Sleep In The Dirt

Beyond my own Backyard: Selkirk Traverse

Essays From the Field

Wet, exhausted and on the brink of utter demoralization we take refuge under a cluster of trees on a ridgeline as the snow continues its relentless accumulation. Joey Sackett, Zeppelin Zeerip and I look at each other, faces slackened with fatigue. We are five days in on what is supposed to be a ten day, 65 mile ski traverse from Schweitzer Mountain to the Canadian border. This trip would be a complete traverse of the American Selkirk Range in northern Idaho and the realization of a lifetime dream in the making.

“What are you thinking,” Joey asks me, questioning if we should keep on going.

“I’m definitely not to my breaking point yet,” I tell him “I love this sh*t.”

What I don’t exactly love are the massive clumps of snow that are sticking to the bottom of my skins, adding an additional 10-15 pounds to every single step. There isn’t much to do besides carry on though. We are out here, away from civilization in a place where probably only a handful of people have ever been during the winter months. We’re probably only twenty miles away from Sandpoint, ID as the crow flies, but I have seldom felt this remote. With the veil of snow blocking out all views and dampening any sounds that we might be able to hear, it’s just us and the Selkirk Mountains.

Photo: by Jasper Gibson. Packing up the campsite on a beautiful backcountry morning.

This trip has been on my mind for years and it has finally come to fruition. My dad has been a Schweitzer Ski Patrol since before I was born, and my mom an avid skier, I literally grew up on the slopes of Schweitzer. For as long as I can remember I would visit my dad in the lift shack on top of old Chair Six and look out the window, gazing to the Selkirk Mountains which extend to the north. As I grew older and began backcountry skiing and doing more extended trips, I started toying with the idea of doing a traverse of the mountains I had looked at it my whole life, but never explored. In the bigger picture, standing in this little oasis of trees, sheltered from the relentless onslaught of dumping snow, it’s a dream come true.

Photo: by Jasper Gibson. Skinning up the backcountry, with a sharp mountain ridgeline in view.

After scraping our skins and skis clear of snow, we set off towards the next valley, step-by-step closing in on our goal of completing the traverse. Down in the valley as we are about to ascend up and over the next ridgeline, the snow stops falling and for the first time in three days we can finally see further than 100 feet in front of us. Although still blustery, the landscape is serene, blanketed in a coat of fresh snow.

While descending from that next ridgeline, Zeppelin snapped his splitboard right behind his binding, rendering his setup pretty much useless. Needless to say, we make camp for the night and the next day we will have to bail out to the road which lay 3,000ft below us to rendezvous with our friends who will pick us up on snowmobiles. This wouldn’t be the end of our mission.

Photo: by Jasper Gibson. Making turns down a steep snow covered mountain slope.

A few days after retreating from the mountains, Joey and I ascend back to the point which we bailed from and resume the traverse, completing it three days later. It felt incredible to complete the traverse in an area with so much personal meaning for me, I never could have imagined what was in my own backyard my entire life. What we discovered was an untapped mountain range with massive potential for first descents, world class tree skiing and endless adventure, all of that only a few miles beyond where I had ever been before.

Looking for your own cold weather adventure this winter? Explore your own backyard, and brush up on more tips from Jasper in our blog: Winter Camping Like a Pro.

About the Author: Jasper Gibson is an outdoor adventure and lifestyle photographer based out of Salt Lake City and the Teton mountains of Wyoming. The isolated environments and harsh, inhospitable weather of the mountains in northern Idaho were Jasper’s playground while growing up and bred penchant type two adventures. If Jasper isn’t shooting commercially he can be found chasing athletes up remote rock faces or skiing unnamed lines in the forgotten ranges of the west.

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