American Alpine Club Grand Teton Climbing Ranch
Overview: Located in Grand Teton National Park in Moose, WY, the Grand Tetons Climbing Ranch (GTCR) is one of five AAC mountain huts, i.e. base camp accommodations centers for climbers operated by the American Alpine Club. The cluster of 11 buildings comprises 9 cabins, a lodge, and a bath house. It is located on the valley at the foot of the fabulous Grand Teton mountain range. GTCR sleeps 64 and provides an array of amenities designed to support climbers as they prepare to go climb in the remarkable Grand Tetons. About 85% of the users of GTCR climbers, and about 50% are members of the American Alpine Club (AAC). The GTCR has a venerable history and a special place in the history of the AAC.
GTCR is more than an accommodations center. It is an agent in education, conservation and community-building in the mountaineering community. Its mission is:
….to provide inexpensive, extended-stay accommodations for mountaineers visiting Grand Teton National Park. As a facility of the American Alpine Club the Climber’s Ranch also represents the interests and concerns of the American Climbing Community in the Park, cooperates with the NPS in conservation of the environment and preservation of the historic structures of the ranch, and provides a venue for the cultivation of mountain craft, the exchange of information about the Teton Range, and the promotion of good fellowship among climbers.
History: The establishment of the GTCR in 1970 was a signal event in the modern history of the AAC, and an important step in its gradual shift from an Eastern elitist organization to an inclusive climbing club reflecting the democratization of climbing in America. Two visionaries — AAC President Nick Clinch and former superintendent of Grand Teton National Park Horace Albright — combined forces to address a growing challenge: the rapid increase in the numbers of climbers in the USA.
The Tetons are a cross-roads and focal point of American climbing. In the 1960’s increasing numbers of climbers began gathering at the Jenny Lake campground adjacent to prime climbing spots. It became hard to reserve camp sites and there were conflicts between the culture of the young “dirtbag” climbers and families staying at the campground. The NPS had to impose limitations on camping and campground activities. Clinch and Albright, neighbors in Palo Alto, got together to find a solution to these symptoms of the growing pains of a new phase of mountaineering in America. In 1969 there were three former dude ranches for sale in the Grand Teton National Park; one of these, the Double Diamond Dude Ranch (operated 1924-1964), was determined by Clinch, Albright, Leigh Ortenburger, and others (reportedly including Yvon Chouinard, who did the plumbing in the early days) to be the most appropriate of the three for purchase by AAC.
In an article in the January/February 1969 issue of Summit: a mountaineering magazine (of which Royal Robbins was contributing editor), AAC President Nick Clinch published an article “The New Climbers Ranch: Your Base Camp in the Tetons”. He outlined plans to open the ranch in 1970 for the purpose of “providing accommodations for climbers at a very modest rate”. Clinch outlined plans to raise $200,000 to make improvements to the property and to establish an operational endowment.
GTCR opened in 1970 and Dave Dornan (of the Dornan family in Moose) was the first manager. Rick Liu was the second manager, and Ruth Balsin, who served for 12 years, was the third manager. There have been others since. Bob Baribeau, the current manager, showed up in 1973 as a guest and climber and began helping out.
The former dining room of the original dude ranch building currently serves as the headquarters/registration building and the library. It is listed on the National Historic Register. A 1985 forest fire destroyed about half of the structures. Other period structures were moved to the site by NPS and AAC to replace the burned buildings. The first of these was named after Leigh Ortenburger, author of A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range.
Accommodation and amenities: Each of the cabins has between 2-6 two-tier bunk beds, each wide enough for two people but usually used for one person. Guests provide their own bedding (sleeping bags and pads). The bunk rooms are spare but thoughtfully supplied with plenty of electrical outlets, string for drying clothes, showers (bath tubs in at least one cabin!), and pegs for hanging gear and clothing. Some rooms have a closet for gear storage and some have a desk or table.
Reservations are necessary and the charge for overnight accommodation is $25 per night per person for non-members, and $16 per person per night for AAC members.
The bath house includes a sink room, wash room, climbing wall, and recycling center. The very well stocked sink room is supplied with detergent and scrubbers. It also houses an array of loaner pots and pans, BBQ grills, toasters, electric water kettles, hose, etc. In addition to bathrooms (in most of the cabins) there are central men’s and women’s bathrooms with showers. There is a well-equipped laundry room with washer and drier ($5 per load), and a great clothesline located nearby. GTCR also loans coolers, bicycles, and locks and helmets. And there is a left-over food box with items free for the taking.
There is no food service; guests bring and cook their own meals. The magnificent outdoor dining pavilion has great views and is perfect for preparing meals. Bear-proof lockers are provided for food and gear. It is also the social hub of the GTCR, where people eat, drink and talk together. Most of the conversation revolves around climbing.
GTCR operates a serious recycling program including nearly every kind of waste (including fuel canisters), includes a can crusher, and even goes through the trash to separate out material that should have been placed in recycling.
The library is a magnificent amenity. Located in a separate, sacred space (paintings, no shoes allowed) that used to be the kitchen of the dude ranch. The collection is fairly extensive (the online catalog has 685 entries) and is primarily focused on climbing in the West, but includes an international focus. The library is curated by Prof. Alan Nagel of U of Iowa. The library is used for presentations and discussions.
There is a “partners board” where folks can meet up to climb together, as well as get information about local guides.
Operations: The GTCR operates June 1 – September 15 within the Grand Tetons National Park (NPS) on a concessionaire permit, renewable every ten years. The staff consists of a manager, Bob Baribeau, and four young staffers. All are climbers, and are unfailingly knowledgeable, competent and courteous.
The GTCR structures are owned by the NPS and operated and maintained by AAC. No new construction is allowed and the buildings are all old, many moved onto the property from the area. The buildings are well-maintained with obvious care and attention to detail.
A plentiful supply of excellent water flows underground from the mountains, through a vast underground cobble field, and is tapped at a wellhead/pump house at the GTCR. Sewage and graywater drain into a septic system which is pumped out as needed at AAC expense.
NPS conducts and annual walk through with the manager and compiles a list of maintenance tasks to be completed during the year. NPS is responsible for road maintenance and large infrastructure projects.
GTCR conducts an annual “work week” in which volunteers assist with maintenance tasks.
Business model: GTCR operates on a non-profit basis under the AAC. AAC’s attitude towards the economics of its five accommodations centers is that they are not looked to as revenue centers. Its considered good if they don’t lose money, but some do in some years. GTCR consistently earns sufficient revenue to cover its operating costs and return some surplus to the AAC. There is a small operating endowment.
by Sam Demas, August 2017