Rock Climbing

Last week, my boys (11 and 13) and I went rock climbing in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. We climbed with Exum Mountain Guides, one of the premier guiding services in America. I had hoped to post a day by day account of the school and climb, but with upcoming events in my life I won't have time. So I am settling for some random thoughts on the experience:

The first two days were spent in a school in a canyon in the Park. Given its long history in the Park, Exum has exclusive use of this canyon, which contains a series of climbs of increasing difficulty. We made it to the second most difficult climb in the canyon, called the Open Book:

On the third day, we climbed a small (10,000 feet) peak called Cube Point:

We climbed up the left hand ridge to the little table top next to the very top of the mountain. It was a series of nine 'pitches,' or 1/2 to whole rope lengths. (50' - 100').

On Cube Point, I was 'clean up,' meaning that I was the last on the rope. When the tug came on my rope informing me that it was my turn to climb, I would unfasten all of the hardware from the mountain, get set and start climbing. As a result of being last, I spent a great deal of time alone on the mountain. I saw my boys only rarely from below, typically as a head in a helmet glimpsed over a rock ledge before they started climbing.

At the top of the second pitch, I really did not have anything to hold onto and felt I was going to slide off the mountain. Of course I was belayed, or anchored, by a rope, but as the guide explained it is human instinct.

As I stood alone on the ledge after finishing the second pitch, I was shocked at how much down there was up there. Almost every where I looked there was down. And not just a little down, thousands of feet of down. In fact, I was almost completely surrounded by down. And when there's that much down around, it has a sense of almost pulling you...well...down. It was at that moment that I realized that I really did not like rock climbing. I have climbed Mt. Rainier twice and, even though that mountain is more dangerous, I prefer glacier travel to cliff travel.

Exum guides are great. They're patient, informed, and excellent climbers. Even if one of them did rave about "An Inconvenient Truth" on the approach!

Late on day two, my youngest son, 11, was starting the second pitch of the Open Book. His brother and I were standing on the belay ledge, probably 5 feet below him. (If you look on the right side of the picture, above, you'll see some greenery on the cliff about a third of the way up; that's the belay ledge. My boy was up and to the left of that.) Anyway, as he started climbing, he panicked a bit. He was tired, he was probably 50' up, and he could not find a good foothold. He started to cry a little, and wanted down. "I hate this, Dad. I don't want to do it anymore." His brother and I explained to him that he really couldn't come down, and the only way out was up. I'll be damned if he didn't hang in there, regather his wits and finish the climb. And all was forgotten the next day when we climbed Cube Point. You know, you cannot buy that kind of a life's lesson anywhere.

I don't like to brag, but my kids are studs. For the most part, they climbed without complaint or hesitation. My words cannot convey the level of exposure these kids faced when we climbed Cube Point, but they applied what they had been taught and succeeded. Their dad, on the other hand, is a wimp!

Grand Teton National Park is beautiful. Stay at the Climber's Ranch; it's cheaper than the campgrounds, it has showers and the greatest view you'll ever see:

We had originally hoped to climb the Grand Teton, but my kids were too young. It's not that they cannot handle the rock climbing on the route, but Exum has found that the nearly two solid days of hiking and climbing are just too much for the younger ones:

Both boys told me, though, that they intend to hold me to my promise to take them back in a few years to complete "the big one."

1 comment:

ZenPanda said...

I'm glad you had just a great time. Since my expedition to GT was solely for wildlife and not hiking/climbing/packing it was less ideal.
I know now to plan more time hiking the park.
Beautiful photos!