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“Never a bad word or a twisted rope”

Over 20 years ago I first laid eyes on the Grand Tetons – the staggering beauty of the range stunned me. And, The Grand was simply spectacular!! – I have seen it referred to as “America’s Matterhorn” – absolutely incredible.

Over the years, I had read that one could climb the Grand with some training and with the assistance of guides from the likes of Exum Mountain Guides – that needed to go on the “bucket list”

So, after a few days of hiking and exploring I stopped at the visitor center to get additional info – told the nice lady that climbing the Grand was on my bucket list – she hesitated a moment – asked “dare I ask – is it your bucket /bucket list or a fun/bucket list…” just a fun bucket list I assured her…

(and, as I told my daughter K years ago, even have a file of notes and clippings of things on my bucket list – you can’t make this stuff up – don’t you have a bucket list too????)

So, with directions in hand, I headed off to the office/cabin over on Jenny Lake to inquire further. First, I found out some history about the company –

In 1929 a handsome young musician named Glenn Exum left his Idaho farm country to play saxophone for a summer dance band in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He fell in love with the mountains, and returned the next summer to help build trails in the newly created Grand Teton National Park. Here he met a kindred soul in mountain guide Paul Petzoldt. Paul trained Glenn to be a climbing guide, and in the summer of 1931, on their first trip guiding together, Glenn made history: wearing leather-cleated football shoes and without a rope, he pioneered a new route up the mountain.

“Never a Bad Word or a Twisted Rope” A Collection of Climbing Stories by Glen Exum

Glenn Exum ultimately founded a climbing school along with his friend Paul Petzoldt – now known as Exum Mountain Guides.

I learned that, like me, the majority of Exum’s Grand Teton climbers have never climbed prior to arriving at Exum. Wow! Maybe I can do this…

So Tina signed me up – this nomad would be Exum Climber # 8649 – guess that’s how they would identify the body 🙂

First things first though – two days of rigorous training as part of the prerequisites to learn the specific techniques and systems Exum uses to climb the peak – methods, I was assured, that have proven highly effective for thousands of Exum’s clients

Day one is called Multi-Pitch Level 1 – a full-day course that covers the fundamentals of climbing, including equipment, tie-ins and knots, rope management, footwork and movement, belaying, rappelling, and the all-important transitions during multi-pitch climbs.

This first day included a ferry ride over Jenny Lake to the trailhead to Teton Falls where we spent a full day getting a thorough introduction to rock climbing from Dave – a senior guide and longtime climber (and all around great guy) – started out on boulders and then moved to a bit more challenging slopes – using tiny knobs and cracks to get ourselves up the mountain.

We also learned what to do with all that rope we were hauling around – tied a variety of knots; learned to belay; walking roped up together; climbing one “pitch” length at a time – and, even rappelling – now that’s a leap of faith!!

The next day was Multi – Pitch Level 2 – refine and take the skills learned in Multi-Pitch Level I to a whole new level. The climbs are steeper, the rappels more challenging, and the pace accelerated to simulate the level of efficiency demanded on multi-pitch alpine climbs like the Grand Teton.

And, they weren’t kidding…

This time, Peter (an incredible climber with his own guide service that climbs around the world) took us back across the lake to even more challenging landscape. This time the slopes were considerably steeper and the knobs and cracks even smaller – if that is possible. Steeper slopes; multiple pitches; angle of slopes Peter called 5.6’s – in other words – grades of over 85% or more- climbs that, candidly, kicked this nomad’s ass – legs and arms shaking with fatigue – which leads to fear – which leads to loss of confidence… not a pretty sight.

And, then the final challenge – rappelling off a 120 foot cliff – with virtually all of it like the Special Forces dropping in on Osama B. – sliding straight down the rope – controlling the descent with a fatigued right hand – both thrilling and a bit terrifying at the same time!! We all did it twice – once without backpacks; once with backpacks.

After two days on the rocks, yours truly was whipped…the 14ers seemed easy to compared to this kind of technical climbing

Time for a “reality check” talk with Peter – simply put – I didn’t display the proficiency necessary for me to enjoy the climb to the summit without a great struggle; or, to be a strong link in the team making the ascent. A fair assessment and articulately delivered with the candor that only an experienced instructor can pull off – thanks Peter!

Well, this is a journey of discovery… and , it is said, a man has to know his limitations – Exum Climber 8649 discovered his on the mountain – the Grand would have to wait – yup, wait – it doesn’t go off the bucket list – simply will have to find some time to practice the skills. Going to hang on to the Exum cap I bought as my summit cap 🙂

Of the five of us who started the weekend, only 2 ended up on the summit – Emily was only signed up for Day 1; Katy got sick on Day 2 and had to pull out of the Grand plan; this nomad found his limits –

Andy and Tan climbed the Grand on Monday/Tuesday – first a 7 mile , 5,000 foot approach ascent to the Exum camp at 11,200 feet on the saddle between Middle and Grand Teton; a 3am wakeup on Tuesday to begin the summit climb; a climb, initially, in the dark with headlamps to guide them – across ledges and up nearly vertical pitches – belay by belay – and then rappelling down some of the initial descent – then that long hike back to the trail head at the base of the mountain- wow!!!

Congrats on an extraordinary accomplishment!!

As for yours truly – remember I like having options – now I have 2 “found days” – maybe some kayaking; some fishing – some mellow time reflecting on the days on the rock; nursing the purple knees and elbows; looking up at the Grand – sadly, now barely visible through the smoke – and sending Andy and Tan some positive vibes…

Sounded like a plan…more to follow

Thanks to Exum and especially Dave and Peter for an extraordinary experience

Dave is a man of many talents – senior guide for Exum in the summers; senior Ski Patrol in the winters; and, if that’s not enough, he’s also a professional photographer. So whatever your season – Dave’s your man in Jackson, WY:

Peter is co-founder of Mountain Sense – a climbing guide service – he’s based in New Hampshire but climbs, teaches, and guides around the U.S and the world – next summer for instance he’ll be in the Dolomites in Italy – I think Andy and Tan are planning on joining him there – It’s fair to say, if you’re looking for an exceptional experience Peter is your man – check out the site:

Dave was kind enough to send along a couple of cliff side “portraits” he took of Emily and Katy – nice work

Take care – see you down the road

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