Finding family balance in a mountain town

By Luke M. Lynch

Photo by Danny Béasse

Balancing fatherhood and adventure wasn’t coming easy. One Saturday last spring brought ideal conditions for a ski tour in the high peaks of Wyoming’s Teton Range, but also my oldest son’s weekly soccer match.

Like any successful mountaineer, I was learning to adapt to conditions as they presented themselves, and this particular challenge was no exception. Long gone were the lazy Saturday mornings discussing plans over breakfast burritos and a few cups of coffee. Early starts and precise strategies are now my way of balancing family life with alpine adventure.

These days, my ski partners are nearly all fathers – guys with serious careers, demanding families and a similar risk tolerance as me. We’ve toned it down a few notches since having kids, delving deeper into avalanche science and risk management. We still egg each other on, but it’s over that nerdy stuff instead of big ski lines.

You get grief for arriving “on time,” and not early – a 4 a.m. departure means skins are on skis and everyone is ready to roll a few minutes before. There’s little tolerance for late arrivals or forgotten gear. We focus on snow stability and knowledge, as well as speed and efficiency on the uphill with light Dynafit setups and CarboRocket in our CamelBaks.

The first challenge of the day was to escape the house by 3:30 a.m. without waking my wife or three sleeping boys. The next part was easier – climb one of Grand Teton National Park’s moderate ski objectives, 11,303-foot Static Peak, and get down before the orange slices were handed out at Max’s soccer game.

The sky brightened and we turned off our headlamps as Stephen Adamson and I passed the last gnarled whitebark pine and entered the alpine. Closed to protect bighorn sheep most of the winter, Static’s east aspect offers a stunningly beautiful but moderate climb to the summit. A big and open alpine bowl allows easy travel but big exposure – a fall in icy, early morning spring conditions would have serious consequences.

We made quick work skinning up Static, the crusty east face forcing a few changeovers between skinning and bootpacking. The sun had just crested the Gros Ventre Range when we summited, and it would be at least four hours before the early light softened its flanks. Some tentative turns led us to the north face, a line I first descended by snowboard 16 years ago when all my possessions fit in the back of the “Green Nug,” my dented 1996 Subaru hatchback. In those days, responsibility was putting the whiskey down by midnight before work the next morning.

Wow, had my life changed. I thought of my wife and three little boys back in the warm house. Hopefully little Sam hadn’t woken everyone up yet, and Will was still snuggled in with his little blanket, Giraffey.

We pondered the north face descent – chalky, untouched powder smeared on a 50-degree face that dumped into a massive alpine bowl connecting to Buck Mountain. In 1998, getting here had taken all day by snowshoe. This time, the sun was just rising. I dropped in, savored a few turns, and tucked into a safe zone to the skier’s left and sheltered under an overhanging rock face. Stephen followed and dropped the 2,000 feet into Stewart Draw, gaining speed as the couloir widened and mellowed.

We regrouped and gazed at our tracks on the menacing face. We still had three hours before Max’s soccer game – plenty of time to climb 11,938-foot Buck Mountain, so the skins went back on. luke_lynch_1Once we reached the northeast ridge, we switched to crampons and kicked our way to the summit, basking in the warming sun. I reveled in having so much sky beneath me as we traversed the knife-edge ridge. We soaked-in the morning splendor on the summit, then plunged more than 5,000 vertical feet to the valley floor, quads burning as the snow transitioned from chalk to crust to creamy corn.

“The light up there was incredible – that glow on the snow,” said Stephen as he dropped me off. I carried that glow with me as I ran from the truck to the soccer field, the match only 10 minutes into the first half.

Luke M. Lynch was killed in a May 17 avalanche on Grand Teton National Park’s Mount Moran, and is survived by his wife Kathy, as well as his sons Max, Will and Sam. Lynch was the Wyoming State Director of The Conservation Fund, based in Jackson Hole. Read a tribute to him at conservationfund.org/rememberinglukelynch.

This story was first published in the winter 2015 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.