And the Winner is… Stephanie Stephens!

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Congratulations, Stephanie, on being our first-place winner! Your prizes are in the mail today! Thanks so much for sharing your work with us. Your essay does an excellent job of describing the Wilderness Adventures experience and we loved reading it. We hope you continue to share your experience of growth and adventure with others, instilling a desire and love for exploration with everyone around you!

Stephanie was a student on Northwest and Montana Wyoming. It was on her Montana Wyoming trip that she had the awesome and once-in-a-lifetime experience of climbing the Grand Teton. We bet this is just the beginning of Stephanie’s mountaineering career….

Stephanie stands on top of the Grand Teton.
Stephanie stands proudly atop the Grand Teton

Summiting the Grand

To me, where the wind whips and whistles, is the quietest place on Earth. At 13,776 feet above sea level, the Teton Wilderness’s highest point is an exhilarating accumulation of boulder and stone. Above is a limitless ceiling of only thick blue atmosphere, and below, the extensive stretch of the vast world. The summit of the Grand Teton may be just a location, but it now enjoys a permanence in my persona. I lived the mountain’s peak for a brief fifteen minutes, and it was worth every bit of the two days it took to scale it. For every one of its guests, the summit is an introspective, empowering, and liberating experience. Ultimately, I found the Teton’s summit to be the most rewarding and humbling corner I will ever discover.

After waking up in the blind of the night at 3 am, I lifted myself out of my sleep, packed up my gear, and trekked up the steep ridge of the mountain’s saddle with nowhere to look except the tunnel of vision my headlamp could manage. For the following four hours, I scrambled, more and more fatigued, up the unyielding face of the mountain, crawling and clambering every step of the way. My bones shook and shivered from the icy air that shocked my body at each rest stop. The wind was violent, powerfully pushing me off my feet and sending me backwards as if I were weightless. As I questioned my limits and potential, the climb became a mental feat, rather than a physical one. To take in my surroundings and see the immense size and authority of the Grand Teton unsettled me and made me doubt my own abilities. My body wanted to retreat, but my will wanted to advance. After a few moments of self-reflection, I began to comprehend that the most strenuous efforts come with the most gracious return.

My journey was the most difficult task I have ever undertaken, but I was not alone in my labor. Bounded by thick rope, three boys, our guide, and I moved up the mountain as one solid unit instead of as individuals. Victory that morning was more gratifying knowing that what got us up there was pure teamwork. Climbing as a single body, we worked in tandem with each other, supporting and buttressing our team members during the entirety of the ascent, and rock wasn’t our only obstacle. The altitude took its toll as two of my team members began to feel light-headed and weak. Sharing a common goal, we encouraged and lifted each other’s spirits, knowing that we were not alone in our exhausted states. In the end, synergy and cooperation was what truly propelled us up the face of the Teton.

Atop the summit, I was staggered to realize how alive I felt. This energized feeling wasn’t just a runner’s high. I felt attentive and incredibly aware of my own consciousness. The mountain in no way belittled me; instead, it made me feel larger than life. Well aware of where I stood, I realized I had the power to accomplish extraordinary things and affect the world around me, and this realization ignited a confidence that still stands strong today. This heart-racing sensation was breath-taking and humbling. Surrounded by a mosaic of earth, light, and air thinner than hair, the Teton’s summit is where I felt most at peace with not only the world but, more significantly, with myself.

Now, the Grand Teton is as rooted in my identity as it is to the earth beneath it. Arlene Blum, a mountaineer and writer I admire, once said “You never conquer a mountain. You stand on the summit for a few brief moments and then the wind blows away your footprints.” My mark on the Grand Teton ended the moment I stepped down its ridge, but the mark the mountain branded in me will surely last my lifetime.