After 18 years in the financial sector as a CPA and Certified Financial Planner, I asked myself one day who I really wanted to be. Was it the geek carrying the HP 12C, donned in panty hose, respectable pumps, and a conservative suit? Nah. It was the person in this pic. I really like this person. And she seems pretty happy too.
I don’t post pictures of myself mainly because there aren’t many. I’m the one behind the camera, and I like it that way. And pictures of me flyfishing are even more rare as I’m usually by myself or those in my party are downstream somewhere (I like to be the person upstream LOL – I’m blonde not stupid). The blonde part’s not technically correct after the China backpacking trip but I’m working to recover the blonde locks. It takes a lot of time sitting in the hair salon. I don’t do that well. Sitting still.
The photo above was taken on the 3rd hiking trip into the Wind River Range in Wyoming in 2007. There were 3 of us on this trip – me and 2 guy friends. The first and second trips in 2002 and 2003 included me and 5 guys. My amazing husband sends me off with these guys as they’re all like brothers to me. I’m the only girl that ever gets invited because I’m the only girl they know who can smell as bad as they do at the end of the trip. Well, and I don’t whine. Ever. My backpack always weighs 50+ lbs. My camera gear outranks personal items and therefore there’s not a lot of grooming that takes place. I’m okay with that. More okay than I should be. Furthermore I can eat my weight in cheeseburgers at the Lander Bar & Grill when we come out. And throw back a respectable amount of libations.
The trips are grueling. The last 2 more so than the first as I was living in Jackson Hole for the first go and had the advantage of altitude adjustment. Big advantage. The guys all came from sea level. Big disadvantage. I smoked them to the top of Hell’s Hill, elevation 11,000 feet and a full 8 hours into the second day’s hike. So much so that I had time to cavort at the top, lie back in the sunshine, photograph like a fiend, and then climb back down to help a guy bring his pack on up to the top.
I was a rock star on that mountain. It was the first and last of that glory. And like a HS football star, I still talk about it every chance I get.
Since that glory has faded to the hue of a 1900’s tintype photograph, for my birthday this year, I asked to climb Grand Teton. I’ve been training now for 4 months. There’s lots of hissing going on in my household. Lots of ice packs flying around. Lots of short trips and parties being turned down. Lots of lactic acid pumping through my veins. I’ve done without sweets for weeks upon weeks, chocolate included. My life has been consumed by the preparation. My husband reminds me frequently his life has been indirectly consumed by it. I gave him permission to say bad things to me the next time I throw out an idea that will so voraciously inhale 5+ months of our lives.
Grand Teton. It stands at 13,770, with an ascent of 6,700 feet which requires a combination of hiking, climbing, and rappelling. It’s the highest mountain in the Teton Range (part of the Rocky Mountains). The most popular route up the mountain is the Exum Ridge (II, 5.5), a 13-pitch exposed route first climbed by Glenn Exum. This route takes the south ridge of the mountain to the summit and the direct start (Lower Exum Ridge, III, 5.7) is considered a mountaineering classic. The North Ridge (IV, 5.8) and North Face with Direct Finish (IV, 5.8) ascend the dramatic northern aspect of the peak, and their inclusion in Steck and Roper’s Fifty Classic Climbs of North America has helped maintain the fame of the peak in the climbing community. Since the first ascent, 38 routes with 58 variations have been established.
The origin of the name is controversial. The most popular explanation is that “Grand Teton” means “large teat” in French, named by either French-Canadian or Iroquois members of an expedition led by Donald McKenzie of the North West Company. However, other historians disagree, and claim the mountain was named after the Teton-Sioux tribe. Personally, the “large teat” origin is my favorite.
I know a lot about the Tetons, from the GROUND. I’ve photographed them for years, gazed at them from all sides and dreamed of being up there. It was the one thing I regret not doing while living there. And I did a lot of things Animal Tracking, Snot Effect and Poop. You chuckled at the “from the ground” part? You know you did. But it’s important because that familiarity means I know the challenge I’m embarking upon. Then again, I always say that and then get into something and promise myself to have my head checked if I manage to exit the situation alive.
I’m ordinary. Filled at times with fear, infinitesimally stupid at times, fraught with the same self delusions and insecurities as most everyone else, I may have an above average tolerance for pain. Then again I probably tell myself that in order to stay psyched up for the extremely painful things that seem to happen to me. More on that later. I hate working out. Those 30 minutes on the elliptical are an eternity. Getting to Pilates twice a week is as difficult and unpalatable as mowing 2 acres of grass with a push mower. So this undertaking is a big stretch. I think of this when I recall my 3 year old nephew trying to drink a whole glass of chocolate milk and eat a bowl of ice cream the size of my Dad’s. About as insurmountable.
It’s the task itself, the carrot dangling so enticingly that really gets my blood pumping. After the first Wind River hike I was depressed for months. Lost. Afloat. I know what Lewis felt like when he returned home from the expedition. Driving back to the trailhead after getting everyone else on the road , I wanted to disappear back into that wilderness. Returning to Jackson through distraught tears was as much a struggle as anything I’d done.
Nothing in my life has ever been on the same scale as the Lewis and Clark expedition, but I know what he struggled with even if at a much lesser degree. It took a long time before I felt normal, and to a degree, I’ve never regained the perspective of the world I had before I left for that trip. P.S. That’s a Good thing.
The NEED to have an adventurous goal that will stretch me beyond my recognizable self is ever present. It’s an itch that won’t go away. It’s not been relieved a bit by the aging process, or by injuries sustained on past adventures. I WANT to feel some fear. Not the fear of failure represented by not making it to the top of Grand. If I don’t make it, it’ll be disappointing. But it won’t kill me. NOT making the attempt would kill me. The fear I’m talking about doesn’t come at the hand of others. It comes from the smallness I feel when faced with the elements of nature. Things I can’t control. Things that so radically and without emotion put me in my place. It changes your perspective of the world and your position in it. In my opinion we all need that. Others will argue, but there is but one way to get this attitude adjustment – by pitting yourself against natural elements.
4 Weeks and Counting!! Ahhhhh!!……..
P.S. While this technically won’t count as a SOLO trip, it will be just me and an Exum guide. Actually, getting to the top takes just me. Sigh.