Mt. Moran via the ridge variation of the CMC route
Moran. Note the dark line of the Black dike above and left of the skillet glacier. The CMC route climbs the face left of the Black Dike.
Martin and Morresa Meyer and Paul Morgan joined me for a climb of Mt. Moran.
Martin had gone up Moran over a decade ago, but one of his companions got altitude sickness and the other had his boots blow out, so Martin only got to summit the first bump on the climb, a bump with the less than dazzling name of "Drizzlepuss." From the top he had a spectacular view of the CMC route. He thought "I could solo that!" But luckily, he didn't.
I've always wanted to climb Moran and Paul Morgan and Morresa are known to enjoy adventures, so this trip was born.
Martin did not speak lightly of the difficulties of getting up Moran. On his last attempt, he had bushwhacked around Leigh Lake and then struggled up a 3000 foot high, steep, talus slope populated with loose boulders the size of your head to reach the CMC camp at 10,000 feet.
So we showed up at the ranger station early and picked up the last permit available to climb Moran. The ranger was surprised that there were so many groups on a mountain with such a tough approach. He warned us that it had been a dry summer and so the spring at the CMC camp was dry. This was a good warning. We brought water bags to use to haul water from the outlet stream of the Skillet glacier to our camp.
We decided to avoid the fierce bushwhack by renting canoes and paddling across the lakes to reach the base of the climb. Martin told us this was a great idea and worth every dollar of the rental fee for the canoes. The guidebook said to allow about 90 minutes to paddle from the String Lake launch site to the base of Moran, the canoe rental guys said 3 hours. We told them that we were all good paddlers, it took us an hour.
As we unloaded the canoes at the String Lake launch site we met a friendly group of schoolteachers and guides who were also off to climb Moran, they had one canoe and four people. After a little chat we took one of them in our two canoes, it turned out great, she was a raft guide and could really paddle. Unfortunately, all that Paul and I got was her pack which didn't help paddle at all. We canoed the length of String lake, then did a 20 rod (320 foot) long portage followed by a longer paddle across Leigh Lake. The weather god was with us and there was no headwind.
We lifted our canoes up onto the shore, loaded up our packs and started up the talus field that towered above us.
We did pretty good for people from sea level, hiking up to the CMC camp in 3 hours. We even kept up with the last person of the guide group. Martin noted that the climbers trail was now much better than it had been a decade ago with steep packed dirt replacing a lot of the loose talus blocks.
On the way up the trail I calculated the number of years we had all been doing technical climbing: all together the four of us had 104 years of experience.
There was a huge crowd at the CMC campsites, all the good sites were taken. So we moved out into the open meadow sites. The spring was dry, so Martin and Paul made a run over to the Skillet glacier to get water, while Morresa set up the dinner and I scouted the trail for the morning. The guides had been on the mountain before and gave me valuable route beta for the approach. I chose to go up the rock ridge and found it to be a pleasant third class scramble, although the route finding would be hard in the dark.
As we cooked dinner groups of climbers came down from Moran. One group had made it up Drizzlepuss, taken one look at the climb and turned around. Most had summited. We surveyed them about their departure time and decided to get up at 5:30 AM and to depart just as it got light enough to hike without headlamps at 6:30 AM. During the night wind gusts roared through our camp. One violent gust blew down the megamid tent. Martin rolled it into a pile, put a boulder on it and then everyone rolled over and went back to sleep.
The guides had left at 4:30 AM and another group of two teachers departed at 5:30, we wondered if they knew something we didn't. It looked like a good day to climb.
Even though the snowfield was completely gone, we kept to the ridge and found the third class scrambling to be fine.
The views were pretty spectacular as we reached the col below Drizzlepuss.
We stopped for a snack at the col, put on our climbing shoes and harnesses, got out the racks and the ropes and scrambled to the top of Drizzlepuss. The wall ahead looked wonderful, lots and lots of clean rock. The descent down Drizzlepuss looked a lot harder. But Martin remembered the way. From the summit, we stepped left to a notch Martin lead down placing pro. Morresa and Paul followed and then I lead last removing his pro. The downclimbing was easy fifth class and ended at a one rope rappel into the col between Drizzlepuss and Moran. We worried about the rappel. Climbing back up it would be the crux of the entire climb and would happen at the end of the day.
The wide face above us looked like it had many easy routes on it. The guides had already topped out. The two teachers were 4 pitches up. The leader was hanging on pro doing something when the pro pulled and he fell. That sure got us thinking. How hard was it that the leader had to hang on pro and then take a fall. Later, we found out that he was hanging on pro to put on his climbing shoes to ascend a friction slab that he just couldn't do in his sneakers.
Morresa leads out onto the face of Moran after the 5.2 traverse.
We traversed a 5.2 slab pitch then reached the face of Moran itself. After a couple of pitches on the face Martin and I both decided to head left and do the alternate arete route. There was great exposure on the arete and the route finding would be simple. We climbed up and left to the arete finding just enough holds and protection to make the climbing fun. We reached the arete at a pile of slings which is used for rappelling back down the route.
Martin leads up to the arete variation of the CMC route on Mt. Moran.
Morresa, Paul, Martin on the arete.
Nelson's needle behind them with the shadowy face of Drizzlepuss behind it.
We climbed for several pitches up the arete and had great fun doing it. The climbing was not too hard, the protection was fine, the weather was good and the companions were enjoyable. A great day in the mountains.
As we climbed the arete the guides group rappelled down the face below us, making us glad we had chosen the arete.
Near the top of the arete we took off the ropes and third-classed our way over to the black dike and then up to the summit which we reached at 1 PM. After climbing on igneous rock all day it was amazing to find the summit made of blocks of sandstone.
The views of the Tetons from the summit were great. But we knew we couldn't stay long, particularly since a cold wind was blowing. So we scampered back down the route.
It would be best not to slip here Paul Morgan!
We used double ropes to rappel down the CMC face route. Our ropes got caught once but we managed to free them with some creative pulling.
All the way down I wondered what the crux pitch up the face of Drizzlepuss would be like. When we arrived at the notch beneath Drizzlepuss I looked up at the steep rock and saw what looked like a fun route slanting up to the right. I offered to lead this pitch and Martin agreed. Before he could change his mind I zipped onto the route, finding good handholds to get me over the steep section. It was a fun climb. Martin and I then lead the second pitch as two ropes of two, climbing side-by-side, searching out steep to overhanging rock with good holds. The climbing was so good we were both sad when it ended.
We stopped for a snack when we reached our gear stash at Drizzlepuss. Martin sat smiling, thinking back on his first unsuccessful bid to climb Moran. He said that now that he knew how long the climb was he realized that it was a good thing that he hadn't tried to solo it on his first visit. We gathered our gear and then blasted down the talus arriving back at camp by 6:30 PM. We had taken 12 hours to do the round trip and we had timed it perfectly. We were back in camp with plenty of time to cook dinner in daylight. We went to bed shortly after dark and slept well.
The next morning Paul Morgan wanted to get back to work in Florida ASAP. We assumed that he was hypoxic but decided to humor him anyway. We got up at 5:30 AM once again and broke camp by 6:30 AM. We descended the steep trail with only a few slips and reached the canoes by 8:30. One hour of canoeing in the beautiful morning light across mirror-calm lakes brought us to our cars. We returned the canoes, showered, and sent Paul Morgan on his way home. He drove to Salt Lake Airport and made his plane with minutes to spare. Martin and Morresa and I headed off to the Wind Rivers where we planned to climb Wolf's Head. But that's another story.
Go To Wolf's Head
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Scientific Explorations with Paul Doherty
21 Sep 2001