This post is more than a trip report. It's a reflection on the time I devoted to making my life better, and the process of growing beyond my boundaries, something I feel is necessary for anyone who wants to change and grow.
Note: Long post and SOOOOO many beautiful pictures below...
I packed my things in Colorado, carefully placing my Big City Mountaineer pennant and prayer flags in a plastic bag for safekeeping. The drive to Jackson WY was long and boring and beautiful at times. I haven't done a long drive alone in a while. It gave me time to mentally prepare for the trip, and make the shift from worry to just enjoying myself.
I did my gear check and learned that I'd be carrying food for the group as well, so I'd need to use the bigger, heavier backpack. I had an awesome dinner at the Snake River Brewing Co. and made my way to Teton National Forest to camp. If you head north of town and take a right towards Kelly, keep going till it turns into a dirt road, there is free camping with an amazing view of the Grand.
That's when I realized I forgot pants.
I was wearing shorts when I arrived, packed my hiking shorts, and long johns, and rain pants... but I didn't bring regular outer layer hiking pants. Thankfully the gear store opened early, so I was able to get a pair when I got into town. At the time I wasn't sure weather to laugh or cry about it. I chose laugh – who forgets pants?? Me, apparently. Anyway, a year and a half of training and preparation and this it turned out was my biggest issue. I turned in for a good night's sleep, visions of pant-less mountaineers floating through my dreams.
I drove into town at 7am and got breakfast and a sandwich for the trail. Our group met at the JHMG office to divide up the food and distribute extra gear (like crampons.) My team consisted of three men (two grownups and a 18 yr old son – Sorry Kevin! You'll be gown up some day...) from Maryland, and a gentleman from Canada. We had two guides, Jed and Darren, who gave us the run down for the trip. We would hike up to high camp that day, train the next, summit on day 3, and descend on day 4 – all weather permitting.
And that's when the hard parts started. The hiking got steeper, and our pace slowed as we began scrambling, traversing snow fields, and dodging rabid marmots (not really, but I wish.) An hour later it started to rain, a trend that continued till day 4.
At high camp we were assigned tents where we could dry off and get ready for food. At 10,000 ft I wasn't feeling the altitude yet, but several in our group were.
After breakfast we made our way to a few pillars near the camp and learned how to handle basic climbing, belaying, rappelling, and multi-pitch scenarios. We practiced a short climb, rapped from the top, and one other climber and I got to do some scrambling on a nearby pillar. Unfortunately it began to rain in the early afternoon, so we made our way back to camp. The rain continued through dinner, bed time and when we work up at 3am the next morning...
… it was still raining. We ate breakfast in the hope that the weather would break, but it didn't. We all went back to bed with hopes of summiting the next day instead. I woke up again about 10am and moseyed to the tent. We spent the rest of the day reading, or talking about (or in my case listening) politics and health care. The weather report called for thunderstorms and rain continuing through the next day. Hopes for a summit weren't very high.
About 4pm, the sky began to clear and the sun came out. I saw my first marmot, dried my socks out, and spent time taking pictures from our camp. We had a few other groups join us that day and the day before. Briefly I wasn't the only woman at the camp, but that ended when her group's summit day was rained out and they returned to town.
We woke up at 2:30am to a perfectly clear sky and an amazing view of the milky way. I still didn't believe that we were going to climb though. The weather report was so bleak. We ate breakfast in what I thought was a show on the part of the guides - giving us our money's worth with an early wake up, then sending us back to bed. The back to bed part never happened though. We ate, put on helmets and our packs, and started walking. I hiked in this state of disbelief for a full hour and a half, thinking we would turn around at any moment. Before I knew it, we were at the lower saddle. Then we were beginning to climb, following the trail of tiny headlamps ahead of us.
Somewhere between the lower saddle and the first icy patch on the way up to the notch, I noticed how strong I felt. I wasn't afraid or tired. The exposure hardly affected me at all. I had a "moment" there, all by myself, thinking back on how far I've come. Progress seems invisible sometimes, till suddenly you are able to turn around and see you've finally climbed above what you wanted to leave behind.
Because of the hail the previous night, many stretches were fairly iced over. We stayed together as a group, carefully navigating the nearly invisible sheets. About 2/3 the way to the top one of our guides decided he was too sick to continue. He and another climber made their way back to camp, while the rest of us continued.
After a 125 ft traverse over ice, we found ourselves at the base of the Pownall-Gilkey route, completely iced over. I would have given anything for crampons and tools. The route had been equipped with permanent slings by the guides to help novice climbers. We used those to haul ourselves up the corner, flailing for good foot placements.
The second pitch was less icy, and after another 45 minutes of third class scrambling, we summitted at 9:30am under the most fantastic blue sky I've ever seen.
When I entered the "What's Your Everest?" contest to win the money for this trip, my goal was to work on my fear of heights, not change my whole life. But it did. Taking a moment to look back on how far I've come, the same way I did on the Grand, reminds me that life's biggest obstacles can be conquered one focused step at a time. The small lessons I learned this year about my comfort zone, remembering my goals, and being bold, all came together as I set foot on the summit, and as I moved into my new place in Boulder.
I can't describe how grateful I am for these lessons....
Going down is always harder on the knees, but with the aid of ropes, the butt slide, and crab walk, it was manageable. We hit the lower saddle around 1pm, and I got the chance to glissade down the snowy slope below. Yet another testament to how much better my fear has gotten, the slide down was incredible! (Not terrifying.) Snow flying everywhere, I used my ice axe as a break/rudder. That cut a good 30 minutes off the descent and made it a lot more fun.
The rest of the hike out was filled with awesome views, mosquitoes, and great conversation. At the parking lot I could barely walk. No clue how our guides do it so often.
All I can think about now is my next goal, how I'll train/stay in shape, and what lessons I'll learn along the way.