top of page


Updated: Oct 28, 2019

In September, my husband Moose, brother-in-law Danny, and myself set out to Wyoming, to Grand Teton National Park. We had our sights set on Grand Teton—the GT. Standing at 13,775’, it is not the tallest mountain that Moose and I have climbed, but it looks completely, absolutely terrifying.

Grand Teton stands in the middle, the tallest peak

The three of us aren’t green. Our love of hiking had started with New Hampshire’s 48 4000 footers. At the moment, we have bagged 30 of the 48 peaks, with plans to cross more off the list. Moose and I had climbed Nevado de Toluca, a 15,354’ stratovolcano in Mexico. We climbed that on our honeymoon. Who said vacations were meant to be relaxing? Last year, the three of us tried our hands at mountaineering. We strapped on our crampons, took up our ice axes, and summited Mount Baker—10,781’.

This year, the Three Musketeers had Grand Teton’s summit in view. It boasts the highest point in the Teton Range, is terrifying in pictures, and even more looming in real life. When we got our first glimpse at the mountains, we joked that they looked like they were home to an evil lair. We joked, but I was intimidated.



We woke up all bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to tackle the day. We travelled a great distance to our morning meeting spot—about 50 feet to our hotel’s parking lot. We met our guide, collected our rented gear—harnesses, helmets, ropes, approach shoes—and headed out. The plan was to take the gondola up Jackson Hole ski area and train on the rocky slopes. We piled our gear into our packs and started the ~.2 mi walk to the gondola, but just as soon as we started, our guide stopped us. We weren’t walking to the gondola; we were taking the bus. Okay. Interesting. After our 2 second bus ride, we climbed up a total of one staircase before hopping on the gondola. We sat and watched as we quickly ascended to 9,095’.

Bus rides. Gondola rides. If this was how we were spending our training day, I wasn’t too concerned for the GT.

We spent the day learning different techniques. From tying ropes in the mountaineer’s coil and kiwi coil to practicing hip belaying. On the GT, there are no fixed anchor points that you can belay off of. So, when someone is climbing, to protect them from essentially falling off a cliff, you hip belay. The rope is tied to the climber’s harness with a figure 8 knot. The belayer throws the other end of the rope over their shoulders and around their pack, with both hands working to pull the slack up as the climber, well, climbs. It’s a safe method, but totally reliant on the belayer. There’s no gear to use as backup if the belayer loses focus or if some kind of accident happens.

Moose practicing a rappel on Jackson Hole

We climbed up some easy pitches with our guide, whom we soon learned had climbed the 7 Summits, summited Everest 4 times, and had many first ascents (never before climbed routes + mountains) under his belt. This guy had travelled all over the world, done things I’ve never dreamed of doing, and things I’ll probably never do in my lifetime. I was eager. Eager to hear about his travels and adventures, what he’s seen and what he’s done. But as I probed him with questions, he was stunningly quiet. Very laissez-faire and indifferent about his travels. He made Everest sound as dull as a trip to the grocery store. Taking in the pyramids of Giza, witnessing the temples of Petra, climbing to the highest point of every continent. Somehow, he made everything sound so nonchalant. It was as if he had seen everything that there was to see, and nothing filled him with awe anymore. My excitement faded.



We were supposed to take a ferry over to our Day 2 Training site. However, the boys decided it would be better to get an early start and hike around the lake. It was an easy 2 miles and filled with some gorgeous views, so I couldn’t complain too much. On the way in, we passed a boulder field, and we stopped to brush up on some bouldering basics. We practiced traversing, mantling, stemming, down climbing, etc. etc. etc. Meanwhile, our food was held hostage in a bear box, so neither the bears nor my stomach could get at it.

The hike in to our training grounds; Jenny Lake to the right

We pressed on in search of bigger, taller rocks to climb. As we neared the end of the hike, we reached a waterfall--Hidden Falls. Just to the left of the falls was a rock slide. A huge slab had sheared off the surrounding cliffs, creating a massive field of rocky debris. The slide area was off limits—blocked off with fencing and warning signs. Our guide continued along without breaking stride—hopping the fence and continuing through the rock slide. Comforting.

We followed him into the danger zone, to our training site. Today’s guide was different from yesterday’s. This guide would be the one to take us up (and down) the GT. He prepped us by saying that the climbing we were to do today would be harder than anything we’d tackle on the GT. We looked up at the cliffs around us. These were the proving grounds, and we had something to prove.

Danny walking up the rock slab; Jenny Lake in the background

We started on our multi-pitch climb. Our guide lead the route and placed gear along the way. Danny climbed next as the guide belayed him. Then Danny belayed Moose. Then Moose belayed me. I cleaned the route as I climbed—removing the gear the guide placed and taking it with me. We continued in this pattern up the 6(ish?) pitches to the top of Mount Hidden Falls. Watch. Climb. Belay. Watch. Climb. Belay. Watch.Climb.Belay. Over and over. Shouting commands over the roar of the waterfall. Trying not to fall as onlookers watched with their binoculars—amazed by the professionals dotting the cliffs and maybe even by us novices too.

Moose practicing the hip belay with Danny climbing below; The Tetons jutting up in the distance

We reached the top without too much difficulty—no falls or injuries to report. We felt good. We had completed our training pitches and proven ourselves worthy of the GT. We would only encounter easier climbing from now on. I felt accomplished, energized, and blessed—eating our picnic of PB&Js on top of a waterfall, with the lake in front of us and the Tetons looming behind us.



A storm rolled in. We were slated to have a leisurely Thursday. The plan was to start at 9:45 AM (a start so late, it’s unheard of) and trek the 8 miles to Base Camp. There, we would have dinner, relax, and sleep in the hut (a kind of glorified carport). Friday, we would make our push for the summit and then descend down the mountain.

But, we now had weather to contend with. A storm was brewing for Friday—our summit day. Rain was supposed to hit the valley, and at 13,775’ it would likely turn to ice with maybe a splash of thunder and lightning to, you know, make things interesting. So, we changed our plans. Instead of summiting on Friday, we would make our summit push on Thursday. We would hike to Base Camp and keep on trekking, heading straight for the summit. We would return to Base Camp and spend the night there. On Friday, we would return back to the parking lot.

Our Thursday was no longer leisurely. We were slated for a long, long day. To avoid climbing down from the summit in the dark, we had to get an Alpine Start, which for us meant 3:00 AM. Yikes. And since our hotel was around ~45 minutes from the trailhead, and we needed time to get ready and wake up in the morning, we set our alarms for a premature 1:30 AM. Double Yikes.


R I S E + S H I N E

We didn’t roll out of bed until 2:00 AM, our bodies trying to get every ounce of sleep before tackling the day. We were all exhausted. None of us slept restfully. The boys didn’t sleep much, and when they were asleep, they woke me up with their snoring and heavy breathing. Moose was breathing so heavily; I was convinced he had already started climbing in his dreams.

We threw off the covers and begrudgingly got out of bed. We threw our clothes on, zipped up our suitcases, and paraded down to the lobby. Moose went to check out at the front desk while Danny and I brought the luggage to the car. Once we were done loading it up, we circled back to the hotel’s front entry, eager to pick Moose up. What we didn’t know was that he was about 3 steps away from the car when we decided to drive all the way to the front entry. Woops. Already starting the day off right.

We entered Grand Teton National Park without incident. We did narrowly miss an elk that bolted across the road, but no harm done. We picked up our guide and proceeded to the trailhead. At that point, we pulled out our headlamps and turned them on. Except, mine didn’t turn on. Out of batteries. Fantastic. But, we managed to scrounge up some extra batteries and tah-dah! There was light.

Ready to go, I hopped off the tailgate with my pack on and landed on my ankle badly. It was going to be a long day.



By the time we hit the trail, it was 3:30 AM. We started off at a brisk pace—brisker than I would’ve liked. If you’ve never hiked by headlamp, it’s kind of an eerie feeling. We spent the morning staring at the ground—trying not to trip on something. When we did look up, we saw two big, yellow eyes looking back at us. It was probably just a deer. Probably.

All we saw for the next several hours were those yellow eyes and the glow of our headlamps. Well, that and the lights from the Jackson Hole Airport. The runway lights loomed in the distance all morning. I couldn’t help but wonder how quickly one of those planes could climb to 13,775’. Probably a lot faster than it would take us to hike.

Moose, Aryelle, and Danny heading up to Base Camp as the sun rose

The first few miles went by quickly. The terrain wasn’t too tough, and we were averaging around 2 miles per hour. Just before mile 4, we hit a boulder field. These were giant slabs of rock that we climbed over and scrambled through, which is asking a lot of a groggy hiker in the pitch dark. In the faint lamp light, I took my time on the boulders as the boys hopped from rock to rock, looking fairly effortless. As we ascended out of the boulder field, we realized something. The sun was coming up. We looked around and could tell that we were in a valley. There were mountains all around us. Behind us, we could see all the way down to the valley floor; there was an opening between the peaks. We could see a lake shimmering and the colors emerging from a beautiful sunrise. In front of us, we could see a saddle—the saddle. That’s where Base Camp sat. It loomed off in the distance. Lots of elevation in our way.

We continued on. The climb got steeper. We entered into switchbacks. For better or worse, we could now see where we were going. We switched off our headlamps. But, now that we could see where we were going, we could see how far we had to go. The summit wasn’t even in view yet.

Now, we were ascending more quickly, and we were starting to feel that altitude. It’s difficult to understand what it feels like If you’ve never been at altitude. Altitude affects everyone differently, and it manifests differently in different people. Danny had the onset of a migraine. Moose’s stomach was bothering him. I was ravenous and irritable—like a car running on fumes and desperately trying to find the nearest gas station. We were all exhausted.

At this point, we were at around 10,000’. At 10,000’, there’s roughly 32% less oxygen than at sea level, and boy, could we feel it. Every time we stopped, we could catch our breath, chat, and relax without a problem. But, the second we started hiking again, that waive of exhaustion immediately hit. Our bodies couldn’t get as much oxygen circulating as they were used to. Our blood became thicker as we ascended, and our hearts were working overtime to pump the slurry.

Every step felt like a thousand.

Moose climbing up the canyon with a glacier to the right

Regardless, I kept trekking. Our guide led the way. He set a pace. Danny was right behind him. Danny set a different pace. I liked Danny’s pace better, so that’s what I went with. Moose was behind me. At this point, he was in pain. His stomach was not being good to him. His Crohn’s disease was acting up, and his intestines were not liking this trip one bit. Our guide kept going at his pace, despite our obvious struggles. We watched as the distance between us grew. Every once and a while, he would stop and wait for us, before taking up his usual stride once again. We were too exhausted to care. We were just trying to survive the damn mountain. Focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.

As we continued up the switchbacks, Moose’s pain got more and more obvious. We took a few minutes every half hour to drink some water, replenish calories, and catch our breath. On one of these breaks, he told me he wasn’t sure if he would make the summit. I told him to keep going. Let’s make it to the saddle. The summit seemed lightyears away.

We reached a rope line just below the saddle. We thanked God for the break we were forced to take as our guide set up the gear. We climbed up this steep section, and scrambled the next 15 minutes until we reached our Base Camp.



We had made it to base camp in 6 hours 45 minutes. The guide service stated that it typically takes 7-8 hours to get there. Our guide wanted us to do it in 5-6. I wanted a beer, but that wasn’t happening either.

We threw our packs down, sat on the ground, and laid against them. We were spent. Danny had a throbbing migraine. Moose had a throbbing stomach. I was just straight up exhausted. The lack of sleep, thin air, dehydration, and hunger all set in.

The three of us just sat there.

Our guide chatted with some other people around camp. It was funny. He was chatty with everyone except us. The three of us chatted amongst ourselves. We commiserated. At this point, we could see the route to the summit, but the peak itself was still hidden. Regardless, the route looked miserable. Steep. Steep. Steep. With lots of loose rock. Our guide said it would take us another 8 hours to summit and return to Base Camp. We were not enthusiastic to say the very least. All of us were hurting, physically and emotionally. We were completely spent but only halfway there.

Grand Teton Base Camp 11,600'

As our guide prepared our summit gear, we discussed whether or not we could make our summit push in the morning. Our guide responded with a resounding NO. It was today or not at all. Fine. We ate our lunch and considered our options. We asked for an updated forecast. Our guide told us there was no cell reception until you’re a good ways into the climb up. We found out the following day that that wasn’t true. I sent emails to my Real Estate clients while at Base Camp. But, sure. No service at all.

Moose already announced that he wasn’t going to attempt to summit. Now, the question was, would Danny and I? Danny’s migraine got progressively worse. He took some Ibuprofen and laid down in the hut for a bit. Our guide, growing obviously more annoyed, came in and said we couldn’t relax at Base Camp all day. If we wanted to go for the summit, we had to get going. Begrudgingly, Danny and I packed our summit packs and tried to mentally prepare. We said we’d see how far we could get. Our guide told us that we could always just go to the Enclosure and turn around.

We said our goodbyes to Moose. Danny turned to me, and said, “Well, it’s just you and me now.” I turned away from both of them, trying to hide my tears.



As soon as we started up, our guide adopted his usual pace. Danny and I adopted our own. The first portion of the climb consisted of very loose rock, or scree. As we ascended, we fought just to get proper footing, while we sent debris tumbling down the mountain. At one point, I slipped, sending down a big line of rocks. Danny turned around. Our guide didn’t.

Vista from the Upper Saddle; Looking down to Base Camp and Middle Teton; Wyoming to the left and Idaho to the right

As we continued up, Danny got stronger. I got weaker. At the time, I felt like he was taking the energy that I was losing. The Ibuprofen must’ve kicked in, getting rid of his migraine and thinning his blood a bit. His heart wasn’t working quite as hard.

The terrain got steeper and steeper. Every step now felt like 10,000. We went from hiking to scrambling. We now needed to use our hands to climb and hoist ourselves over the rocks in front of us. We got to a point where our guide started taking out gear. We asked if this is where our climbing pitches started. We knew that we had 7 pitches to climb. Ohh, no. We had to climb here, but this wasn’t one of those pitches. This was a “fake” pitch. A “mini” pitch, as our guide called it. As we glanced over the edge, 2,000 feet down, there wasn’t anything “mini” about it.

Aryelle & the guide, getting ready for the "mini" pitch

As we took out our gear, Danny got confused and asked why we were carrying so much rope. Our guide assured us that we were carrying just enough. “No,” Danny said, “Aryelle and I are each carrying rope. But, we only need two lines.” Our guide said, “Yes, I’m not carrying any rope. I’m carrying the gear [a few extra carabiners and a couple of cams].” Big deal. We traversed across the slab, trying not to look down. I think the guide got the hint because he took my rope and carried it for a while. Thanks Danny.

We kept on trekking. At this point, we could no longer see Base Camp. Danny asked to radio back to Moose. Another guide radioed back. He was okay. We were okay-ish. We kept going. Other groups passed us on their way down. We welcomed the sight of others, knowing our guide would chat with the other guides and we would get a second to breathe. As another guide passed, ours said, “We’re just going for a leisurely hike.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I’m over here dying, but yeah, sure. We’ll call it “leisurely.”

We still couldn’t see the summit, but we could see the saddle. This saddle, the Upper Saddle, was the point between the Enclosure on the left and Grand Teton’s summit on the right. As we stood below the saddle, at ~13,000’, our guide asked us which way we wanted to go—to the Enclosure or the Summit. We had ascended almost 1,500’ from Base Camp, which stood at 11,600’. We looked to our left. The Enclosure stood at 13,285’. We looked to our right. The Summit stood at 13,775’. Here we were, standing at 13,000’. That morning felt so far away and for good reason. We had been hiking for ~11 hours and had ascended some 6,200’.

The Enclosure seemed like such a consolation prize. A mere 490’ short of summiting. Did we climb all this way to not stand on the summit? Hell no. Danny answered first. He wanted to go for the summit. I seconded that. That was most certainly not what our guide wanted to hear. Later, the three of us surmised that he would’ve been happiest if we had all stayed at Base Camp so he could have had a “leisurely” afternoon. But, for now, he just said, “Well, if you want to summit, you’ll have to pick up the pace.”

Aryelle looking down into the valleys below



We passed the Upper Saddle. For the first time, I felt like there was less road ahead of me than behind me. My sights were set. It was in reach and tangible. Danny turned to me and said, “Come on, we’ve got to do this. For Moose.”

Finally, we reached the pitches. Our guide would climb first, leading it. He would belay me. Then, I would belay Danny. The first pitch was called the Belly Crawl. It consisted of this slab of rock that just sloped down into oblivion. I army crawled across it, trying to fit into the tight crack. Once I got across, I set up my hip belay for Danny. I was pulling in the rope as he leaned over the edge—taking a riskier approach before he realized the handholds were pretty bad considering it was ~11 hours in and we were exhausted. Our guide climbed the next pitch as I was still belaying Danny. The guide kept trying to get me to turn and watch him climb the following route so I could see the proper hand and foot holds. Sorry. I was a little more concerned about making sure Danny didn’t die, thanks.

Aryelle climbing up one of the pitches

The pitches flew by quickly. Our thoughts were occupied—focusing on the next hand and foot holds. I particularly liked one pitch that was a chimney. It was totally enclosed and there was no chance of falling off a cliff. The exposed climbs scared me. The handholds never felt quite secure enough when they were the only things suspending you over a 3,000’ cliff.

As I reached the top of my last pitch, our guide said, “Welcome to the top!” I responded, very logically, “This isn’t the top.” It wasn’t. But, it wasn’t too far away. We short roped the rest of the way, with just a few feet of rope separating one another. This made some sections hairy. As I climbed up one boulder, Danny would have to climb in unison or I would be tugged back down. But, the end was near.


1 3 , 7 7 5 F E E T

Panorama View from the Summit of Grand Teton

We summited. I was the first to climb on top of the very tallest rock and step on the summit marker. Hey, I didn’t come all this way to not step on the tallest point. We just sat there for a minute, kind of in shock. Our guide said, “Well guys, I didn’t think you’d make it.” I’ve never wanted to push someone off a cliff so much.

I asked to call back down to Moose, hoping to share a shred of this moment as the three of us—the Three Musketeers. But, no one got our call. We couldn’t get ahold of him.

Danny at the Summit of Grand Teton

I just sat in disbelief that we were actually up there. We were a long cry from, “We’ll see how far we can get.” But, it felt so bittersweet. We were a man down, and getting to that summit, getting to that point, was the hardest thing I had ever done. I just sat there, feeling like the mountain had allowed us to climb it. Today, the mountain had let us pass. I didn’t feel like I had conquered it. Not one bit.

Aryelle sitting on the very tallest point at the Summit of Grand Teton



After spending about half an hour at the top, we started our descent. Instead of climbing down the pitches, we rappelled down. I went first, slowly lowering myself over the edge of the cliff and down the rope. My feet quickly lost contact with the rock face and I was just dangling there, spinning in circles, as I rappelled some ~250 feet. I was barely tall enough to touch the ground when I reached the end of the rope. I strained as I stood on my tippy toes, trying to untie myself. I moved out of the way as our guide rappelled down next. He said that he would do a fireman’s belay for the others—apparently there was a line of people trying to come down, and they needed to get down fast. Where were all these people 5 minutes ago? Who knows. But suddenly, there was a traffic jam. I waited as everyone but Danny rappelled down. Four others made their way down before he appeared. When asked why they all cut us, our guide simply said, “They’re in a hurry to get down.” Sure. Like we’re not.

We continued down. At this point, we were cruising. We made it past the Upper Saddle, past that “mini” pitch. For some reason, our guide took us on a different path down. Instead of the way we ascended, he decided it would be better if we down climbed into a ravine. I’m still not sure if that was an actual route. We clutched onto the wall as we down climbed. This section was steep, and there were many points where I had to jump down to the next ledge. My legs were just too short to reach. Our guide was leading the way—at a different pace than us. Many times, Danny had to call ahead to try to figure out which route he was supposed to take. I couldn’t see the guide. At times, I couldn’t even see Danny. Once, I down climbed too far and came face to face with a cliff. A game of Marco Polo told me that I was headed in the wrong direction.

Danny on the descent with his head blocking Base Camp

But, we persisted. Base Camp finally came into view—our beacon of hope. We soon encountered a new group—a woman and her guide—heading up the mountain. I remember thinking, no way would our guide have been okay with starting that late. As we kept trekking, a little green blob came into view. I was sure it was Moose. Who else had a jacket that bright? I felt a swarm of relief.

With Base Camp in view, our guide turned to us and said he was going to go ahead and then proceeded to do so before we were able to respond. Now it really was just Danny and me. We descended as fast as we could without tumbling down the mountain. As we climbed down, Moose climbed up to meet us. If I wasn’t so exhausted, I would’ve tackled him.

We were the Three Musketeers again.



The next morning, we woke up completely exhausted. The storm had blown in last night and the door to the hut was permanently kept open. That, combined with the rodent holes in the hut, made for a cold night. The wind whipped at the tarps. It was cold and loud. Despite how tired we were, it took us quite a while to fall asleep the night before. Danny claimed he only fell asleep half an hour ago. He was snoring in my ear two hours ago, but that’s beside the point.

We got up, packed our stuff up and managed to get a few bites down for breakfast. Danny’s migraine had come back, and he felt incredibly nauseous. Yesterday’s Ibuprofen had definitely worn off. He sat outside in the cold, just trying to keep from throwing up. We managed to scrounge together some food he could stomach and force fed him some meds. It seemed to do the trick, and soon we were headed down the mountain.

Danny, Moose, Aryelle--the Three Musketeers--ready to descend

The descent was certainly more enjoyable than the ascent. We had the car to look forward to. Hot showers. Beer. I know I was craving a bacon cheeseburger. We descended into the valley that we could barely see on the way up. We passed a waterfall that we could only hear, but not see, the day before. Over the stream, through the boulder field, to the parking lot we trekked. We reached the flatter section, only a few miles away from the parking lot. There were quite a few times that the trail headed back uphill. Instantly, the heavy breathing kicked in. Who put that hill there?

The hills quickly melted away. Now, we were hauling down the mountain, with lunch on our minds. As we descended into the valley, we were enveloped by the forest. The sound of traffic was in earshot. Just a few more steps. A. Few. More. Steps.

Danny, Moose, Aryelle on the descent



We reached the trailhead. We discarded our blue bags. You see, you can’t leave your, well, feces on the mountain. It won’t decompose. So, you use blue bags to carry your presents out. These blue bags are not scent proof by the way. We disposed of our crap—literally--and said goodbye to the mountain. Just thankful it had let us pass.

As we drove through the valley, the Tetons loomed over us on the left. Clouds obscured their summits, but they looked as terrifying as ever. I was still in disbelief that I had stood on that summit, and hopeful that I never would again.

I couldn’t help but think back to our two different guides. Both were extremists. The first had summited Everest—many times. He had made first ascents on mountains I had never even heard of. The second had climbed the GT countless times—at least once a week he had told us. At this point, he said he was sick of it. What was absolutely terrifying to me was downright mundane to him. Both of these guides had resumes longer than I could imagine. They were adventure junkies trying to add to their resumes, summit the next peak, climb the next route, top their last achievement.

Here’s the thing. When you’re used to your adrenaline pumping. When you’re used to facing death. When you’re used to being in danger, everyday life just isn’t exciting anymore.

As I looked at Moose and I looked at Danny, I couldn’t help but think how incredibly sad that is.

Aryelle in front of the Chapel of the Transfiguration; Grand Teton's summit to the right of the cross

275 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page