After a heavy snow year, the Tetons were still blanketed in white in mid-July. We had gathered as guides to work on technical snow travel techniques to mitigate some of the significant objective hazards encountered while navigating with clients both to and from High Camp on the Grand Teton. While role-playing through my first training scenario,
I short-roped two clients up to the base
of a steep snow field. I had the rope configured in a kiwi coil (coiled over my shoulder and tied into my harness, to shorten the forty-meter rope) and needed to lengthen the rope to safely climb up the terrain in front of me. Not thinking, but definitely knowing better, I dumped all of the coils off my shoulder and onto the snow instead of patiently dropping the coils one at a time. Right on cue, an AMGA examiner walked up and smirked
at the tangled rat’s nest of rope at my
feet. “Well, that’s something you should never do,” he scoffed. My season was off
to a banner start.
Steve House, a highly accomplished American alpinist with hundreds of first ascents around the world under his belt, claims, “Climbing is more an art than a sport in the sense that it’s an expression
of intention, discipline, and practice.”
For many climbers, including me, the draw to mountain travel, whether on rock, ice, or snow, is the limitless chase
for progression and expression. There is no final championship game or high score to beat. There are always new goals to work towards and techniques to improve. Progression in climbing has traditionally been facilitated by mentors, passing
down invaluable knowledge and lessons learned—often the hard way—from one generation to the next.
Since middle school when I began climbing, I have benefitted from a handful of climbing mentors. Working
for JHMG, I found myself instantly surrounded by some of the best in the business. Whether it’s mountain guiding or any other job, some of the most intimidating moments for a young professional involve putting yourself
in positions where you may be underqualified or subject to ridicule.
In the alpine environment where the consequences of mistakes are severe,
the level of intimidation and fear is heightened.
I have always considered my time in the mountains to be part of my formal education. The lessons of hard work, risk management, and compassion that I have learned always translate from the alpine to life outside of the mountains. My mentors have helped me take chances
in calculated ways and push myself far beyond what I dreamed possible, both as a climber and a person in everyday life.
Climbing is often a selfish pursuit, but as a guide, I finally have had the chance to help others achieve their goals. Sharing the mountains with clients and pushing them to succeed is truly a gift.
It does not matter if it’s the summit of the Grand Teton, Granite Peak, or a simple afternoon of single pitch rock climbing. Climbing will always be an avenue for learning and gaining experience.
At the end of trips, clients often comment that as guides, we are living “the dream.” I don’t know if they realize that the reality involves nights when
I get back to the trailhead after dark,
cook dinner on my bumper, and crumple into a sleeping bag stretched out in the trunk of my car or days portering heavy backpacks of gear into high camps. I do know though, that I am grateful to have the opportunity do the work I do, and that if it were easy, it would not be