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Spearfish Lake Tales
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Joe/Joan book cover

by Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 21

A little to our surprise, our parents didn’t give us many problems about our plans for the summer, especially Cat’s mother. I’m not sure, but I suspect that our spending the summer in Europe the previous year must have immunized them.

Actually, the only fault anyone could find came from Dad, who suggested that the Karmann Ghia might be a little too small for what we had in mind, and suggested that he look for a Volkswagen Minibus for us to take instead. This was in the days when they were just starting to get the reputation of being hippie haulers decorated with flowers and peace signs, but I could see the idea had some merit. On the other hand, they were even more gutless than the VW bugs, which would be a real issue up in the mountains. I knew without asking that Dad could find another Corvair engine without any difficulty, but I had driven the Corvair-Ghia for nearly two years and trusted it. Besides, when I took a look at a Minibus, I realized that Cat and I would have to move much of our gear to be able to sleep in it, and that would be about as much work as pitching a tent.

After the summer was over I was to wish I’d taken Dad up on the deal since it would have simplified a few things, but the Karmann-Ghia did just fine for what we asked of it.

I think a Minibus might have indicated to people that Cat and I were hippies, which were coming onto the scene at the time. We weren’t hippies, we were climbing bums, and there was a difference. Oh, once in a while we’d do a little grass if we were in a group where there was a joint being passed around, which happened now and then. There were times we couldn’t get a shower for a while, and our long hair got stringy at times. We did some weird things like hanging out with some weird people, mostly climbers . . . well, maybe we were hippies, at least a little, but I don’t think either of us would have admitted it at the time.

Once school was out for the summer, we split up only long enough to go home and put our school things away for the summer; the stuff we needed for the trip was already in the car. Dad and I went through the car, changed the oil and lubed it. The tires were getting a little on the used side, so he sprang for new rubber all around at the tire store.

Other than the fact that I was eager to get on the road, things were a little uncomfortable around home. I’m sure the folks would have liked to keep me around longer since the house was on the quiet side. Joey had been in Vietnam since the end of January; apparently everything was going all right (which I knew was happening anyway) but he didn’t write home very often, only every week or two, and then his letters weren’t very newsy. I guess to them having Cat and me driving around the west seemed safe by comparison, at least so long as they didn’t understand the degree of difficulty of some of the things we were going to do, and we were a little vague about that at times. Well, most of the time.

So it was that I only spent one full day at home; I was up early in the morning two days after I’d driven home from school, got in the car and drove up to pick up Cat. She only had a small amount to add to the things she already had in the car, so I was only there for a few minutes before we hit the road.

We had agreed that there was no reason for us to hurry and drive long days on the trip, so we didn’t. We hit Chicago at midday and the traffic was murder; it seemed like the city went on forever, so we were glad to be out on the flatlands of western Illinois.

We had known from the beginning that we weren’t going to be able to camp every night, so it didn’t bother us to stop at a rather dumpy motel near Des Moines where we were able to get a room for only six dollars. That was pretty cheap, even if many times what we had paid to spend a night in a hostel in Europe.

Interstate 80 across Nebraska follows the Platte River valley, which is a little greener and more grown up than the prairies nearby, so we didn’t get the full effect of the big, open skies and grasslands to the horizon until we were past halfway in the state.

Back in the spring we had talked a lot about where we wanted to go, and Ed had been part of some of those discussions. In the end we decided to start right out by going to Jackson Hole. It took us another two days to get there. The mountains proved to be spectacular, in general more rugged than those around Chamonix even though there was nothing as big as Mont Blanc. After a little asking around it proved that there was a camp that was more or less dedicated for climbers; I suppose it was because whoever came up with it thought that a bunch of screwy climbers wouldn’t make a good impression on the normal tourists. It was the first place we camped out on the trip.

Not surprisingly, it took a little while for Cat and me to be fully accepted around the climbing camp. Climbing was mostly recognized as a guy thing in those days, although there were a few girls like us who were seen as playing around with it. This was, if anything, even truer in the States than it had been at Chamonix, so Cat and I had to prove how serious we were on the mountain, or we would be treated as “tourist chicks” for the real climbers to pursue.

In the first few days there was a lot of that going on. When we asked around to find someone we could partner up with to learn a little more about the place we were mostly laughed at until someone, thinking they were being funny, pointed us at one of the more difficult climbs in the area. The next morning, Cat and I grabbed our ropes and a minimum of gear and, while we belayed each other, there didn’t seem to be any great need for pitons, so we only used a couple, essentially free-climbing the thing.

There were a couple of other groups nearby, not on the same route, and at least once I clearly heard, “Hey, ain’t that them two tourist chicks from the campground?”

We got the climb part in, but called it a day since we had done what we set out to do, and didn’t bother hiking to the top of the mountain. We walked back down an easy trail to the bottom to discover that we had gotten at least some attention for our climbing, and not just because we came equipped with vaginas instead of penises.

It still took several days to be more than marginally accepted. I have to admit that we were not exactly the top climbers hanging around since we needed more experience, but at least some people were beginning to understand that we were serious and not just playing around.

While much of the climbing in the Tetons around Jackson Hole involved rock climbing skills, the height of the mountains and their difficulty also made it appealing for Alpine climbing. Since it was still spring there was a lot of snow at the top of the peaks, which called for different skills than we had practiced very much, even though we had used them on Mont Blanc. One evening in the campground one of us happened to mention that it would be nice to climb a mountain rather than just a demanding pitch, and after a while a couple of the guys offered to go with us up Middle Teton.

We had prepared for climbing on snow by mail-ordering ice axes and crampons, but this would be the first chance we’d have to actually try them out. The next day we climbed to the top on what was a relatively easy route, and we had no trouble keeping up with the guys. In fact, they had some trouble keeping up with us – although their hangovers from the party the night before probably had something to do with it.

Jackson Hole and the Tetons were arguably the capital of American climbing at the time, although those who said it was Yosemite Valley could put in a good claim. In those days the center of gravity of high-difficulty climbing was moving there from Jackson Hole – everyone perceived that the big walls of the valley were more difficult. In fact, we were to find out that summer that there was very little communication between one climbing area and another, so it was very hard to tell who the best climbers actually were. In reality, we were to learn that while the Teton climbers lagged a little behind the Yosemite types in rock climbing skills, the Teton climbers were still considerably ahead of Yosemite in alpine climbing.

Cat and I spent over two weeks in Jackson Hole, and they were good weeks. Many of the climbers there lived their lives intensely, with a sense of camaraderie and exploring new frontiers. Many of the climbers believed, and we agreed, that life in the mountains was simply better than life elsewhere, and for some it was hard to give up at the end of the climbing season.

It would have been possible for the two of us to spend the rest of the summer there, probably making some considerably more difficult climbs as time went on and enjoying the lifestyle, but we also had plans to go elsewhere just to see what was there. Besides, the testosterone around the climbing camp got a little thick at times, so after a while Cat and I started to think about moving on.

One evening we were sitting around a campfire with a few others (and yes, there were a couple of joints being passed around) when we happened to mention that we were thinking about where to go next. There were a couple guys by the name of Pat and Dick there whom we had been friendly with. They weren’t Teton regulars, just students from Great Falls, Montana who were wandering around for the summer like we were. Someone made the suggestion that if we wanted to do something different that involved Alpine climbing then the Wind Rivers to the south of us might be interesting, although they would involve considerably more hiking in than we were used to in the Tetons.

The marijuana may have had something to do with it, or just the desire to get away from a crowd that still saw us as somehow being tourist chicks who ought to just spread our legs for the macho climbers with no further discussion. In any case the four of us decided to go give the Wind Rivers a look just to say we’d been there. The next morning we pointed our cars south, drove to Pinedale, and after some asking around parked our cars at Halfmoon Lake.

The people who had pointed us at the Wind Rivers were right: even getting to the mountains called for a day’s walk in. Neither Cat nor I had done any backpacking at that time, but we were prepared for it after the lessons we’d had from Ed, so we walked away from the cars with food and gear for a week.

It was a good, solid day’s hike up a narrow valley to a small mountain lake, where we spent the night with interesting looking peaks all around us. But the map said there was even better to come, so we went on and hiked on up into the high country for another half a day. There were interesting-looking peaks in almost every direction, and no other climbers around except for the four of us. It was clear that we wouldn’t be able to do everything we’d like to do. At the same time the idea of our being out on our own, making our own way rather than following the route someone else had set up a long time before had a lot of appeal.

We made a base camp near the shore of another small lake, with the idea of climbing out of there daily, lightly loaded rather than taking our backpacks. Since there were only the four of us, we decided to keep the difficulty down until we’d explored the place a little, so wound up climbing Glover Mountain first. It had a moderately difficult climb up out of the valley, but it eased off once we were up the hill a ways, and was almost a stroll to the top – “an easy day for a lady,” it turned out. The view from the top was tremendous; this may not have been the Alps, but it had been what we had been working toward.

Pat and Dick wandered off to look at something, while Cat and I just sat there on the mountaintop taking it in. “You know,” she said after a while, “those are pretty good guys, not like some of those lechers back up at Jackson Hole.”

“Yeah, I agree with you on that one,” I told her. “Are you thinking about something more than just climbing with them?”

“I think I could be convinced,” she grinned. “How about you?”

“I think I could be talked into it, too. This is a little different than back at Venable. When you get down to it, those two guys are strangers to us, and we’re pretty much out here by ourselves. Even if they wanted to spread some gossip around, there’s nobody to gossip with, and even if they did say something back up there at Jackson Hole, we’d be gone somewhere else by then.”

“I think you’re thinking the same thing I am, especially since it looks like I’m not going to be doing anything with Mark again.”

This was news to me. “The two of you haven’t broken up, have you?”

“Well, it’s not like we were actually together,” she shrugged. “I’ve come to think that Mark is all right as a friend, but it’s not going anywhere. I can’t see myself actually marrying him.”

“How come I haven’t heard this before?”

“Because I’ve only thought it out in the past couple of days. Let’s face it, he could be here with us, but he decided he wanted to spend the summer at Cedar Point again. Actually, he never said anything, but I get the impression that there’s a girl there he was eager to see again. So I’m thinking, we’re here, those are a couple of nice guys, it’s been a long time, and who would ever know, at least anyone we cared about?”

“You’re making a pretty good case for it, and I have to admit, it’s been a long time for me, too. Let’s see how it goes. If it goes fine, maybe we can stay together for a while. If it isn’t so hot, we’re only going to be here for a few days and then maybe we can check out the Cascades or something.”

Cat had it pretty close to right. I’d had a very good time on that one night I’d spent with Andy, and less good but marginally acceptable that time with Yves the previous summer – but nothing since then, and I was ready, in fact, more than ready. We were too well known at Venable, and had reputations to protect there. That didn’t apply here; this was the perfect situation, the perfect way to scratch something that had been itching for a long time.

“Sounds like it ought to work. How do you want to go about it?”

“I don’t think we’re going to need to do much more than hint that we’re ready.”

Pat and Dick showed back up about that time from whatever they’d been doing, and we started back down the mountain. Fortunately we’d brought a rope since there were a couple of places where it was easier to rappel down than it was to just climb down. We got back to our little base camp in considerably less time than it had taken up to get to the top of the mountain.

“I don’t know about you guys,” I said as I peeled off the rucksack I had been carrying, “but I’m hot and sweaty, and that pond looks like a good place to cool off.”

“Yeah, me too,” Cat said, getting the drift and starting to pull off her shirt.

“It looks a like it might be a little cold to me,” Pat said.

“That’ll just cool us off quicker,” I said, slipping out of my jeans and panties in one pass. “Come on, guys. You look hot too.”

In only moments we all were naked – Cat and I hadn’t even brought the tiny little bikinis we bought in Nice, although they were down in the car. Neither of us had worn them since Europe, mostly because there was no place we would have dared to wear them except in a place like this, and under the circumstances, why would we bother?

The little pond was in fact cold as hell; it was recently melted glacier water, and had every reason to be cold, so we didn’t stay in long. But it was refreshing and demonstrated to the guys that we weren’t exactly the inhibited little climbing bums we had appeared to be back up at Jackson Hole.

Things didn’t go straight where you would expect from there; we got dressed a little later, now to warm up more than anything else. After a while, we cooked our small dinners over our little camp stoves, and later built a tiny campfire out of small sticks down on the rocky shore of the lake. We sat around until it got nearly dark, with Cat and me telling stories of Chamonix, Europe and Mont Blanc while the guys told stories of alpine climbing in the Montana high country. Toward the end I was cuddling with Pat and Cat was snuggled up to Dick, and to no one’s surprise we swapped tent partners when it came time to settle down for the night.

Neither Pat nor I went to sleep for a while, and it was very, very good, on a par with the night I’d spent with Andy, although under very different conditions. We could tell that Cat and Dick were having a good time, too – sound carried in quiet mountain valleys like that.

The next morning we got up, ate the light breakfasts we’d brought to keep the weight down, and picked out another peak to climb. This one was a little more challenging but no less rewarding.

I don’t think I need to go over the rest of the week in detail, except to say that it was very, very good in many ways. We got in a lot of climbing, although all of us were a little short of sleep at times. We all enjoyed our stay by the little pond down in that valley so much that we ran out of food, so the last day we had to do without breakfast as we walked back down the valley to our cars. Since our packs were lighter and it was downhill we made it in a single day. We got into Pinedale late in the afternoon, where we rented two motel rooms, and went out for a dinner where we could sit at a table and eat something good – and food we hadn’t had to prepare ourselves.

We had already made up our minds that we hadn’t exhausted the climbing possibilities in the Wind Rivers, so while we waited to be served we had a map out and were going over possibilities. There was a guy in the restaurant who figured that we were climbers, and he suggested that we drive up to a campground on the upper part of the Green River, and hike out of there for the higher country. There was a mountain up there called “Square Top” that he thought would involve more than just peak bagging hiking, some real rock work. There was a small photo of it on a tourist brochure there in the restaurant, and although tiny, we thought he might have a point.

It was good to spend the night in a bed, and it was even better to have someone in bed with me, so it was a little late in the morning when we got up, and discovered that Cat and Dick were also stirring. We went out to breakfast, went to a grocery store to refill our supplies, and started for the campground we had been told about.

It was getting on toward the middle of the day when we parked the cars at the campground. We loaded up our packs, this time taking more technical climbing gear like pitons and carabiners, and started up the Green River Valley. It was about five miles up to the lake our friend in the restaurant told us about, and Square Top loomed above us. It was clearly going to be rock work, rather than just a gentle stroll, and although we knew it had been climbed by others we examined it for possible lines.

We eventually found a good place to camp along Upper Green River Lake. We had been warned that this place was a little more crowded; Cat and I weren’t quite ready – or quite hippie enough yet – to just want to jump into it in the nude, but this time we had brought those tiny really French bikinis. No one was going to complain about that, especially not Pat and Dick.

We had spent a lot of time looking at Square Top, enough that it was a little intimidating, so we decided we’d better take a crack at it before we lost our nerve. It was a tough climb, mostly because we weren’t following a more or less established route. There was piton work, and there were a couple of times we had to back off and find a route with a few more holds, but by the middle of the afternoon we were on top, feeling rather successful about it. We rappelled back down, hiked back to camp for our now-traditional late afternoon swim, and spent the night as we had before.

In the days to come we did a different route on Square Top and climbed several other mountains we could see from our base camp. At one point we talked about hiking farther up the valley to some other mountains we could see in the distance, but there were enough right there to keep us occupied. Once again, we ran out of food, but it wasn’t nearly as long a walk to the cars.

In the last couple of days Cat and I talked it over and agreed that while Pat and Dick were nice guys, and a lot of fun to be with, we were probably getting a little too used to them. By now we had been gone for five of the fifteen or so weeks that we had planned to be gone, and were well under our budget. But there was still a lot to see out there, and we had only scratched the surface. That made it a good time to be moving on before the guys got to be a little too habit forming.

We knew the guys had been talking about heading down to Colorado and seeing what was to be seen there. After talking it over, Cat and I agreed we needed to go in another direction, see some other things and maybe not be quite so concerned with climbing for a few days. It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to the guys after we packed up the cars, but for us it was the right thing to do. They followed us out to the main road, but when they turned south toward Colorado, we turned back north, heading for Yellowstone. I couldn’t help but feel a bit lonely.

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To be continued . . .

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