By Richard Rourk
On Aug. 8, several local men accomplished something most have not been able to – reaching the summit of Grand Teton Mountain in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
For Dean Poling, mountain climbing came from a simple invitation by a former coworker at Nuclear Fuel Services. The two men climbed Mount Rainer in 2007 and Poling has been climbing ever since.
The group has now grown to approximately 10 different guys. They have climbed Mount Rainier twice, Mount Whitney twice, Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens and Mount Shasta.
Weather is one of the major concerns when it comes to mountain climbing and the August climb up Grand Teton was no different.
“In the summertime there is great concern for thunderstorms; fortunately for us, the weather cooperated,” Poling said.
The group plans these western trips between late July and early August to try to avoid the weather. Other issues besides the elevation and weather conditions include loose rocks that cause slippage. Another danger while climbing consists of climbers above you kicking out loose rocks.
“You have to watch out for the guy above you, the guy below you and yourself all at the same time,” Poling said.
Plans for the Grand Teton trip started about three years ago. Randy Shackleford picked this mountain to climb. In 2016, the attempt was cut short before they even started. Tragedy struck when one of the tour guides with another group lost his life from a fall. The group decided that in two years they would return and conquer the mountain.
“I got involved in climbing two days before our attempt at the Grand Teton,” Dave Cronshaw said. “I grew up in New Hampshire, moved to Tennessee in 1978, then moved to Utah in 2003, so I’ve been in or around the mountains my entire life. I’ve done a lot of hiking and backpacking including some scrambling but never any climbing.”
The group consisted of seven members to start with, but one member had to back out due to injury.
“Our seventh guy couldn’t make it because of his ankle, but he got to fish in some beautiful spots,” Poling said. “He also was there to greet us with celebratory drinks when we came down off the mountain.”
The six-man crew that climbed Grand Teton in August included retired NFS Vice President of Operations Dave Cronshaw, NFS Nuclear Safety and Licensing Manager Randy Shackleford, NFS Quality Engineer Nick Banks, BWXT System Administrator Dean Poling, Nick’s brother Ben Banks, and Scott Averill. Assisting the group were three tour guides – Benja Glatz, Smith Maddrex and Matt Floyd.
To climb a mountain as tough as Grand Teton, you need to go to climbing school. The group went through Exum Mountain Guides. Exum Mountain Guides has been taking tours through Grand Teton for over 80 years. Day one, you learn all the knots and basic skills.
“We began learning belaying techniques, climbing techniques, rope handling, communication and basic mountaineering,” Nick Banks said.
On day two, you began to climb in real conditions.
“The staff can end your trip if they feel you will not make it and the thing that stood out with the guides and school there, they let your team learn hands on,” said Poling.
Once training was complete, it took a solid day of climbing to get to the base camp, which is roughly 11,000 feet above sea level.
“That was an intense hike,” Poling said of the trip to base camp.
To get to the base camp, it took roughly six hours to climb. The crew started out day one at 10 a.m. and reached base camp around 4 p.m. At the base camp, there is enough sleep space for 12 people. Water can be boiled while at the base camp. According to Poling, sleep was difficult because of the close quarters.
Preparing your diet is crucial for the climb. They encourage you to eat high calorie, high energy foods and foods you like for the first day, to keep you energized. On day two, due to the higher elevation, your food source is shifted to dehydrated foods.
To begin their trek from the base camp up the mountain, the crew got up at 3 a.m. and hit the trail at 4 a.m. They reached the summit at 8 or 9 a.m. The summit is roughly 13,775 feet above sea level.
In the descent down from the summit, the crew reached base camp around noon or 1 p.m. From the summit back down to base camp took roughly 4 hours. The group made it back to the bottom at 5 p.m.
The route the group took is called the Owens-Spalding Route. The rating of Grand Teton was 5.4.
“The five is the most difficult on the scale of 1-5,” Poling said. “It means that even the most skilled mountaineer would need tools to climb this mountain.”
The .4 is on a scale of .1-.15. So for an advanced climber, it was a relatively easy climb. “It’s not bad for some Erwin boys,” Poling said.
The experience was life-changing. For Nick and Ben, they got to spend quality time together, which was important since it’s been four years since they lost their father. It can also be difficult to leave loved ones at home that are concerned about your safety.
“I have a wife that is very understanding,” Poling, whose wife is also a climber, said.
Poling isn’t the only one with a significant other that is understanding.
“I got a chance to facetime my girlfriend on the summit and was happy to share the moment with her,” Nick Banks said. “She was at work and I think the sight of me basically on the side of a mountain overlooking a glacier maybe caught her off guard.”
Training plays a huge factor in mountain climbing and you have to train months in advance. Cardio is vital in preparing for a climb. Due to the elevation, breathing can be difficult.
“Once you get past 8,000 feet you can start to feel it,” Poling said.
The group plans to begin training soon after they pick their next trip. Nick and Ben Banks utilized all the local nature trails to incorporate into their training. Poling often hikes the Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail to help with his already rigorous training. Cronshaw had no formal mountain climbing experience, but he has hiked throughout his life, including hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.
“I honestly wanted to compare the fatigue we experienced with parts of my Marine Corps career,” said Nick Banks.
Shackleford summed it up by stating, “the fitter you are, the more you can just go out there and enjoy it. You don’t struggle as much.”
For Poling, this was his eighth climb.
This was the first climb for Cronshaw who reflected, “it was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I think the guys that did it developed a bond between us that is hard to describe. We were a team.”
For the Banks brothers, this was also their first climb. Nick Banks expressed what the climb meant to him personally.
“Grand Teton was a challenge and will forever hold a spot in my soul. I was happy my brother was with me. I was happy our team became a family,” Nick said. “I felt blessed knowing that with all the hustle and bustle going on in the world, the mountain didn’t care. It would be there for the next million years. There is comfort in knowing that it stood there, ready for the next generation to climb and see its beauty.”
The group plans on meeting up sometime in November to discuss the next climb.
“Some in the group has expressed a desire to go to Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa next year, but that one would be expensive,” Poling said.