The first time I saw the Grand Teton’s in 1969 I was enthralled with it’s beauty. It was the culmination of a trip through Yellowstone, but exiting the south entrance near the Snake River headwaters, the entire valley filled in with the lake and picturesque mountains. I wanted to move there until I did a little research. I do not like the bitter cold at all and the winter temperatures in the plains are well below zero!
My next visit will be when I go fossil hunting during late spring; Wyoming and South Dakota are giving up secrets of the demise of the dinosaurs. Beautiful mountains are in my backyard. My son climbs and snow shoes and skis. He goes to the mountains to reground and refresh. Me too, but in the woodland trail hikes. These women went where others feared to tread. I admire them but would never be them. I find my adventures in other places, like rafting the Colorado through the Grand Canyon.
Enjoy their story! Part Two, next week
The Grand Teton National Park shared this historic flashback: “In the predawn dark on a day in 1939, Margaret Craighead and three other women set out to summit the Grand Teton despite it being taboo for women to climb together without a man. Of the climb, Margaret wrote, ‘This may have been of importance to the record of events, but to us it was just another climb.'”
Margaret was born on May 4, 1920, in Yerrington, Nevada, to Clara Koepp Smith and Willis Smith. The family soon moved to Ogden, Utah, to a home on the flanks of the Wasatch Mountains. Margaret’s parents taught in the public schools, her father, Willis, was a science teacher, and her mother, Clara, ran an art program.
During the late 1920s and ’30s, Margaret spent her summers in Yellowstone National Park living in a canvas wall tent where her father worked as a seasonal park naturalist.
IN THE 1930S, other women’s names began surfacing in summit registers tucked atop Teton peaks. Zane Ayres made numerous documented first ascents with her brother, Fred Ayres (including Traverse Peak, Rock of Ages, Bivouac Peak’s West Ridge, and the West Horn) and also first female ascents of Disappointment Peak, Mount Owen, and Mount Moran’s Skillet Glacier. In 1939, Miriam Underhill, who ten years earlier made history with the world’s first documented “manless” technical climb on France’s Petit Grepon, and shortly after the ascent went public, the French mountaineer Étienne Bruhl infamously shook his head and stated, “The Grépon has disappeared. Now that it has been done by two women alone, no self-respecting man can undertake it. A pity, too, because it used to be a very good climb.”
But as ninety-four-year-old Teton climber Margaret Smith Craighead recalls today, rarely did the area’s women alpinists climb together. Craighead began climbing in the Tetons as a young woman, when her father worked in the park as a naturalist. A crew that included men like Jack Durrance, Glenn Exum, and Paul Petzoldt—all of whom are considered some of America’s finest climbers—took Craighead, who was up for adventure, under their wings.
(One eventually proposed to her on the slopes of Teewinot. She declined, explaining that she thought of him more as a brother. In a huff he left her to descend on her own.)….How “male” of him and his ego 😉
WITH UNDERHILL’S ASCENT of the Petit Grepon, popular, and more women got the experience and confidence necessary to attempt climbs without a male partner. In the summer of 1939, Craighead, Margaret Bedell, Ann Sharples, and Mary Whittemore set out to make history with the first manless ascent of the Grand Teton. Craighead, the youngest of the group, had climbed most of the major Teton peaks by the age of sixteen. Bedell was an enthusiastic climber who aspired to eventually ascend every peak in the range. Sharples was a national-caliber skier and the group’s leader. Even though this climb was Whittemore’s first in the Tetons, she had spent four years training with professional mountain guides.
Next Up, next week, the history of women climbers over the centuries and how far they’ve come today.
You can’t keep them down!