Sport: Smear Campaign
Although it is well known to skiers at Jackson Hole, a certain steep, rocky trail is not included on the resort’s official map. Its name prevents its appearance. Toilet Bowl, the gnarly pitch located on the upper portion of Rendezvous Mountain, earned its moniker for flushing out those skiers lacking the skills to navigate the double-black-diamond run.
While it challenges the best skiers in winter, this terrain becomes a playground for beginners when summer arrives: Its rock slabs offer a perfect setting for learning how to climb. A visit to Toilet Bowl and an introduction to the sport of climbing can be arranged by Base Camp, the concierge service at the local Four Seasons that matches adventurous guests with the numerous adrenaline-pumping activities offered in Jackson Hole.
Led by Nat Patridge, a seasoned climber with Exum Mountain Guides, a group of adventurers—hikers, climbers, and paragliders—board the aerial tram. Through its speakers, the riffs of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” build to a crescendo as the vessel carries us toward our destination. The tram hums along toward the 10,450-foot summit, but then stops just short, at about 9,000 feet, swinging to an unsteady halt at Tower 3. The operator pries the doors open, and we step onto the tower’s metal platform and climb down the steep stairs, while the tram continues its journey overhead.
After a short hike, we stop at a 10-foot-high rock, where we practice bouldering, close-to-the-ground climbing without ropes, learning how to locate the best handholds on the rock and how to smear—placing the ball of the foot, rather than the entire boot, against the rock surface to increase friction.
On a nearby slope, one with a gradual incline, we step into our climbing harnesses and learn how to tie the required knots and how to avoid tangling our ropes. We practice anchoring ourselves to the mountainside and take turns climbing and belaying. All of the training is designed to prevent us from falling. In two hours’ time, Patridge has us ready for Toilet Bowl.
The climb consists of a series of steeply pitched slabs. I seek out the best handholds, smear my foot against the rock, and make it to the top, my heart racing and my smile eminent. I secure my position and then assist my partner with her climb. Each section of rock poses a new challenge, a sort of puzzle that requires brain and body to work harmoniously. On the fourth section, panic strikes momentarily when I fail to find a sufficient handhold. My feet feel as though they are slipping, and I fear I will lose my grip, smash face-first into the rock, and then dangle unconscious. A few encouraging words from Patridge pull me from the paralytic lapse, and when I reach the top, I have learned that self-doubt has no place in the sport of rock climbing.
Having ascended six slabs, we sit atop the rocks and enjoy the view of the 40-mile-long Teton Range and its centerpiece, the 13,770-foot Grand Teton. “You could do it,” says Patridge, after noting that climbing Grand Teton would require two full days of training, followed by a daylong hike to the base camp. At that moment, I have every intention of doing it.