Daddy daughter dance, Steepthinking style

Climbing the Grand Teton on the eve of her senior year

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Caroline, when you hit your senior year, I thought you should hit it running. I am glad that we fulfilled a dream by climbing the most iconic mountain in the west, the Grand Teton. By sharing this experience, we have grown closer and now we have this shared memory between us.  I take pride in your strength and your beauty. Sooner or later, I will lean on your wisdom and speak to you as an equal, a partner, and a teammate. We both know that wisdom comes from above. The strength of our connection with the source of all that is good is exhibited by how we live our lives. We climb very much like we live. I am tremendously blessed to be your back up plan.

The Grand Teton, by far the the most ambitious mountaineering objective of our lives at present seemed so distant at first. We knew that it would be challenging. As such, the Grand provided us with a lofty goal. We felt it was something we could accomplish together, but we knew it would take hard work. As a bonus, we  learned new skills that allowed us to safely climb this beautiful mountain.

I booked the trip in December for an August climb. At the time, I hired our guide, Exum, to get us to the top as personally, I lacked experience for such a big hike/climb. I found us a workout plan on the internet proven to help others get into the kind of physical shape required of climbers. We followed the prescription for months on end slowly but steadily improving with persistence. We got stronger. We encouraged one another. At times, I had to play the dad card and make you stick with it when you wanted to do anything but workout. More than once we worked out when I did not want to because you wanted. You remained committed.

We arrived in Jackson fit and anxious about what awaited us. My broken hand was not yet fully healed. We met our guide, Matt and started the required two day mountaineering course for inexperienced climbers. Day one included basic climbing techniques, basic knots, and team rope tactics. We learned to move on inclined rock slabs by taking small steps in the fall line. Remember, how we tried to take huge steps to get up the rock and how that would throw us off balance?

On day two, the climbing got harder and we practiced the type of long rappel that would be required of us on the descent. We also learned how to belay one another just as we would have to on the climb.

“Climb Caroline.”

“Climbing Jeff.”

We learned the language. “Up rope”, “slack”, “off belay”, and “belay off”. We were offered a strategy for fueling our bodies when we were told that lunch is “the entire space between breakfast and dinner.”  We were introduced to our climbing partner Adam.


On the mountain, we put our skills into practice. As a rope team we moved together, four of us. Each member of the team put their life in the hands of the person belaying them. The objective hazards were very real and included rock fall from above and falling in general. At one point our exposure measured a grip tightening 2500 foot drop to the glacier below. Caroline, you were a champ. The exposure showed us how the attention that we pay, in life as in climbing, to the chance of a fall rather than maintaining poise and discipline, drains large amounts of energy from our bodies unnecessarily. Life is subtle. Like how a very large ship can be steered with a small rudder, so too can our lives be steered with our words and our thoughts.

I hope you carry with you a new confidence. Poise is how we carry our body including our facial expressions. Be mindful of it. Poise includes our breathing. Pay attention. And Poise includes the conversations that are running through our head. Commit your thoughts to the outcome you want to see and make your thoughts obedient to Christ and what the Bible says is true.

Standing on the summit, we were rewarded with views into three states. The success of our climb did not depend on how many times we saw ourselves standing on the summit. I doubt we thought about what it would be like to be up there more than once during the eight months of training. In stead, we remained focused on the process, the daily workouts when added to one another would allow us to get there. When we arrived, it was again not about the summit but the process, how to protect, how to move on the mountain, how to pace yourself. It wasn’t ever about being powerful. It was about learning the steps to become powerful.

The summit was fun. We got a nice shot but I think you will agree that the journey, the workouts, the laughs together, the sweat, and including Jack and your mother, Izzie and Olivia, those were the real benefits. That, and now we have a good story to tell.


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