Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mount Moran - The Skillet; A Goal Realized.

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In the summer of 2001 my dad and I went backpacking in Yellowstone and then did some adventures in the Tetons.  It was the first time I had ever seen Mount Moran, and the first thing I said when I saw it was "I want to ski that."  I didn't know it at the time, but I was looking at the classic ski line that dominates the eastern face of Mount Moran - The Skillet.

My first time seeing Mount Moran and The Skillet circa August, 2001.
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Returning to Mount Moran to ski The Skillet in May, 2013.
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I've had the physical ability to ski a line like The Skillet ever since I was about 13 years old after having done mountaineering skills camps.  But, for some reason I just haven't had the opportunity to ski it.  The last four years I have made plans to ski it, but got stymied by weather or other obligations.  This year, it finally happened.

Check out the video, but the pictures and story below are really more informative.

May 14, 2013:
On Tuesday I drove up to Jackson, WY with Palmer, Andre and Davis.  My friend Clayton came from Montana and met us there.  Our crew of five was assembled.  Palmer is a fellow coach on CUFST, Andre and Davis are current CUFST team members, and Clayton is a CUFST alumnus.

That night I got some brief sleep at my friend Patrick Nelson's house, excited for the adventure that lay ahead.

May 15, 2013:
On Wednesday morning our crew of five drove into Grand Teton National Park and got our gear sorted.  Clayton brought a cataraft and a whitewater kayak which proved to be instrumental to the logistics of getting our gear to the base of the mountain.  Two of the crew - Palmer and Davis - hiked to the west side of Jackson Lake from the String Lake Trail Head with minimal gear weight.   The rest of us went to the Signal Mountain boat ramp to paddled across Jackson Lake with the remaining gear.

The approach via String Lake Trail Head.
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Gear sorted and the crew of five parting ways at the String Lake Trail Head.
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Getting the boats set-up at Signal Mountain boat ramp with Mount Moran looming in the background.
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Our best view of the Tetons for the entire trip.
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The original plan was for me to help Clayton on the cataraft, but because we are such different sizes, we could not get the oars configured correctly for both of us.  Instead, Andre joined Clayton and they had the arduous task of rowing a loaded cataraft across flatwater, into the wind.  They switched rowing duties in order to make it a little easier, but it was still quite the task.  I had the arduous task of paddling a whitewater kayak (that was too small for me) across the lake into the wind, but at least I didn't have a bunch of gear weight.

The approach via Jackson Lake.
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Boats loaded and ready to go.
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Mid-lake cataraft view.
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Mid-lake kayak view.
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Once across the lake my hips, knees and shoulders were killing me.  When the cataraft arrived we unpacked and got ready to bushwhack up to camp.

Boat landing.
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The Skillet Route.
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Geared up and ready to bushwhack.
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I'm pretty sure this was a wolf's lair that we came across during the bushwhack.  There were tons of fur and the remnants of a kill.
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The Skillet handle coming into view.
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Beautiful views of The Skillet kept us excited and encouraged on the hike.
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When we arrived at camp, we set up our tents and then immediately started prepping food and water.  We had to move quickly so we could get to sleep early.  We had a 2 am wake-up call approaching.

Home sweet home.
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Dinner with friends.
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The setting sun meant shutting down stoves and going to bed.
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Clayton bivied under a rock...a pretty sweet set-up.
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As we were going to sleep, we heard the unwelcome sound of rain.  It proceeded to rain for hours.  This was discouraging and concerning for the snow conditions and safety of the next day's adventure.

May 16, 2013:
The ring of my alarm clock at 2 am got us up and talking.  The rain had stopped, but it still had us concerned about the snow and avalanche conditions for our climb.  We decided to get out and see what conditions were like first hand.  If we saw anything concerning our plan was to turn around.

A true "alpine" start.
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Slow but sure.
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Keeping safe following distance in the dark.
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Before the sun came up Clayton and I had already reached the base of The Skillet glacier.  We stopped there and waited for the rest of the group to arrive.  We discussed the snow conditions and whether or not we should continue to climb.  Fortunately, although it had rained on us at camp it seemed to have frozen at higher elevations.  The snow conditions were improving as we climbed, so we decided to continue.

Pre-dawn light over Jackson Lake from The Skillet glacier.
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Clayton in the pre-dawn light.
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Watching the sunrise over Jackson Lake.  Great way to start the day.
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Talking about snow conditions.
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Light through the clouds.
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It was just one of those moments in life that you'd like to pause.
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After climbing The Skillet glacier and crossing the bergschrund we reached the Skillet Handle.  The snow had improved significantly.  What now concerned us was the weather.  We had significant cloud cover on the Skillet Handle, limiting our visibility.  However, it was keeping the snow cold and safe.  We continually evaluated our decisions on the way up, making sure we weren't putting ourselves in a dangerous situation.

Looking down from the base of the Skillet Handle.
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Looking up from the base of the Skillet Handle.
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Talking with Clayton about continuing the climb.
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Into the clouds.
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The cloud on the Skillet Handle was quite dense and it even began to snow during our climb.  We had to continually stop and make sure we were able to communicate with everyone in the group.  This made our progress slow, but since the sun wasn't affecting the snow we were able to afford the extra time.  The snow stayed cold and ideal for climbing and skiing.

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At this point Palmer's body wasn't cooperating with him and he stopped his climb.  We had about 1000 vertical feet left to climb and the rest of us pushed upwards.
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Me and Davis topping out on the Skillet Handle.
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Once we finished climbing the Skillet Handle, we made the short trek to the summit of Mount Moran.  It was wonderful to be on top, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed to miss out on the view.

Andre, Davis and Me atop Mount Moran.
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Clayton is a fellow Keystone Stater.  Representing the Steel City atop Mount Moran.
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A solo shot of me on the summit.  I thought my grandfather would like this.
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When we got back down to the top of the Skillet Handle I was EXTREMELY EXCITED.  The snow was good, the line was steep and I was finally skiing a mountain I had wanted for a dozen years!  I dropped in first and Clayton took tail.

Looking down the Skillet Handle from the top.
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We didn't take any pictures until we got down lower and you could actually see better.  I can't adequately articulate how enjoyable the descent was.

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Me above.
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Me close.
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Me below.
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Andre in the sun.
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Davis in the sun.
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Clayton below the Skillet Handle.
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Clayton crushing.
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This view just didn't get old.
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We met Palmer back at camp and proceeded to pack up and bushwhack back to Jackson Lake.  Once there, we loaded the cataraft.  I decided not to paddle the kayak across the lake for a couple reasons; 1) my shoulders, knees and hips still hurt from doing it the day before, and 2) the weather was getting pretty nasty to be on such a small boat in the middle of the cold lake.  Andre and Clayton had a hellish paddle across the lake with wind and waves nearly causing them to spend the night on an island.  Palmer, Davis and I had a drenched hike back to the String Lake Trail Head.  From there I hitchhiked back to the Signal Mountain boat ramp to get my truck.  I picked up Palmer and Davis then we helped Andre and Clayton organize the gear back at the Signal Mountain boat ramp.

It was a long, crazy, fun day.  We rolled back to Jackson, got some pizza, then made it back to Patrick's house at midnight.  Sleep felt very good.

May 17, 2013:
I had hoped to spend a few extra days in Jackson for some other adventures after Mount Moran, but the weather was rain and thunderstorms.  This stymied our extra plans, so we headed back to Colorado a little early.  All in all I was very satisfied with the trip.  I got to ski something I had wanted to ski for many, many years and I got to do it with a great group of people.

May 18, 2013:

Check out my "dry-v-way."
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  1. Love to see people pursuing their dreams - sounds like it was a great trip - keep those adventures coming!!!

  2. Joel, that is absolutely fantastic! I love the shots of the sunrise. Simply breathtaking.

  3. Hey Joel...Do you have a gear list for this trip? I'd love to see it.

    Love, Yarden's sister.

    1. Haha...the gear list for a trip like this is pretty long. We basically combined 4 different sports/activities; backcountry skiing, mountaineering, boating and backpacking. There was a pretty extensive email chain before the trip discussing gear but I don't have a list all in one spot.

  4. Ok....Can you tell me about your "big 3" then? Tent/Bag/Pack?

    1. Sure thing.
      Tent - MSR Fury (4 season)
      Bag - Older REI Zenith (0 degree, synthetic fill)
      Pack - Deuter Aircontact 75+10

  5. Thank you so much for posting this awesome trip report. Like you, I have dreamed about this for years. I have climbed the CMC route on Moran in the summer, which made me even more interested in skiing this mighty line. Well, it looks like the best snow in twenty years, and I skied the resort in early March. All systems go for an attempt in May. I plan to spend a week up there so hopefully have a window of weather opportunity.

    1. Nice! Feel free to ask me any questions about approach, camp locations, route, etc. For those of us that don't live near the Tetons it can be hard to get the timing right, which is why it took me so long to finally ski Moran. I'm guessing that the lake is melting out pretty quickly right now, so that makes getting to the base of the peak pretty difficult. It is best to go when the lake is completely thawed or frozen because going in on the trail is rough. It was a really fun day in the mountains, that's for sure. Hope you're able to tag it!

  6. Did you guys need climbing gear (harness, rope, ice screws, etc...)