When my father was 16-years old, his father took him and his older brother to Wyoming to climb The Grand Teton. Towering above beautiful Jackson Hole, WY, “The Grand” is the highest mountain in the Teton Mountain Range and the second highest in Wyoming. Its what many would call a “starter mountain.” Experienced mountaineers can tackle it in one day, while those choosing a more leisurely experience can take two or three.
Climbing runs in my family. Besides my grandfather’s expedition with his sons, my father has climbed on three continents and took my older brother climbing in Chamonix Mont-Blanc when he was 14. On that particular trip to France, my mother and I (8 at the time) tackled a different mountain- Thunder Mountain, at Disneyland Paris.
When the summer of my 16th birthday approached, it was no surprise when my mother and father decided to meet me in Wyoming after I completed an Outward Bound course in Utah. It was finally my turn to summit a mountain alongside my father.
When we arrived in Wyoming in July, the summer climbing season was in full swing. Bearded, flannel wearing (yes, in July) muscle men roamed the climbing gear shops in Jackson Hole. Training camps were full, and we fortunately had reserved two spots and a guide through Exum Mountain Guides in Moose, WY.
Over two days, we reviewed top roping and avalanche drills; we tied countless knots and fitted all of our gear. Perhaps the most fascinating part of our training was that snow and ice climbing was no longer part of the regimen- back in 1972 there had been a glacier that had covered part of The Grand. Now, that glacier is all but gone.
On the third day, we began or ascent. We camped in the saddle, or low point, between The Grand Teton and its neighbor Middle Teton. We arrived, pitched our tents, and promptly crawled inside to ride out a 20-minute hail and lightning storm that had descended on the mountains. Hail the size of dimes pelted our cover as we tried to find rest on the rocky ground.
No sooner had we fallen asleep then our 3 a.m. alarms went off. It was time to make the final push. In the dark, we climbed with hands and feet up the rock scree just above the saddle. As we moved up further and further, the sun rose with us, bathing the towering rock spiral of the peak in an orange and pink glow.
We reached the summit just after sunrise. I stood there next to my father at the top of the same mountain he had climbed 36 years before with his own father, taking in the miles of Wyoming views. We looked down at the survey marker disk, hammered into the stone below our feet. “Huh, that’s interesting,” he said, “This survey marker says 13,770 feet. When I climbed it last, it was 13,766!” Through my altitude-induced exhaustion, I squinted up at him, “I guess we’ll just have to do another one to be even,” I sighed. He sat down next to me to take in the view. “Guess so…”