From Being Guided to Guiding – A record of an all-woman expedition

Andrea, Jess, and I.  On top of Grand Teton
Andrea, Jess, and I. On top of Grand Teton

On August 29, 2007, I was on top of Grand Teton, guided. On Sep 6, 2009, I was on top of Grand Teton, guiding. Grand Teton was still that Grand Teton, and I was still that girl always wanting to climb mountains. But, something was different. In fact, many things were different.

Two years ago, I had just stepped in the world of traditional climbing. How to climb an alpine rock route was unknown to me but I was eager to learn, to practice, to explore, and to get higher. Nonetheless being a guided client, my mood was relaxed. I took my time and I followed the footsteps. During the climb, the guides half seriously half jokingly commented, “You should quit guide trips,” after I easily followed up the 5.8 Pownall-Gilkey pitch. “I am on my way there,” I responded quietly in mind. I wanted to be a leader, because the leader’s view is different, and because a leader is a leader. I was content to be a follower then though – I paid attention to the surroundings and appreciated the summit view and vowed to come back and climb more rocks in the vincinity. Pleasant, pleasant memory it was.

A few days after that climb, I did my first lead. Since then, I have climbed much and learned much about climbing because I wanted to. I knew in order to get something, I needed to want it, really want it. During my early development of rock climbing skills, I had promised two friends at different occasions to bring them up to Grand Teton. Andrea, a Jackson resident, wanted to climb Grand because it is there. Jess, my co-instructor at a camp for adjudicated youth, somehow had Grand Teton as one of her dreams.

This Labor Day weekend was when we three could all get together and tackle the objective. The weather did not look encouraging – high chance of early thunderstorms for each day we planned to be out there. We went back and forth on Owen-Spaulding route or the Upper Exum route. Due to weather restrictions, we set our mind to do the O-S route because it is easy to bail on this route. Besides, even though Andrea and Jess are active and accomplished outdoor athletes, they are not climbers. It’s much better for non-climbers to start with something less technical.

The approach hike was steep and more tiring than I remembered, perhaps because this time I had to carry camping gear and climbing gear while two years ago I only carried a day pack. Luckily on summit day, it was not as cold as I expected. We could certainly use some heat and sunshine but all we got were occasional showers and sleet. I was very focused on route finding, pulling out topo now and then wanting to find all the features mentioned in the route description. I stopped at places to assist my friends to have a clear and safe passage if I second guessed whether the paths might be either physically or mental challenging. I considered to set up rope and protection, if it would ease up my friends‘ travel. I wanted to make sure they were safe and well. If the weather permitted, I wanted to take them to the top and back to the base camp. That was the only thing I cared about, at least at the moment.

We got to the top; the sun generously gave us a few minutes of congratulation. Friends took a few summit shots and I asked “Ready to go?” Scrambling, two rappels, and more scrambling. I set up everything, gave my friends fire-fighter belays for their rappels, and exhorted them not to kick off loose rocks. Again, I stopped at places where I thought the path became a bit funky and we were back to the base camp uneventfully.

My friends looked tired but happy. I asked them how the climb went, and whether they felt safe during the climb. I got positive responses and I had this feeling that my job was done. Yes, it was kind of like a job. This was not my first time guiding, but the fact that I have played two different roles on the same objective had stimulated much thought. I did not take a 360 view appreciation this time; all I wanted was to get my friends down. Does this job thing make me lose the passion towards climbing? The answer is an absolute “no.” Then what? I was not quite sure. During the dinner we had after we got back to the base camp, I didn’t talk much. The only point I raised was that I was proud that we were the only all-woman team. We saw two other girls during our climb – one climbed with her dad and the other one climbed with three other males. I am also not quite sure why an all-woman team is special but it just is.

We got back in town, and Andrea and Jess both described the climb to their significant others excitedly. They mentioned many moments; new experience, exciting experience, terrified experience and all that. They had much to say, and much to share. I looked at them, listened to them, and realized that they had fun. They got to where they always wanted to go and they had tremendous amount of fun. And something struck me. I have done my job well. Pride crept in and great satisfaction overwhelmingly flooded me. I love climbing. Being able to climb takes me to places I long for. Being able to guide takes people to places they long for. Both make me happy. It is just a question of sooner or later.

Related Article:
The Grand: Record of my Summit-4-Someone Charity Climb

Note: This article is cross-posted at Outdoor Bunnies

5 thoughts on “From Being Guided to Guiding – A record of an all-woman expedition”

  1. Hello

    This is Larry and I saw your comments on my blog.
    I also get email from little flower and actually i emailed you(your gmail)
    I visit you site occasionally. the climbing season around here(canada and washington) is almost end. but keep in touch I believe we will climb together next spring or summer.
    By the way, if you snow sport, come to visit me. I love ski (both resort or touring)

  2. Hi again LittlePo, I have been following your blog on and off.

    Thank you for sharing the story. I read abt people climbing the Grand Teton, but have never done it myself and probably won’t in this life time. My more realistic dream is to go back to Mt. Assiniboine in the winter time, perhaps with the Alpine Club of Canada.

    As to the two interesting pts you’ve brought up, namely:
    * the change in mind-set from being guided to guiding; and,
    * the uniqueness of an all-women team
    I have some preliminary thoughts but am too tired to catch my drifting ideas tonight.



  3. @Haricot,

    nice to see your comment here again! I’d love to hear your thought on the two subjects if possible! Good luck and have fun on your Mt Assiniboine climb!

  4. Hi Folks,
    Many Many congratulation on your success.Even I have lots of crave and special liking for rock climbing.In fact I have joined in many of adventurous sports camps.It has always been great fun going for those camps.But you guys have done a commendable job.
    Keep it friends.Cheers!

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