I spent the summer of 1960 in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, working at the Jackson Lake Lodge. I went to the Tetons to learn to climb. and attended the Exum climbing school soon after arrival. Then I began climbing on my own, and topped-off my Teton summer on September 9 & 10, with a lead of the Owen-Spaulding route on the Grand.
Rick Horn was a Jackson, WY climber, and also a fishing friend. Our best fishing outing was along the Snake River below Wilson. He knew of a spring that fed a spring creek that flowed into the Snake. It was on private property, but, of course, we sneaked in. The cutthroats were stacked up in the spring, which was, at most, 30′ across. It was shooting fish in a barrel, so to speak.
At the end of the summer, Rick invited me to do some climbing with him in eastern Wyoming, as he traveled back to school in Laramie. We left for the Medicine Bow Diamond in mid September. It’s a beautiful quartzite peak, with a very easy approach. We scrambled up the talus at the base of the face, and then ascended to the Diagonal Ledge. We climbed along the ledge for a short ways, and then turned up at a spot located more or less below the summit. As far as Rick knew, it would be a new route. It provided airy but easy 5 th. class face climbing directly to the summit. It’s called the “Easy Direct”, and is denoted as “D-11” in Ray Jacquot’s and R.O. Hoff’s 1970 guide (for those who may still have it).
We next went to Devil’s Tower – a massive volcanic neck faced with large basalt columns. We started with the Durrance Route, and followed with Hollywood and Vine.
On Hollywood and Vine, we started nailing up the very uniform crack on the 2nd. pitch, using only angle pitons. But Rick ran out of this size pin before the end of the pitch, which required me to clean the lower part and send the pins up to him. It goes free now.
In the campground at the Tower, we spent an unforgettable few minutes trying to fend off a mob of raccoons intent on stealing the corn that we had appropriated from a field as we drove in. We had to hit them over the head with our flashlights.
We then drove to Laramie, but now I was left without a ride. How was I going to get back to Jackson? Rick suggested that I ride the rails as far as Rawlins, and then hitch-hike the rest of the way. With his help, I found a freight train in Laramie, and rode it to Rawlins. The sun was setting as I stood on the outskirts of town, thumbing in the direction of Lander, and for the first time in my life I saw a contrail turn from grey to pink, as a jet flew westward towards the sun. The next day I stood in a cold rain in Dubois, not getting a ride. I stood there for hours. I sheltered under an eave, banging my head against a rock wall. I was miserable and very upset with myself.
Once back in the Tetons, I picked up a job spraying trees for blister rust. The poisonous spray was bad enough, but following a bearing through the sage and timber gave me very bad hay fever, and I had to quit. Then I was invited on a road trip to California by Bill Briggs, the folk troubadour of the Tetons. His Teton Tea parties were a staple of the scene at the Jenny Lake Climbers’ Camp. Teton Tea was a concoction of cheap wine, tea and slices of citrus fruit, prepared in a galvanized bucket kept close to the campfire. Bill would sing and accompany himself on autoharp and banjo. I can hear him now: “Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing … ” . Briggs intended to throw Teton Tea parties at the homes of various climbers on this trip, and our first stop was to visit the Conns, in the Needles of South Dakota. These climbing pioneers lived under a walled-in overhang of a big boulder – the “Conncave”. They’re written up on Wikipedia, as the original dirtbag climbers:
Another stop was in Burbank, to visit Yvon Chouinard at his folks’ place. He had a shack in the backyard which housed his small foundry. There he hammered out pitons of chrome moly steel, intended to replace the soft iron pitons that were manufactured in Europe. Soft iron pitons were always left in place in Europe, which constituted a kind of littering of the climbs. Yvon’s pitons could be removed and re-used, leaving a climb clean. His hardware caught on, but led, ultimately, to the degrading of the cracks where his pitons had been used and removed, over and over again. This led to the adoption of nuts and cams, but that’s another story.
Sometime in the early 70s, Yvon told me that he couldn’t “make a dime” on the hardware business. Shortly thereafter, Patagonia appeared, but that’s, again, another story. Here’s a link to that story:
I don’t remember any of the other stops Briggs and I made, except perhaps to Herb Swedlund’s place in LA (or elsewhere?). Herb was a very good photographer and I recall that when he showed you a photo, he insisted that it be viewed under glass!
I arrived in Yosemite Valley in October, and moved into Camp 4, the climbers’ camp. This, besides the brief visit with my folks five years prior, was my first experience with “The Valley”, as it was known to climbers. The combination of the extraordinary scenery, the climate, the climbing, and especially the life in Camp 4 was completely unique and addicting. Over the next few years I would spend a total of some months there, and I prize that time in my young life over all else.
As the winter approached, I secured a ski bum job at the Peruvian Lodge, in Alta, UT.
Here are links to the preceding summer (of 1960) and the following winter: