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Grand Questions

An uneasy encounter with a younger version of me.



I vaguely remember the rising sun shining against a wall of granite while we were climbing. I remember -- by name, at least -- the long ledge they call Wall Street. I remember looking over a cliff and seeing nothing but cloud. I remember that our guide looked like Ernest Hemingway and had climbed the mountain more than 200 times.

I remember that we started before dawn on summit day, and while we were on the summit, a B-17 bomber flew around the mountain -- under us. I know I fell once, nothing serious, and I'm pretty sure there was a point where we had a couple thousand feet of empty space beneath us when we had to make a little hop from one rock to another.

You'd think such a thing would make a lifelong impression.

Well, I was telling John, that's just it. This all happened more than 15 years ago. It's not like I climbed the Grand Teton. Some younger version of me did that. He was a 22-year-old kid, still in school, living in a state of mind where taking a week to hike around the Tetons, do climbing school, and get guided up the Grand was just something you met your buddy for during summer break. It was "Sure, dude, I'll take the bus out there. Meet you at the KOA in Teton Village!"

I had just mentioned to John that at some point in some previous life I had climbed the Grand Teton -- in the same tone of voice you'd use to say you used to have a Honda -- and the whole conversation stopped. John's eyes got all big, and he stared at me for a moment, then said, "You climbed the Grand Teton?" Yep. "To the summit?"

"Yeah, but that was "

This is where John started calling me a stud. Repeatedly. It wasn't comfortable. In fact, he's brought it up several times since, like when we're talking about maybe doing some climb here or there, and I'll say, "I don't know. I haven't done much of that lately," and he'll say, "But, dude, you climbed the Grand Teton!"

Well, yeah, but it's not that big a deal. I mean, you just get in shape, call the guide service, make an appointment, and go do it.


I'm asking this question of myself, because now, at 38, out of view of the Tetons for more than a decade, I can only assume it's still that simple. I mean, it's a pretty serious undertaking, climbing a rock peak that's almost 14,000 feet high, but it's not like it got more serious since the 1980s, right? Last I heard, all you need, beyond the basic physical ability, is time and money.

The trick, of course, has always been getting those two at the same time. When I was 22, I had all the time in the world. Now I make about eight times as much money as I did then, but somehow I don't seem to have a week at my disposal to go do something like climb the Grand Teton.

Even as I say that, though, my 22-year-old self wakes up for a moment and says, "Is that true? You can't take a week to go do that?"

"Well," 38 says, "I get three weeks off a year, and there's the holidays and family to visit and all those days I like to save up for when going to work just isn't going to work."

"Dude! We're talking about the Grand Teton here."

So I looked it up on the Internet -- Exum Mountain Guides, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. By golly, there they are. In fact, there's my guide, Jack Turner, still doing it after 37 years. The prices have gone up a smidge for the Grand. I seem to recall spending less than $300, and now it's close to $1,000. They've got dozens of climbs, though.

"Dude" -- this is 22 again -- "How much money do you make? How much planning do you need to come up with $1,000 and a week at the same time? Do you not have a credit card?"

Well, um

What happened here? Why is this not so simple? Why is it that if I go hang out with my friends tonight, some of whom hike, backpack, and occasionally climb, and I say, "Let's climb the Grand Teton next summer," we'll all look at each other with blank stares?

I know -- marriage, kids, jobs, houses, debts -- but seriously, we're talking about one week. As for a thousand bucks, that's $3 a day for one year. I could get a box, write "A Grand for the Grand" on it, and every day put $3 in there. How hard is that? Maybe your box would say "Toss It In for Texas." Or "Cash for Costa Rica." Or "Coins for California." "Not Much Daily = New York City!"

Ah, maybe I'm just another male approaching 40. How long till I buy the convertible, right? And what are the odds that I'll climb any big rock peaks next year?

Well, can you -- can I? -- deny this much? The Grand is still there. And so are our younger, freer selves. •

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