The Grand Teton becomes the best 50th birthday gift ever!!!
July 31, 2015 | Posted in: JHMG
One of my dad’s favorite stories is about how he got lost on the shores of Jackson Lake at nine years old. He wandered away from his family’s campsite long enough to incite panic in his parents and to initiate a search by the rangers. Eventually, though, he found his way back—where he was greeted with a mixture of relief and reproach from all of the adults on scene. He, however, claims to never have been scared. Instead, that experience planted in him a lifelong love for the Tetons and a firm knowledge that some day he would stand on the top of the Grand.
It was not until several decades later (during which time the Tetons were frequently talked and dreamt about) that my dad was able to make it back to Jackson Hole and make an attempt on the mountain. With his brothers, brother-in-law, and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, he set off to climb the Grand Teton. Unfortunately, snow, ice, and storms kept them off of the summit. I remember him coming home in good spirits—telling tales of the incredible winds, the summer snows, and those goofy marmots—but also with a renewed enthusiasm for completing his goal.
Several years later, I answered a phone call from my dad as I walked across my college campus. The first thing he said was, “Do you want to climb the Grand Teton with me and your brother this summer?” I was completely taken aback. The three of us have always loved to hike. But at that time we had little to no climbing experience. By the end of the phone call, however, I had given him a nervous yet excited, “Yes!” He was turning 50 years old that year and claimed that he couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate. We never would have been able to attempt the climb on our own, so, based on my dad’s great experience years earlier, we signed up with Jackson Hole Mountain Guides once again.
Eventually, after all of the training and preparation, with mom cheering us on from home, and with our trusty and amazing guide Nate to lead us, we set out from the Lupine Meadows trailhead. I remember rounding one of those early switchbacks and catching sight of my first ever black bear. I remember losing my footing on a snowfield in Garnet Canyon and realizing that this was a serious mountain with serious consequences. I remember the feeling of accomplishment and encouragement that I had after completing our practice climb on the Watchtower. I remember feeling incredibly weak and uncoordinated as I fumbled with the etrier. I remember giggling like schoolgirls as we lay, overly exhausted and slap-happy, squeezed into our three person tent. I remember watching my brother’s miserable face as he tried to choke down a breakfast burrito at 3am on summit morning. I remember watching in awe the shadows of the Grand and the Middle dance across the range during sunrise. And, I remember the pure joy radiating from my dad’s face as he stood, finally, on the summit of the Grand Teton.
My dad is not the most sentimental person you’ll ever meet. It’s not always easy to tell what he is thinking or feeling. But that day, and for several days after, you could tell. He was beaming. It was not just that he was able to complete his goal of 41 years, it was not just that he was able to stand on the top of an iconic peak, but it was also that he was able to share the experience with his children. And as his daughter, I could not be more grateful for the chance to be a part of my dad’s dream.
Completing this climb with my father has had a larger impact on me than any of us could have imagined. Throughout that week in the Tetons, I inherited his lifelong passion for that place. Just a few short years later, I returned to Jackson Hole as a Park Ranger in Grand Teton National Park. I have now worked 5 seasons and counting in that spectacular valley, but I never would have made it there if it weren’t for the influence of my dad and his passion for the mountains. I could not be more proud to dedicate my work towards protecting the Tetons, which are the birthplace of so many dreams- like my father’s, and so many incredible adventures- like our climb.
Written by Julie Stetson