I left on Sunday, kissing darling faces good-bye, leaving them in the care of Denten and his mom for the week. If you define “vacation” as a chance to relax and unwind, then that is the wrong term for this excursion. It was, however, beautiful, satisfying, exhilarating and left me changed, a little different from the person I was when I left home.
Climbing School: Day 1
Isabel, me and Grace outside the Exum hut before leaving for our first day. We crossed Jenny Lake to reach our climbing grounds for the day. I spent these days with my cousins, Aunt Nanette and Uncle Jeff. Couldn’t have asked for better company on this particular journey.
Nanette and Grace on top of our day one rappel. Nanette on her way down. The overhang was a little tricky to navigate.
By the time we had finished our climbing, waited out a hail storm, rappelled and descended the boulders, some were ready to be done for the day. Our guide day one was Dave, who accompanied us on our Grand ascent.
Isabel, Jeff, Nanette, AB and Grace at hidden falls after day one. We spent the evening eating dinner next the entire cast of Modern Family, who was apparently in Jackson filming an episode on a dude ranch. After a quick night, we were off again.
Climbing School: Day Two
The climbing we did on day two was really fun for me. We reviewed techniques I used in what seems like a previous life, back when I was in high school- stemming, mantling, practicing trusting our feet that they would stick to the rock… I loved all of it. Isa took a fall on day two that was frustrating to her and gave a somber mood to our group for a bit, but Nat was our guide this day and he was fantastic in helping her shake it off and reinstilling the fact that he all the confidence in the world in all of us that we could do this.
top of day two rappel. AB, Iz and Nanette
After day two. I felt confident and excited. Can’t say I didn’t have a lot of butterflies in my stomach that night, however.
The Grand, day one: up to the lower saddle
Nanette, Dad, Isabel, Jeff, Grace, AB at the trail head, ready to go!
we passed this sight shortly after we started hiking. This was the destination. It was such a majestic sight.
After many switchbacks, we turned to enter Garnet Canyon. My dad told me that even though he has done this several times, this scenery still takes his breath away. I had to stop several times to look around. The Middle Teton was in front of with Nez Perce to the south, both huge and beautiful.
Just after noon we reached the Meadows for lunch. Nat caught up with us here and continued on. From here, the trail got steep. Really steep. Nat was fantastic and took the next section super slow.
This was at the top of the falls, where I drank the best water in the world. It was cold and straight out of the mountain. From here it was grunt work getting up to the lower saddle. Steep ascents with a lot of loose rock took just about all I had in me. The saddle was such a welcome sight!
This crazy man thought he needed a little bath when we arrived. The water was cold to drink, but I started shivering just thinking about putting it on my body! From the lower saddle, we could look east and see down toward Jackson where we started. To the west we could see the entire Teton Valley in Idaho. This was the inside of our hut on the saddle. We went to bed about 8:30 and woke up just after 3:00 a.m. Can’t say a lot of sleep occurred between those hours… but I was super grateful to be inside the hut as the wind outside made me think anything outside had been blown clear off the mountain. It was crazy wind. Made me wonder all night how I was going to climb in that madness. Luckily it died a little by the time we took off. We walked the first stretch by moonlight, keeping our headlamps off. Nat warned us ahead of time that by the time we reached the black dike, our first stop, we would all feel like hell. It helped knowing that I was feeling normal! This was also the section that both of my sisters had lost their breakfast at one time or another- I was fortunate to avoid that situation. There was a girl in the group ahead of us that reached this point and due to both asthma and fear had decided to turn around. I wanted to cry for her- coming this far and having to go back was totally devastating. Nat hustled us out of there quick lest any of us get any ideas about turning around.
I don’t know how many times my dad has done this climb, but enough that Nat didn’t want him to get bored, so he threw in a few extra pitches to keep him on his toes. Isabel and I were on dad’s rope, so we were along for the ride! We climbed this friction pitch called Carmen’s Pinnacle- it was a really fun climb and better done without looking over the edge as it was super exposed. I found greater satisfaction in climbing this stuff than I ever anticipated.
After the last roped pitch, my dad took the lead and lead us up the last few climbs to the summit. I got up there and didn’t quite know what to think. Part of me wanted to celebrate that I was actually there, that my body and mind had worked together to get me to the top and yet I knew that coming down was going to be challenging so I couldn’t fully breathe relief yet. I felt like I was in a dream-like state, wondering if it was real that I had actually done this. Dad kept telling me to eat, I just wanted to look around and try to soak it all in. We were so much higher than anything else around us, higher than all of the peaks that had looked so huge and intimidating from the valley floor. I called Denten from the top and started feeling a little emotional. I asked after if it was silly that I wanted to cry… Nanette looked at me and said, “I’ve been bawling over here for five minutes!” I don’t know if it’s the feeling of accomplishing something that took so much physical effort on my part, conquering fears, or if it was the power of the view surrounding us- probably a combination of all, but it was powerful to me.
We had climbed the Exum Ridge going up as opposed to the Owen-Spaulding Route. I was grateful for this for several reasons. First, it had better climbing, more roped pitches that I really enjoyed. Second, once the sun came up, I sat at my belay stations watching the mountains below me turn pink and then feel the sun wash over me. That was a big deal, having sun and being on the opposite side of the peak from the wind. Going down, we down-climbed the OS route and were in the shade and wind. I was moving and working and therefore not really cold, but I was grateful I didn’t spend all morning on that side of the mountain. Down-climbing was more work than I anticipated. By this time my muscles were fatigued and I was moving slow trying to be careful. I was so happy to see the rappel that would take us down 130 feet all at once.
I am a tiny little grey figure in the middle of the picture.
After we arrived back down to the lower saddle.
Outside our hut. G, AB, Nanette, Iz. Me and Dad.
Start at the top and count three major points down to the right. It looks like a slab shooting up to the sky- this was Carmen’s Pinnacle, our bonus pitch. I wanna do it again.
Looking back up toward the saddle, those loose rocks were maddening! Nat and Dad were super patient with my slow, cautious pace.
G and Nanette with the falls behind them. It was fantastically gorgeous up there.
Thursday night at dinner with Mom and Dad. We won’t talk about how much it hurt to come out of this kneeling position!
I flew home Friday and somehow felt like I was carrying this big thing that only I could understand. I was grateful my sisters had had this experience and were willing to celebrate my accomplishment, but even then, I think my experience was probably different from theirs. My mom has had to sit through many dinners where the conversation centers around adventures that she probably doesn’t care to hear all the details about. She warned me that no one would quite appreciate the experiences I had had and to not feel bad if no one “got it.” I want to share this great thing with people, but I also want to keep it my own. I think I went through withdrawals when I got home, feeling like I had this really wonderful thing that was a part of me now but I didn’t know how it fit into my regular life. I didn’t want to let it go and have life return to normal like it never happened. Katelyn said that it is somehow a spiritual experience, one that changes you and I would have to agree. It was hard, both physically and mentally, but I loved it. I loved the anticipation and the setting and the people and the sense of accomplishment that it gave me. It was not a vacation in that I came home relaxed, I call it a “working vacation,” and it was fantastic.