Located west of Mt. Moran, and approached from the wild and seldom-visited Leigh Canyon, Thor Peak serves up adventure, commitment, and the opportunity to climb virtually alone in a range too often known for crowds. And while it's not one of the most prominent Tetons, Thor Peak is not to be underestimated.
At 12,028', it's one of the few peaks in the park to break over 12,000 in elevation, and the rock and snow routes are generally good quality. The summit of Thor offers intrepid climbers an amazing panorama of the range, with stunning views into the heart of the Tetons to the south, and the vast wilderness of Yellowstone to the north. But few climbers visiting the Tetons enjoy this view, likely due to Thor's remote location, difficult approach, and proximity to the neighboring Mt. Moran.
Thor Peak is located in the northern end of Grand Teton National Park. To get to Grand Teton National Park, fly into Jackson Hole Airport, rent a car from one of many services available, and head north. In no time you'll be in Moose, WY, where you'll turn left to enter the park. In Moose you'll find the newly constructed visitor center, as well as Dornan's, a Teton instutition which offers food, gear, and the requisite post-climb watering hole. The visitor center offers maps and knowledgeable rangers to help you get oriented.
Thor Peak itself is approached from Leigh Canyon, via Leigh Lake. Venturing into Leigh Canyon requires a different level of commitment that you'll need for most other Teton objectives. There is no maintained trail within the canyon proper, and unless you lust after long bushwhack approaches with a heavy pack, you'll need a canoe to simply get to the mouth of the canyon. Canoe rentals are available at Dornan's Adventure Sports
in Moose, and Jackson has several outfitters who rent canoes as well.
Once you have your canoe it's a straightforward paddle (and portage) to the far western shores of Leigh Lake. If you can't rent a canoe, you can approach with much more effort from the String Lake trailhead on foot. Contouring around both the north and south shores of Leigh Lake will get you there, but require lots of off-trail travel.
From the mouth of the canyon, follow a faint climber's trail on the north side of the creek. Intermittent cairns mark the way as far as the talus slope below Laughing Lion Falls on Mt. Moran. Once here, continue west while trending up above the thick vegetation on the valley bottom. Depending on your route, you'll either turn uphill directly below the east face, or continue up the canyon until you reach the steep valley on the west side of the peak.
Entrance into Grand Teton National Park costs $20 for one week, and this pass is also good for Yellowstone National Park. While this will get you on the roads, you'll need to get a backcountry permit for camping at either Leigh Lake or a bivy permit for camping further into Leigh Canyon. Backcountry permits are free, but are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you're planning to camp on the lakeshore, call the rangers at either Jenny Lake Ranger Station or at Moose Ranger Station for availability of the site. If you're planning to bivy in Leigh Canyon, permits should pose no problem.
You'll also need a boat permit for your canoe. If you rent from Dornan's, those boats should already have the necessary permits. If you are bringing your own boat, you can get boat permits from Moose or Colter Bay. Boat permits are available for one week ($15) or for the entire season ($20).
Additional detailed information about red tape in Grand Teton National Park can be found on Alan Ellis' excellent Grand Teton page
Camping is readily available in developed sites on the west shore of Leigh Lake. Sites have fire pits and bear storage boxes, but these are some of the most popular places in the park for campers. Be sure you call ahead to find out about availability. Again, make sure you have the appropriate permits.
If Thor is your main objective, you can also bivy up in Leigh Canyon. There is a nice bivy boulder just below the Direct South Buttress of Mt. Moran, and further up the canyon there are some decent sites just below the talus slope leading up to Thor's east face. Be sure you have the proper bear storage for food, as park regulations require plastic bear containers for backcountry travelers who camp under 10,000'. Free bear storage canisters are available in the Jenny Lake Ranger Station. More information on the specific details of backcountry camping in the park can be found on the park website
When to climb
Late spring through early fall will provide the best conditions for an ascent of Thor Peak. Early season attempts will have to wait until Leigh Lake thaws, and will see wet rock. Late season attemps will see potentially very little snow high on the mountain, although this is probably a good time for the rock routes on the east face. A winter ascent of Thor is something very few people will do, given the remote nature of the peak and the challenge of winter road closures.
While not a standard trip for the local guide services, you may be able to book an individual trip with one of the following:
Exum Mountain Guides
Jackson Hole Mountain Guides
Grand Teton National Park website
A Climber's Guide to the Teton Range
, by Leigh Ortenburger and Reynold Jackson