The cool morning breeze hit my cheeks as my hands began to freeze over. It was summit day on Big City Mountaineers’ Summit for Someone climb up the Grand Teton and I was petrified. My feet slipped on the icy rock as I clung to a frozen sling wedged into deep cracks. I looked around and thought, I don’t think I can do this.
I hung there, contemplating how I was going to make it up to the 13,776-foot summit of the mighty Grand Teton. Below the sprawling canyons beyond the Teton Range looked like tiny crevasses of untouched landscape sparkling in the morning light. As I lost feeling in my hands, I realized I had to keep pushing forward. The only way out was up. I screamed as I pushed through the pain of my frozen hands. Gasping, I grabbed what looked to be good holds and slowly made my way towards the top of the pitch.
To Climb or Not to Climb?
Last year, I was asked to join the Big City Mountaineers’ Summit for Someone Grand Teton trip. I was a late addition to the group, the only woman on the team, and I had about a month to prepare for the daunting climb. My alpine climbing resume was nothing to write home about. I had scrambled several peaks in my home of Colorado and just started lead climbing outdoors. I had zero experience with multi-pitch or trad climbing, much less while hanging out 13,000 feet above sea level.
The thought of trying something new and raising money for a good cause while doing it, drew me to climb the Grand Tetons with Big City Mountaineers. Maybe I’ll like this? I mused. Either way, the challenge of pushing myself beckoned me, and what better way to do so than to raise money to send under-resourced youth into the outdoors.
My Struggle with Heights
My climbing career didn’t start out with fireworks and love at first sight. I wasn’t drawn to the sport, in fact, I mostly shied away from it. The thought of being suspended by a single rope, high in the air terrified me to the point of panic and tears. However, my boyfriend wanted to get back into shape after quitting smoking. He loved to climb and I felt compelled to support his journey.
Each time we would head to the crag or the gym, I would find myself coming down from a route mumbling about how I couldn’t climb, I was too scared, and it just wasn’t the sport for me.
Against all odds, I kept coming back to climbing. I kept pushing myself to try. Three years after being mostly a gym climber, I took a leap and lead my first outdoor sport route. After that, I began to enjoy climbing, I could see the strength that facing my biggest fears gave me. Slowly, but surely, I became addicted to facing my fears.
Summiting the Grand Teton
Back on the Grand Teton, our group was guided by the fantastic crew at Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. We spent four days at their incredibly beautiful high camp, living amongst the rocks, snow, and marmots. Our team spent a day learning how to multi-pitch, follow, and clean trad gear from the rocks. We enjoyed delicious food in a roomy expedition tent and watched the sun set gently over the saddle between the Middle and Grand Teton.
I bonded with my teammates and the evening before our early summit day, we discussed why we chose to climb with Big City Mountaineers. Each of us had our own beliefs, and mine was to give the younger generation a chance to be inspired by nature. I wanted to give back that feeling of tackling a tough, personal challenge in the outdoors. My thought was if I could overcome my own fears, and reach the summit, then perhaps it would inspire the students involved with Big City Mountaineers to tackle their own summits in life. We were all united under the cause of giving the next generation the opportunity to thrive.
After the icy pitch of rock, the climbing eased quite a bit. As a team, we picked our way through exposed sections of rock and before we knew it, our entire team had summited the Grand Teton. We stood there together, united in awe, happiness, and inspiration. We made our way back to camp and celebrated by napping in the sun.
Life Post Summit for Someone
I returned home from that trip a changed woman, although I didn’t know it just yet. My life was kick-started back into my normal routine of running my freelance business, meeting clients, and hustling. I went for a hike shortly after and discovered that I had aggravated a pre-existing stress injury in both of my knees. I could no longer hike more than ten minutes without being in tremendous pain. All of my mountaineering, backpacking, and adventure travel exploits had come to an abrupt halt.
Feelings of fear, anxiety, and anger came over me. As a writer for the outdoors, my paycheck relies on my ability to move, and here I was, unable to do much of anything. However, for some miraculous reason, I could still climb. I decided to throw all of my efforts into climbing. I cragged after work, started leading multi-pitch routes, went on camping trips to go climb, I even learned how to lead on trad gear.
Connecting with the Women’s Climbing Community
As I progressed, I put an emphasis on connecting with women who enjoy climbing. I used online groups such as Alpenglow Collective, the Outdoor Women’s Alliance, and more to connect with fellow women climbers. Over time I built unforgettable friendships with incredible women who loved climbing and spending time in the mountains.
There is something magical about being on the wall or high in the alpine with all women. Together we feel safe and encouraged to push ourselves in ways that can’t be achieved with a mixed group. The camaraderie of women climbers is palpable. The whooping when you sink that perfect piece of pro, the cheers as you pull a difficult move, or the exhilaration of watching the sun rise over the landscape with a few close gal pals. It simply doesn’t get any better.
The bonds I have developed climbing with other women transcend the crag and high alpine. We support one other in our life goals and are there for each other when we need a shoulder to lean on. We understand the nuances of how we individually problem solve. I am closer with the women I have met climbing than I am with some friends I have known for years. The outdoors has this profound effect of bringing people together, and the friendships I have made in the outdoors are lasting connections that get me through the daily grind of life.
Giving the Gift of Growth
As I reflect back on my Summit for Someone experience with Big City Mountaineers, I realized that my life would look very different had I not taken a giant leap of faith and gone on the Grand Teton climb. I wouldn’t have the confidence in myself that has helped me pull through some extraordinarily difficult circumstances in my life. My friendships would look vastly different, I would be more alone. Without Summit for Someone I wouldn’t have grown into the confident climber, alpinist, and entrepreneur I am today.
The biggest gift that Big City Mountaineers Summit for Someone program gave me, was the knowledge that the money I raised for that climb gave that exact opportunity for growth to an under-resourced youth. To me, passing on the incredible feeling of personal growth through the outdoors is the best gift one could ever ask for.
Photo Credits: Meg Atteberry
Bio Blurb: Meg Atteberry is a full-freelance writer and digital marketing consultant. She aims to empower others to get outside and have an adventure. She’d rather be dirty than done up
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