BackgroundWhen I climbed Marble Mountain with Alan (aka Alan Ellis) and Barry (aka attm) in November 2004 they mentioned their plan to climb Mount Moran the following summer. They had a third partner lined up - Eric (aka Hendere) - and were looking for a fourth. At the time I had just started rock climbing and could only dream of tackling such a challenging multi-pitch climb. I expressed my interest nonetheless. Alan and Barry took me seriously and I was in.
For the next three quarters of a year I did my best to prepare myself - doing a lot of gym climbing, some sport climbing, a little outdoor rock climbing, and some more difficult scrambling. When September rolled around I was as prepared as I was going to get. I had enough confidence that I wasn't going to totally embarrass myself, but at the same time I was glad I was going with much more experienced climbers. I knew I was in good hands.
The Approach - September 4, 2005The first day of our Mount Moran adventure began in an amusing fashion. We had spent the previous two nights at the Climbers Ranch and set our alarms for 05:30 so we could get an early jump on the arduous approach to the CMC Camp. It took us a little while to rub the sleep out of our eyes and get started collecting our kit so we didn't really get moving around until about 06:00. We joked and chatted as we made final preparations and just as we were about to head out we heard a grumpy voice from the adjoining cabin shout, "Would you guys keep it down! In the alpine world we save our conversations for the car." Well - Alan, Eric, and I smiled at each other as we watched the countdown commence in the each other's heads. Three... two... one... was all it took for Barry to shout in retort, "Maybe, if you guys wouldn't smoke cigars stinkin' up the place and talking in your cabin until midnight!" This wasn't the Ritz-Carlton - this was a climbers' ranch where the bunks were $10/night and alpine starts the norm. This guy wasn't even a climber - just a dude looking for cheap lodging. They'd spent the previous night drinking cheap wine and smoking cigars not twenty feet from our cabin and got what they deserved. It was an odd start to our adventure but would provide innumerable laughs for us later. For the remainder of the trip it seemed like every other one of our sentences would start out with the phrase, "In the alpine world..."
Just as we were about to reach the lower CMC camp we met a pair of climbers coming down. They had hoped to make their attempt on Mount Moran that morning, but had awoken for their alpine start during a thunderstorm. The rain and lightning didn't subside until 07:00 so they just hiked up to the top of Drizzlepuss to admire the view. We had experienced early morning showers down at the Climbers Ranch the past two mornings so we hoped we'd fair better.
It didn't take long for us to reach the CMC camp after that and we crossed a small meadow as we approached the lower camp. When we had picked up our camping permits the park rangers had told us that there was water up at the camp but we didn't see it. Alan said that when he had been up to CMC Camp a couple of years previously the meadow had a stream in it. However, it had long since dried up this season. We looked uphill and could see a couple of rocks that looked wet so we decided to hike up to the upper CMC Camp where we hoped to find water. It had taken us roughly four hours since leaving the canoes to reach the upper CMC camp and it felt great to drop our packs. We found two spots just barely large enough to hold our tents and set 'em up and then Eric went down to the wet rocks to see if there was a substantial enough water source to supply us. When he returned he said there was a tiny pool that he could probably pump water out of but it wasn't going to be easy.
As we sat and contemplated our lack of water issue a pair of climbers descended down past our camp. They had been out on the CMC Route that day, but due to their late start (because of the early morning thunderstorm) they had bailed off the route after only three pitches. We queried them about the approach, the return over Drizzlepuss, the route, and where they found water. They advised us to scout the approach in the daylight as it could be tricky to negotiate in the dark. We asked about the return over Drizzlepuss but they didn't have any worthwhile advice to offer. It was said to be tricky and the crux of the CMC route - these guys suggested leaving a rope at the top so we could toprope it on the way back but we'd already burned that bridge since we'd decided not to bring an extra rope. We asked if the route finding on the CMC Route was pretty straightforward and was there one particular line to follow. Their cryptic reply worried me a little: "There are a hundred lines on the face. One is good and the rest are marginal." They also told us to expect to spend ten hours on the face. After that we asked about water. These guys said they'd had to hike back into the gully we'd ascended to fetch water out of the stream that flowed out of Hanging Ice Glacier. After we'd asked all our specific questions we chitchatted a bit as they got ready to continue their descent. One of the climbers had been doing most of the talking but as they got ready to depart the other warned us about incoming storms and dangerous weather. In a real nonchalant voice he warned us about "unstable high-pressure systems bringing afternoon thunderstorms over from Utah... blah... blah... blah... and if you're not on the summit by 11:00 YOU'RE FUCKED!!!" And with that the two guys walked off. The way the guy said his parting warning was pretty funny - he was talking in a low, even voice - almost mumbling about the weather - and then nearly shouted, "YOU'RE FUCKED!!!" This of course provided another line for us to laugh about during the trip: "If you're not on the summit by 11:00 YOU'RE FUCKED!!!"
Being fairly wet behind the ears in "the alpine world" I hung on their every word and took everything they said pretty seriously. Their comments about 10 hours on the face and there being one good line caused me a little distress. Alan, Eric, and Barry blew off this talk much easier. Eric especially absorbed the whole exchange a lot better than I did, noticing that almost all their gear looked shiny/new and that they were using a big-wall haul bag to lug all their equipment (certainly not the most efficient/comfortable way to carry your kit in "the alpine world"). He concluded that these guys probably weren't the seasoned mountaineers they tried to portray.
After these two fellows departed there were two chores that needed to be performed before we could get started the following morning: Eric and I volunteered to scout the approach and Barry and Alan volunteered to fetch water. Eric and I gave Barry and Alan all our water carrying vessels and set off. There were two sections of the approach that needed to be figured out so we could ascend them the next morning in the dark without wasting time. The first was a just a couple hundred feet from the high camp. There was a section of steep scrambling to accomplish in order to gain a ridge and it took Eric and I several tries, at several different routes, before we found a relatively easy one. After this first section of scrambling we found a cairned climbers trail that ran uphill below another ridge and we followed this until it petered out. After the trail petered out it looked like there was no choice but to scramble up some 4th class ledges to easier ground above.
Eric and I continued scouting up the trail but it appeared the route finding difficulties were behind us. We following a well-trodden trail uphill through low, twisted pines until it exited the pines into a tundra and talus-strewn slope. We could pretty much see all the way to the Drizzlepuss-West Horn saddle and in retrospect we probably should have ended our scouting mission there and returned to camp. Instead we opted to continue our upward progress. With the objective of the Drizzlepuss-West Horn saddle and the view of the CMC Route it would afford, we could not be dissuaded from our goal.
It took us about another hour to descend to camp and Barry and Alan were getting a little concerned about us being away so long. We reported what we'd seen, fixed some dinner, and sorted out our kit for an alpine start the next morning. We went to bed early but I had a little trouble falling asleep. My mind was racing with the vision of the huge face, warnings about route finding, and of course the fatal error of not making it to the summit by 11:00. Eventually I dozed off.
The Climb - September 5, 2005The alarm went of at 03:00 and we slowly woke up and got our stuff together. We were on the trail by 03:45 and were thankful that Eric and I had figured out the best route for the approach up to Drizzlepuss. As always, the elevation gain just melted away in the dark and we made it up to the summit of Drizzlepuss in two hours. We were a little surprised by our rapid progress and the fact that it was still totally dark. Without being able to see what we were doing we couldn't negotiate the tricky downclimb and the rappel into the notch between Drizzlepuss and the face. Instead we hunkered down in the shelter of some boulders, turned our faces to the east, and waited for the sunrise. It was a little chilly up there but after I'd gotten all my clothing on I was comfortable enough to doze off a bit. I was feeling pretty drowsy and I worried that I might have burned too many matches the day before. The nap felt good though and I awoke about 45 minutes later feeling refreshes as the other guys sorted out their gear.
We all transitioned from our approach footwear to climbing shoes (expect for Alan and his Nike Cindercones) for the downclimb into the notch. My climbing shoes were stiff and a little painful to put on since I hadn't worn them for about two months. I wasn't sure my feet would survive the whole day in them, but at the same time I didn't want to haul my big old Vasque Sundowners up the mountain. While I was struggling with what to do I noticed that it didn't appear Barry was going to take his Adidas cross trainers with him. I asked if he was going to take them and what size his feet were. Luckily our feet were about the same size and he didn't mind if I took his shoes. I strapped Barry's shoes onto the back of my pack and we began the downclimb into the notch. (Taking Barry's shoes with me was one of the smartest things I've ever done. My feet wouldn't have survived the day without them and I'm so thankful Barry let me borrow his shoes. If I hadn't been able to use Barry's shoes I hope I would have been smart enough to carry my boots. If I'd decided to go with only my climbing shoes I might still be up there on the mountain. In the future I'll either have to get more comfortable rock shoes for alpine stuff or a pair of approach shoes I can trust.)
As Barry was getting ready to set off we could swear we heard voices coming from below us. We weren't sure at first and we struggled to hear them again and look for climbers below us. To our surprise one did pop up several hundred feet below us. Naturally we were curious as to what route they were doing and where they were heading. They had done the Direct South Buttress the day before but during the rappels off the summit both of their headlamps had failed and they had been forced to bivy on the face (east of the Black Dike I believe). When it had gotten light enough to continue they had proceeded with their descent down to Ice Fall Glacier, crossed the top of the glacier, and were now searching for the notch and Drizzlepuss. We were able to direct them to the notch as we climbed away.
The rock on the lower section of the face was a joy to climb on. It was largely slab climbing with huge crystals for confidence-inspiring footholds, but it also contained lots of cracks and small flakes for bomber handholds. All my anxieties and fears melted away as I climbed upward. The climbing was easy and fun so that I didn't have to concentrate on the moves to much. This allowed me to focus on placing protection and just having fun!
I sorted out the protection and set off. Immediately after I passed Barry the slope of the face relaxed and I ended up walking across a very low angle slap for a hundred feet or so to the entrance of a gully that was not much more than a hundred feet away from the Black Dike. I made the mistake of placing a piece of pro in an awkward spot as I made the first few moves into the gully and this caused me some severe rope drag until Barry could get up to that spot and clean it for me. I dragged the rope up behind me into the gully which was mostly 4th class punctuated by an awkward 5th class move past the occasional chockstone. I progress up the gully until I ran out of pro and then set up a belay to bring Barry up. By this time my feet were beginning to hurt me a bit. Actually, I was a little surprised that I had done so well and in general my feet were okay. The main problem was that it felt like the shoes were rubbing and creating blisters on the backs of my heal. When Barry joined me at the belay I took the opportunity to put some moleskin on my heels and have a Snickers Bar snack. Up until this point I had been subsisting solely on PowerGels which were doing the trick but the Snickers Bar tasted great.
The next rappel was a 200-footer and it was steep enough, and went over an overhang, that we couldn't see what was below or if it would lead to another rappel station. Eric volunteered to rappel it first and disappeared over the edge. However, when the rope was tossed it got pretty well tangled and we could hear Eric cursing it as he worked the knots out. Eventually he made his way down to the final rappel station. The three of us followed.
Alan volunteered to make the final rappel first. Again, we couldn't see the bottom very well and weren't sure if there was another rappel after this or if it was downclimbing time. Alan disappeared over the edge and made his way down. He found a final rap station but radioed up to us that it looked like if he continued down a little more he could find a place to start the downclimb instead of making another rappel. He explored the options and a few minutes later radioed that we should rappel all the way to the end of the rope and begin our downclimb from there. Barry rapped down next and then it was my turn. When I made it down to Barry Alan had already taken off on the downclimb. Since I was already carrying most of the rack Barry stayed behind to carry the rope after Eric made it down.
Before I set off after Alan I switched back to my rock climbing shoes. Essentially we were downclimbing the traverse below Unsoeld's Needle we had made that morning. Alan followed the exact path we had come up and after he'd made it about two thirds of the way across he radioed back that this was probably not the best way. He recommended the rest of us traverse below. I found my way to the notch that we had crossed during the first pitch this morning and instead of staying high across the slabs I traversed down below them. The terrain I found below was more fairly steep slabs broken by the occasional ledge. The exposure wasn't terrific, but it got your attention just the same. If you fell you probably wouldn't fall all the way down to the glacier, but I didn't want to find out either. I made careful progress traversing steep slabs and narrow ledges toward Drizzlepuss. After a while I saw Alan downclimbing near the end of the traverse so that his route intersected my own - I knew I was on the right track. I watched Alan climb up a short steep slab and he was in the notch. I looked back to make sure Barry and Eric could see the route I had taken and assured them that it would go. I turned back toward the notch and finished the traverse to join Alan. Eric and Barry showed up shortly afterward.
The climb up Drizzlepuss gave me a whole new respect for Eric's climbing prowess. The moves hadn't been terribly difficult, but the route finding had been. The distances between ledges were long enough that you couldn't see from one to the other. It must have taken quite a bit of courage to pull some of those moves not knowing if there were holds above or anywhere to go. I'm glad I got to follow that pitch!
It was great to be down in camp after such a successful day but we had one more challenge to surmount before we could eat some food and collapse in bed - we were totally out of water. Nobody wanted to hike all the way over to the stream coming out of the glacier, but at the same time we all needed water pretty badly. Eric and Barry volunteered to take the filter down to the wet rocks not far from camp and see if they could pump some water out of the tiny pools. While they were gone I organized my kit and call my wife to tell her I'd made it down safely. Shortly after Eric and Barry returned with enough water to see us through the night until we could hike out to the gully the following morning. We ate a little dinner and then retired to our tents for some much deserved sleep.
The Descent - September 6, 2005[img:125332:alignleft:small:Almost beer & pizza time!]We slept in relatively late the next morning and began hiking out at about 8:00am. The hike down was uneventful but a real slog. It took us about two and half hours to get down to Leigh Lake as opposed to the four hours it took us to reach CMC Camp on the way up. Once we got down to the canoes it felt great to rinse three days worth of sweat off in the brisk waters of Leigh Lake.
For the canoe trip back to the cars Barry talked me into steering. Consequently our progress wasn't quite as straight and efficient as it could have been. I'm sure from the shore we looked like a bunch of drunken canoers with my wild, zigzag course. Nevertheless we made it across Leigh Lake, the quick portage to String Lake, and then across String Lake to the cars. We loaded up the canoes and set off for Jackson. It was time to celebrate our success!
We decided to go straight into Jackson to drop of the canoes. After that we headed over to Snake River Brewery for some beer and pizza. With our thirst and hunger momentarily quenched we then headed back to the Climbers Ranch for some showers. We searched for our grumpy friend from a couple of mornings ago to ask him how "the alpine world" was during our absence but we never saw him again.
The reason this trip report is dragging on is that the guys insisted I put the final amusing episode of the day into the trip report. After we got showered up at the Climbers Ranch we headed over to Dornans for some more beer and food. We sat out on the patio that affords awesome view of the central Tetons. Joining us on the patio was quite a character. This geezer had to be pushin' 70 and looked to homeless. Our waitress said he bought a bottle of beer so they couldn't (or wouldn't) kick him out. Anyway, he sat at a corner table whittling on a big stick and attempting to strike up strange conversations with whomever he could get to listen to him. At one point he tried to tell Barry that the Pope had climbed the Matterhorn or something like that. Anywho, at one point in the evening this geezer was chatting up a mother/daughter pair who where sitting at the adjoining table. The daughter was making pleading looks at us, probably wanting to be rescued from this weirdo. Well Barry looks over and this guys tattered running shorts had ridden up and one giant testicle was hanging out. Barry of course pointed this out to us right away and only Eric had the will power not to look. In hindsight I'm not sure why this was so funny, but at the time none of us could stop laughing. Of course once we'd seen the sight it was like a car wreck - you don't want to look, but you can't help it. And man - this was one giant nut! It was just hanging there swaying in the breeze. We continued to periodically crack jokes about this geezer and his nut and bust out into hysterical laughter. Well finally the mother/daughter pair had enough and left. We informed the waitress of the offense and though she was personally disgusted by it she wouldn't say anything to the dude and management wouldn't either. Finally, as evening set in and it began to get cool, we decided to retire from the patio and move inside. As we left Alan said, "Hey pops - you're hanging out." Without, batting an eye, saying a word, or pausing for an instant he quickly reached down and rearranged himself.
So that's the story - In the alpine world... be on the summit by 11:00 or YOU'RE FUCKED... and good ol' one-nut pops.
The climb was fun too.