Sunday, November 6, 2011


Pete and Connie are the coolest folks. Pete is a gentleman, scholar, father, husband, author, mountaineer, and was the senior Jenny Lake Ranger when I first worked in the Tetons. Connie comes from an old Jackson Hole family and worked for the Park Service when she met Pete. They are two of my favorite people and dearest friends, although we live 2,400 miles apart. Each year when I visit my son Thor in Portland, I have managed to take a day, drive up to Olympia to visit them and their three very grown children: Kirk, Melanie, and Summer.

Our annual Tingey family reunion was the occasion for my latest journey south. Monday morning I borrowed daughter-in-law Sarah's car and headed the two hour drive from Portland to Olympia. Connie said everyone would be there. Pete greeted me at in the yard, a beautiful piece of land shaded with towering spruce trees. In the back sits Connie's old Ford pickup in the corral for her horse. Their deaf dog followed us around as we headed into the kitchen to give Connie a hug and catch up on a year's supply of news while she prepared for dinner with the clan.

I first met Pete in 1961 when I drove to the Tetons to climb. Pete was a ranger at Jenny Lake, one of three mountaineering rangers who performed the mountain rescues in the Tetons. Pete had made the first ascent of Mount McKinley's West Rib in 1959, and I was in awe. I remember him giving me some advice on the climb I was proposing, then signed me out; in those days you had to register for each climb in the Tetons. By 1965, I was a ranger myself, and Pete was the senior ranger. My friends Bob Irvine and Rick Reese, both close climber friends from Salt Lake City, were the other two rangers. The four of us were know as 'The Jenny Lake Rangers' and constituted the mountain rescue team. When an accident happened in the mountains, we hung a little sign on the door of the ranger station "Station Closed - Mountain Rescue Underway".

The four of us bonded as only life and death situations can bond; where we literally depended on each other for our lives all summer long. We lived next door to each other in Lupine Meadows in the old Kimmel Cabins, now the ranger residences, the Tetons just a mile away and 7,000' above. It was the most idyllic setting in the country, and we were in heaven. Pete and Connie lived in the old lodge with a giant cast iron stove and a stone fireplace. Kirk and Melanie their two kids were tiny. Janet and I lived next Door; Rick and Mary Lee on one side; Bob and Marie with their two kids, Stacey and Craig on the other.

Then, in 1967, Gaylord Campbell and Lorrie Hough were struck by rockfall on the North Face of the Grand Teton, and for three days, we lowered Gaylord 2,000' down the sheer granite cliff of the north face in what was considered the most technical mountain rescue ever in North America. It was in all the newspapers and magazines at the time. If ever an experience could produce a permanent bond, this was the crucible that could do it. We have never forgotten the experience. Pete, a professor of English at Evergreen College in Olympia, wrote a book about us and these times: "We Aspired: The Last Innocent Americans". So, I've always held Pete and Connie in the highest regard. I cherish every time we meet.
The mountain rescue team after the rescue on the North Face of the Grand Teton, from the left: Ted Wilson, Pete Sinclair, Yours Truly, Mike Ermarth, Rick Reese, Bob Irvine

Later in the afternoon, we gave Connie some room and shifted into the back yard to await the arrival of Kirk, Melanie, and Summer. Unfortunately Melanie got waylaid in the eastern part of the state and wouldn't make dinner, but Kirk and his lovely wife Debbie and Summer and her husband Tom arrived right on time.
Pete in the back yard

The sun was setting, and the light shone through the trees into our eyes. The temperature dropped, but we settled into the lawn chairs and talked about the past year and what everyone had been doing. By now we had three dogs milling around: a deaf blue-eyed collie, a half-blind Pomeranian, and an asthmatic pug. I raced sled dogs for 10 years, so having a lap-full of fur was a treat.
Kirk, Summer, Debbie, Tom, Pete

For the past two years, we have been helping to make a film about the 1967 North Face rescue, and I had just returned from the summer filming session in the Tetons. Connie asked about who was there, what was happening with the film, and when it might be coming out. I had gone climbing with our mutual friend, Yvon Chouinard to the summit of Mount Wister with our friend Amy McCarthy where she deposited the ashes of her dog, Wister. I felt like the village story teller, bringing all the news from afar and spreading it around the town.
Kirk & Summer

I remembered back to 1967 watching the arrival of the Sinclairs to their cabin at Jenny Lake. Pete, Connie, Kirk, and Melanie with their large German shepherd "Jenny" pulled up in a tiny Volkswagen. Everything they needed was contained in a large trunk, somehow stuffed in the middle. Connie fed the giant cast iron stove in the cabin, cooking great meals in the old style. After work we would all gather around the wood pile in the back, settle onto a log to drink gin and tonics. It was a highly educated crowd: Pete was working on his Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Washington; Bob on his dissertation in mathematics from the U of U; Rick on his in international relations from the University of Denver; I on mine in Near Eastern languages from the Johns Hopkins. Ted Wilson and Mike Ermarth, who lived up the road were studying economics and modern European history respectively. The conversation was always fascinating, the humor dry. It was a party of peers, a group of gentlemen and women. Pete and Connie set the bar.
Kirk, Summer, Debbie, Tom

Their daughter Summer came after Pete and Connie left Jenny Lake and took a job in Olympia teaching at Evergreen. I missed their presence each summer and realized the end of an era. Over the years I divorced, remarried, but remained at Jenny Lake each summer, finally staying on year-round as the place became my permanent home. Pete and Connie became more remote as the demands of daily life took over. I heard from them occasionally, and once in 1979 when we had a year old son, Thor, we took a long road trip in our van ending up at Pete and Connie's place in Olympia. Thor bounced in his "Johnny Jump Up". I met Summer for the first time; she was now a young woman.

Five years ago, Rick, Bob, and I made a pilgrimage to Olympia to see the Sinclairs. It was as though we'd never left. (After the visit the three of us tried to camp at Mount Rainier, but a huge rainstorm filled my leaky old tent, and we returned to find our sleeping bags floating in a deep pool inside, so we ended up in a motel. I paid!)
Summer, Kirk, Debbie, Tom, Pete

After dinner we moved into the living room where we settled in for dessert and more talk. I got to know Debbie and Tom, new additions to my circle of friends. Kirk, Melanie, and Summer are now twice the age I was when I first met and worked with Pete. It seemed like yesterday that they were running around Lupine Meadow.
Pete & Debbie

The years have passed. Connie had lost two sisters and a brother-in-law this past year, so the family had made several trips back to her home recently. I asked Connie how the past 40 years in Olympia had felt. "Oh, Jackson Hole is still home to me". I think we all feel that way.
The whole Sinclair clan:
Kirk, Debbie, Connie, Tom, Summer, Pete

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