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Stateside Adventures: Closer Than You Think

A veteran traveler discovers a world of adventure in his backyard.
closer than you think illoIllustration by Dushan Milic

Next up, Montana’s Beartooths. The objective: a speed ascent of the standard route on 12,977-foot Granite Peak, the state’s highest mountain. After one day of groaning up 4,000 feet of switchbacks to gain the Froze-to-Death Plateau, and a half-day boulder-hopping at 11,000 feet, “Laconic Bob” Goodwin, a climbing guide from Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, and I found ourselves staring over at Granite’s north face from the edge of Mt. Tempest. It was noon, we were eating sandwiches, shooing away the ubiquitous mountain goats, and glassing the mountain. Which led to another discovery: There were several routes up the north face, but the central arête, an obvious line that speared straight from the glacier to the summit, had miraculously remained untouched.

Goodwin, 32, had no boots or rock shoes, only sticky-rubber approach sneakers; our climbing gear consisted of three cams and four slings, plus we were eight hours too late for an alpine start. A first ascent hadn’t even been the original plan. But what the hell.

We dropped 1,500 feet in half an hour, Goodwin bounding wildly down the boulders. We then kick-stepped back up a thousand feet of steep snow, unroped, in one hour. Reaching dripping, dangling granite, we roped up and set off simul-climbing. I found the rock unmitigated shite, as the Brits would say, and shouted so on several occasions, but for Bob, a Teton guide, it wasn’t even worth mentioning. A thousand feet of frost-shattered wall disappeared in two hours, and we were back in camp for dinner, grandly naming our new route The Directissima.

With no pack animals, no pitons, no previewing, and no pre-planning, we had put up a new route on one of the more remote mountains in the Lower 48. Bob and I had both seen large expeditions implode from incompetence, arrogance, and ambition–we’d even witnessed deep friendships destroyed. On a micro-expedition, you only have each other. There’s no time for whining, no room for theater. Work together or fail.

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