World renowned alpinist offers unique mountaineering course

Tents are set up in the snow in the Wind River Mountain Range. (Photo courtesy of Mark Jenkins)

Last summer, National Geographic journalist, UW writer-in-residence and lifelong Laramie local, Mark Jenkins led a group of students deep into the Wind River Range and up Wyoming’s highest point, Gannett Peak, as a part of a six-credit course in environment and natural resources and Kinesiology.

The expedition was a major success. After months of preparation and intense physical training, the team summited the 13,801 foot peak after a three day, 25 mile hike into the heart of the Winds.

The Gannett Mountaineering Course will return this summer to offer UW students the opportunity to learn and apply mountaineering skills in an environment that makes this program especially unique to Wyoming.

To prepare for this summer’s trip, there will be an informational meeting day, Tuesday Feb. 13 in the Bim Kendall House Conference Room at 12:30 p.m. Interested students will be able to learn more about specific dates, costs, and other requirements at the meeting.

“The goal was to do something that very few universities in the country are doing and that is to have a class in which you not only learn alpine ecology, glaciology, geomorphology, map and compass [skills], but you apply that in the field and you attempt to do an expedition,” Jenkins said.

The course is broken into three major components.

The first consists of six days of training. This section splits time between the classroom and the field where students are taught everything from geology to crampon technique as they apply this knowledge in Vedauwoo and the Snowy Range.

The next section is largely independent training. This 10-week-long period requires students to stay in top physical form for the expedition ahead. The final component is the expedition itself, which takes place in early August.

“Wyoming has something precious here,” Jenkins said, “Wyoming is special because we still have places where you can go and not see another human.”

It was the extraordinary landscape that left an impact on team member Jenny Berchenbriter who is a senior majoring in psychology with a minor in outdoor leadership, the Casper native.

“I took the Gannett Expedition because it was both an incredible opportunity to climb the most remote peak in the lower 48 and because I wanted to further develop my technical skills in the outdoors,” Berchenbriter said.

Another team member, Cedar Wiseman of Cheyenne, also embraces the skills he developed through the course.

“My roommate, Andrew (another Gannett team member), and I are slowly developing plans to climb a Mexican volcano,” Wiseman said. “To us, this is one of the next steps that Mark’s inaugural course began to prepare us for. Gannett was a small taste of the types of expeditions Mark has been on, and I’m hooked,”

While this course is geared towards the outdoor enthusiast, it by no means excludes students with no prior outdoor recreating experience.

“What matters most, honestly, is willpower, desire and enthusiasm,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins is hopeful that the course will provide his students with the tools to pursue future mountaineering adventures. And in a state like Wyoming, the possibilities are endless.

“The whole point is to bring everybody’s skillset to a point where they can plan their own adventures and execute them with their friends,” Jenkins said. “It’s one of the cheapest, serious adventures that you can do. Pack three or four pals into a car and drive to the Wind Rivers or the Cloud Peak and just go.”

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