By Bill Sniffin on Mon 06/17/2013 09:51am
Who are Wyoming’s greatest adventurers?
First there was the mountain man Jim Bridger. Then add the explorer John Fremont. Maybe include the one-armed expedition leader John Wesley Powell.
Then let’s include showman and entrepreneur Buffalo Bill Cody. You could add mountaineers Finis Mitchell, Paul Petzoldt and Todd Skinner to the roster. All were great Wyoming adventurers.
Today, you have to add Mark Jenkins of Laramie to that list.
He is our modern-day Indiana Jones of Wyoming.
So, ho-hum, what was his most recent adventure? He climbed Mount Everest this spring. And his story was the cover feature of the June issue of National Geographic Magazine.
He is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first man to bicycle across Siberia. Between Everest and Siberia, he has just about done it all.
And yet he lives full time in Laramie and considers Wyoming his home state. Born in Iowa, he moved here when he was 7. His father was a professor at the University of Wyoming. Jenkins currently is the Writer in Residence at UW.
There is no way in this column can I scratch the surface of all the things he has done. Readers should Google his name and be stunned at what comes up.
• He won a National Magazine Award for his story about gorillas versus guerillas in the Eastern Congo.
• The Overseas Press Club Ross Award was presented to him for his story about landmine victims in Cambodia.
• He has been honored for his story about walking across that most dangerous country in the world – Afghanistan.
As the above indicates, he is not just a mountain climber.
He was the first person to cross country ski around Yellowstone Park. Jenkins loves to talk about the most isolated place in the continental USA, a tiny area near the southeastern corner of Yellowstone, near a wilderness called the Thorofare.
How do you become such an adventurer?
It helps to have major national publications paying you for your work. He wrote a monthly column for Outside Magazine for eight years called The Hard Way.
Most recently, he has been a field correspondent for National Geographic Magazine, whose 10 million copies a month have almost made Jenkins’ name a household word among its subscribers.
He has also published four best-selling books, which are distributed by major publishers.
But the real preparation for being able to do all these things was growing up in Wyoming.
One of the topics of his most recent Everest article was how many inexperienced people are now able to summit the world’s largest mountain because of expensive guides, very accurate weather forecasts and improved equipment.
He believes you should earn the right to summit Everest by your lifetime experience. “Climbing is an accretionary process where you learn about weather, conditions and yourself. The summit is the reward but it is not a given. Everest is not a place to learn, it should be a culmination of a lifetime of experience.”
He grew up climbing the Vedauwoo area with other Wyoming icons like the late Todd Skinner. He also climbed the Grand Teton, Gannett Peak, Cloud Peak and many other peaks. Each year he attempts to find new routes up mountains all over Wyoming.
“I learned a lot from climbing my local ranges,” he says. “And if you can climb hard peaks in Wyoming in the winter, you can climb anywhere in the world,” he says. “Weather on Everest is no different from a hard day in Wyoming’s winter.”
With this amazing life, the 54-year old admits to some close calls. But after traversing 100 countries and participating in 75 expeditions, he says he is amazingly cautious.
He says it is easy to die from a random event. Worst was when he was ice climbing near Cody when an earthquake set off a disaster which killed his good friend Keith Spencer and darned near got him too.
Jenkins may be a world-class adventurer but he must have a world champion wife when it comes to understanding. He says that Sue Ibarra is just that and he loves her more every day.
This past week they climbed Medicine Bow Peak and took in those amazing Wyoming vistas. “We can never take all this for granted. The rest of the world is over-populated and polluted. Wyoming is special. I love it here and it will always be home to me. No matter how amazing the adventure, I always look forward to coming home to Wyoming.”
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent book is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available at www.wyomingwonders.com.