Trip ReportMt. Moran and The Grand, Part I
The trip started with an unexpected drive from Denver, CO to Jackson, WY.
After missing a connection from Denver to Jackson, the thought of spending two days in the Front Range was less appealing than a nine hour drive, so Kevin and I rented a car and got a firsthand view of the sage brush, mountains and gas fields that dot the landscape on our northwesterly drive through Wyoming. En route, Andy, Matt, Regina, Judith and Felipe (who arrived before us) provided an update on crowds and conditions. With that update, we decided to change our climbing itinerary to first tackle Mt Moran via the Direct South Buttress (5.8 A1, IV), South Ridge (5.6, IV) and descent via the CMC (5.5, II) before moving over to climb the Grand Teton via the complete Exum Ridge (5.7, III). The State Trooper who stopped us in Rock Springs, WY was also kind enough to give us some local route information – mostly about posted speed limits in his town. When he kindly let us go with a warning, we offered a wave back in his direction should we make the summit.
Once in Jackson, we exchanged rental cars, met up with Judith and Regina for dinner, and then exploded our gear back at the American Alpine Club Climbers’ Ranch, packed up, got some shut eye and were ready for our Moran approach the next morning. The approach would first be by boat, across String and Leigh Lakes to Leigh Canyon which separates Mt. Moran (12,605’) from Mt. Woodring (11,530’). At the mouth of the canyon, we would be on foot two miles following Leigh Creek to the base of the south buttress.
The weather was good in the morning and climbing-approach gods were smiling on us. We had breakfast in the sun at Dornan’s Chuckwagon and loaded our tandem kayak inside the 15-passenger van we had rented. (When given the choice the day before of a subcompact car or ‘something a little larger,’ we went BIG.) We packed light loads for our up-and-over route so everything could fit inside or could be lashed to the deck of the boat.
With one stop mid-route to check a boulder island with ‘shallow water soloing’ potential, and a short portage between String and Leigh Lakes, we reached our destination in 1.5 hours.
After tying up the kayak, we re-packed, received poor advice from an Exum guide, hit the ‘trail’, and had our first bear encounter of the trip – a black bear was suddenly running toward us full speed. With the appropriate amount of noise making and arm waving from Kevin and me, he took off into the raspberry- and huckleberry-filled woods– much tastier than either ourselves or the freeze dried fare in our packs.
We found a nice campsite about two hours in, pulled the thorns out of our shins from our bushwhack, dropped our packs, and set out to scout the talus field which started the final approach to the buttress. On our way up the talus slope toward Laughing Lion Falls, we chatted with a group coming down from doing the South Buttress Right (5.11b, IV). They gave us some beta for the descent and we were able to see the two prominent grassy ramps called out in the guide book which led to the start of the first pitch. We decided we had seen enough to know where we would be heading in the morning light and gained a new appreciation for the enormity of the 12 – 14 pitch route, ridge traverse and descent.
Over dinner back at camp, we decided that we were not going to be able to go up-and-over with a full load. We had already received very mixed opinions on the availability of water at the top of the buttress and carrying two days of water, food and bivy gear seemed a stretch. We had already left the sleeping pads behind and carried only mylar bivy sacks. The other option was to commit to doing, what is by many accounts, the longest rock route in North America in a day. We quickly dismissed that notion and decided the summit was out of our reach and that we would focus on reaching the top of the buttress and leave the South Ridge for another day.
Alarms set for 5:00 am were missed and we woke up at 6:00 am. That was our second mistake. Our first mistake was not setting the alarms for 3:00 am. By 9:30 we had ascended the talus field, the first prominent grassy slope and were at the base of the first pitch. Kevin lead up through the fifth class chimney for several hundred feet.
We swapped leads and I lead through a few pitches of sometimes awkward, sloping 5.7 terrain, followed by long chimneys and ramps of low fifth class climbing. A few fixed pins and weathered slings gave us reassurance we were on route and would come in handy later in the day.
Time ticked on, ropes got tangled, run out traverses got old, and topo’s read, re-read and read again. Somewhere around the fourth pitch we realized we were not moving fast enough to reach the top of the buttress. After the sixth pitch, realization sunk in and we reluctantly stopped climbing. Above us we could squint and maybe make out the beautiful classic granite features in the route description. While we knew we could suffer through a night on top of the buttress, we also knew we did not want to be benighted while still on-route. The crux was not until P11 and the double pendulum and overhanging aid pitch was better attacked by us while the sun was still up. To do it at night was a recipe for an unwanted feature story in Accidents in North American Mountaineering.
Three double rope rappels took us back to the first grassy ramp. If it was not for Kevin’s checking, we would have rapped off of a boulder which was, “no longer part of the monolith.” (Thanks Kevin, I own you one!) Back at our base camp at Leigh Creek at 10:00 pm, we pulled our gear down from the tree where we had hung it up, glad to see the bears had stuck with the huckleberries. We were tired enough from the day’s escapades that we nearly (nearly) skipped dinner before laying down our mylar sacks and talking about what we might do differently a second time around or on The Grand.
The next day we hiked, paddled, drove and met up with Andy and Matt who had been on Moran a few days earlier and were headed up into Garnet Canyon for an attempt at the Grand the next day.
[Continued in Part II: We head for the Grand]
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