It’s not often that one of your favorite trips of the year involves a work outing. And for that, I feel lucky.
When our office announced a staff trip to the AAC’s Grand Tetons Climbers’ Ranch, I was beyond excited. I’d never been to the Tetons before, but after staring at my share of photos, I knew it was going to be fun!
Wyoming is beautiful, just like everyone had always said. Driving into Jackson, I wished I had time more time to fly fish, climb, road bike, and explore.
We arrived at the Climbers’ Ranch in time to enjoy the evening. Wildflowers were blooming and people were gathered around the food shelter, sharing stories. After dinner we relaxed in the library, listening to music from an amazing violinist, just passing through on his way to Yellowstone. We discussed our plans to hike to Jackson Hole Mountain Guides’ high camp, in the morning.
We woke up and packed our gear. I debated how many layers to bring, fully expecting a night at nearly 11,000′ to be chilly. We wanted to wait until the snow softened and the weather looked ideal, so we got a later start then I’m used to.
The distance to JHMG’s high camp is only around five or six miles, but the vertical gain is around 4,000′, so it’s a long day. The views distracted me from the many switch backs we had to hike before hitting treeline. Above treeline, the hike quickly turned to snow. After a quick lunch break we prepared for the steep snow climb. I’ve climbed snow before, but nothing this steep.
The snow had softened nicely and the uphill snow climbing wasn’t so bad, especially with such a solid group. We made it up to camp in good time.
The views from camp were stunning. The entire evening the weather was perfect—the moon was nearly full, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the wind never picked up. I would never have expected temperatures at 11,000′ to be so nice.
The next morning we discussed our options. The Grand was still very snowy and never on the agenda for the entire group. However, rock formations surrounding the camp were endless and offered climbing, free-of-snow. A few people climbed the Red Sentinel (which looks amazing!) and the rest of us split into groups and scrambled up 5 or 6 pitches on the Fairshare Tower. The ridgeline consists of low 5 and 4 class climbing on mostly solid rock. For most of it, we simul-climbed, so that we could move fast, and get back down. Being on a ridgeline that high in the alpine had me feeling exposed, and despite easy climbing, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being a little nervous the entire time. Even with the butterflies in my stomach, I couldn’t help but think about what my next trip in the mountains should be.
After some scrambling and a few rappels, we were back down to camp, and packing our bags. My body and mind were already tired from mentally pushing myself that day, and I wasn’t exactly excited for the hike back to the Ranch.
As we left camp, the clouds behind us began to build. The combination of not eating enough food, worrying about the storm, and struggling to figure out the plunge step, had me feeling panicked about the steep section. I was going to need assistance getting down. I felt embarrassed that I needed help, but recognized that hurting my pride was a lot better than hurting anything else, in the mountains. Besides, everyone starts somewhere, and I was lucky to have folks that could help me through it.
The storm blew over, with only a few sprinkles. Before we knew it we were back down in the trees. Just as I was starting to relax, we had an encounter with a small black bear. He was pretty indifferent about our off-pitch singing, yelling, and clapping, but eventually wandered off. We worried more that his mom might be nearby, but never saw her.
That evening, at the Climbers’ Ranch, we had a BBQ and laughed about a game of trivia. For such a quick trip, it was packed-full of adventure. It opened up my eyes to new alpine experiences and pushed me both physically and mentally. Most of my experience going downhill on snow, is on skis, so I look forward to taking the skis off and honing my skills on snow travel. Alpine climbing has always intimidated me, but I think that’s healthy. I’d like to gather more experience and head back to the Tetons with Andrew, someday!