July 13, 2018
Hello from the very scenic Jackson Hole Airport!
We are unbelievably sad that the past two weeks have come and gone as quickly as they have. After climbing the Grand, we spent an afternoon rafting down the Snake River. We split up into two rafts, and the pirate ship mentally kicked into effect immediately. Evan started off “riding the bull” down the river, meaning he sat at the very front of the raft. He took on plenty of cold waves as we made our way down the chilly Snake! Coconut (Charlie R.) was up next. He was the first to instigate the attack. He leapt onto the other raft and pushed Chip (Charlie K.) into the water. After that, there was no hope for Coconut’s raft. When the water got calm again, Chip locked eyes with Rachel, ran across his raft, and tackled her into the water. Needless to say, we had a whole lot of fun.
The next day we returned to a different section of the Snake to test our luck with fly fishing. Parker caught several beautiful cutthroat trout. Coconut and Chip also caught some good-looking fish. Emma had numerous nibbles on the end of her line, but those pesky fish always swam away just in the knick of time. Mary Gray and Amanda may not have caught any fish, but they had lots of fun soaking in the cool mountain air before returning to the hot and humid Alabama.
After fishing, we went into Jackson and bopped around to enjoy our last few hours together. Audrey put the group to shame with her thrift shopping skills. While we were doing some final packing, Gentry and Maggie started an incentive volleyball game, featuring a hackysack and two bags of apples. We couldn’t tell you how the game worked, but the whole crew loved it.
We finished the night off with a reflective Moonup. As we sat under the stars and Milky Way, we could see the silhouette of the Tetons. We laughed, cried, and thought a whole lot about how much we have grown both individually and as not just a group, but also as a family. To the country road crew, we miss y’all already. Keep on keepin’ on and never ever forget how much you love corn tortillas.
Michael and Rachel
July 11, 2018
We are overwhelmed by the magnitude of this mountain. Sitting at 13,776 feet, the Grand Teton is a peak full of history. It is an iconic mountain that many people have seen but few have had the gusto to climb.
We began the trek to the top around 10AM on Sunday. It was a beautiful yet grueling hike to the Lower Saddle. Coconut (Charlie R.) kept the group focused and enthused as we trekked upwards. He and Amanda were fantastic Leaders of the Day, especially when we endured a full blown hail and rainstorm. They kept the group morale high as we made our way to the Exum Hut. Upon arrival at the hut, the group dove into some pizza and ramen while soaking in the views of Idaho. Parker helped us find the best spot to eat so that we could fully enjoy the views. We fell asleep around 9 or 10pm, and next thing we knew, it was 3am. Time to climb. Maggie and Evan were the first to depart the hut. Their quick climbing and determined guide got them to the summit in just shy of four hours. Gentry and Chip (Charlie K.) were on a rope team together and became one as they helped each other to the top of each pitch. Emma easily adapted to life on the mountain and put her previous climbing experiences to the test. Audrey also blew away the guides with her climbing ability. Emma and Audrey always took full advantage of taking in the grandeur of where we were during every single break. Around 7am, a storm started to roll in and the clouds were very ominous.
Ultimately, we had to turn around because Mother Nature was starting to get electric. Throughout the backpacking section of our course, we discussed the inherent risks of weather, especially lightning. The exposed nature and height of the Grand makes it incredibly susceptible to lightning strikes. Thus, we understood not summiting was a true possibility. While the trip is called The Grand, it encompasses much more than summiting this one peak. It is about starting out as strangers and ending as a family. It is about pushing yourself to limits you did not know you could. It is about entering the growth zone and staying there as you develop both as an individual and a leader. It is about getting outside and taking in the beauty of this vibrant earth. Throughout all of this, safety comes first. Our safety trumped the summit today, which is something we cannot be mad about. Every single person made it to Owen’s Chimney, which is the end of the technical climbing. A handful of students were able to make it to the very tip top of the peak, but EVERYONE climbed the mountain. Everyone pushed themselves. Everyone worked together. Everyone saw the absolutely insane views. Everyone understood the risk. Everyone knew we had to come down rapidly.
During Moonup tonight, Mary Gray said, “The most impactful part of the summit was understanding that we have to do what’s right based on elements out of our control. The fact that everyone was on board and made getting down their new goal instead of summiting showed that we cared more about each other than saying we summited.” As we drove back into the valley, everyone kept pointing to the Grand saying, “We were up there this morning!” Official summit or not, we could not be more proud of this group. They persevered like champs, and we can’t even bring ourselves to thinking about saying goodbye to them yet! So for now, bring on the rafting!
July 9, 2018
We have spent the past two days at climbing school prepping for our summit bid of the Grand Teton, which begins tomorrow!! Climbing school has been a real change of pace from our first week of backpacking. Each morning we head into Teton National Park, across Jenny Lake, and up into the granite slabs to climb surrounded by cascading waterfalls and snowy peaks. As we learned and practiced the skills we need to train for our summit attempt, the Grand towered above us, reminding us of our ultimate goal. Parker was the first to step up and conquer his fears, volunteering to practice his rappelling skills. Audrey drew on her past experiences climbing in the Tetons and excelled – the climbing guides even said she should come back to work for them someday! With great discipline, Mary Gray and Evan mastered the complicated (but very important!) knots needed to keep us secure during our climbs. Despite missing out on the first day of climbing school, Coconut (Charlie R) bounced right back on day 2 to become one of the most competent climbers in the group. But there’s more to this group than just talking about climbing – let us tell y’all about everything else that’s happened on this trip. Gentry and Chip (Charlie K) have both proven to be phenomenal chefs. After a true hibachi style s’mores taco dessert in the Winds, they made us delicious burgers for dinner last night. Emma has been our source of inspiration, always on the lookout for new quotes to share with the group and thoughtful questions during Moonup that always bring the group much closer together. Maggie is a strong climber and even stronger group memeber, as she is always helping out someone else. Sometimes it’s her showing her climbing partner how to properly belay or climb to the next hold, and sometimes it’s as simple as offering to carry extra group gear or giving advice to her friends on the trip. Tomorrow we will head to the trailhead and start our long hike up to the Grand Teton! We will finally be able to apply our hard-earned skills we’ve been practicing he next few days. Amanda is one of our new Leaders of the Day for the first half of the climb, and her radiant positivity will keep everyone in good spirits as we prepare for our alpine start the following morning to the summit! Ta, ta for now! Time to climb a big mountain!
July 7, 2018
Hello everyone! So much has happened over the last 7 days – we’ve crossed rivers, made snow angels, scaled mountaintops, gone fishing, and even cooked a 3-course meal in the backcountry! This group acts like they’ve known each other for months instead of days, and have such a strong spirit of adventure and aptitude for the outdoors you would never know they weren’t from Wyoming.
Our trip started with a bright blue sky, a sign of good weather to come. After meeting everyone at the airport, we set off for our campsite in Jackson Hole to pack and prep for our six days in Wyoming’s famous Wind River Range. Early the next morning we made the trek out to the trailhead and met Connor, our mountain guide and friend for our time in the Winds, and then we were off!
Over the course of those six days, our group walked over 30 miles. We hiked through dense wooded hills, over snow-covered mountain passes, across valleys filled with wildflowers, and along countless scenic alpine lakes. Pictures will never be able to do justice to the landscape we encountered. As Evan said one afternoon, “this is probably the coolest place I’ve ever been.”
We’ve been so impressed with this group throughout our time in the Winds. The beauty and freedom of this mountain range is not without its challenges, but everyone has met those challenges head on, often with a smile and laughter. Parker has kept the group entertained with some competitive card games and an impressive defense against the mosquitos. Emma has become an expert in finding the most pristine streams to fill up our water bottles and keep us hydrated along the trail. With her steady and determined pace, Audrey inspired us all as we climbed to the peak of Mt. Geike, surveying the surrounding snow-capped mountains and green valleys from the summit. While they were Leaders of the Day, Evan and Mary Gray used their map reading skills to lead us through the rain and the wind, even when we ended up hiking much further than we thought!
Maggie and Amanda have quickly become backpacking pros, consistently the first ones to pack up camp and be ready to hit the trail. Amanda’s unwavering positivity and Maggie’s dry sense of humor keep our group’s heads held high and laughing, even at the end of a long day of hiking and when camp is always “just over the next hill.”
During a well-deserved rest day, we got to spend an afternoon swimming, exploring, and relaxing in the area around Raid Lake. Chip (Charlie K.) is a fly-fishing natural, wasting no time picking up a fly rod and trying his luck on the many alpine rivers and lakes we passed along the way. We haven’t caught any trophy-winning fish yet, but the there’s still lots of time! Gentry has surprised the group (and himself) with his theatric cooking skills, serving up one delicious backcountry meal after another. Thanks to Coconut (Charlie R), we haven’t had many leftovers, and his ability to recount every Spongebob episode word for word with our mountain guide Connor has made every meal a dinner and a show.
As we head back to Jackson Hole, this group of backcountry veterans is eager to take on the next part of our adventure, climbing in the Tetons! Stay tuned for more as we put on our harnesses and approach shoes to train for the Grand!
Michael and Rachel
Audrey: olivia already told me that you said hi.
Evan: I’m having a lot of fun at Moondance but am so excited to see y’all again. Love y’all!
Coconut (Charlie R.): hello! I’m safe and having fun!
Mary Gray: Yo, Love y’all. Roll tide (mom). Go Nols (dad).
Emma: hey guys! Can’t wait to tell you all about it. Love you!
Maggie: hey mom and Dad! Having so much fun. Can’t wait to see you!
Amanda: hey mom and Dad! Miss you so much. Please tell Henry I said hi!!!
Gentry: hey mom and Dad! Miss you. Hope Lazlo and Anna aren’t driving y’all crazy.
Chip (Charlie K): mike, hope you’re back from Africa. And hope everyone else is well!
Parker: hey mom and Dad! Having a great time. Love you miss you!
Michael: Hi, mom and dad! I’m having so much fun. My leaders rock.
Rachel: Hey, fam! Love y’all a lot and am loving exploring the new back yard. Can’t wait for y’all to come visit.
July 2, 2018
We heard from Michael and Rachel, and the trip is off to a “grand” start! Stay tuned for more updates from the leaders over the next few weeks.