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Tired, Hungry, Happy: Alpine Chicks

Teton Alpine Camp – Trip Report

Alpine climbing with Chicks

Chicks Alpine Alum! Photo by: Angela Hawse

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.

Chicks Alpine Tetons

Getting Alpine Skills. Photo by: Angela Hawse

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.

Chicks in Tetons

The Real Deal. Photo by: Angela Hawse

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!

Nothing But Stoke: Eddie Bauer Scholarship Teton Experience

Contributed by Eddie Bauer Alpine Scholarship winner, Jessica Hartwell.
Earlier this year, I applied for, and received the Eddie Bauer Alpine Scholarship to the Chicks Climbing Teton Camp.  This incredible opportunity set me up with the skills and confidence to pursue many new climbing adventures!  Many people have asked me about my Teton experience, here is a snapshot of our amazing alpine weekend.
Jessica in Teton

Photo by: Angela Hawse

Our first day we settled in to the American Alpine Club Climber’s Ranch in Grand Teton National Park. Running water, cozy bunks and a community area for eating and sharing adventures. Not much more you could ask for! The Chicks guides laid out our plan for the next day and we were off to pack and get some sleep.

The next morning started with a boat ride across Jenny Lake, followed by a quick hike up to some practice rocks. We learned about footwork and technique for confidently moving across boulders, tiny edges, indentations for smearing and safely climbing up and down. Our rope training and practice was next to the gorgeous Hidden Falls. Due to trail work, the trail was closed to other park visitors so we had the beautiful landscape to ourselves! Quite the scenic place to learn more about hip belays, nail knots, moving on rope teams, and feeding and taking in coils. In the afternoon, we put all that we had learned to practice with a relatively easy multi-pitch climb. Hidden Falls was rushing next to us the whole time and made for a stunning distraction from the heat of the climb.  🙂  Running out of time, we made the hike back down to the climbers ranch for dinner and preparation for the next day.

A seven mile hike didn’t sound too daunting, but boy is there a lot of elevation gain from the Lupine Meadows trailhead to the lower saddle of the Grand Teton! With good company and excellent guides, we set off on our way to the Exum Hut which would be our new home for a couple of days. We crossed switchbacks packed with the most beautiful varieties of wildflowers I’ve ever seen, giant boulder fields (made all the more interesting by the pouring rain!), and then we really started to gain altitude on scree slopes. By the time we reached some of the higher waterfalls, we were able to drink straight from the source without treating. We were all pretty spent when we finally arrived up to the saddle. Our guides informed us that due to the weather forecast and one of our guides needing to take a participant back down to the trail head, we would be unable to try for the summit of the Grand the following day. Not giving us much time to sit with the disappointment, we learned that we’d be heading up the Middle Teton glacier instead for a day of snow skills training. Plus, the Exum Hut is surrounded by gorgeous high alpine wildflowers, amazing views and lots of entertaining marmots and birds. Nothing but stoke for the night!

The next day was a blast (and surprisingly tiring!). We practiced making traverses across steep snow, chucking each other down the snow field to practice self arrest from different starting points, and forming rope teams to move more safely. We concluded the day in rope teams of two climbing straight up the headwall back to the lower saddle. The third guide made it up to join us late that afternoon. Back at the Exum Hut, we learned that due to time limits for getting back to the trail head, we wouldn’t be able to make the Summit of the Grand the following day either. We could push as far as we could make it, but would end up heading back down short.

Our final day was an early morning Alpine Start (which sounds way more sexy than it is) that put the team at the Enclosure as the high point of the trip. Shy of the summit, but in good spirits and excited about all we had learned and accomplished on the trip, the group started the trek back down. Grand Teton National Park is such a beautiful miracle in the way that it always provided one more thing of beauty any time I started to feel achy or tired slipping my way back down the scree, back to the water crossings and snow crossings, back to the boulder field and switchbacks and finally to the beautiful meadow and trailhead.

The guides at Chicks Climbing and Skiing are unmatched. They’re professional, kind, hard working and all around inspiring women. The lessons I learned – including disappointment – were so profoundly valuable that it’s still taking me a bit to wrap my head around it. I feel enormously fortunate to have had this experience. As we peeked around the corner before the boulder fields, the huge peaks came in to view and my eyes welled up with tears. There’s such magic in the adventures we get to have outdoors, and it’s made even more special when you’re surrounded by a tribe of such wonderful people.

Thank you to Eddie Bauer for the opportunity and sponsoring my participation. I am forever grateful.