Climbing Wyoming Tetons

Mt Moran, CMC Route

There’s a good chance that any climb requiring a canoe approach is going to be a good one, however, first we had to get the boat in the water. On a busy Saturday morning in July this proved to be the crux of the trip. After circling the String Lake parking lot for 20 minutes we ultimately found a spot to park the cars where we could gear up and get in.

So we finally set out on String Lake around 11am, paddling most of its length until we got out at the north end and portaged to Leigh Lake. From here we paddled past Boulder island arcing around the peninsula and straight toward the major gully in the middle of Mt Moran that terminates as an apron on the lake.

The canoe took about an hour total and it was a warm day in the end of July so after we pulled the boat out of the water we took our time to jump in and swim out to a small island of rocks just out past the shore. Finally, we geared up and began hiking the rough trail as it climbed directly up the mountain.

Down low the trail that was primarily a rock hop turned into small stretches of gravely paths first on one side, then the other in order to skirt various obstacles. Eventually the trail cuts left on to a small slab to bypass a waterfall and then cut back right to continue the loose path.

Rock hop with the East and West Horns in the background

The trail was pretty unforgiving and after jumping back and forth a few more times it finally cut hard left near 8800ft. We passed a “closed for restoration” sign below a high meadow and followed it as it wound up the cliff bands to our left. We arrived at camp at 3pm exactly 2 hour after leaving the lake.

CMC camp is at 9600ft and made up of no more than 8 “sites” for a tent. There is a spring nearby and the trees that enclose camp make for a nice wind break. Above the camp proper there are 3-4 more sites the highest being just above 9800ft and directly below were the scramble begins for the approach, however these camps do not have the same access to water as the lower sites do.

Multiple trip reports advise scouting the next days approach prior to attempting it in the dark hours of the morning, so we spent the afternoon scrambling the rock ledges directly above camp looking for the path of least resistance. In the light the route finding wasn’t too difficult. There are sufficient cairns to guide the way and the climbing is never more difficult than 3rd class. As a general rule of thumb we found that when the trail seemed to disappear while moving left it usually meant a hard cut back to the right often moving up onto a rock shelf.

We followed our way up until the trail broke left through some small trees and brush and onto a talus field and decided we were satisfied with our ability to retrace our steps the following morning.

We beat the other teams out of camp the next day leaving at 4:45am scrambling the approach through the dark. Sunrise was at 6am and we were treated a nice one as it broke on a clear day over Jackson Lake. Reaching the top of Drizzlepuss in 2 hours we dropped our extra gear and found the rappel anchors to the right and around the side of a horn at the top.

Double ropes will put you at the base of the climb in a single rappel. There is also an intermediate rappel station climbers to the right, a third of the way down that allows for descent with a single rope. For some reason we thought we would need two ropes, it wasn’t critical however and the second rope just became extra weight.

The climb itself starts immediately at the base of the rappels. We simul-climbed the route in 3.5 blocks starting by moving right traversing slightly away from Unsoeld’s Needle and then moving straight up though a weakness in the rock. The face can be climbed virtually any way you choose staying left of the Black Dike, we found our way up closer to the dike itself. We never found the climbing to be more difficult than 5.2-5.3 with plenty of 4th class.

Just before 10am we dropped our climbing gear on a small ledge and made the final scramble around a cornice that had formed on the top of the mountain. Mt Moran has a broad flat top with several windbreaks set up as bivies. We crossed the top to a small rise that is the true summit.

The Grand from the summit of Mt Moran

The descent path is a little unclear. Descriptions suggest both a rappel route and down-climb route. We didn’t see any anchors so we started the down-climb.

Our descent route went far skiers right on the face and as we got lower stayed on or as close to the ridge on the right side as possible. The down climbing never exceeded 4th class. We used Unsoeld’s Needle as a landmark to aim at.

3rd and 4th class down-climbing

Once we got to the needle we climbed over a small saddle from the south between it and the ridge. Here, looking back up and to the right we found anchor for a rappel down the north side so we strung up the rope and made a double rope rappel down a corner to a ledge. This is likely down climbed at 4th class but since we had brought the ropes all this way we figured we would use them. We made and exposed but easy traverse along the east side below the needle to an anchor that set us down at the base of the climb back up Drizzlepuss. This last rappel was short but steep. There is likely a way to bypass it down-climbing but we didn’t look around long enough to find it.

The climb back up Drizzlepuss is the most technical of the climb, at 5.5 it is made up of fun easy jugs back to the top. Looking at Drizzlepuss from the saddle the climb starts to the right on the west side.

I lost my water bottle when it ripped off my harness about half way up the climb so I was happy to get back to our bags and finally have a drink. After this it was reverse our path back to camp, pack up and descend back to the lake. About 4500ft on the knees. We were back to the cars by 7:30pm.