Forever Young: Climbing the Guides Wall

“May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung

May you stay forever young…”

Bob Dylan

My gaze drifted up, taking in the steep rock wall that was the last, and most difficult, of a six pitch rock climb called the Guides Wall in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton National Park. It was 1973, I had no topo map of the climb, only a pitch by pitch description from Leigh Ortenburger’s original Climbers Guide to the Teton Range. On one shoulder I had a Forrest gear sling with a handful of wired Chouinard hexes and stoppers; and a motley collection of larger hexes and stoppers slung with perlon. Over the other shoulder, was a half dozen slings made of one inch tubular webbing tied with a water knot. I checked my Mammut perlon rope, a vast improvement to the Goldline ropes we had been using, and the figure eight knot attached to my Clan Robertson harness. On my feet were a pair of Galibier Super Guide mountain boots: heavy, rigid and totally inappropriate for the delicate face climbing above. The book rated the pitch 5.7; today’s guidebooks rate it 5.8+. I led it, it wasn’t pretty, but I made it.

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Photo: Charlie Markusen leading the 5.9+ variation to the fifth pitch of the Guides Wall, GTNP, WY, July 2019

It was a gorgeous Teton day in July of this year, the crisp mountain air carrying the faint smell of pine. My son Charlie and I were climbing the 800 foot vertical Guides Wall. Charlie studied the wall, a thin crack split the 60 foot rock face, a hard 5.9+ variation (harder for those of us with large hands) of the normal fifth pitch of the Guides Wall. I could see determination in his face, but also doubt. He does not have a wealth of crack climbing experience. Nonetheless, up he went. It wasn’t smooth, he took a couple falls, but he made it.

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Photo: The author following the final pitch of the Guides Wall

My turn to follow. I retired from hard rock climbing ten years ago, but there I was. The rope attached to me led up and up I went, it wasn’t pretty, but I made it. Forever young.

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