Mount Moran

Ok so I have to download my experiences this week in the Teton Range. I’m still just training for my primary objective here which I do in four weeks known as the The Grand Traverse. The Grand Traverse is 72 hours of climbing and moving over exposed and committing alpine terrain across the top peaks of the range (Teewinot, Mt Owen, The Grand, Middle Teton, South Teton, Cloudveil Dome, Ice Cream Cone, Gilkey Tower, Spalding Peak, and Nez Perce).

In preparation for that, this week I summited Disappointment Peak and Mt Moran.
Disappointment Peak is so named because on the first ascent the team of climbers thought they were summiting The Grand, and upon reach the peak realized that they were on a different peak with The Grand still towering over them. From the top of Disappointment I was able to see most of the Grand Traverse.

Upon landing at Jackson Hole airport I was actually terrified (and thrilled) to see how impossibly large these mountains are! I selected them based on photos and route descriptions I found online, but to stand before them towering 6000 vertical feet above you from the valley floor and contemplate climbing them took the wind out of my chest.

Yesterday I set out with my friend Tim Brown, a 20 year veteran mountain guide and all around sweet human being to summit Mt. Moran. Moran is the most massive mountain on the northern side of the Teton range. Due to it’s sheer massiveness and difficult approach it is usually done as an overnight trip over three days but Tim and I set out to do it in one day, moving fast and carrying minimum gear.

The park service hasn’t maintained trails to Mt Moran for over 20 years so in order to get to the mountain you have to canoe across String Lake and carry the canoe across a small landmass into Leigh Lake and then canoe for another few miles to the base of Moran. According to the guidebook Mt. Moran is so massive and difficult that much of it has likely still not been climbed or fully explored. A 1950 plane crash that killed everyone on board hit the mountain in such an extreme location that none of the wreckage or bodies have ever been recovered.

We met up in the pitch dark yesterday morning at 1am and put our canoe in under a crystal clear star-filled sky. With no moon the Milky Way wrapped the night like a halo. Our spirits were high, we were both inspired to be attempting the full ascent in one day. As we drew nearer to our landing site at the foot of the mountain I was glad I couldn’t see it’s towering hulk above, only a sheet of blackness blocking out the stars.

After stashing our canoe in the bushes, the approach up the base of the mountain was immediately brutal: clamoring over boulders and rock detritus that had been ejected down the mountain with extreme force during violent annual avalanches. The hike up the rocky stream is an immediate punch in the face straight uphill, high altitude, every step counts.

We followed the rudimentary climbers trail for about 4 miles up 3000 vertical feet in the predawn darkness to a cirque with a small snow melt stream and the camp most climbers use when attempting the summit. We refilled our water and bypassed 4 or 5 tents of sleeping climbers, stashing our trekking poles and a few other items we wouldn’t want on the climb.

As dawn began to break the trail became a scramble up 3rd and 4th class terrain as we worked our way toward the side of an incredible rock feature called the West Horn carved out by one of the active glaciers on Moran, Falling Ice Glacier.

Finally at the top of the hiking portion we looked down over a sea of clouds in the early morning light. About to launch into the first real climbing over a dark, cold and gloomy feature known as Drizzlepuss. Drizzlepuss is a foreboding down climb into a notch between the main climb on the east face of Moran first established by Paul Petzoldt of the Chicago Mountaineering Club in 1941. We deviated from the standard route and made our own way up the 1000 plus feet to the broad summit plateau.

At 10:30am we finally arrived on the summit. The morning had bloomed into a near perfect summer day in the high and peaceful alpine,the mood of the mountain had softened but it’s overwhelming immensity prevailed.

From the summit we could actually see Old Faithful some thirty miles to the north in Yellowstone. To the east we could just make out the peaks of the Wind River Range while the bulk of the Tetons spread out around us to the west and south. The northern part of the Tetons beyond Moran don’t see much human action, the protected and remote peaks are home to grizzlies and many other wild species.

What struck me more than anything about this summit was the sheer complexity and mass of the rock: the unbelievable sculpture in chaos, mineral and time. The vastness of the scale of just one mountain I had never even heard of, in just one range in America. We live in a time when the world feels increasingly small, where all nooks and crannies have been mapped by satellite, my childhood dreams of discovering new lands by sea long abandoned for more humdrum pursuits. On the summit of Mt. Moran I was overcome by humility, by the magnitude of my own smallness and transience in time and space. The exposure and animalistic fear you feel dangling on a rope over the abyss brings me face to face with my fragility. I am still processing this experience and can hardly wait to be back in the Tetons.

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