A Journey Into the Gros Ventre

To walk in the Gros Ventre Wilderness is to take a step back through history; to imagine yourself as a cowboy riding along the ridges; to envision your ancient ancestors traversing the mountains, moving seasonally with their food supply. The landscape is so serene in the Gros Ventre that you easily find yourself able to sit and just think. For hours. You feel no need to check your cellphone, no worries about your unanswered emails, and no fussing over how many “likes” your last Instagram received.


Travelling to the trailhead takes you out of the ever-crowded town of Jackson, past the stately Tetons (and the throngs of tourists stopping at random to snap photos of the mountains, of the buffalo, of each other), past ranches and homesteads. Turning off the main road means you get to leave behind the crowds and enter into your own secluded world. Along the drive you bear witness to the power of the geology of the Gros Ventre: landslides that have created lakes and hillsides glowing red in the mid-morning sunlight. You can’t help but wonder if you could live the cowboy life as you pass ranches steeped in the history of the Wyoming.


The Gros Ventre feels gentle and welcoming. You may occasionally forget that you’re hiking above 8,000 but you’re quickly reminded as you make the climb up in the sun. Thankfully, stands of aspen, fir, spruce, and pine provided shaded relief from the high-altitude sun. If you get too hot, you can fill your water bottle and go for a swim in the creeks and streams that intersect on the landscape. If you happen upon the Gros Ventre River, it’s easy to find peace and quiet in its meandering path and unhurried flow. Staying by the river means an inevitable interaction with wildlife-be it the biggest elk or the smallest songbird. These interactions serve as a reminder that you have travelled into their home and should tread lightly as a polite and respectful houseguest.


Nighttime brings a new level of quiet and stillness. Hares play around the campsite as you eat dinner and the mountains begin to glow anew. Camping beneath the bright red walls of Sportsman’s Ridge provides a clear view into the Wind River Range. If you’re lucky and camp out on the combined evening of the summer solstice and full moon, you will see the full moon rise over this impressive range while the setting sun provides a luminescent alpenglow. With that scenery, the lyrics “purple mountain majesty” take on a much clearer meaning. As you fall asleep to nature’s sound machine of waterfalls, frogs, birds, and the rustling wind, you may realize that you could travel for days in this land and not see a single human. You are deep in the Gros Ventre, you are deep in wilderness, and you are reveling in your solitude. 


Leah ZamesnikRegion 4 Wilderness Researcher for the TetonGros VentreBridger and Jedediah Smith Wilderness Areas. 

Leah grew up as a Navy kid, living all over the US and abroad. Each move introduced a new setting and a new outdoor world to explore. Taking a break from undergraduate studies, she traveled to Peru to work as a research assistant on a remote conservation research station in the Amazon where she worked on a variety of conservation projects and developed a passion for community-based conservation. After graduating from the College of William and Mary with a degree in Psychology, she completed Americorps service terms with the Minnesota and Montana Conservation Corps. During these assignments, she worked on various conservation projects and spent time exploring wilderness areas. She recently graduated from Colorado State University with an MSc degree in Conservation Leadership. Following her research interest in adaptive management and governance structures, her thesis was focused on the potential for co-management of a national park between the federal government and tribes in New Zealand.  


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