A 60th Birthday to Remember: By Rod Freudenberg
August 24, 2015 | Posted in: JHMG
This is how I wanted to remember my 60th birthday: summiting the Grand Teton with my two daughters. In my younger days, my wife and I backpacked throughout the park, often looking skyward to the Grand, envying the skills and stamina of those we knew were climbing but couldn’t see them. For us, climbing the Grand was out of our league. My daughters, however, grew up to be backcountry enthusiasts and skilled rock climbers and skiers. So, I set us up for a four-day summit attempt with JHMG for late July, 2010 with their promise to get me up as far as possible and mine to pay the whole freight.
When we arrived for the evening of pre-climb meeting, we were greeted by Doug Workman, our scheduled guide; however, Doug’s arm was in a splint (a slackline accident if I remember correctly), and we learned that his brother Jed would guide us the next morning. Doug proceeded to check every piece of our gear and clothing, commenting repeatedly: “What’s this for?” “You won’t need this!” “I guess this isn’t too bad.” Although we thought we were experienced outdoors types; after Doug’s analysis, we felt like total gapers.
The next morning we met Jed, who immediately filled the space in our pack that Doug cleared with food that we would carry up to the high camp. With our packs now doubled in weight, we started our six mile hike to camp. On the trail, Jed chatted pleasantly, subtly sizing us up. Jed looked confident in the girls, but I’m sure he’d dealt with plenty of middle-aged bucket-listers like me to make him wary. I reassured him that I wouldn’t be any trouble in the slightest; all he needed was to give me a sign, and I would sit it out. Jed offered plenty of reassurance, but I also sensed a bit of relief. I was slower than the rest, but I felt quite good. We were off to a great start. Every step was beautiful, and the weather was predicted to be sunny with no chance of rain.
The following day was to be our training day for the summit climb. Unexpectedly, the sky was grey, and clouds looked threatening. Rather, than climb on the nearby walls, Jed chose to train on the boulders around the camp. This turned out to be a good choice because in the late morning, the clouds turned to waves of thunderheads pounding the Grand with an ungodly electrical storm, a brief break, then another, then another. Just as we wondered how the day’s climbers were fairing, a rescue helicopter started making flights to and from the Grand in the brief pauses between storms. With telecommunications extremely limited, we didn’t know the drama that was unfolding just above our heads. (18 climbers would be rescued, one climber perishing in a fall.) We got a break in the afternoon, so Jed took us climbing and rappelling. We got our lessons in; but throughout, Jed was scanning the skies, deciding moment to moment whether to continue or return to camp. Back at camp we sat out more rain, had supper, went to our tents, and awaited the 2 AM wake-up call for breakfast and gearing up for the climb. I don’t think any of us really slept.
The morning of the climb was cold, damp, and cloudy. We knew we would turn around at the first sign of electrical activity. But there wasn’t any! Pitch by pitch we reached the summit by around 10 AM and had the Grand to ourselves for a half hour. (We saw only one other party above the saddle.) I’m fairly certain that Jed practically pulled me up the most technical section, but he gave me full credit for doing it on my own. Coming down, we found abandoned ropes and hardware from the previous day, and loaded ourselves up with as much as we could carry. For me that wasn’t much, but Jed carried out climbing ropes and hardware from at least two other parties. His load was enormous! We were back at camp by 2:30 PM, and after declaring it the best mountaineering experience we ever had and Jed the best guide ever (!), we fell asleep flat out on the rocks and gravel, barely having removed our packs.