Moran (Triple Glacier, 8h10)

[Some “workout” peaks were skipped, including a few good ones. Emigrant Valley is a nice place. — ed.]

With Work Week ending a bit early, I wanted to use the free day to do something semi-legitimate in the mountains. After considering a few options, I went with Bill’s suggestion of the Triple Glacier route on Moran, an obscure goal on the southern end of the Strategic Grizzly Reserve. The route was first climbed solo in late 1935, an impressive bit of early mountaineering. The approach was likely to be unpleasant, as the forest around Jackson Lake is choked with deadfall and underbrush, but the descent of the Skillet Glacier would make up for it, and my time the Cascades has left me much less bushwhack-averse.

The route is rated “5.6 AI2+” in Ortenburger, but after a warm night early in the season, I counted on its being a pure snow climb. Given this and the relatively long approach, I decided an early start and running shoes would work best. After having done the route, I believe it is best in these conditions, as the rock one would climb later in the season is the outward-sloping, rounded slabs left behind above a retreating glacier.

I quickly killed my alarm at 3:00 to minimize the disturbance to cabin-mates, then drove over to String Lake while eating breakfast, and was on the trail by 3:40. The trail to Bearpaw Bay, at the southern end of Jackson Lake, is entirely too familiar and tedious to walk, so I jogged most of it by headlamp, reaching the end in about an hour. I had initially considered following the lakeshore to Moran Canyon, but found the lake full and therefore shore-less. Cutting back uphill, I picked up the use trail to the Skillet Glacier, which heads in more or less the right direction.

Where the Skillet trail turns up toward the glacier, I continued north, contouring around the foot of Moran’s northeast ridge through semi-obnoxious brush and logs until I found an amazingly well-maintained game trail. I continued on the elk highway until I crossed a few small streams then, following Ortenburger, left it to bash my way directly uphill, hopefully toward an open grass and talus bowl between the north and northeast ridges.

After some wet and nasty (though not Cascades-nasty) work, I emerged in the bowl shortly after sunrise, and finally had a clear route to follow. Moran’s north ridge rises broad and wooded to a treeless saddle around 9800′, before turning vertical. The right-hand side of the valley is steep but mostly open, making it an efficient climb. The local wildlife is clearly familiar with this route: along the various game trails, I found the largest pile of bear scat I have ever seen, and was glad to have (uncharacteristically) brought my bear mace.

The climb went quickly, and I was pleased to find the snow well-consolidated on the ridge below the saddle. From there, the terminal moraines of the much-diminished Triple Glaciers are clearly visible, and a short talus chute leads directly to the eastern one. Stopping to bag my feet and put on my crampons, I was displeased to find that one of the plastic buckles had broken, but I managed to tie the strap in place well enough.

The route climbs to the head of the glacier, then crosses some bare rock to reach a snowfield leading to just below the summit. I eyeballed a likely ramp through the rock, then started off across the glacier. Wet slides over the past few days had somehow failed to create a supportive surface, so I initially faced aggravatingly breakable crust over slush, but the snow began to firm up as I neared the rock. What I hoped was a ramp on the left turned out to be a tricky-looking off-camber crack, so I instead headed right, zig-zagging up steep snow between rock outcrops, then cut back left to the toe of the snowfield. I was grateful for the early start, northern aspect, and high cloud-cover, as this section would have been treacherous once the snow softened and began to slide.

The snow remained steep and grew progressively harder as I climbed, and I sometimes found myself daggering my axe and kicking several times to get some purchase with my worn-down running-shoe crampons. Feeling sluggish, I stopped often to look at the impressively steep tower of Moran’s north ridge, and the U-shaped valley of Moran Canyon. Well-defended by brush and grizzlies, this wild section of the park probably sees few if any human visitors in an average year.

Bearing right near the top, I emerged on Moran’s west ridge a short distance from the final step before the summit plateau. After wasting some time trying the crack/chimney I have used before, I traversed all the way left on snow to find a much easier route to the summit. I ate and removed my crampons while admiring the familiar view, then headed for the down elevator, a.k.a. the Skillet Glacier. I found it in suboptimal shape, with crust-over-slush on top, and semi-threatening slush over a hard layer a bit farther down, but the bottom was still great boot-skiing, and I managed to lose 5,000 feet in 32 minutes before stopping to put up my axe and wring out my socks.

I had little trouble finding the start of the familiar trail — stick to the north side of the valley, then descend steeply near a boulder-field and meadow near a stream — but managed to lose it in the bogs and recent blow-down closer to the lake. Following faint game trails, I eventually regained the trail where it crosses the stream just before Bearpaw Bay, then turned off my brain to jog the trail to the car. I had expected the excursion to take at least 12 hours, and was pleased that it took just over 8. Despite a somewhat chaotic May, it seems like I have the resources for some Serious Business later this month.

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