Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Geezers on Albright Peak

We needed a few hundred thousand dollars...to finish the little film we started a year ago in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Jenny had arranged for a fund-raiser at a friend's home, and we had agreed to meet and help her raise the money.

I had driven down the Alaska Highway in a large moving van two weeks before. My son Thor had offered me a car to drive the short 806 miles from Portland to attend the event. The Tetons seemed so close, so I hopped in the car and blasted cross-country, being somewhat amazed that the distance seemed quite a bit further than I had remembered it two years ago.

Ted had proposed a short hike up Death Canyon, an ominous choice for "The Geezers", and possibly a climb to the top of Static Peak. But at 7:00 am. We rebelled. At our age, 8:00 am mirrored reality a bit closer. My niece, Liz, called to say she had seen my Facebook note that I was in Jackson Hole; she would join us. When I reached the parking lot, Irene and Dan were waiting, packs on the back. Irene is one of the great climbers from my youth, having put up the most beautiful climb in the Tetons in 1957: "Irene's Arete." She is still full of energy! One by one the entourage trickled in: Rick in a Honda Odyssey; Ted, Holly, and Jenny in the Prius. I could hear the engine and the screeching of tires on the gravel; Liz driving the truck slid in with Allen and Ammon.

Irene and Dan, nattily attired, led off up the trail. She knew exactly where to turn off the main trail up Stewart Draw and the old horse trail that would lead us directly to the Static Divide. Soon the trail disappeared, but Irene and Dan held forth. I, coming from sea level, was panting like a chicken that is too hot. There was no trail, but Irene navigated from bush to rock, over the creek, and seemed to know every step of the way.

Irene leads Rick and Dan through the vertical bushes

The day warmed and the sun beat on my neck. I had presciently worn shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, an entirely different uniform than I would have been seen in in the '60's, due to climate change. It is no more apparent than in the high mountains and the arctic, the two areas I've inhabited all my adult life.

Upward through the rocks on a bear trail

Voila! Static Peak popped up over the western horizon. The final push to the divide led through a beautiful meadow filled with daisies, lupine, and wild geraniums. I had promised Liz that I was only going on a 4-hour hike, so she could confidently tell Allen to pick her up a few hours later. I had lied. It was now noon, and the group was divided about going up Albright Peak to the east, or Static Peak to the west. We had lunch at the saddle, took a hundred photos, dithered and talked.

Dan, Irene, Rick, Ralph, Holly, Ted, Jenny

Irene and Dan headed for Static Peak; the rest of us went up Albright, a new summit for all but 'Yours Truly'. The cliff face to the north was awesome, and the route ran right along the edge. A slip would have dire consequences, so everyone watched their footing as I coached and cajoled the crowd. The summit was beautiful, vistas in every direction: Yellowstone to the north, Jackson Hole below to the east, Driggs, Idaho, to the west. The Grand Teton loomed behind the group. But, just a month before, 17 people had been caught in a lightning storm on the Grand, and an all-day rescue effort by the park service had made national headlines. A huge thunderhead seemed to appear almost suddenly overhead. We skedaddled down the ridge.

The summit:
Rick, Ammon, Ralph
Jenny, Holly, Ted, Liz

At the summit we discussed the merits of descending directly down the "trail" we had ascended, or going the long 8-mile trail down the west side of the Static Divide into Death Canyon. What the hell; go the scenic route down into the canyon. I was so far beyond the 4-hour mark I had Liz call her friend and apologize. Down, down, down. What had taken a few hours to ascend now turned into another 4-hour march, albeit through incredible country. Switchback after switchback down a trail built into the steep mountainside 1920, still beautiful, still strong.

Liz & Ammon on the Static Divide trail: seven miles to go!

We finally arrived at the parking lot about 3:30 in the afternoon. We reunited at 'Dornan's' in Moose for the chuckwagon dinner. No one else showed up for a long time, so I had dinner with Dick and Barb Barker, listened to the Hootenanny, and waited for "The Geezers". Beer on tap was excellent; I had a pint of my favorite, the IPA. And, as is only right, we seniors closed the bar!

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