he explains. I could not describe the effect of the Wind Rivers any better.

Hopefully you can see there is a common theme here. Backpacking in the mountains of Wind River Country is not for the faint of heart. But, if you dare, the experience will be inspiring and transformative. That’s what these Wind Rivers do. They cause us to become more, and better, than we were before.

All photos by Shelli Johnson.

Shelli Johnson, owner of Epic Life,  is an entrepreneur, life and leadership coach, leadership development facilitator, keynote presenter, writer, adventurer and guide. She is married to Jerry, and is the mother of three sons, Wolf, 16, Hayden, 14, and Fin, 9. They live in Lander, WY, where they frequently hike in the foothills and mountains of the Wind River Range. #WindRiverCountry

Posted in Notes From the Field