I’m finally standing on the highest point, it feels like being on top of the world.
If, like me, you grew up in a part of the country where the only mountains on the map are more hills with Napoleon complexes, it’s remarkably easy to become enamored with mountaineering through tales of Himalayan glory, convince yourself that you’d love a life of scaling peaks, even that you might be rather good at it, all without the inconvenience of actually having to test that theory by facing an expedition taking place somewhere other than your imagination.
But if you are looking to test yourself, the Grand Teton, near Jackson Hole, WY, is the perfect peak. It’s a relative midget among technical peaks at just under 14,000 feet, but brings a payoff disproportionate to its size: not only is it the iconic peak of the American West, immortalized by Ansel Adams with top-notch views from base to peak and back again, it also has a spectacular route still accessible enough for inexperienced climbers to tackle in two days. While you will need basic mountaineering skills, it’s nothing you can’t pick up in the two-day intro course most guiding companies offer prior to your climb.
It’s the perfect place, that is, until you get to the Belly Roll. There’s relatively little of the ascent, assuming you take the most popular Owen-Spaulding route, that actually requires roping up and rock climb, and what little there is rates on the easiest end of the scale, even in this aptly-named section. But that doesn’t matter so much when being asked to step off of a ledge onto a vertical face of rock: a 2,000-foot shortcut to base camp, devoid of features to grab except for two horizontal cracks – one for hands, one for feet – like a Spiderman from a distance, except with ropes and crampons as a seemingly poor substitute for superhuman powers.
On my climb, having set out from camp halfway up the Teton at 3am, we reached our destination shortly after sunrise. A moment of thrill that livened up a morning. Up to that point, moments mostly entailed putting one foot in front of the other in darkness, trying to shake myself fully awake. The Belly Roll will wake you up. But it also makes you feel like a real mountaineer. With new confidence at having passed that test, the rest goes quickly.
Scrambling up the last few rocks to the summit and spot the marker proving that I’m finally standing on the highest point, it feels like being on top of the world. Sure, the Teton is tiny by climbing standards. But it’s the highest peak in the region. When looking down on the clouds and mountains in every direction below, that’s really all that matters. Plus, in that classic summit victory photo, ice ax raised, looking like quite the pro – no need to mention those Belly Roll nerves when recounting a heroic adventure back home with the comforts of frontier internet services.
Article written by Lauren Zumbach.