Miles From Monday: Jackson, Wyoming
'"The Grand", as it is known to all who have had the pleasure to live under it, or ski beside it, or hike around it, or climb to the top of it, is more than the highest mountain in what many would call the continental United States' most spectacular range. It is a magnet, a motherlode, a home base to a breed of people who have no home. Not just people who ski and climb, but skiers and climbers, the ones who relegate real-life activities like laundry and relationships to those couple of weeks in the spring and fall when the lifts have closed but it's too slick to climb, or the snow has come but the runs aren't yet open."
-Pam Houston, On (Not) Climbing the Grand Teton
April 30, 2012, Washington, DC: It was the summer of 1998 when two friends and I got in the car to travel to Jackson.
We were drawn out west by an empty house of a relative and free couple of months ahead. We'd work in a deli and at a swimming pool and paint houses and host patrons at a restaurant. In our time off, we'd float down Fish Creek and eat Pearl Street Bagels while lounging in the rippling water at the edge of the Snake River. We'd bike the long roads between the town of Wilson and Jackson Hole and spend evenings casting fly fishing rods over the backyard just for practice in the shadow of the Grand. We'd camp occasionally, spending a night out and climbing the trails on the back side of the ski slopes. On one occasion, we'd take the tram back down to Jackson Hole alongside a bridal party, cluelessly wedging our dirty backpacks up against the bride's beautiful, white dress.
The best thing about our temporary home in Jackson was that it became a stop on the road that summer for friends of friends road-tripping across country. Everyone knew someone who needed a place to crash, and we had more visitors than we could have imagined who would stop in to cook a meal in exchange for a night on the sofa. Town was full of college kids our age, both those who'd grown up there and returned for the summer, and those working on area ranches to get their first taste of west. We fit in seamlessly that summer. We knew then that we could be happy in lots of different landscapes.
Nine years later, we'd return to Jackson for a short week to pursue an adventure we'd been discussing ever since that long drive back east. We'd embark on a course that would culminate in climbing the Grand Teton with Exum Mountain Guides. We'd spend a few nights at the Climber's Ranch in the park during our training course out by Jenny Lake and eat pizza at Dornan's in Moose and visit The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar now that we were old enough to get in. On the day of our ascent, we'd reach the Lower Saddle in the worst weather and sleep there in Exum's tent, fourteen of us packed in like sardines in the rain. We'd awaken at 3 a.m., socked in in a dense fog, to hear that the final leg of our adventure would be called off.
An adventure cut short is just another reason to return, not that we need an excuse. Even without one, Jackson will pull us back, if only to visit eat fresh bagels with our feet dangling in the Snake River, watching the wide west float by.
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