Sometimes an opportunity comes your way and you simply can’t say “no.” That’s what happened when Big City Mountaineers asked me to participate in their Summit for Someone program on the Grand Teton this year. The project had so many first-time experiences for me; my first time in the Jackson area, my first time multi-pitch climbing in the high alpine, my first guided mountain and the first time I’ve had to raise money for a charitable cause in my adult life. So here’s a look at what it was like tackling a whole slew of firsts, in the name of a good cause.
What is the Big City Mountaineers Summit for Someone program anyway?
Big City Mountaineers aims to send under-serviced youth on a transformative wilderness experience. The idea? Give under-serviced youth the chance to discover their own strengths and develop leadership skills through being outdoors. Their cause resonates with my core principal, empower others to step outside their comfort zones and challenge themselves. The outdoors is simply a physical space that creates room for that growth.
My Fundraising Story
The most successful fundraising efforts have a great story. Mine starts with a confession. I didn’t use to always be the outdoorsy woman you see in my writing. In fact, I used to call myself things like “a bad hiker.” I’ve always been an adventurous soul, willing to travel outside of my comfort zone just to see what lay on the other side of the proverbial river, but my outdoor experience was limited to a few (some traumatizing) experiences I had as a kid.
About five years ago I was searching for a way to fill that adventurous side of my soul. That’s when I re-discovered the outdoors. Here was this space where I could challenge myself and see what lies beyond my comfort zone. How was I able to jump in so swiftly? It was from those experiences backpacking the Presidential Traverse and climbing in Joshua Tree as a kid. I then realized that exposure to the outdoors when I was younger, set the wheels in motion for the adventurous spirit I had become later in life.
Training Snafus – Overcoming Injury
So this is going to sound a little unfair, but I didn’t train particularly hard for this climb. That’s not because I’m some kind of super-athlete that can eat Cheetos and just magically send mega-climbs, it’s because I’m essentially always training. As an outdoor writer, there’s always a big, burly epic I have my eyes on. The only problem with my workout regimen is that it left me susceptible to injury.
About three weeks before the climb I came down with a stress injury in my knee. I could hardly walk around the block. Determined to still give the Grand Teton a try, I did my best to manage it and stopped all training. It started to feel better, but the drive to Jackson left me feeling less-than-confident.
The Guide Service and the Team
Big City Mountaineers teamed up with Jackson Hole Mountain Guides to bring the Grand Teton climb to life. Jackson Hole Mountain Guides brings 50 years of experience on the Grand Teton to the table, making them one of the oldest guiding services in the country. Although I have used guiding services for outdoor education purposes, I had never climbed a mountain with a guide. My past mountaineering experiences had been self-sustaining efforts with a few close friends. When I signed up for the Grand Teton climb, I didn’t know a soul, not to mention, I was the only female on the trip.
As soon as I stepped out of the car at the trailhead my worries about “fitting in” completely melted away. Unlike a normal guided trip, climbing for charity lacked a lot of the macho culture that mountaineering is known for. Everyone was out to have fun and challenge themselves. We all immediately bonded over how clean we smelled (and smelly we would become). We would continue to joke and encourage each other every step of the way.
Climbing My First Multi-Pitch Route
So here I am, injured knee lone ranger (ranger-ette? Is that a thing?) about to get ready to tackle my first high-alpine, multi-pitch climb. As the sun set over high camp the night before our summit attempt we heard large chunks of ice and rock fall like ghosts around us. It was the mountain’s reminder that she is ultimately in control and we are merely visitors.
My knee had magically decided to cooperate, the weather was clear and the wind was minimal. Everything had lined up to be pristine conditions in the alpine. We set out for the first ridge, a row of headlamps slowly crawling our way up fixed lines. Before long, the alpenglow appeared as we made our way across the first pitch of the three-pitch climb. Together, the team slowly threaded their way up towards the summit, tackling each challenge with encouragement. Before we knew it we had arrived.
The feeling at the top, even though it was just the half-way point, felt like we had accomplished something bigger than ourselves. As we descended off the mountain, we kept looking back at what we had accomplished, watching the summit slowly get smaller and smaller. This wasn’t about topping out on the summit, but about inspiring and enabling the younger generation to find their summit in life.