Everyone knows who first climbed Mount Everest - Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hilary. In the world of mountain and rock climbing the notion of first ascents is common knowledge. It is central to the spirit of climbing that exploration is part of the experience, part of the mindset of climbers. Being the first to climb a mountain or a route on some rock wall is one way to express that spirit. That expression may consist of finding new climbs, or simply pushing your own limits. Thousands of climbers who are not especially talented still search the mountains and cliffs of the world looking for new climbs or climbs outside their boundaries. Regardless of success or failure, those experiences are intense, engaging and valuable, and are the moments that keep people coming back to climb.
In the world of hiking, this notion of exploration and "first ascents" is not nearly so prevalent. Modern hiking and backpacking have a limited notion of themselves as a form of expression and self exploration. They are primarily viewed as a form of exercise and a way to spend time outdoors. The idea that hikers could devise their own routes through wild lands, and use that as a means of expression and learning is not a common part of the experience for hikers and backpackers. But as in climbing, setting off on your own course on a hiking or backpacking trip is far more interesting and rewarding than following a well known trail. It doesn't matter whether you are "first"; what matters is the process of planning, finding your own way, and dealing with uncertainty. Few things are likely to make you as grateful for the beauty of the world and your days on earth as truly exploring it, and yourself.
That's not to say that this spirit is non existent in the world of wilderness travel. But it is much more rare than in climbing. Notable modern wilderness travelers such as Andrew Skurka, Roman Dial, Junaid Duwad, Luke DeMuth, Buck Nelson, Hig Higman, Erin McKittrick, and Alistair Humphreys are out there, exploring on foot, as are many others who are happily unknown. As you might expect, most of the well known wilderness explorers are noted for huge achievements, such as Andrew Skurka's massive Alaska-Yukon Expedition. Those types of routes are great for inspiration, but not within reach of most of us. That's the idea behind the Wind River High Route. Alan Dixon and I searched for a route that would be achievable for many (including us), but has more characteristics of exploration - a hiking adventure. We hope that a few of you will be inspired to create your own routes, or maybe go to the Winds and sample some or all of the line we walked. There are infinite options out there and we fully intend to keep looking.