Get to Know SAR Volunteer Ryan Mertaugh

TCSAR Volunteer Ryan Mertaugh

TCSAR Volunteer Ryan Mertaugh

TCSAR: Where were you born, what was your childhood like?
Ryan: So, I was born in Traverse City, Michigan. And my childhood, I spent a lot of time outside. Both of my parents are veterinarians, so I grew up around animals, I mean all sorts of animals - chickens, sheep, goats, lamas, horses that kind of stuff so I spent a lot of time outside with them. What brought me out here was the fact that my dad and I climb a lot together, and so we traveled around climbing at different places and we came out here to climb when I was young and that was the light bulb going off for me, this is it, this is where I want to be. I think I was about 14 when we came out here for our first climbing trip and then from 14 on I was trying to get out here full time.

TCSAR: How did you eventually make it work to end up in Jackson?
Ryan: When I was 19 I came out here to do the guide school at Mad River to potentially be a river guide, and my alternative plan was just to be a climbing bum if I didn’t get a job. And I ended up getting a job for Mad River and I’ve been working for them ever since.

TCSAR: How long has that been?
Ryan: It’s been 11 years now.

TCSAR: Were you always in to boating?
Ryan: Yep, so I started whitewater kayaking back in Michigan, there’s not a lot of water in Michigan, whitewater that is. There’s a lot of fresh water, flat water, and the sea kayaking is awesome. In high school I worked for an outdoor shop and the owner of that shop was a big whitewater kayaker and he kind of took me under his wing and showed me the ropes, and then took me out east. I was probably 16 or 17 when I started boating some pretty wild runs, under his watch of course. We went out east, Maryland, upstate New York, West Virginia, those areas. That’s when I really got hooked on the whitewater kayaking and then came out here with that skill set and applied it to rafting.

Ryan with his wife Annie.

Ryan with his wife Annie.

TCSAR: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
Ryan: Yep I have one sister. She lives in Minneapolis, MN. She’s a school counselor, she just got a new job, I think that’s what she’s doing (laughs). She’s married and has 3 kids.

TCSAR: And you’re married, right?
Ryan: Yep. My wife teaches in the district, 6th and 7th grade Spanish.

TCSAR: In addition to Mad River, you also make gunstocks? Tell me about what that is, how you do it…
Ryan: Yeah, so my uncle and my grandpa were real big influences in my life for hunting. That’s also one of my big passions -  hunting. My uncle’s been building gunstocks for over 20 years and I always wanted to learn. Probably 4 or 5 years ago, I went back to Michigan to do a small apprenticeship under him, and he taught me pretty much everything to know for building custom gunstocks.

TCSAR: What is the gunstock?
Ryan: So you have your metals and then you have the material that holds the gun barrel and the action and that’s the gunstock. I just do wood stocks, and just work with really fancy woods.

TCSAR: How do you manufacture them?
Ryan: Slowly, by hand.  I’m in the process of building a shop specifically for building gunstocks. Once the shop is up and running I’ll be able to work a little more efficiently.    

TCSAR: Do you sell just individual custom orders or do you work with shops?
Ryan: Mainly custom orders, but I do have some guns up at High Country that they have on display there. I’ll bring them guns, if they sell them that’s awesome, if not they’re out there for the world to see.

TCSAR: Do you partner with other people for the rest of the parts?
Ryan: I’ve been in contact with a few people to organize that. I don’t have enough turnaround right now to do that. But eventually I’d like to get hooked up with some companies that are in MT and in the West. Right now with everything that’s going on, my wife and I just finished building a house last September, so the gunstocks kind of got put on the back burner.

TCSAR: Where did you build?
Ryan: Squaw Creek, it’s up Game Creek. We co-contracted it, so basically the main contractor got it through the drywall process and then we went in and did everything from there. It was a lot of work, I don’t know if I’d want to do it again.

TCSAR: Any other hobbies?
Ryan: You know I would say, what brought me out here was climbing so that’s probably my main passion - being up in the mountains as much as possible.

TCSAR: What inspired you to join SAR?
Ryan: To start, the community here in Jackson is what really brought me here and the mountains were a big bonus. I looked at other mountain towns and it just didn’t have the same community that Jackson did. Being an active part of this community is really important to me. To be able, in whatever way I could, to give back to the community. I just felt like it was a great way to do that. I feel like a lot of volunteers say that, and that’s what it is, to give back some of the skills that we have.

TCSAR: Favorite or least favorite part of being on the team or going through the training process?
Ryan: I think my favorite part of going through the training process and being on the team is meeting all these people on the team that I wouldn’t necessarily have met without the team, and developing these relationships throughout the community. There are team members from all walks of life, it’s very diverse, and it’s very cool to be a part of that. It’s basically family now. My least favorite part would be the feeling I get when I’m not able to make a call. I work outside every day for my job whether it be on the river or snowmobile guiding, and so a lot of times I’ll be in Yellowstone and then all of a sudden you’ll check your phone and, “oh, no, there’s no way I’m going to be able to make that!”

Ryan working on a custom gunstock.

Ryan working on a custom gunstock.

TCSAR: Is there anything people don’t know about you?
Ryan: I think the one thing that surprises most people, probably not team members, but is just the fact that I love hunting so much - with the way I look with dreadlocks and what not. I come from a redneck area in Michigan, and I feel like I don’t have that appearance, it kind of takes some people by surprise. Recently I just got new pack goats, and so I’ve got 4 baby pack goats that I’m raising for hunting and climbing purposes. To be able to pack meat out and also so I can go and pack a bunch of climbing gear into the Cirque of the Towers or wherever and be able to hang out for an extended period of time comfortably.

TCSAR: So how did Gunstocks & Glory Goat Acres come about?
Ryan: It’s kind of a combo, so where my wife and I built our house, we named that area Glory Goat Acres because we knew eventually we were going to be raising goats and sheep and different animals up there, and the reason why it’s “Glory” is because it has a really good view of Mt. Glory. The gunstocks part of the Glory Goat Acres thing is a reference to Pronghorn Antelope as “speed goats” and so it was just an easy tie in to Glory Goat Acres, not technically a goat, but...

TCSAR: What’s your perfect day in the mountains or on the river?
Ryan: I think the perfect day would be like a multi-sport day. Get up early, crisp morning, start out with just enough layers to stay warm as your moving and then get up high, whatever mountain it might be, climb a mountain then come back down, and then head to the river.  Ice the legs down in the river, do a little boating, maybe go to the Hootenanny in the evening a little way to cap it all off. Pretty much any day in the mountains is a perfect day in the mountains. As long as I’m up there, I’m pretty darn happy.

TCSAR: Favorite gear?
Ryan: One piece of gear that I travel with in the mountains a lot that is not a necessity, but it is fun to have, is a breakdown hula-hoop. Unfortunately with the moving and the building of the house and what not, all my hoops are scattered about. My go to alpine hoop is MIA, so I have to build a new one.

TCSAR: How did that come about?
Ryan: It really started quite awhile ago, I don’t know I was just up in the mountains with some friends and we were hula-hooping up there and people got a kick out of it. We were just goofing around, and the idea got sparked to do this mocumentary, and it was an interesting process because just through filming this mocumentary it actually turned into a real thing, the social/mental aspect of bringing a hula-hoop into the alpine world. It really lightens the mood for a lot of people, and I bump into a lot of people that are nervous and then they see the hula-hoop, and they start asking about it, and then you get them hoopin’ and you can totally see the stress kind of disappear for at least a little while until they continue on to whatever they’re doing. The mocumentary turned into a documentary that kind of just followed me hula-hooping on all of the summits in the Tetons. And it really is great, when you get to the top and you’re chillin’ for a little bit, your muscles potentially tighten up and you get that hula-hoop out and it really can loosen you up for the descent.   

TCSAR: Anything else you’d want people to know about you?
Ryan: So the dreadlocks come from when I was a senior in high school. I took a 2 week climbing trip down to Ecuador to visit a friend of mine that did a study abroad in the United States. We always met at the climbing wall, and we always joked about me visiting him down there, and it actually happened. It was one of those things that you always talk about and don’t expect to happen and everything just aligned perfectly timing wise for us. I was able to go down there and meet his family and climb with them. When we were done climbing we took a couple of rest days in a little surf town on the coastline called Montañita. Now it’s a really popular place to go to. There was a guy from Colombia there and he offered to dread my hair, and we were talking about it and so he dreaded my hair down in Ecuador, and I came back to the States and I’ve had them ever since. And yes… you wash them like normal hair :)