Tackling The Grand

A butterfly enjoys a perch on my hand — and my dad’s nose — in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

In 1972, my 16-year-old father climbed the Grand Teton with his father and brother. An Exum guide named Bill Bridger accompanied the trio. Bridger was not a textbook mountain man: he had a fused hip, which required him to side step his way up — and down — the mountain. None the less, he was a full-time ski and climbing guide in the Teton Mountains in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Ready for Exum climbing school!

The experience stuck with my father, not only because of Bridger’s bum hip, but because it was one of the most special experiences he shared with his father. When the summer of 2007 rolled around, my father insisted that I summit the Grand Teton myself, before I turned 17 at the end of July. I was scheduled to complete an Outward Bound backpacking and rafting course in Utah at the end of June, and he and my mother would meet me at the airport in Jackson Hole, and we’d climb the mountain with the help of Exum.

Over a two-day training camp, we reviewed knot-tying, rappelling, signs of altitude sickness, and more with our guide, Nat. On the third day, we began our ascent of the Grand. On the way up, my dad shared his stories of traveling across the country with his own father and brother when he was a teenager. He talked about his ’72 climb and the glacier that had covered a portion of the mountain. Ice climbing was part of the training camp back then, he said, but the practice was suspended for the Grand Teton as the glacier is all but gone in the summer.

Early morning sun rays bathe the Grand Teton

When we reached the saddle, we pitched our tents and were lulled into sleep the sound of early-July hail pelting the nylon shell. A precious short time later, our 3 a.m. alarms went off. It was time to make the final push. Following a quick snack — a tortilla smothered in Nutella for me, which my father tried and promptly spit out — we climbed with hands and feet up the rock scree in the dark. As we moved up further and further, the sun rose with us, bathing 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, taking in the miles of Wyoming views. Just like him, the experience of accomplishing it together is not one I’ll soon forget.

The summit

I wrote this story a while back on assignment for a blog that was starting, but unfortunately the publication never came to fruition. I decided, rather than let it go to waste, to share it here.