Climbers are already attempting to summit the 13,775-foot Grand Teton in Grand Teton National Park, even while winter conditions remain and the meadows of Garnet Canyon — a primary pathway to the Grand Teton — won’t dry until June.
Not up for the winter conditions? Not skilled or physically fit enough for rock climbing? Far away from the mountain? It doesn’t matter. You can spot the hand-holds in the chimneys, look down on 2,000 feet of open air ending in rocks and scan the entire valley from the summit via Grand Teton National Park’s newest virtual field-trip. The virtual climb takes viewers up the park’s iconic peak via the popular Owen-Spalding route.
The “eClimb,” as the park calls it, provides information on the geology, wildlife and plants of the area. It delves into the park’s storied mountaineering history and provides a sense of what it’s like to scale the granite walls of the famous peak.
“It’s a way of experiencing this climb, even if you aren’t able to climb it yourself. I wanted to capture that sense of wonderment, adventure and challenging yourself,” said Ann Mattson, park ranger naturalist for Grand Teton National Park, who spearheaded the project.
Visitors of the virtual tour can listen to elk bugle, learn the names of alpine flowers and gain a better understanding of the park’s search and rescue program. The interactive platform allows users to play videos and activate sounds by hovering their computer mouse over images during the online climb, which was filmed by park staff.
“There are a lot of people that don’t physically get here to the park, but we wanted to give them a chance to experience the park from their computer,” said spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs. “We want them to have a more in-depth understanding of the park and encourage and entice them to see this part of their unique American heritage.”
The Grand Teton eClimb is the third in a series of online field trips in the national park. The first, released about two years ago, is a virtual hike around String Lake. The second is a drive down the Moose-Wilson corridor. (Click here for the park’s full list of virtual tours.)
“You get a sense of how diverse the String Lake environment is in this short microcosm of the park,” Mattson said. “And with the Grand Teton, I hope people come away with the sense of wonderment, adventure and risk, and also an understanding of the amazing amount of history of climbing there is in the park and that sense of what does it mean to climb.”
The next virtual tour produced by the park may be a hike to Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls. Future projects also could include highlighting cultural attractions such as the David T. Vernon artifact collection, Skaggs said.
The electronic field trips are a way to address an issue the entire park service is facing: How to get the next generation interested in their national parks.
“We are targeting millennials, who are very tech savvy, and they do experience the national parks in a different way. They experience everything in a different way,” Skaggs said.
Capturing the attention of people who experience the world through technology may seem counter-intuitive to the park’s mission of getting people outside. But the videos are meant to inspire people to visit the park by showing them what they will see and experience. Technology is a part of people’s daily lives, and often it is the way people get to know places before they’ve even left their homes.
“We don’t want them to use this as a substitute for actually coming and physically experiencing the national park on its own terms in all of its glory — the sights, sounds and smells,” Skaggs said.
The park service needs to embrace technology to capture the attention of future park supporters and lovers. Skaggs said she hopes the online hikes and climbs are also used in classrooms.
Fostering this next generation of park advocates is the focus of the park service’s Centennial Celebration coming up next year, Skaggs said.
“We want them to support the national parks for what they are, and that is the keepers of our American heritage,” she said. “We are thinking about how to be relevant in the next 100 years. To be relevant we need to have continuing support of people that care about national parks.”
And it’s hard not to care once you’ve seen the view from the summit of the Grand Teton.