Words By: Matt Spohn | Photos By: Angela Percival

Nearly 10 years ago, Exum Guide Morgan McGlashon was invited to climb and ski the Grand Teton. The experience was transformative. Now, she’s paying it forward by leading fresh faces into the mountains, sharing her knowledge, and building community.


Last light on the Exum Ridge route of the Grand Teton, 13,775 feet. 


“I’ve built a lifelong relationship with the Tetons and the community that surrounds them,” says Morgan McGlashon, who, at 26, became the youngest mountain guide for Exum — the oldest and most prestigious guiding service in the U.S.

She sits on her couch, jotting notes about snowpack and wind direction. The sound of a kid’s footsteps running back and forth from the room above plays out. It’s a communal household, filled with people of all ages only related by their love of Nature — skiers, climbers, hikers, and more. Ice axes, ropes, and climbing shoes decorate inside and out.

Anyone who grew up in the mountains could credit them for their identity. But the Tetons, explains Morgan, possess a special kind of brilliance.

Most ranges stretch hundreds of miles, if not thousands. They cross states, provinces, and countries. Their massiveness is the catalyst for stories of lost cities and mysterious creatures. But their vastness means you’ll never get to know them.

The Tetons are different. You can climb every major summit of the range in a handful of days, point to a couloir and ski it, and drive their length in just 40 miles. Quickly, you become familiar with the range’s shadows and silhouettes — with the way the Snake River esses below the mountains through stands of aspens and cottonwoods, with the broad sage-covered plains and boulders so large they could only be borne by glaciers. You see how the main cathedral group of peaks is shaped like a hand held up to greet you.

At the southern end of the range is the shared, barn-red house. Morgan opens the door to the sound of an approaching truck. With a smile and wave, she greets skier Lily Ritter, her understudy for the day.

Geared up and heading out for a day of work.


Becoming a guide didn’t take place overnight for Morgan. But some of the steps happened quickly. In fact, the very first time Morgan strapped on crampons, used an ice axe, and climbed to the top of the Grand Teton, she skied down from the summit. She was 18 — the youngest woman ever to achieve the feat.

Charlie Thomas, the father of one of Morgan’s high school friends, took her up the Grand that day. One of Morgan’s favourite climbing partners, Charlie’s willingness to share his knowledge is immense. It might be because he knows first-hand the dangers of learning through trial and error.

“There’s a natural curiosity,” Charlie says, looking through his window as he turns his truck toward the Tetons. “But without proper guidance it can be,” he pauses, “a little scary.”

Driving out to Jackson Lake, Charlie retells several of his stories, all of which could be made into movies. Just as music defines generations, these are stories that have become a part of the Tetons.

From surviving a -100-degree outing on the Grand to being swept over a cliff in an avalanche to flipping his kayak in class 5 rapids on the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River, Charlie has used up his nine lives and then some.

He moved to the Tetons in 1982. “I had no idea what I was doing, but I wanted to be in the mountains.” Back then, there wasn’t the opportunity to learn from others. “We were just curious kids,” he says. “We wanted to stand on summits.”

quote-leftWe were just curious kids. We wanted to stand on summits.quote-right


No days off — Charlie hones his ice skills when the conditions aren’t in.


When Charlie met Morgan, he saw the same curiosity and desire that had gripped him when he arrived in the Tetons 30 years prior. Full of let’s-go-for-it mentality, Morgan’s journey to elite mountain athlete didn’t stop with her descent of the Grand.

Not only is she an Exum guide, she’s also competed in the Freeskiing World Tour and skied steep lines in places like Greenland, the North Cascades, and Alaska.

“I was lucky to find a mentor that believed in me and saw my skills when I was young. There are so many people who’ve done a lot for me, helping me turn my dream into reality,” Morgan says. “I want to do the same for others.


Morgan was lucky to have found Charlie. For safety’s sake, the intricacies of traveling over ice, snow, and rock require special guidance, best learned through apprenticeship. You must hone a complex trade — one that demands intricate ropework, a deep understanding of gear, the ability to read weather, and the capacity to make split-second decisions. Should we push on? Should we turn back? But finding someone who’s willing to teach the ways of the mountains isn’t always easy. “A lot of my journey has been meeting the right people at the right time,” she says.

Morgan is changing that. Dedicating her time to mentorship, she gives other women a map of the way, a way back home, and the skills to forge a path where none exists.

Together among mountains — Morgan teaches Lily a new technique to move through steep terrain.


Up on the Grand, Morgan guides Lily, teaching her how to get a climber through steep terrain with a technique called short-roping. Tied together, Morgan and Lily make their way down a steep, rocky slope filled with snow. They move efficiently as Morgan explains not just what she’s doing but why. At a ledge, they stop to take in the view. Silence lingers and there’s an unspoken awareness of where they are and what they’ve accomplished in a day’s work. On the mountain, they’re equals, a team, and their connectedness, the sacredness of this place, unites them and becomes a solemn pact.

quote-leftI didn't ever see myself as a guide until I met Morgan. Now, I'm on my way. quote-right

“When you see a woman getting after it, it’s easier to believe that you can do it too,” says Lily. The experience is enough to inspire her to pursue becoming a mountain guide. “I didn’t ever see myself as a guide until I met Morgan. Now, I’m on my way.”

The day fades. Out east the shadow of the Grand imprints land and sky. Clouds glow as if lit by candlelight, and Morgan and Lily’s conversations flow as freely as the Snake River below. They talk about their favorite summit foods (turkey-goat cheese sandwiches and date balls) and putting glitter on their faces before a crux pitch. “Cosmetic good attitude,” Morgan calls it.


Committing to making the outdoors more inclusive didn’t happen by accident. “When I started, every guiding class was taught by white guys,” says Morgan. In fact, roughly 10 percent of American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) rock guides and 9 percent of its ski guides are women. “It might be unconscious bias, it might be that women are intimidated to take courses from men, there are probably lots of reasons,” says Morgan. But at the end of the day, the numbers speak for themselves.

By teaching others how to stay safe and enjoy their time in the mountains, Morgan offers skills that can be used for life — steps toward making what seems impossible possible. “I get to see people on their best days, overcoming barriers, and leaving with a sense of place and scale. That’s what keeps me going,” she says.

Early season cragging can be a little more difficult in the Tetons: Roads are closed, snowy approaches are the norm, and the screaming barfies are real. But that’s no reason to wait.


Every Wednesday, she teaches a ski camp through Coombs Outdoors, working primarily with Latino children. Once a week, she gathers with women her mother’s age to lead a backcountry ski course. And she guides. Her goal? To invite more people into the mountains, create a cycle of opening doors, and educate as many budding athletes as she can. “I want to get people feeling confident and competent in the backcountry.”

Guiding the Grand — the aptly named 13,755-foot peak that beckons from first light to the last embers of sunset — Morgan proves to people that they’re capable of even the most daunting goals. “By chance, this unimaginable summit is really quite attainable,” says Morgan. “It’s just small steps. The entire way.”

quote-leftBy chance, this unimaginable summit is really quite attainable. It's just small steps the entire way. quote-right


When we arrive at Lake Jackson to scope conditions on a line Morgan and Charlie want to ski, clouds cover the sky. Standing on the rocky shore, they set up to paddle across the lake. They load climbing gear and skis onto their rafts. The water is still and cold, and I wonder what they see — what possibility is out there.

But soon, the sun parts the clouds and mountains appear. A massive rock face, water-streaked and striped with black dikes, towers on the north side of the lake. It’s the colour of ancient monuments.

“What’s that wall?” I ask, pointing.

Like a magic trick, Morgan’s voice fills with invitation, positivity, and encouragement. “I don’t know,” she says. “We should go see if we can climb it.”