Category Archives: Wyoming

Jackson, Gros

Gros from head of Granite Creek


Real Life has been a real headache lately, interfering with peak-bagging plans, but I have managed to get out a bit, experiencing northwest Wyoming during the snow-free late summer for the first time. I normally use the Gros Ventres as a late spring warm-up, as they are both lower and gentler than the neighboring Tetons and Winds. I had tried to tag Gros Peak this spring, only to be turned back by uncooperative snow, bogs, and general misery. With most of the snow gone and the wildflowers out it proved much easier, with the route past Goodwin Lakes involving about 11 miles of mostly gentle terrain each way.

Tetons from below lake

Curtis Canyon is the closest legal camping to Jackson, so the popular Goodwin Lakes trailhead was much more convenient than the Little Granite trailhead I had used in the spring. I followed the popular trail to the lake, then briefly lost it as it circled around the far end, instead following an indistinct boot-path and some open terrain along the base of Jackson’s east ridge.

Flowers need mowing

I rejoined the trail near the head of the drainage, then took a side-trip to Jackson’s summit. I had already been there in June a few years ago, but figured I might as well make a minor detour for the morning view of the Tetons. I followed the trail back south, then took off cross-country along the ridge to rejoin the Goodwin Lakes trail as it contours around the head of Flat Creek to meet the Cache-Granite trail. These trails see relatively little use, and are therefore partly overgrown with wildflowers, but they are still easy to follow, and the trail junction signs are all intact.

Looking north from Gros

I jogged a bit, but mostly just walked fast on the rolling traverse around to the head of Granite Creek, from which the remainder of the route to Gros is visible to the south. The trail drops down to well-hidden Turquoise Lake, but I left it to head cross-country on a bench leading to Gros’s northeast ridge. I passed east of a large, unnamed, turquoise-colored lake, then found a few cairns as I made my way up the class 2-3 ridge to the northern false summit, passing a tarn nestled a bit above 10,600′.

I found a bit of a use trail along the final summit ridge, and a cairn and benchmark on the summit, but no register. The weather was behaving itself, with the monsoon storms slower to build over the Gros Ventres than their higher neighbors, so I took my time on the summit before retracing my steps, taking advantage of some lingering snowfields to avoid the loose scree. I had the trail to myself up to the turnoff for Jackson Peak, then met a steady stream of hikers heading up as I made my way down past the lake to the car.

Moran (Skillet Glacier ski)

Base of the snow


Mount Moran rises 6000′ directly from Jackson Lake, and the Skillet Glacier and its snowfield cover most of the slope, offering up to 5000′ of continuous snow well into June. Unlike on my previous outing, snow conditions were wretched — loose and slushy up high, dirty and sun-cupped down low — but it is an iconic line, and I was glad to tick it off the list. The whole thing took 10 hours car-to-car, including 3-4 hours trail hiking, 3.5 hours boot-packing, 25 minutes skiing, and some time fighting brush with skis on my back.

Climb from the pan

I woke at the stupid hour of 3:15, made myself a hot Cup of Sadness, and drank it on the drive up to String Lake. I started hiking by headlamp at 4:00, stashing the light at 5:00 near the north end of Leigh Lake. The commute to Bearpaw Bay normally takes me about an hour, but the skis on my back limited me to a fast walk. I had no trouble following the use trail to where it crosses the Skillet’s outlet stream, but foolishly decided to ascend the south side instead of crossing. After most of a frustrating hour of deadfall, pines, brush, and aspens, I finally emerged at the foot of the snow.

Airborne avalanche

I tried skinning a bit, but soon lost traction on the hard, sun-cupped snow, and put my skis on my pack to boot the rest of the way. Someone had installed a boot-pack in the prior few days, saving me a bit of energy, but the Skillet is still an interminable climb. It was also intolerably hot. The Skillet is not just east-facing, but also sheltered from wind by ridges on both sides, so I was dripping sweat in a t-shirt nearly the whole way up. The snow also softened alarmingly fast, and I was treated to regular wet sloughs coming down the skillet handle’s central runnel, and even small projectile avalanches off the ridge to the north.

Time to drop in

Much wallowing later, I emerged on the summit ridge, where I dropped my pack to tag the summit, then put on my skis for the descent. The first few hundred yards are steep and narrow, but the slope quickly opens up. However, every turn kicked off a small wet slide, so I had to make a few turns, then traverse to one side to allow them to pass. I stayed left to the base of the handle, sending my sloughs into the convenient runnel, then crossed it to get around the bergschrund on steeper snow on the far right.

From the pan onward, I was out of sloughing territory, but skiing over sun-cups and around small rocks was still tiring, and my legs were shot from the hike up, so I still had to stop frequently. After taking off my skis, I easily found the faint trail on the valley’s north side, and only lost it a couple of times on the descent to the creek. From there, it was just a hot, thirsty walk to the car. Passing the tourists along Leigh Lake with their boats and swimsuits, I felt out of place and a bit foolish with skis on my back.

Buck (East Face, 2900′ ski)

East face from below lake


Clear skies finally returned to the Tetons, bringing with them cold nights, pleasant days, and a fleeting opportunity to ski the fast-melting snow on what turned out to be my best Teton ski day. I had climbed Buck Mountain too many times by various routes, but never descended it on skis. Its broad, moderate east face seemed more my level than the upper Middle Teton Glacier, so I set my alarm for 4:15 to beat the morning sun. Gus, one of the interns, lacked skis but had the day off, so he joined me for the climb.

Balsamroot field

We got started from the Death Canyon trailhead just after 5:00 and, after walking a few minutes past the Stewart Draw “trail,” were soon on the correct path. The trail starts off overgrown, then turns into a bog, then becomes a real trail as it crosses an open meadow of sage and balsam-root. The two “warm-up” creek crossings were larger than I remembered, and with skis on my back, one of them involved wet feet. The main creek crossing would have been Serious Business, but fortunately there was a healthy snow bridge a few hundred yards up.

Slope angle

The snow was no longer continuous from the stream crossing, so I continued hiking in running shoes to the next flat section, a summer bog where Static Peak comes into view. After a bit of skinning, I put the skis back on my pack to boot up the steep, shaded slope, then left them there for the lower-angled walk to Timberline Lake. The snow was still hard in the shaded couloir leading to the face, but softened quickly as I traversed up and left onto the east face proper. Gus turned around here, not comfortable on the steeper snow, while I continued to the summit, following bits of an old boot-pack. The snow was soft enough to plunge nearly boot-deep by the end, but I did not see any slides. The rock band dividing the face was still conveniently covered in snow.

Looking down the ski

After a short break on the windy summit (the clouds were too low for a view of the Grand) I mostly transitioned (I forgot to flip the “walk mode” tabs), then had an excellent ski back to the lake. The face is 38 degrees near the top, but broad and soft enough to make me comfortable linking turns, albeit carefully in the final couloir to the lake. After talking to Gus, I bombed on down toward the bog, getting some serious speed before talking to some hikers and descending more carefully through the rocks lower down. I did another short lap of a few hundred feet while Gus caught up, then switched back to shoes for the hike out. Ironically, the first part of this “hike” involved much boot-skiing with both boots and skis strapped to my back. Though I do not normally condone the use of “cripple poles,” I found them helpful in this strange situation.

Middle Teton (Ellingwood Couloir)

Middle Teton now in sun


After bluebird skies and 80s in the valley for Work Week, the weather turned hostile, with rain in the valley and snow down below 9000′ on the peaks. With Sunday having the least-bad forecast for a few days, I decided to get out and try something in the hills instead of going insane in the Jackson library. I was somewhat at a loss for a suitable outing until Tim suggested the Chouinard Ridge on Middle Teton, a broken, south-facing 5.4 route. I had done nothing on that part of the mountain, so it would be somewhat new, and the rock would be mostly dry if the weather behaved itself.

Entering the couloir

I put crampons and boots in my big pack and left the ranch in running shoes around 5:15, ignoring the clouds. Temperatures remained moderate as I climbed into Garnet Canyon, and I wore just a t-shirt until I stopped in the Meadows to switch to boots next to the army encampment. As I continued up the south fork, a combination of clouds and snow left me seeing very little, and considering other route options. Fortunately the clouds were patchy, so I managed to find my intended route without much difficulty.

Runnels

Seeing that the rocks were covered in icicles and a dusting of fresh snow, I decided that it might be wise to choose another route. The neighboring Ellingwood Couloir seemed perfect: it appeared to have already slid and consolidated, and the cloudcover was keeping the snow well-frozen. I put on my crampons, took out my one ice tool, and got to work.

Dike Pinnacle and Nez Perce

The couloir starts out flat enough to French-step, but soon becomes steep enough to require front-pointing. The old snow had formed multiple runnels, into which the fresh powder had drifted several inches deep. The old surface was mostly névé: perfect for daggering a tool, but requiring several kicks to create a step to rest my burning calves. Partway up, I looked back to see two people descending the south fork, and wondered what they had done to be coming down so early.

Nez Perce, Cloudveil, and Gros Ventres

Though I was fairly certain I was in the correct couloir, it was still a relief to climb around the cornice and find myself looking at the familiar view of Dike Pinnacle and the Middle Teton Glacier. I also found myself between cloud layers, able to see between them and through the saddle between Nez Perce and Cloudveil Dome all the way to Jackson Peak and the Gros Ventres. I could have descended the glacier, but the day was young, and it seemed lame not to summit.

Climb from Dike Pinnacle

The final climb up the east side of Middle Teton can be a bit dicey, with snow falling away from slabs as spring turns to summer. After traversing right on snow under some rocks, I followed a runnel to the notch between the two summits on a messy mixture of snow types. A bit of clumsy mixed climbing got me out of the notch and onto the easy snowfield leading to the summit.

There wasn’t much to see, so I hardly paused before heading down the standard southwest couloir, where I passed 5-6 army guys belaying each other down. Unfortunately it was still cloudy, so the snow had not softened up enough to allow much plunge-stepping or boot-skiing. Back at the Meadows, I switched back into trail runners and talked to Eric, the Army instructor with whom I had climbed the previous summer. Then it was a tedious but sunny walk back to the Ranch, to eat glop on tortillas and catch up on my neglected chores.

Lots of Teewinots

2016 version

2016 version

2010 version

2010 version

Teewinot gets a bad rap because its standard route is a good place to get avalanched or fail to self-arrest in the early season, and becomes a crowded scree-chute later on. However, it has the advantages of avoiding Garnet Canyon, allowing a quick bail-out if conditions go bad, and offering 5500′ of vertical with a minimal approach even by Teton standards. As the years go by and I have fewer Teton objectives, I find myself using Teewinot more, both as a climb and as a work-out peak.

My first Teewinot of this year was a quick run up to the Apex, about 2700′ of gain on a steep trail to treeline. I did this to gauge both my fitness and snow conditions in the range. My fitness seemed okay: the climb took about 45 minutes. As I had experienced in the Gros Ventres the day before, the snow line is abnormally high this year: I only hit consistent snow in the last 100′ vertical or so, and the face above seemed to have consolidated.

Approaching past Worshipper and Idol

Approaching past Worshipper and Idol

My second was a bit of exploration and two tick-marks. The Idol and Worshipper are two prominent pillars just south of the standard route. I had passed them too many times to count, but never taken the time to climb them, despite their being only low 5th by various routes. With an easy day planned and a mediocre weather forecast, I decided it was time to check them out.

I made my way to the Apex, much slower now with a pack, then kicked and postholed up through the krummholtz toward the Worshipper. I watched three skiers make perhaps a dozen turns each, then pick their way back through the brush and rocks to their shoes for the long hike back down. It didn’t seem worth the hike to me, but then again, I had just done the same for two pitches of scrambling…

Worshipper from near Idol

Worshipper from near Idol

I started out by trying the Worshipper’s long, east, downhill face, supposedly the easiest route to the summit. While the climbing was not especially hard, the variable-quality rock and outward-sloping ledges were not fun, so I traversed around left into the notch between it and the Idol. This side is shorter, steeper, and harder — 5.4, according to the Ortenburger guide — but also more secure and fun, climbing a near-vertical crack/chimney with a bulge partway and positive holds to be found throughout.

Pulling over the bulge, I was surprised and pleased to see a natural arch directly in front of me, with a small tree in its center. From the top of the chimney, the route goes through the window, then around to the right and back over it to reach the highpoint. Cool! I even found a summit register, a rarity in the Tetons. It only went back a few years, but suggested that perhaps 1-2 parties a year make the climb.

I retraced my steps, passing an old piton-based rap anchor, then traversed and climbed around the north side of the Idol. I made this harder than necessary, crossing some wet, slimy slabs and grinding my way up a chimney rather than going the long way around and traversing in from the northwest. Still, the climbing was still all easier than the Worshipper, with a couple low 5th class moves and some scrambling on the southwest side quickly leading to the top. I appreciated the view quickly, as the weather was getting colder and possibly wetter, then returned to the Ranch to waste the rest of the day.

Moran, etc. from north ridge

Moran, etc. from north ridge

My final Teewinot turned out to be an excellent use of a half-day, timed nearly perfectly to avoid the atypical early-season afternoon thunderstorms. Eric, a squad leader in the 10th Mountain Division, had a couple free days before starting a course, and was itching to climb. After considering more ambitious options on Owen, we gave in to the realities of the forecast and settled on a shorter route on the north side, starting from the col with Crooked Thumb.

With a 4 AM start from the Ranch, we actually had a bit of headlamp time passing through the aspens at Teewinot’s base. Stripping to t-shirts, we made the climb to the Apex in between 1h20 and 1h30, good time with trad gear. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that Eric was fast: he does this for a living, usually with a much bigger pack.

The snow in the krummholtz was slushy, but above it was firm enough to boot past the Worshipper and Idol without postholing. Above, we traversed around the right-hand shoulder, suffered across some snow already softened by the northeast-rising sun, then followed a grassy, partly snow-covered ledge on around to the couloir leading to the Crooked Thumb Col. This perch has excellent views of Owen’s northeast face, Cascade Canyon, and the seldom-climbed peaks north of Mount Moran. Unfortunately, it is too close to offer a good overview of Teewinot’s north side.

A few pitches of actual climbing

A few pitches of actual climbing

We puzzled over route descriptions and photos for awhile, then descended back east, roped up, and started simul-ing some random terrain left of the north ridge. When we got tired of this, we headed back right, where Eric built and anchor and started leading up the left side of the ridge. Since he passed a couple of old pitons, we figured we were “on route” for some version of “route.” The climbing was varied, fun, and mostly moderate, with the exception of a wide stem followed by some thin face climbing. I haven’t climbed in boots for awhile, but it felt like 5.8 or hard 5.7.

I led the second pitch, whose crux was an undercling/traverse left around an overhang then easier climbing to a broad ledge. One could probably exit left from here, but I thought it would be fun to continue straight up a chimney/crack. This turned out to be incorrect. After thrashing and scrabbling up some sort of off-width, I was forced by my own rope drag to build a semi-hanging belay out of a #2 cam and two tiny nuts. After an awkward sit-on-my-face gear exchange at the belay, Eric led 20 feet more tricky climbing up out of the chimney, then continued across easier ground to just below the summit.

Other than 20 seconds of graupel, we had enjoyed calm, clear weather for most of the climb, and had talked about traversing on to Mount Owen. However, as often happens on a northeast-facing Tetons route, we topped out to find that the weather situation was not as we hoped. With inclement weather coming from the south and west, we quickly packed up and headed for the summit, where I reenacted the photo I took on my first Teewinot climb in 2010. Descending the east face took longer than anticipated. The snow was thin slush over a harder base layer, soft for kicking steps but hard for boot-skiing, so we stuck to the rock for much of the upper face. Back at the apex, I resigned myself to an hour or so of clomping misery descending the dry trail in full-shank boots. The rain and lightning started maybe a half-hour after we reached the Ranch, and continued for much of the afternoon, but our well-chosen mission was complete.

Grand Teton speed attempt

Andy Anderson’s 2h53 on the Grand is far out of my reach even in perfect conditions, but with decent fitness and a reasonably cold night up high, I figured I might as well give speed-running the Grand a try before I left. The major disadvantage of an early-season attempt is the extra gear required: with crampons, ice axe, and warm clothing, one is forced to carry a backpack. The major advantage is a blazingly-fast, low-impact descent via glissade from the Lower Saddle to the Meadows. In perfect snow conditions, the early season run could potentially be faster, and would favor mountain skill over raw athletic ability. While I found difficult conditions up high and decided to stop short of the summit, I believe that the early approach has potential, though probably not in a year like 2015 with low winter snowpack.

Starting from the Ranch, I took it easy across the flats before ramping up my effort on the climb up Burnt Wagon Gulch, reaching the junction in a leisurely 27:45. Using both shortcuts, I reached the Meadows sign at 1h03, stopping to put on crampons a few hundred yards up the snow. The winter route was thin but doable, and the Lower Saddle headwall lacked the boot-pack normally put in by guided parties; with slightly softer-than-ideal snow conditions, I reached the Lower Saddle around 1h56.

Switching back out of crampons, I talked to a guide and client who had turned around on the Upper Exum because of supposed bad snow conditions and avalanche risk. As is often the case when guides talk to non-guides, he wasn’t being particularly honest: the snow was nice hard-pack with a bit of crunchy fuzz on top, it was cold, and the sun wouldn’t touch the upper route for another couple of hours. I guess I didn’t look like I could handle the truth.

Finding hard, shaded snow above the Black Dike, I went back to crampons, hacking and front-pointing my way up the steeper terrain. While rarely tenuous, this section was often slow going with worn running-shoe crampons, so it was 2h38 by the time I reached the Upper Saddle. I found the belly crawl slightly iced but basically okay, but soon ran into more difficulties. When dry, the rest of the climb is a quick scramble up two short chimney-ish sections and some connecting ledges. What I found instead was partially ice-filled chimneys and steep, hard snow on the ledges. While this would have been manageable with Real Mountaineering equipment (boots, crampons, possibly ice tools), I decided after some flailing that it was more than I wanted to try with running-shoe crampons and a mountaineering axe.

I carefully retreated to the saddle, then headed over to the pleasantly sunny Enclosure to enjoy the view. No longer interested in my overall time, I spent about five minutes eating and looking around before time-trialing the descent. The hard snow between the Upper Saddle and Black Dike once again cost me time, as I had to downclimb facing in rather than plunge-stepping or boot-skiing. But the stretch from Lower Saddle to the Meadows was awesome: with a combination of boot-skiing, glissading, and snow-running, this stretch took something like 10 minutes. The whole descent from the Lower Saddle to the Burnt Wagon Gulch turnoff took only 29:47, despite having to skip the lower shortcut because of nearby hikers.

A half-hearted attempt at speed on the unpleasant BWG trail got me to the Ranch at about 4h40 feeling surprisingly spry. Based on my splits, I think I could come close to 4 hours on an all-out, rested effort in late summer conditions. That’s nowhere near the record, but it’s not bad for an aging dirtbag. I’ll take it.

Avalanche-Cascade Loop, and Veiled

Off to south Cascade

Off to south Cascade


In addition to climbing, the Tetons are made for long loop hikes and runs. With the Crest Trail running behind the major peaks, and the Valley Trail running along the eastern base, it is possible to go up one canyon (with or without trail), follow the Crest Trail to another, descend it, and return to the start along the Valley Trail. Unfortunately, the high-elevation Crest Trail is only a trail in mid- to late-summer, when I am elsewhere. Despite the sometimes-frustrating snow, I have managed to do a couple of these loops this year, and if I were more of a trail runner, I would probably come back for more while they are in season.

While Cascade Canyon features easy access and a crowded trail, Avalanche Canyon is famous for the bog blocking one end and the Wall blocking the other. On the one hand, I had always wanted to visit the Wall, a striking limestone cliff visible from the Jackson Valley, and to tag Veiled Peak, one of my last unclimbed summits between Death and Moran Canyons. On the other, I had tasted the bog once, and was not eager to do so again. Free time and Kate’s perverse fondness for the place finally moved me to return this year.

Splitter fist crack, bro!

Splitter fist crack, bro!

Starting off from the Ranch, we headed toward Braggart and Tadley Lakes, then thrashed around a bit until we found the reasonably well-used (more by wildlife than by humans) Avalanche trail. A recent windstorm had downed a number of trees around the park, adding more obstacles, but not enough to make it significantly worse than it was before. Passing a giant boulder split by a perfect fist crack, we made our way upstream though dense forest, trying to avoid both the bog in the center and the large talus on the north side. The trail mostly follows subtle high ground in the forested canyon bottom, with a few forays into the bog and one onto the boulders. Finally emerging from the dense forest, we crossed a large slide path descending all the way to the creek and reached the fork between north and south canyons.

Taminah Falls and Wister

Taminah Falls and Wister

Taking the north branch, we skirted the impressive Taminah Falls to the north on scree and talus, finding the occasional cairn or bit of trail left by climbers headed to the supposedly good but seldom-climbed arêtes on the north side of the canyon. After pausing at half-melted Taminah Lake, constantly reshaped by fresh rock-slides, we continued to the equally large and mostly frozen Snowdrift Lake, crossing snow just soft enough to kick steps in running shoes, and patches of the underlying heath.

Wall and Snowdrift Lake

Wall and Snowdrift Lake

Kate was apparently happy to just hang out under the looming Wall, so I “sprinted” off to tag Veiled and rejoin her near the pass into Cascade Canyon. My hoped-for sprint was actually a bit of a slog, as the northeast-facing snowfield leading to Veiled’s east ridge had turned to slush under the northern morning sun. After extracting myself from the slush near the ridge, I spent awhile cliffing out on the dry south side before traversing around the north to reach the summit on chossy, wet class 3 rock.

Wall and Snowdrift from Veiled

Wall and Snowdrift from Veiled

Rather than return the way I came, I decided to continue west along the ridge, hoping to traverse the Wall, or at least find better snow. After another cliff-out on the south side, I found a circuitous route down the north ridge, then back through a gap in the east ridge to the scree below. The south-facing slope to the west was mostly snow-free grass, so I was able to jog and make good time, but the southern end of the Wall was guarded by an unpleasant choss-cliff. I could probably have looped around south to gain the top, but I wasn’t sure if I could get off the north end. Rather than boring Kate by potentially spending hours route-finding through rotten rock, I cut directly back across the base of the Wall on decent but softening snow.

"Toilet Bowl" near the Wall

“Toilet Bowl” near the Wall

Later in the season, a trail connects the pass north of the Wall to the south Cascade Canyon trail below, but we were faced instead with miles of varied snow. After a disheartening initial plunge through knee- and thigh-deep sludge, we found good walking and even what looked to me like a perfect boot-skiing hill. Kate was reluctant, but it has been my mission this summer to spread the Gospel of the Boot-Ski in the Tetons, and I managed to convince her to give it a try. The runout was not great, but fortunately nothing bad happened, and I had another convert.

NW ridge of Enclosure from Cascade

NW ridge of Enclosure from Cascade

Quite a bit of sludge-trudge remained, but it was warm and the views of the southwest side of Owen and the Grand were impressive and relatively new to me, so I squelched along happily, looking down just enough to avoid tripping. We stopped for lunch at an apparently-popular rock outcrop with a clear view of the northwest ridge of the Enclosure, the Valhalla Traverse, and Owen’s upper north face. This is another area I would like to explore, though I am not sure when, since most of the climbing would require a partner.

Look, a swamp-donkey!

Look, a swamp-donkey!

From the junction with north Cascade Canyon, we faced an increasingly tourist-choked hike to south Jenny Lake, then a walk along the bike path back to the Ranch. While Cascade is a nice hike, with its impressive views of the steep north faces of Owen and Teewinot, we were both back on familiar ground and somewhat impatient. Thus it seemed like a good idea, when we reached Inspiration Point and saw 50 canvas bags of rocks and no workers, to try to poach the closed trail down its south side. Bad idea: no more than 100 yards down the trail, a worker emerged from hiding, silently making the universal sign for “WTF?!”

After some not-so-convincing feigned ignorance on our part, we meekly retreated to the roundabout trail to the boat dock. As a small consolation, the hiker trail along the lakeshore had finally reopened, sparing us the rolling, boring horse trail higher up. Unfortunately, the trail crew had apparently packed up just minutes after thwarting us above, so we got to meet the same worker again on the way around Jenny Lake. He apparently didn’t hold a grudge, and we even talked a bit while we paused to watch three healthy kits and a vaguely protective mother fox in the boulders near the trail.

I was glad to have company on the final stretch, as the long walk along the flat, paved bike path began to wear on the soles of my feet, which had been softening and marinating in snowmelt all day. The whole thing ended up about 12h30 at a fast walk with some breaks, the most time I have spent on the trail since last season. With jogging and dry trails, it would have been a pleasant and more manageable 7-8 hours.

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.

Cloud

Upper boulder-hop and Cloud's west face

Upper boulder-hop and Cloud’s west face


Cloud Peak is the highpoint of the Big Horn (not “Bighorn,” for some reason) range in north-central Wyoming, a small, isolated range between Greater Yellowstone and the plains.
Black Tooth and Woolsey

Black Tooth and Woolsey

The range’s isolation gives Cloud over 5,000 feet of prominence, which is what brought it to my attention. The Big Horns are home to two peaks over 13,000 feet, Cloud and Black Tooth, a fairly healthy glacier, and some surprisingly sheer granite. The terrain is reminiscent of the southern Winds, with most peaks being flat on the west side and glacially-carved on the east, though Black Tooth and Mount Woolsey (or “The Innominate”) are carved on all sides.

Moose, staring

Moose, staring

After sleeping in the completely-deserted West Tensleep trailhead lot, I started off sometime between dawn and sunrise, hiking up the trail toward Mistymoon Lake. Though I had the area to myself, this trail apparently sees a great deal of horse and foot traffic during peak season. With a couple hours’ uneventful hiking through woods and meadows ahead, I turned on a podcast and tuned out. Entering one meadow, I was startled by a bull moose who, during hunting season in a national forest, should have been far more wary of me. Perhaps he only sees humans wearing orange and camouflage as threats. In any case, he started at me from 50 yards away, then meandered along the trail ahead of me, glancing back from time to time, before finally getting out of my way in the woods.

Typical approach trail

Typical approach trail

The trail climbs intermittently past lakes Helen, Marion, and Mistymoon, then turns west to descend out of the range. Following the standard route, I left the trail after it descends into a marshy flat and, near a small waterfall, found the cairned climbers’ trail to Cloud’s southwest talus ridge. The talus was surprisingly pleasant, with stable boulders alternating with tundra, slabs, and bare dirt, and I soon found myself near the broad crest.

Upper boulder-hop and Cloud's west face

Upper boulder-hop and Cloud’s west face

Following the crest toward the summit, I admired the surprisingly steep west face, which reminded me a bit of a mirror image of the trail up Mount Whitney. Like Whitney’s, Cloud’s summit is a broad, flat boulder plain; a cairn on one boulder seemed to mark the highpoint. Around this plain, sharp ridges extend north to Woolsey and Black Tooth, and east on either side of the Cloud Glacier. Steep granite cirques on all sides offer technical climbing opportunities and scenic camping near alpine lakes.

Cloud Glacier from summit

Cloud Glacier from summit

Though Black Tooth beckoned, there seemed to be no easy direct route, and the way back and around via Middle Cloud Peak Lake was too long for me, especially with the growing clouds. After a cool summit nap, I retraced my steps, once again zoning out on the long trail. Despite its being a Friday afternoon, I met only one other party, a group of three with overnight packs, presumably bagging Cloud as an overnight.

Middle Teton (NW ice couloir), South Teton

Clmibing upper chute

Clmibing upper chute


[This out-of-order entry is the last of this year’s Teton outings. After a bit more tourism, the type II fun will begin. — ed.]

Of the three classic Teton ice couloirs — the northwest on the Middle Teton, the Enclosure, and the Black Ice — the first is the easiest to both reach and climb. It is also still mostly snow this early in the season, making it easier as long as the snow stays frozen. However, I hadn’t climbed any ice in awhile, and the next day’s weather looked cold but otherwise dubious, so it seemed likely to be plenty challenging and fun.

With even worse forecasts for the next few days, Josh and I set out at the ungodly hour of 3:30 AM with spikes and tools. I hadn’t climbed with Josh before, but he seemed solid and came with a reputation for speed. After a moonlit grind up Burnt Wagon Gulch and a pre-dawn trip up the switchbacks, we reached the meadows in Garnet Canyon just as the sun hit Cloudveil, then put on crampons for the winter route to the moraine.

Crossing moraine

Crossing moraine


The standard approach to the couloir follows the trail to the Lower Saddle, then winds south along Middle Teton’s north ridge. However, the saddle is normally a frigid wind tunnel, so I chose to take a more direct-looking snow chute to its left.
Chute shortcut

Chute shortcut


This proved to be both fun and direct, as it leads directly to the notch near the base of the route, and involved some steep, hard snow finishing with a vertical mantle. After exploring a bit to the left — probably the start of the north ridge route — I returned to the saddle and followed Josh around the west side of the ridge, where the couloir became obvious despite the enveloping clouds.
Traverse into NW couloir

Traverse into NW couloir

Start of NW couloir

Start of NW couloir


We mostly climbed side-by-side up the couloir, choosing our own lines or waiting to follow the other if he had found a better option. The couloir was still mostly snow, but hard from the cold night, and with the occasional ice bulge for fun. With the clouds, it was impossible to judge how much climbing remained until we were nearly at the top. I opted for a bit of gratuitous spice by climbing up a narrow runnel until forced to traverse out to its right, then scrambled up the remaining easier snow and rock to the summit.
Crux in upper couloir

Crux in upper couloir


After a snack and some time spent enjoying intermittent views of the Grand and some friends ascending the south fork of Garnet Canyon, we headed down the standard southwest couloir. This was mostly hard snow, though only a few sections merited face-in downclimbing. The clouds cleared as we descended and we were treated to a spectacular view of Icefloe Lake, west of the Middle-South saddle.
View down SW couloir

View down SW couloir


The final, traversing descent to the saddle involved some messy loose snow over hard-pack; I ran heedlessly across, while Josh exercised more caution.
Awkward snow traverse.

Awkward snow traverse.


Just below the saddle, we waited no more than 5 minutes for Pam, Eric, Kate, and Mitch to catch us, then hiked with them up the mixed talus and softening snow of the South Teton’s northwest ridge.
Hiking up toward South Teton

Hiking up toward South Teton


After the cloudy and intense morning, it was a pleasure to stroll in the sun and catch up. We eventually met an old boot-pack, which helped in crossing the harder snow leading to the summit scramble, a straightforward mess involving fresh powder over loose rocks. After sharing other people’s food on the summit (as usual, I had packed just enough for myself and had nothing to contribute), we took some photos and separated for the descent.
Group shot on South Teton

Group shot on South Teton


I headed straight down as soon as I reached snow, executing a rough and clumsy boot-ski, then looked back to see Josh just behind. The others appeared to be taking a safer (i.e. slower) course, so we abandoned them without a second thought, skiing, sliding, and hiking to the meadows, then taking both shortcuts down to the Burnt Wagon junction. From there to the Ranch, we both retreated into our own worlds of private boredom and/or foot pain.