It was 1966.
Grand Teton National Park's climbing bums were in a tough spot: the Jenny Lake climbers' camp, which had been a gathering spot for the community since the '50's, was being shut down—potentially due to the "raucous" climbers' nature and unfavorable interactions with the growing influx of tourists.
A few years previously, Grand Teton National Park had acquired the Double Diamond Dude Ranch, which had been operating either as a ranch or tourist camp for 40 years. The property—perched on a glacial moraine at nearly 6,700 feet, shooting distance from the Teton Range's greatest peaks—was ideal.
"We were looking for something in Moose [the closest 'town' to the Ranch], and the National Park offered us this," remembers local legend Bob Horton, "How could we say no?"
Under the direction of American Alpine Club President Nick Clinch, the AAC said yes, acquiring access to the property through a Special Use Permit in 1970. Thus, the mountaineering community had a home at the base of the Teton Range.
These photos, courtesy of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum, show the Ranch in it's Double-Diamond days. The current Grand Teton Climbers' Ranch logo, which features two diamonds, pays tribute to the Ranch's roots.
Nick Clinch (1930-2016)
A revered climber and character, Clinch was a remarkable leader. He led the only American expedition ever to make a first ascent of an 8000-meter summit, he led the American Alpine Club through an era of expansion, and he (along with Leigh Ortenberger and NPS Director Horace Albright) led the aquisition and development of the Climbers' Ranch. Clinch received the Heilprin Award for service to the Club and the rarely granted President’s Gold Medal—twice.
Alan Nagle, a retired professor from the University of Iowa, has spent summers at the Ranch for many of the past ten years, climbing and curating the GTCR library, which now houses over 600 titles. The library is a quiet, sacred room—no shoes allowed—where climbers on their rest days pour over guidebooks and lose themselves in adventure stories. Wood beams, a vaulted ceiling, and gorgeous regional art round out the space. Some books, dated over sixty years old, are inscribed with notes from one climber to another or annotated with beta for specific approaches, moves, or climbs. These marks, and the library itself, offer a path back through time for the modern climber.
One night in a Grand Teton Climbers' Ranch co-ed, dormitory-style cabin costs AAC members just $17 and non-members $27. Guests share a men's and women's bathhouse offering showers, sinks and toilets. This accommodation comes with a communal cook-shelter, where guests can set up their cooking stoves and enjoy the fellowship of the climbing community. Children of all ages are welcome—this truly a place for all, with a couple exceptions: house pets and bears. The Ranch offers bear-proof containers for food storage, a necessity in a National Park that's home to numerous brown bears and grizzlies.
In an increasingly superficially-connected world, the Grand Teton Climbers' Ranch offers opportunities for more tangible connection: to the tall pines, to the peaks, and to each other. The Ranch doesn't have wireless internet, and many cell phone carriers don't provide coverage in the Park. The result is an oasis that alternates between feeling completely still and bustling with friends raising their voices in song, in laughter, and in storytelling.
An added bonus: this recently-installed training wall/playground on the side of the GTCR bathhouse provides a place to stay strong or, for some visitors, to try climbing for the first time.
"But be careful; it's a trick wall," cautions GTCR seasonal staff member Peggy Flavin, "Some of the holds spin."