One of Exum Mountain Guide’s busiest guides—and also the venerable guide service’s marketing manager—Brenton Reagan spends most every day outside. Although nowadays his daughter Kaia, born just this past September, is keeping him inside a bit more than usual. When not guiding—and he guides both climbing and skiing clients for Exum—Reagan himself has climbed in the Canadian Rockies, Denali, the Ruth Gorge, Patagonia, the West Ridge of Khan Tengri, and the Himalaya. He did the first ascents of El Pilar and Cerro Liso in Mexico and Peak 5,880 in Nepal’s Khumbu. He’s done the North Face of the Grand, which is included in Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, in 12 hours car-to-car. Most people do the route, rated at 5.8, over a couple of days. RootsRated got this former Marine Corps soldier to sit still for a few minutes—and also caught Kaia napping—to chat.
How long have you been in Jackson Hole?
10 years. I first came here when I was 14 with my mom. Every year I just stayed longer and longer.
What first brought you out here?
We came out here on vacation. When I was 7, my mom had climbed the Grand [Teton] with Al Read [one of the three guides who bought Exum Mountain Guides from founder Glenn Exum in the 1970s]. After that, she always had a soft spot for the Tetons. Once she thought my brother and I were old enough to enjoy it, she started bringing us.
Was there a moment/person/thing that made you realize, ‘Jackson is where I want to live?’
I went climbing with Alex Lowe when I was 18 and that was the day I figured it all out. We did the Snaz [in Grand Teton National Park]. That was the day I realized I wanted to be a mountain guide and I wanted to live in Jackson.
You had climbed before that day. What did Alex do differently that made you decide to commit yourself to this area and the guiding profession?
He loved it. More than anyone else I had ever been around. And he was having the most fun. I was like, ‘I want to have this much fun.’ I don’t really remember what else I wanted to be at that age, if I even knew. But when it all clicked that day, I knew that was the life I wanted.
So you make up your mind that you want to be a mountain guide. But it’s not like you can then start taking clients into the mountains. You need to build up a serious resume of skills. How’d you go about getting that knowledge?
When I climbed with Alex and had the realizization that I wanted to become a guide, I had already signed up to join the Marine Corps. So my next four years were lined out: I went into the Marine Corps for four years. Then, once I got out, I came to Jackson as much as I could and climbed with as many Exum guides as I could. When I’d run out of money, I go home to Georgia. I drove cross-country so many times.
What makes Jackson Hole special among other outdoor communities in your eyes?
The access to the skiing is so good and then the skiing itself is so good. Once you’ve experienced the skiing here, you’re spoiled for everywhere else.
You guide for Exum. What do you do/where do you go on our days off?
In season—summer and winter—when I have a day off, I go to the same spots I go if I were guiding: Grand Teton National Park, Teton Pass. In the summer and winter season, we’re so busy, I don’t get any chunks of time off. It’s just a day or two. In the off-season, that’s when we can travel. We usually go to Bishop or Joshua Tree.
If you didn't live in Jackson, where would you be?
Did you grow up climbing?
My mom is a climber, so she got us into it pretty early.
Now that you’re a guide, do you take her out?
For her 60th birthday, we climbed Teewinot in a day.
You guide both climbers (summer) and skiers (winter). Do you prefer guiding one over the other?
I love both, but I am glad the seasons change. I wouldn’t want to do either one all year long.
Is it different guiding in winter versus summer? How?
Obviously, it’s easier getting down on skis. At least on your body. Sliding down 25 Short [a 3,000-vertical-foot ski descent often guided by Exum] is much easier than walking down from the Lower Saddle [where Exum’s summer camp for ascents of the Grand Teton begin]. And the mediums are very different too. Snow is much more complex than rock. On rock, it’s easy to predict what it’s going to be like on any given day: wet or dry. Snow is not so simple.
How many days do you ski a year?
I’ve never counter, but it’d have to be over 100. The ski season is between December and May. That’s a lot of days.
What are you proudest of in your outdoor life?
The fact I’m able to share it with other people. I’m not just keeping these experiences to myself, but helping other people have a great time outside too.
Can you describe one of your best days outside?
When I climbed Epinephrine [5.9, in Nevada’s Red Rocks National Conservation Area] with my then-girlfriend-now-wife [Jessica Baker]. Whenever I think of an awesome day outside, that’s the first one that comes to mind. It’s a huge climb and we were together.
What's the best breakfast in Jackson to fuel you up for a big day?
Usually I’m heading out before 6 a.m., so no where’s open. But, if I could get any breakfast in town before then, it’d be the chicken and waffles at Café Genevieve.
And the best place to unwind and recover after a big day?
Now it’s at home with the family. I used to go to the brewpub, but I’m just not drinking that much beer anymore. If I go out with clients, Trio is it. Their menu changes a lot, but they usually have BLT Soup and it is really quite good. And then I’d get some sort of large piece of meat to go with it.