It wasn’t a climbing trip–not by a long shot. But I took my shoes and chalk bag anyway. I had a plan.
Our trip was really about one thing: seeing as much wildlife as possible in one of the last remaining intact ecosystems in the world. For my wife and our friends Linda and Andy, it was their first time visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming. Since it would be my third trip there and I sort of knew my way around, I would act as driver and mediocre tour guide. And in return, they would indulge me two short bouldering sessions.
“Ah, where modern bouldering all began. In the mid-1950s the Tetons were one of America’s top rock climbing areas, though bouldering, as practice or otherwise, had not yet caught on. Perched in the pines above the east shore of Jenny Lake are three humble lumps of white, greasy granite. Into this splendid mountain scene entered John Gill and Yvon Chouinard.”
–John Sherman, Stone Crusade, 1994
On my last trip to Grand Teton National Park four years earlier, my daughter and I had set out to climb at the Jenny Lake Boulders but only got about 25 feet from the car when it started to rain on us. I was totally bummed out to drive more than 1,000 miles and literally get within a few hundred yards of the boulders, and then be turned away by precipitation. So I really, really wanted to get another shot at this historic climbing area.
On this trip, we took the ferry across Jenny Lake and did the “tourist hike” up to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Both were spectacular, and everything was pretty awesome except for the crowds. Luckily we took the first boat of the day across, so we probably beat most of the crowds. Instead of taking the ferry back, we opted to hike ~3 miles along the south shore. It’s supposed to be an “easy” hike, but the main trail is closed for repairs right now so we were re-routed on the horse trail, which takes you higher above the lake and because of the added up-and-down is rated “moderate”. It was a very nice trail, although a little beat up by the horses. On the plus side, the higher trail afforded much better views of the lake and the surrounding peaks.
Once back at the parking lot, we dumped our hiking gear and headed off to the classic Jenny Lake Boulders. I had two sets of directions, but decided to ask at the ranger station anyway…which turned out to be a mistake. The person there gave me very explicit, detailed directions–to some place called the Jenny Lake Boulders which must exist in a parallel universe or something. Either that or she was smokin’ crack in the ranger station.
Off we went, and after about ten minutes of walking, we came across the boulders despite the “directions” I got from the ranger.
“The big boulders at the north end of Jenny Lake Campground provide a great deal of unconventional climbing, where the most expert tumble from holds no sane man would ever use on a mountain.”
–Orrin Bonney, 1963
The first boulder we hit was Cutfinger Rock, which is right off the trail. I thrashed about through the forest for a few minutes and found the Falling Ant Slab and Red Cross Rock. The Falling Ant Slab is, uh, well, slabby, with a less than optimal landing. Red Cross Rock looked sweet but real hard after having just hiked for several hours. So I went back to the Cutfinger Rock and laced up.
“In the beginning there was nothing. Then the old timers spotted Cut-finger Rock and Teton bouldering was born.”
–John Gill & Yvon Chouinard, Guide to the Jenny Lake Boulders, 1958
It was an idyllic setting there in the forest above Jenny Lake, and it was so nice to finally be touching these famous boulders where legendary climbers like Bob Kamps, John Gill, and Yvon Chouinard pushed the envelope of rock climbing and gave birth to the concept of modern bouldering.
Two days later, on our way to the airport for our flight home, we stopped by the Teton Boulder Park in Jackson. What is the Teton Boulder Park? “We’re a non-profit, volunteer effort working to build a world-class bouldering park that commemorates the climbing history of the Teton Range in Jackson Hole.”
Now it may seem somewhat sacrilegious that in an area world renown for natural beauty, I go out of my way to climb on fake rock. After all…the Tetons are right there…and I already have an artificial wall in my garage. But I really wanted to see this. Ideally, every community should have something like this. Alas, every community does NOT have something like this. Only Jackson, Wyoming.
Conditions at the park were almost ideal. Temperature-wise, it was about 50 degrees F, so it was perfect. It was a little damp, however, and I didn’t bring anything to clean my shoes, so some of my foot placements were a little tenuous. But luckily there was no moisture on any of the handholds.
What a great place. I had it all to myself and basically did easy to moderate laps for about half an hour, until my body said “Alright, dude, stop…”
It’s been a little over 24 hours since we left Jackson and flew home. From that short session at the Teton Boulder Park, my arms are WRECKED. But a good wrecked. It was one hell of a great workout, and left me with none of the finger and tendon pain I typically experience after climbing.
Gateway to two of the greatest national parks in the world… The Teton range… The spectacular wildlife… The Jenny Lake Boulders… Teton Boulder Park… The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar… This place has everything.
Man, I think I really need to move to Jackson…