The Teton spell
Back in 2000 I was driving down highway 191 that leads from the south end of Yellowstone. Yellowstone was okay I said to myself as I drove. Out of nowhere came these huge mountains that I did not even know existed. I checked the map, the Tetons, hmmm. Even though my love for mountains was still young, I knew I would be back. I just sat on a picnick table and stared over Jackson Lake for some time...
The time came to climb the Tetons. So I called my buddy Seth in Colorado. Ready to climb?
Seth and I knew we were going to climb the Upper Exum on the Grand and hopefully the Complete Exum. But we had a week, what to do? Through research, one mountain caught my attention, Moran. The excellent & hilarious trip report by Andy
and great video by Alan Ellis
along with the photo’s of the mountain hooked me. I had also realized that it was Moran that first drew my attention back in 2000.
I told Seth of the idea and he was apprehensive at first. He wanted to do Owen and South Teton, which I’m sure would have been awesome but I finally convinced him through perseverance that Moran was the one.
I had been training at the Gunk’s regularly for technical climbing. It was my first season with the rope and harness but not my first experience with exposed climbing. I started leading just before leaving for the trip and I found another mountain activity to love.
I flew to Denver and Seth picked me up. We made our way through Wyoming to Togawatee Pass and were greeted with a Teton Sunset.
Moran center - the Grand is the tallest of the three on the left
We decided it would be the Gros Ventre campground for our night's stay, a large camping area that was close enough to everything and was almost guaranteed to have openings, and it did. We turned in early as tomorrow was to be the approach to the Grand.
We got our permits, chatted with the rangers and made a stop into Jackson for some grubb and last minute stuff then over to the Lupine Meadows trail head. The plan was to do the Grand in three days. I am no fan of those super quick, one day ascents. I like to camp and have a good time and Seth would be content to spend any amount of time just out in the wilderness.
I was surprised to find the first part of the trail paved. Wow, I guess it gets a lot of use or maybe it was too rocky for the many water bottle yielding tourists. Up we went, the trail was not really that steep. Past the switchbacks and to a bouldery area just before the meadows. The bouldery area was fun! The Garnet Creek was flowing well along the side of the trail and the temperatures were well above normal.
What to do in a situation like this? Swim! The water was beyond cold and we could feel with our bare feet that the pebbles at the bottom of the creek were still frozen together! But very refreshing nonetheless.
We continued onward past the meadows as our permits were for the caves. Seth had wanted to camp at the meadows but by the end of the trip we both knew the caves were a great location. When we reached the caves there was a couple of good ole boys who had just climbed the Upper Exum. We chatted with them for a while and got some good beta. Their years of climbing experience showed without them having to say too much and it was good to be in their company. They went on their way as we proceeded to setup camp. It was a great spot with excellent views and a cozy feeling. As the sun set in the west, the moon began to rise in the east. It was a full red moon and as it rose above the distant hills it changed shape until it was free in the sky.
Red moon rising
Day three-summit day
It was dark and early. Seth and I had prepared our gear the night before so we snacked and were on our way. As we made our way past the moraine, we could see the snow fields ahead.
The rangers as well as a few other people had told us we did not need our crampons or axes. We were searching for the Lower Exum and could not see the chock stone chimney. Seth had done the lower exum before but had approached it from the upper saddle so we decided to go to the saddle and get a better perspective from there.
True to our roots, always looking for a different way, we ended up climbing the snowfield to the right of the normal route. The only way up was to jamb ourselves between the rock and the snow. It was sort of like a low angle off-width climb with snow on one side and rock on the other. We made it to the trail that leads to the Lower Exum but still could not see the chock stone chimney. Seth mentioned that we were probably too close to the route to be able too see it and that the last time he was here, he saw it from the normal trail at the upper saddle, the section that we just by-passed. So after a while of exposed class four climbing with no luck, we decided to make our way up to wall street and get going on the Upper Exum.
As we reached the top of wall street we began tying into the rope and organizing our gear. A guided group came up behind us and was doing the same. I led us past the step onto the Exum ridge, wohoo! the climbing has begun.
Seth leading the V-pitch
The pitches were a lot of fun, I could see why this is a classic route. The two pitches I remember the most are the friction pitch which I led and the V-pitch which Seth led. It was a blast!
My follow on the V-pitch
Towards the summit, my energy was deteriorating but we made it and took a nice break on the lofty summit of the Grand. I felt like we were in space! The Grand just towers over everything else around it! The guided party had passed us earlier while we did variations of the climb and we had the summit to ourselves.
Seth on the summit
On the descent of the Owens Spaulding route we had found one rappel station but we were unsure if it was the one because it was so shady! The exposure was considerable and it was right above a downward slanting ledge with questionable footing. Later we found that this was the correct one but we ended up doing a double rappel following another party who let us jump on their rope. The stance was no better here. Seth knew one of the guys from this party so we all descended together chatting about our climbs. These guys were camped at the upper saddle and were going to break camp and hike out. We parted ways and told them to stop by our campsite at the caves on their way down.
The way down from the upper saddle was interesting. Since we had no ice axes, glissading was out. We followed a rocky path with some down climbing which led to huge rope that assisted us in getting down a short fifth class section. This rope was a monster! Like the ones used to moor ocean liners. Whoever carried that thing up was one strong dude!. I continued down the moraine rocks while Seth chose to boot-ski and do some kind of alternative butt glissade. It was fun watching him rocket down the established snow chute, he gained quite a bit of distance on me.
As we approached our camp at the caves the sun was setting and the shadows of the Teton range were growing on the valley floor, it was great. When we got to camp I couldn’t figure out if I needed to eat or rest, I was that tired but eventually mustered the energy to boil a pot of water for my mountain house dinner. Falling asleep was not an issue.
We took our time getting up, had a nice hot breakfast and had everything packed up by around eleven. We took our time hiking out and appreciated the views of the Nez Perce and the surrounding area. We even saw a grouse who waddled in front of us while we were hiking for a quarter mile before stepping to the side of the trail and hiding while we walked past. There was some trail talk about a baby grizzly but we were not lucky enough? To see it. As we neared the Lupine meadows trail head parking lot we saw more tourists and less climbers. I wondered how Moran would differ.
We needed showers and knew the climbers ranch had them. When we got to the ranch we made the decision to stay there as we needed rest and there were cabins available. I knew we needed a canoe for Moran so I asked the dude in the office of the climbers ranch if he knew any good places to rent canoes. He said there was one in Moose and a few in Jackson, he told us the going rate was about $40 to $60 a day. Surprised at this, I asked him is there any way we could get one cheaper. No is all he said. When I mentioned we were going to climb Moran, his whole story changed. Well so-an-so has a canoe that he lends out to climbers
for a lesser fee he explained. Great I said. He told us to stop by tomorrow and he would see what he could do.
After showering, Seth and I hung out in the communal area of the ranch. Seth was teaching me some kind of dice game and a few people joined us. Before we knew it, it was 12 am. We were bunked with a very nice Asian fellow we had met earlier. he was asleep when we got to the cabin. Around 3 am I was woken by this ungodly noise. It was the Asian dude with one of the most unusual and abstract snores I will ever experience. It would start off as a low snore and with every breath it would get progressively louder until it was a vicious, earth shattering, window breaking snorting clatter that sounded something like experiencing an earthquake and a hurricane at the same time. Then with the next breath it would go back to the original low snore and escalate all over agian. This cycle continued for some time and I couldn’t take it for much longer so I asked Seth, What should we do?. Seth got up and woke him up, almost scaring him to death, told him of his atrocities and luckily that was the end of that but the damage was already done, I had lost precious sleep and always have trouble falling asleep again. BRING EARPLUGS TO COMMUNITY PLACES!
Today was a rest day (thankfully) and we were to meet up with my buddy Paul who was concluding a three month climbing trip out west with our climb of Moran. We picked him up in Jackson and went out for a good hot breakfast and made our way to the rangers station for the permits. The rangers were excited that we were climbing Moran and asked us to report back about the water supply up at the CMC camp. Their enthusiasm about our climb made me feel like we made the right choice in climbing Moran, they seemed to light up when they spoke of it and it sent us off with a good vibe.
After securing our permits, we were off to the climbers ranch to find out about the canoe. When we pulled up, there she was hanging from the roof of a front porch of one of the cabins. She was a beauty, much bigger than the rentals with padded seats and a plastic? Hull, much nicer than those tinny ones. We went inside the office to settle up and Seth inquired about free camping in the area. The guy there pointed us in the right direction and we were off. We had purchased some nice straps which worked well securing the canoe to Seth’s subaru. All was good with a little help from our friends.
We reached the free camping area which was a long dirt road that lead up a large hill into a forest area. The campsites were off the main road on little side roads. We spent a great deal of time searching for and finding the ultimate campsite far up the hill and deep in the woods. It had a fire pit, plenty of trees with shade and an excellent view of the Teton range. Pleased with this find, we proceeded to setup our tents, tarps and sprawled out our gear to prepare for Moran.
As soon as our car was completely unloaded a car speeds up shooting up all kinds of dust, with two girls in it and “don’t stop believin” by Journey blasting on their stereo. They get out of the car, each of them yielding a six-pack of brew. Seth Paul and myself looked at each other, dumbfounded. Before too long a Volkswagen bus drives up and two dudes step out. They all proceed to say hello, shove some of our stuff off a log near the fire pit (to sit down) and tell us about the HUGE fourth of July party that was about to go down in this very location!
I couldn’t believe it! Out of all the campsites along this road, it had to be this one. Well that explains all those weird signs and arrows that led directly to this area.. We should have known, shit I thought it was some kind of family reunion or something! I was PISSED! You see I had already lost enough sleep the night before from captain Saki and his snoring. We all knew we had to move camp. A few hours later, we found ourselves sitting back with a great view of the mountains and a calming Teton sunset.
Another Teton sunset
Ahhhh, the day I have been waiting for, the start of our Moran trip. As we drove down the bumpy dirt forest road away from camp, we all wondered how the canoe stayed put on the roof of the subaru. We arrived at the String Lake boat launch and prepared our gear. Seth had brought an inflatable kayak and chose to take that while Paul and I would take the Gear in the canoe.
String Lake was crystal clear and we could see the bottom the entire time with large fish swimming by occasionally.
Teewinot & the Grand from String Lake
The trip across String Lake was great and the portage was not so bad.
Moran from near the portage on Leigh Lake
Leigh Lake was considerably larger and as we paddled onward, the views of Moran became menacing.
Seth paddling under Moran from Leigh Lake
I just loved this mountain! The features were just amazing,, how it just rose up 6000 feet from the lake and the east & west horns along with the falling ice glacier and the immense black dike. These features were with us the entire trip and just got better as we climbed!
Ready to hike!
When we arrived at the base of the glacial runoff, we took a well deserved dip into Leigh Lake. The water was awesome and it was good to be able to cool off before the non-stop, relentless climb to the CMC camp. The temperature was above normal again and it was difficult to part with the lake. The hike to camp, although constant, was nice. We could look up at the features of Moran or down at Leigh Lake, which was growing increasingly smaller.
Paul & Seth hiking up Moran The east & west horns along with the black dike
The camp was beautiful and there was a unique view of the Grand along with views of both Leigh and Jackson lakes. The marmots were out in full force and were hanging close to camp. They were skinnier than the ones on the Grand. They did us no harm, YET.
Day seven-summit day
The grand around sunrise
Dark & early again, I guess around 4:30, we were on our way. The day before, Seth had scouted out most of the climb to Drizzlepuss so route finding was not an issue..As the sun came up, we were greeted with several gifts.
Sun rising above the east horn
The views of and from this mountain are quite unique. As we reached the saddle between the west horn and drizzlepuss we could see both the falling ice glacier and the CMC face in full, it was awesome!
Paul with the CMC face
Seth dared to peer over the edge of drizzlepuss and turned white. I tried to calm him down and eventually we found our way down the super exposed class four down climb to the rapp station.
Our climb, the CMC face along with the black dike
Once down, we were committed, it was a good feeling, knowing the climbing was about to begin! Paul led the first few pitches and then I took the lead for a little while.
Belaying Paul on the CMC face
The climbing was excellent! It was easier than I expected but a lot of fun. As we neared the top, the black dike loomed above and the rocks of the dike actually took on a red hue.
Once on the summit we dropped our packs and began the celebration. It was a great climb and the views were magnificent!
The Grand from Moran's summit The east & west horns with the falling ice glacier from the very edge of the black dike. Leigh Lake far below
We hung out, snacked, took some pictures and said goodbye to Moran’s mighty summit. The rangers had told us that most of the face can be down climbed until you reach unsoeld’s needle. We found this to be true. I was surprised at this but glad we only had to do three rappel’s as the rope kept getting all tangled due to the angle of the face.
Back at drizzlepuss, Paul led the 5.4 ascent and I was the last one up over the hump. I certainly had my fill of climbing! It took what seemed like my last bit of strength to finish the pitch. I was glad it was all downhill from there.
The final pull on drizzlepuss. Do I look tired?
When we reached camp we found a few odd happenings had occurred. There were tooth marks in our gear! Turns out Marmots like salt, in fact they liked it so much that they took a bite out of one of my hiking pole handles and from the sole of one of Paul’s Keen’s. Also, since we left our tent open so that they wouldn’t chew through it looking for food, they meandered inside and took a few bites out of our sleeping bags! I just sighed and grabbed the duct tape so I wouldn’t lose any more down.
We had no plan except to sleep in, recover, and wake up whenever. That was until the whole forest heard Seth yell out, "You bit me! you Bastard!" It was around 6 am and I had no Idea what the hell was going on. I asked Seth if he was all right and he proceeds to tell us that he just got bit on his arm by a marmot! But that wasn't all, the way the story goes is that before he woke up, he felt this warm furry thing licking his arm. Was it a dream, I don't think so. That son of a bitch was goin for the salt! Should we bring a salt lick to camp next time! I dunno! Thankfully, he is alright, but look out, those Moran marmots are tough! and think twice about staying under a tarp, at least here! Maybe CMC means Crazy Marmot Camp!
It was a little sad breaking down camp, knowing it was the end of a week in the Tetons but we were grateful for the good weather and the successful summits. Back at Leigh Lake we took another swim and spotted a huge school of fish swimming around the rocks we were sitting on. It was neat to watch them swim together in a slow unison through the crystal clear water. We spotted a kayak coming towards us and it turned out to be a ranger. I thought she was going to yell at us for swimming but in fact she asked us to jump in and dislodge the rudder of her boat. We talked with the ranger for a little while and went on our way.
Back at string lake it was a circus full of people swimming and yelling and walking along the shore. I remembered, it was fourth of July weekend. It sure was a major change from the solitude we found on Moran. We saw no one during the entire 3 days on the mountain.
On the summit of Moran