Teton Alpine Camp – Trip Report
Our first flock of mountain climbers has returned to the valley after our inaugural Chicks alpine clinic, and when everyone got together for a celebration dinner, they all showed the true signs of alpine climbing: Tired, hungry, and happy faces. Nowhere else does success come as hard earned as in the alpine, and nowhere else is the reward as great.
Taking place in the famed Grand Teton National Park, the first ever Chicks alpine clinic was completed just a couple weeks ago with three Chicks guides and nine Chicks climbers. At the helm was lead guide Angela Hawse, an IFMGA Mountain Guide with extensive alpine climbing history and a longtime career in guiding on the Grand Teton for Exum Mountain Guides. The group of Chicks climbers encompassed seasoned climbers from the Cascades, strong young guns from California, a Texan turned Coloradoan who fell in love with mountaineering at age 64, and few veteran ice and rock climber Chicks. A fine team, and that was of importance: Teamwork is a large part of alpine climbing, and this team showed it’s true colors of camaraderie, trust, and friendship up in the high country. When the going got hard, the steps got steep, anchors had to be built, and climbers belayed, these women were there for each other.
The clinic began and ended at the American Alpine Club’s Climber’s Ranch in the national park, a home in the mountains that is both comfortable and rustic. We started the opening meeting with a good introduction to what was to come, and everyone got outfitted with demo gear and boots, before fueling up on a big homemade dinner. During the first day spent at the Hidden falls training area accessed by boat across Jenny Lake, the group got to ready themselves with the tools of the trade for alpine climbing: They practiced movement skills in their approach shoes, worked on rope management, completed multi-pitch climbing, learned to belay each other with alpine techniques, performed overhanging rappels, and refined their down-climbing skills. The evening was spent back at the Climber’s Ranch with another home-cooked dinner and prep-work for the next morning’s departure into the mountains.
Now came the real deal, as the group climbed 7 miles and 5,000’ to the Exum Hut on the Lower Saddle, a beautiful flat perch below the Grand Teton, towering above at 13,784’. It was a long day, complete with gentle to ever steepening trails, snowfields, and stormy clouds. It was a great accomplishment when the group was assembled at the hut and cozied up inside with hot drinks and dinner made on the propane stoves as the sun set bathing the mountains in a purple glow.
The next morning dawned beautifully, and no time was wasted getting to work on full day of snow climbing. The guides used the Glacier route on the Middle Teton as their venue and the group split into climbing teams, practicing self-arrest, ice axe and crampon use, snow anchor building and belaying.
Another night was spent at the hut, followed by a pre-dawn start for part of the group to put their skills to use on a climb up to the West Summit of the Grand Teton, also known as the Enclosure. Then came the long descent of the whole group back to the valley floor, where the climbing teams had to use their freshly honed snow skills to belay each other down the steep headwall before reaching the steep, rocky trail through boulders and around waterfalls that finally gave way to a hiking trail in the timbers below. Sun, blisters and tired legs were the companions on the descent, but so were the feelings of accomplishment and pride.
Alpine climbing does not come easy, and the whole group deserves a big hats-off for their hard work and fine performance in completing this first ever Chicks alpine clinic. From all of us at Chicks, we can say this: We are so proud of what you all accomplished during these 4 days!