This Summer I was asked by sometime/longtime local Crested Butte resident and itinerant world adventurer and mountaineer, Roy Smith, to join him for a corporate teambuilding program he was instructing this Fall. Knowing Roy’s quiet but impressive climbing and professional development history (1st ascent of Alpamayo w/ Chris Bonnington; 1st descent of OmoRiver in Africa; founder of Outward Bound in the US; founder of Prescott College’s Outdoor Program) I was honored that he would request my assistance, and we set to work at once determining a suitable environment for his corporate teambuilding curriculum delivery, and appropriate climbing challenge for the participants.
Based on the usual cold and fickle weather that can plague Crested Butte and the Colorado high country in mid-October, we began to look at the American Southwest Desert. The Superstition Mountains of Arizona, outside of Phoenix, were an idea I had come up with after having spent some extended time there years ago with Outward Bound Semester Courses. This range is incredibly rugged desert mountainous terrain, with minimal water and difficult travel. It also has a fairly accessible but difficult crown jewel of the range in the Weaver’s Needle; a volcanic plug reminiscent of Devil’s Tower with mandatory 5th class climbing to reach it’s remote wilderness summit. We both agreed it seemed like a perfect challenge and experience for where this program should take place.
After a quick personal climbing trip to Red Rocks, NV, I arrived in Phoenix a day prior to the program’s start where I also met Robert Miller, the third member of our instructor team. Bob, an old climbing friend of Roy’s from Prescott days, brought extensive experience in the Superstition’s and the AZ desert, and offered great couter-point to all the adventure stories these two guys have had over there 50+ combined years of globe trotting climbing and paddling adventures.
A brief reconnaissance hike over our itinerary in 90F degree heat, revealed that there was no water along our route, or anywhere to be found for that matter in the range. This meant we would have to slightly tweak our itinerary or carry lots of water. Despite the unappealing thought of carrying water for 4 days in the hot desert, we opted for the latter which allowed us to complete a much more elegant and natural route despite our heavy packs.
Mid-day on Oct 15th we met our group of 6 Canadian business owners at the airport and drove directly to the trailhead, immersing them in near 100F degree heat straight from their home of Calgary. We immediately went through gear at the trailhead, eliminating anything extraneous (and I mean anything) to make room for the 3 gallons (24 lbs.) of water each person would have to carry. That evening we camped in a beautiful wash and slept out under incredible desert stars opting to leave tents behind to save weight.
The group was a business support/forum group of 6 large business owners form the Calgary area, all in different non-competing industries, that get together once a month to share strategies, discuss problems, and in general try and share information and tactics to help one another out to stay successful. Once a year they go on a retreat together, hence our meeting in the hot and dry AZ desert. I was really impressed withthis concept of shared strategizing and was eager to learn from these folks as well as see how large and successful business owners would deal with and incorporate the challenges that we had in store for them.
Days 1 & 2 would consist of early dawn starts, hiking a loop around the Weaver’s Needle and discussing everything from business strategy and management lessons, to the usual get to know you conversation, to tasteless jokes, and listening to stories from Roy & Bob. Mid-day was too hot to hike in the 100F degree sun, so we would find some small but suitable shade and siesta or discuss more business strategy, before moving on under the setting sun to camp. Day 3 was an ascent of the Weaver’s Needle. A 750′ 5.5 climbing route that challenged everyone with it’s difficulty, exposure, length of day, and brutal desert heat. However, after a 10 hour day everyone had stood on it’s remote summit and made it safely back down to the waning light and welcomed shade of camp, slightly sun burned, very dehydrated, and overall excited at the large team accomplishment we had achieved.
The heat of the climbing had all but drained most of the last of our water resources, so it was an early thirsty night, and Day 4 we awoke before dawn to cover the final 4 miles back to the trailhead under pre-dawn skies with empty packs and empty water bottles. And then, just as soonas it had begun it was over, as 12 noon that day found us all dirty and smelly at the airport heading back to our respective homes….the Canadians to Calgary, me back to Las Vegas, and Roy & Bob off to Prescott, AZ.
Overall, a really cool and different experience then the everyday guiding of Crested Butte Mountain Guides, and a great way to soak up some desert sun and warmth before heading into a long and cold Crested Butte winter. It was great to meet and get to know everyone, and a big ‘thank you’ to Roy and Bob for letting me work alongside you both….it was a real honor. Looking forward to next time.
—Jayson Simons-Jones (CBMG Owner / Lead Guide)