8 years ago, almost to the month — Dad, Rich, Chris and I stood staring at this mountain in utter amazement. Amazed by it’s size, it’s beauty and the commitment we had all made to climb to the top. At 16, I took on the challenge to climb to the top of this 14,000 foot peak as an opportunity to complete something I would remember for the rest of my life.
Today, 8 years later I stand before it — full of emotion. A rush of accomplishment, a remembrance of terror, a bond strong enough to hold each other’s lives in our hands and a view so incredible it is ingrained in my mind forever.
Amy from Exum Mountain Guides lead us to the top of the Grand Teton in August of 2002. I was a 16 year old girl with no idea what she had gotten herself into.
The climb began at Lupine Meadows at the base of the Teton Mountain Range. The seven-mile hike up 5,000-feet in elevation winds through hillsides blanketed in wildflowers, past gorgeous waterfalls, with breathless views of Jenny Lake leading to the Lower Saddle Hut at 11,620 feet.
After 8+ hours of hiking — we reached base camp, the Lower Saddle. My mind, my body were completely muted with exhaustion and fear of what was to come next.
Once at the Saddle our priorities were simple– food, water, sleep. We climbed into a metal hut and lay to rest the bodies that ached so badly. As I laid there 12,000 feet above sea level, I became terrified. Terrified of what was next. I spent that night sandwiched between the support of my father, my uncle, and my cousin and cried myself to sleep.
At 3am we woke from restless sleep and began our final ascent of the Grand Teton in the pitch black night. Our headlights in tact and are pace set, we began to climb. Hours later as the sun began to peak over the horizon we got a glimpse of where we had come from and where we were headed. My terrified thoughts became actions. My body and mind gave up, I could not do this. Amy sat me down and asked me and only me, if I thought I could reach the top. From this point on there would be no way we could turn around.
The inner struggle I felt at that moment was something so real, I felt it through my body. I had to make a decision that would not only forever affect me, but also my family. Dad, Rich, and Chris had set this goal too. I could not be the one to hold them back. I looked at Amy, with confidence and said I was committed to stand on top of that mountain.
Weather permitting we climbed the Upper Exum route to the top of the Grand Teton. (see below route in Red)
Dad, Rich, Chris, and I stood atop a mountain that day. With a great hold on what it takes both mentally and physically to accomplish an extraordinary goal.
Wednesday, July 21st, 2010
A unannounaced, unexpected lighting, snow, hail storm hit the Grand Teton around 10am, the time in which climbers typically reach the peak of the mountain. Below excerpt taken from the Jackson Hole Daily:
“We could start to hear the air buzzing with all the electricity,” Walker said. Then came the first big strike.
“It was extremely jolting, extremely painful,” he said. “You just kind of lost momentary use of your limbs.”
The four huddled, standing or crouching on their climbing ropes in an effort to insulate themselves from the mountain.
“We could hear sparks and strikes up above,” he said. “Then we got struck again.
“That one was a lot more of a blast,” he said. “It kind of put us on our butts. It was extremely loud, like you were in an explosion.
“I just remember screaming in pain,” Walker said. “One of the images burned in my brain is looking at my friends and seeing the anguish in their faces. Nobody could figure out what to do.”
A third blast hit the group and then they took stock. Rescue, it seemed, would be impossible so they decided they had to move or die.
Dad and I read this article in shock at the vastly different experience and dangers these 16 climbers faced on Wednesday. This story brought back to life, both the fear and accomplishment we achieved, by facing the Grand Teton head on 8 years prior.
All climbers were rescued and brought to recovery at St. John’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.