Laramie native and adventure writer Mark Jenkins has climbed Mount Everest, hitchhiked through Tibet, bicycled coast-to-coast across what was once the Soviet Union and written about canyoneering for Playboy magazine.

And he is still going.

Today, Jenkins is a writer in residence at the University of Wyoming. The native son’s love for the outdoors stems from early camping trips to Yellowstone National Park and his free-thinking parents, and he brings a thoughtful tenacity to anything he writes. His accounts of international adventure are not high-brow philosophical musings, but it’s impossible not to notice the philosophy major behind the keyboard when reading his recap of his latest expedition.

Jenkins will make a stop in Casper today to speak about his journey to the top of Mount Everest on assignment for National Geographic in 2012. The stop is part of the university-sponsored World to Wyoming lecture series, a project Jenkins heads as a UW alumnus and guest lecturer.

“I suppose had I grown up in New York City I’d write about Wall Street,” Jenkins said. “I grew up in Wyoming. So I write about adventure.”

A Laramie life

Jenkins was not always a writer.

“I wasn’t a writer as a kid,” he said. “I was a kid.”

When he was 7 years old he was on a bicycle, he said, riding across a prairie — and not with his nose in a book. His father, a UW mathematics professor, hauled his six children and two golden retrievers to vacations in the Wyoming wilderness that would last weeks. By age 15, Jenkins was hitchhiking around Europe and in college he took semesters off whenever inspiration to climb a mountain took hold.

The writing came later, Jenkins said, when at UW philosophy classes caught his attention and, ultimately, earned him enough credits to become his major.

“Everest is a walk in the park compared to trying to write about Everest,” Jenkins said. “For me, the physical struggle is oftentimes a metaphor for the mental struggle. It gives you perspective.”

Few climbers write as well as Jenkins can, and few writers climb as hard, said Peter Gwin, Jenkins’ editor on the expeditions beat at National Geographic.

“There are other people that I’ve worked with and encountered who have the skills — they can climb and do all these things — but they can’t write,” Gwin said.

Comrades in adventure

John Harlin remembers the fax he got from Jenkins in 1995. Its message was simple.

“Mount Waddington,” Harlin recalled the fax saying. “New route. You and me.”

Harlin, a former editor at the American Alpine Journal and currently a senior program officer at the nonprofit Mountain Institute, was not immediately convinced by his friend. He lost his father and a close friend to mountaineering, and for 15 years Harlin stayed away from any alpine peak.

“Eventually he talked me into it,” Harlin said. The pair scaled the highest peak in {span}the Coast Range of British Columbia, Canada, up a face that had never been climbed.

Joel Charles, a manager at the Pedal House bicycle shop in

downtown Laramie, met Jenkins shortly after he moved to Wyoming in 2006.

“He came in and said, ‘Hey, I’m looking to ride with someone. And I hear you can ride hard,’” Charles said. “That’s Mark.”

Charles and Jenkins mostly climb together now in the rock formations at Vedauvoo near Laramie, Charles said, when the two can find the time.

“It doesn’t matter how tough something is, or dirty, or how cold you are,” Charles said. “He’s willing to climb no matter what.”


When Jenkins passed the first body on his way up the peak, a combination of shock and sorrow coursed through him.

Shock, he said, because you hope that body won’t soon be you. Sorrow, because he too has lost friends to the mountains.

But Jenkins and a trekking guide, commonly called a sherpa, made it to the top of Earth’s highest mountain after 2 1/2 months on the job. Seeing those who had gone before him and not made it did not deter Jenkins from the summit, a towering 29,000 feet above sea level and nestled squarely on the border of Nepal and China.

Instead, he said, the experience focused his mind.

“You want to be fully aware of what you’re doing,” Jenkins said. “Focus. So you that you don’t become another statistic.”

He had tried once before to summit Everest, as a graduate student studying Geology at UW in 1986. His idea of a master’s thesis was climbing Mount Everest and taking snow samples to study acid rain and global warming at high altitudes. He did not make it back then; foul weather forced him to turn back.

Jenkins likes the tension of knowing a mistake on the job could mean his life. You sprain your ankle in a basketball game in the city, he said, and you’re rushed off to a physical trainer or a nearby hospital.

“You sprain your ankle on Everest, you might not live through it,” Jenkins said.

Working in Wyoming

Living in Laramie with his wife and two daughters, Jenkins has not missed out on the mountaineering in his own backyard. Though he recently accepted a story assignment about landmines for the International Committee of the Red Cross and will be departing for Mozambique in a few weeks, Jenkins said he turned down story assignments that would have taken him away from Wyoming this summer. Instead, he set three new routes on three different peaks in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.

Was climbing Everest the summit of his career as a writer, as an adventurer?

Jenkins was quick to say no.

The feat means less today than it did half a century ago, he said, when only six people reached the top. Last year, Jenkins was one of more than 500 people who successfully summitted. Such a staggering success rate — and the increasing trash and debris left along the way, Jenkins said — are largely thanks to a growing and reportedly unregulated Nepalese outfitting industry.

And when adventurous friends ask whether they should shell out the thousands of dollars Jenkins said it takes to summit Everest, Jenkins has another suggestion.

“Grab your buddies and go to the Wind Rivers,” he says. “Plan your own trip.”

Reach county reporter Leah Todd at 307-266-0592 or leah.todd@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @leahktodd.