Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Adventure Triathlon: Canoe, Climb, Canoe

Mount Moran is one of the most prominent mountains in the Teton Range. It is a mammoth of a mountain, approachable only by hours of unpleasant bushwhacking. That is, unless, you have access to a canoe. Thanks to our friends at the local mountain guide service, we were making good time in their canoe.

This is our second time across Leigh Lake. The first time we ventured to the base of this route, dark clouds forced us to reluctantly turn around. It was the right decision, for a wall of water drenched us minutes before we reached the shore where our car was parked.

Now, a year later, we find ourselves paddling across this beautiful lake, this time with the hope of standing on the summit. Our permit was for campsite #14 on the West side of the lake. Upon arriving, we set up our tent, started a fire, had some dinner. When I went to put our food in the bear box I discovered someone’s food and clothes in the box! It made me feel a little like Goldilocks. Not wanting to explain ourselves to the unseen “three bears”, we packed everything into the canoe including an erected tent to port to the correct site. Turns out there are two sites, 14a and 14b. Comfortably in our proper site we went sleep early.

The hour approach to the base of the Direct South Buttress passed quickly the next morning. Beginning near a waterfall, we filled our bottles and were off.

Mark took the first pitch and I followed with our huge 5 pound SLR camera. It was an awkward off-width crack. The camera multiplied the weight and bulkiness of the backpack. I had to struggle my way up it. I was so mad at the camera for causing me to struggle up a seemingly easy pitch. “Informing” Mark of my distress did not go well. It turned into a heated discussion to the point were I just sat down, not wanting to continue. I was not interested in climbing with this partner anymore. This is where a climbing partner/spouse does not seem like the best idea. We sat for a while, questioning if we should continue on or not. We decided the mountain was just too exciting to let a little marital conflict slow us down. Hugs all around and we were on to the next pitch.

The route wanders up and left, then right, then up to a scary old bolt anchor at a hanging belay. Next was the much talked about “double-pendulum pitch”, which required that we swing from these 50 year old bolts making the anchor! It was my turn to lead, so I got to see if the bolts would hold. Making it through the pendulum, I reached a corner system of rock. The only weakness in the rock angles out and up around a overhang. This pitch goes at 5.12 or A1. By pulling on insecure pitons and a stopper one-fourth of the way in the rock I was able to slowly make upward progress. A fall would smash me into the left side of rock corner.

My senses were heightened; this was a no fall zone. One move up, one move back down, one move up, one move back down. Ok, time to commit. One move, two moves, three moves, sketchy pro, keep going, sketchy pro, another move, solid pro, YES! I’m safe. With hundreds of feet of air below me the exposure was incredible, and I had just passed through a personal climbing barrier. It was an incredible moment! Mark followed behind in style and we topped out on a ledge not knowing how much more mountain was in front of us. The steep south buttress had come to an end. To the best of our knowledge it was 4th and 5th class climbing to the summit.

At this point the, “choose your own adventure” climbing begins. We followed the amazing ridgeline up and around rock towers exposed gaps, and steep steps. After the ridgeline disappeared we scrambled up a gully to a high point were we hoped to get a better view of what was to come, just to find more and more mountain. The song lyrics running through my mind where, the bear went over the mountain to see what he could see, the other side of the mountain was all he could see, each time we crested a ridge line, only to discover more mountain. Darkness was closing in and we had to get to the top in the light so we could find the start of the descent. The last 2500 vertical feet of terrain allowed us to climb mostly un-roped, allowing us to move faster. Just before the top a steep wall confronted us that we didn’t feel safe climbing un-roped. Mark led what seemed to be an easy wall only to find it was very challenging. Got to love adventure climbing. The summit was finally in sight. As the sun was dropping below the horizon we scrambled up to the top with a feeling of pure joy.

The descent was also more involved than we anticipated. The evening closed on us with the light of a full moon. It was a beautiful night but the descent was unending. There were a few rappels, 200 feet of additional climbing up, and numerous cliff bands to avoid. Leigh Lake was like a distant mirage; we never seemed to be able to reach it. Finally, after hours we found ourselves on its shore. The only problem now was our canoe was on the shore about a mile away.

We had two choices. One, another hour of bushwhacking, or two, pull a Jack Sparrow and commandeer the canoe right in front of us that belonged to another climber. It was 1:30am, the water was still, moonlight illuminated the whole valley, let’s go for a boat ride. We “borrowed” the canoe, crossed the lake, tethered our canoe to the commandeered one, crossed back across the lake and returned the lender boat, trying to put everything back just they way we found it. We paddled back across the lake to our camp. 19 hours after we began, the climb was complete. Tasty bites combined with instant potatoes satisfied our bellies as we drifted off to sleep.


  1. You two are doing some inspiring work. I wonder if you might be interested in visiting my Outdoor Program at Portland State University?
    I look forward to your every post!
    -Eric Jensen

  2. Hi Eric, unfortunately we wont be in the area during the school year. Is the outdoor program run throughout the year?

  3. It runs through the summer, but the best time to visit would be during the school year. Let me know if you're going to be in the area. I'll try to make something happen!