Mt. Moran Skillet Glacier GrundleFest

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Mt. Moran’s Skillet Glacier.

Mount Moran (12,605 ft): Skillet Glacier Route
Mileage (RT): 4 (skis), 8 (boat)
Vert: 6,000 feet
Trailhead: Signal Mountain Boat Launch

I’ve been intrigued by Mount Moran ever since seeing a trip report about it on TGR years ago, then reaffirmed by a pic from a plane included in Chris Davenport’s “50 Classic Ski Descents of North America“. The draw is obvious from the start – an approach on a canoe across a lake in the Tetons to a campsite along a shore and a 6000 foot vertical ski line in the heart of raw nature. In my opinion, that’s a must do for any ski mountaineer, or any mountaineer period.

My first couple trips to the Tetons involved leisure hikes up Cascade Canyon and a few attempts at climbing the Grand. Moran was always just that cool looking prominent peak to the North. So when Mike and Jamie invited me to climb the Skillet Glacier over Memorial Day weekend, without having to use any PTO, I jumped at the opportunity. I hate having to look at it that way, but such is life for a weekend warrior.

The Tetons are an absolute mecca for anything alpinism. From a skier’s point of view, think of the Gores with double the vertical rise from the valley and 3 to 4 times the skiing vertical. That’s all I could think of over the weekend – I was staring at the Gore Range…on crack. The Tetons are a scary range, at least to me. It has a tendency to humble the uninitiated. Unless you are Alex Lowe, you simply cannot take these mountains for granted. In the couple previous trips I had taken to the area, disastrous nasty weather and unpreparedness cost me dearly on reaching the summit of the Grand. I wouldn’t say they were a nemesis range yet, but they had my attention and they made me nervous (Mike’s nemesis peak was Rainier after a couple ill-fated attempts – I guess we all have our own personal obstacles). The late Steve Romero’s TetonAT.com includes line after line of steep, committing, no fall ski routes that would put to shame just about any line in Colorado (think Landry Line, with 1500-2000 more vert and scatter all over a concentrated range and you have the Tetons). Its both a dangerous and overwhelming realization of the potential of the Tetons when you don’t live there. It’s best to just appreciate what you have in your backyard and enjoy and cherish your visits to this fine gem when you can, at least that’s my opinion on the matter.

Jamie, Mike and I made the midnight drive to Rock Springs, where we drove an extra 10 miles north of town to the turnoff for the Boar’s Tusk and plopped down for the evening. We woke up to what looked like a setting for an episode of Breaking Bad. “We’re in Wyoming, not New Mexico right?”. Mike, who is always the voice of reason and clarification, confirmed we were in fact in Wyoming and under 3 hours from Jackson. Good to know. We got in to Jackson around 11, got some sandwiches at Backcountry Delicatessen (formerly Backcountry Provisions) and loaded the canoe from Rendezvous Sports on the roof.

Utilizing the Outback to its fullest potential.

Since I had a base model Outback, there weren’t any obvious places to tie the canoe down to underneath the car, so some gerry-rigging was in order. Now I know why the Limited Edition is 6 grand extra.

Next stop was the climbing permit ($25) which we picked up at the Moose Visitor’s Center at the south entrance of the park. Due to some computer malfunctions and an unaware or uninformed park staff, this took a while. Mike and I checked out the store while Jamie waited patiently.

Our entire route from the model in the Visitor’s Center.

The Visitor Center’s namesake.

We finally got the permits squared away and a bear canister and were on our way. This was Mike’s virgin trip to Wyoming and he got a mouthful of mountains on the drive in….

The one and only.

Buck and it’s variety of classic lines.

That’s Teewinot and you can ski over 5000 feet straight off the summit to the Lupine Meadows parking lot.

After gaping at the sights, along with the rest of the hoards, we arrived at the Signal Mountain Lodge area, where we circumnavigated our way to the public boat launch where we were forced to start our adventure due to the road to Spalding Bay, the usual drop off point, still snow covered. This would add significant distance paddling across Jackson Lake (which on Saturday, was windy, crowded and rough). Given this was all of our first times paddling across a lake to a skiing objective, it definitely increased the anxiety a little. A motorized boat would’ve done wonders.

Signal Mountain Boat Launch.

Bivouac Peak and an interesting couloir.

Fully loaded. Sure hope 3 people and gear won’t sink this canoe.

The initial leg of the canoe across the lake went relatively smooth. We opted to scale the shoreline, in case the wake got too bad or the weather rolled in. Around the time we reached our initially intended start point at Spalding Bay, the clouds had begun to envelop the area and the wind was literally tossing us in circles and shoving us in to the shore. We decided to dock ourselves and see if the winds would die down.

Storm clouds and ominous terrain around the shore. Hope the Grizz aren’t out yet.

We tried getting back in the water a few times, but the wind and tide were sucking us right back in to the shore, like a tractor beam. No matter how hard we paddled, we couldn’t fight it or adjust to it. After a while, we eventually learned to let the current take us and then paddle with it accordingly, which helped us get around the point of Spalding Bay and out of the winds enough to return to our normal routine. By the time we reached Bearclaw Bay, the water was all but still and we reached our intended shores, 2 hours and 45 minutes later.

Approaching distant shores with impending clouds.

Touchdown.

There were 2 other visible parties already camped out along  the shore, with a large gap in the middle to call home for the night. We found a nice little knoll a couple feet above the shoreline with just enough room for a 3-man tent and some branches to hang gear on. It was nice to know that the bruins could only come at us from one side, more or less. I know I’m a tad overly paranoid about that issue, but read Stephen Herrero’s “Bear Attacks” people and then tell me I’m paranoid. Not to mention people have had to wade idle in the bay while families of Grizz passed on by.

Camp

We cooked on the rocky shore that evening with a calm presence about the place. I wasn’t sure to be relieved or worried, as the afternoon’s build up seemed to have gone in to hiding for the time being. Having a history with Teton storms, I wasn’t convinced the worst was over yet. Nonetheless, dinner was peaceful, and delicious….

You won’t find a better combo in the backcountry.

After some 4-cheese tortellini, salt and pepper pistachios, some handfuls of Extra Cheddar Goldfish (The Golden King Soopers is hiding their Pringles!) and some Country Time Lemonade, we decided to call it an early evening with anticipation of an absurdly early start. After talking to some locals camping near us who had skied the Skillet earlier that morning, all we garnered from the conversation was “no freeze in 10 days or nights” and “runneled”, as well as “character building ski descent”. Terrific. With afternoon temps expected to reach the high 50’s and 100% chance of sun, I was mentally and physically preparing myself for a grudge match.

Before hitting the sack, I sat along the shore admiring a little stocking stuffer from mother nature. She can giveth just as much as she can taketh.

10 essentials just became the 13 essentials.

Lights went out around 8:15pm. Around 10:30, mother nature brought a little micro burst of pain, showering the area for a good 30 minutes. I wanted to curse loudly, but nobody else was really moving, so I didn’t want to worsen the already worsened mood. Every 30 seconds, just when it seemed like the burst would fade, it came back twice as hard as before. It ceased abruptly and we were able to enjoy the final 90 minutes dozing off. I think I actually got some genuine shuteye. I was pretty nervous, but at the same time, I had this overwhelming sense of stubborn resilience, and I knew I was going to give this mountain my all in the morning. No more 8 hour drives through podunk Wyoming to get skunked again.

12:30am rolled around too soon and we hit the trail around 1:25am (Jamie is very methodical when it comes to stats). This was the first approach where I can remember almost the entire way up AND the way down later that day. It had 3 defined segments of suck, but they were manageable. After skinning over barely supportable snow and weaving in, out, over, under and through downed logs, we reached a head wall with the creek to our right and no obvious way through, so we decided to go right up it. I was reaching the beginning stages of nerd rage already and it wasn’t even 2:30am. This would be a new record! It started off with deep sighs, which quickly metamorphosed to audible grunts, pretty soon reaching levels where I was just putting my head down and trying to run over large trees.

As luck would have it, one of those trees I tried to run over spit me right out on to the lower apron of the glacier, where we saw 3 headlamps bobbing there way up what looked to be an unobstructed snowfield above tree line. Finally, we were on the glacier. Without much pause to celebrate, we began trudging up the hill in to the night. Jamie took off ahead with Mike and I putting one foot in front of the other. We had an idea where we were, but no idea at the same time, we might as well been on the moon. We just kept following those lights above us in to the dark abyss that was the Skillet.

I felt like Ed Harris falling in to the Abyss with a small light appearing at the end of the tunnel.

Light was creeping its way in to the Teton valley ever so slightly and by the time we reached a landmark rock outcropping that we had spotted the day before from afar, it finally showed its face.

Sunrise with inversion over Jackson Lake. Is this heaven?

I was filled with emotion. I had been wanting to be this high in the Tetons since the last time I failed on the Grand. Climbing in your home state can cause temporary periods of complacency, but achieving a goal such as this is a nice reminder of why this is all so much fun.

The sun rising also meant we were on a race to ski the line in semi-reasonable conditions. We noticed a ton of wet slide debris across all aspects, but there were pockets of untouched corn. There were also 3 people ahead of us and we were thinking they were thinking the same thing. We had to hustle.

Mike around the dog leg of the Skillet as we neared the handle up high.

As we reached the dog leg of the route, we looked back and saw no less than 20 climbers making their way up the Skillet. Good ole holiday weekends. Now that the sun was out, we also noticed that we were surrounded by 100% Grade A grundle on all aspects and that this descent was going to be full on survival skiing. Fortunately, the venue was too beautiful to really care, we were just thrilled to be able to summit a Teton peak.

The fellas below seemed to be using the grundle to their advantage and appeared un-phased. Some even opted to travel across the grundle as opposed to the nicely laid down boot pack to the climber’s left of it. Grundle can be irresistible.

Balls deep in grundle. This ain’t his first rodeo.

Some fear the grundle, others use it to their advantage. Mike and I would find out where we fell in that category on the descent.  We pushed onward and upwards, reaching a comfortable rhythm up the main body of the Skillet, reaching the 50+ degree handle around 7am. We both realized around that time that we needed to be skiing in less than 30 minutes and we still had 1500 feet to go. This peak would not relent! We finally topped out around 7:45, leaving our packs at the top of the col of the Skillet and hiking the final 50 feet to the flat summit. Amen!

“Looks like the Bell Cord”, says Mike.

Yep – this is heaven.

5800 feet below. No big deal.

Now I thought Shasta had the coolest summit views in the lower 48, but Moran gave it a serious run for its money. You be the judge.

I once said Longs was a big f**king rock. Well the Grand is a big f**king jagged rock.

Now this would be a summit to camp atop.

Thor Pk’s Hidden Couloir.

Sea of Tranquility reaching all the way north to Yellowstone.

Jamie had been on the summit for a solid 20 minutes, waiting for us. We took some summit shots, talked to some locals about some lines in the area, admired our place in this world and then prepared for the descent, with Jamie getting a head start since he was down climbing the route on foot.

Summit shot

Looking down from the summit ridge at West Thorn (11,605).

Mike and I then dropped in around 8:15am, easily over a hour too late. We paid for it mostly, but had moments of reprieve. Here were some of the highlights :

“I was caught in the middle of a wet slide attack….Grundle!”

“And I knew there was no turning back….Grundle!”

“Sound of the drums….Beatin in my heart……the thunder of guns……tore me apart”.

You’ve been…….Grundlestruck!!!

The Ski Logik Howitzers – aka “The Grundle Busters” – had been fooled on this day. They are used to hard packed, dug in, rough grundle, but Teton Grundle was a whole different ball game. Instead of biting into and thrashing away the snow, the Grundle Busters would plow in to the grundle, only for the grundle to give way, playing Jedi mind tricks on the skis. What this meant in technical terms is I didn’t perform any clean stops – I just landed and fell down when I got tired of skiing. Mike, being the sage wizard he is, was able to control this more so than myself and Jamie just plunge stepped 6000 feet down the entire face, so the joke was on the skier’s on this day I guess.

This was a constant, free-flowing river of wet slide debris and this canyon was 5 to 6 feet deep.

Al Davis’s Forehead

I joke about the snow pack, but it wasn’t a bad experience by any stretch of the imagination. Aside from being exhausted, it was an incredible adventure that struck a cord in me personally. This was Mike’s first Wyoming summit and actually his virgin trip to the Cowboy State, so I know this was meaningful to him and Jamie obviously is fond of the place as he’s climbed a bunch here over the years and knows it pretty damn well.

As Mike and I waited for Jamie at the bench below the rocks, we had the pleasure of witnessing some significant seracs break on the cliff faces along the looker’s right side of the Skillet, one of which caused a noteworthy slide on the slope we had just descended 10 minutes before. It was amusing and terrifying at the same time. Rockfall was constant, but most of it never really touched down to the valley floor, despite being really loud. We knew it was time to GTFO.

As we neared tree line, Mike and I tried to figure out the most efficient way to descend to camp. Jamie took the high road along the left side of the creek and every time we saw him, he looked to be effortlessly strolling down the path. We, on the other hand, couldn’t figure out if we needed to shoulder our skis and slog out, or continue to find snow lines to the lake. After we had enough of picking out way through the woods, we finally forded the creek and put the skis on the pack for the remainder of the reproach. The rest looked something like this:

“You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen.”

I had to take back my ski strap from Mike so they went in all directions. His attitude was still stellar and he overcame obstacles with a zen-like focus. I on the other hand cursed at inanimate objects. We all have our ways dealing with things.

Now THIS is heaven.

A hellacious 1/2 mile schwack later, we reached the shores of Bearclaw Bay with skis on our backs and sand on our ski boots. It feels odd typing that, but thats what it was and it felt amazing. You don’t get to experience something like that too often.

We packed up the canoe quickly and got on the now calm bay, making double time back to the boat launch. Climbing a line like Skillet in such blitzkrieg fashion seemed disrespectful, but we didn’t have the luxury of time and had to keep moving. Mike was on paddle and I was sitting bitch, enjoying the view…

L-I-V-I-N

The Grand looked pretty cool as well.

We reached the boat launch within 2 hours, quickly loaded up the rig and made way for Jackson with food and beverage on the brain. We dropped the boat off with ease and met up with a friend of a friend at Local, a “local” burger joint in downtown Jackson with Pakos on tap and burgers the size of your upper torso. We did pass this establishment en route…..

They stole my f**king idea.

After re-fueling, both in food and in gas, we made way South towards Pinedale, where we found a nice campsite for the night….

Not a bad place to call home for the night.

Wyoming is sweet in the sense that anything is fair game with regard to dispersed camping. You can locate a forest road, drive a half mile and pitch a tent just about anywhere you damn well please. The population of Wyoming is around 575,000, which is around the size of Colorado Springs, and its the 10th largest state in terms of total area, so you can do the math. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Toys” with Robin Williams, you can get a sense of the landscape. Rolling fields of green grass as far the eye can see with the Wind River Range as a perfect backdrop. Its tough trying to figure out what is heaven in NW Wyoming.

Sunrise was our alarm the next morning and we decided to break up the drive with a 5.4 rock climb leg stretcher 10 miles north of Rock Springs on an isolated “desert tower” called Boars Tusk. The highlight was a 200 foot rappel from the summit and a 1-pitch bird shit riddled climb.

Boars Tusk “trailhead”.

Reaching the bottom of the 1st and only pitch. We had some buzzards circling and kawking at us throughout.

My car – 400 feet below.

Great days we’re liven’ – Papillon

200 foot rap

Boars Tusk – sentinel of Rock Springs. Looks like a mini South 6 Shooter Pk.

This cow was the last memory of the trip.

Mike and Jamie really started geeking out with the LOJ’ing from Boars Tusk all the way to Eagle County. I learned a lot, when I paid attention, but most of the time played some Stones and Tull to pass the time. I will NEVER succumb to county high pointing. Mark my words.

Nonetheless, solid trip with solid partners in a solid venue. We all got a new iconic Teton peak, elusive Sweetwater County 7er tower and most importantly, discovered Gaper Guides. Twas a trip to remember – thanks for reading.

26 thoughts on “Mt. Moran Skillet Glacier GrundleFest

  1. Sarah B.

    The canoe approach is about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I heard you guys were taking a “boat” across the lake to get to your campsite but I pictured something completely different (like a tourist ferry or something… should’ve known better!).
     
    What a sweet trip. Not bad for a quick weekend away without any time off. Photos are amazing… the Tetons really are spectacular. So this was Mike’s first trip to WY? Next stop should be MT for some GNP peaks.
     
    Nice report Brian. Congrats to all.

    1. Brian Post author

      Thanks Sarah – GaperGuides doesn’t venture this route, so it wouldn’t register. This is a bucket list trip.

  2. Floyd

    Excellent report Brian. Those sunrise pictures are worth the drive in itself even if the ski wasn’t in stellar conditions. Tractor Beams, Pringle-less, leg stretchers, and Gaper Guides – seems like a one-of-a-kind outing for you in several respects.

    1. Brian Post author

      Scot – the lack of Pringles paved way for new beginnings (salt and pepper pistachios). This would be right up your alley.

  3. Brandon Chalk

    Brian – this report rocks. Such fun times. I’m very envious. I love Moran – much more than the Grand. When climbing Moran via the CMC back in 1998 I had no idea the Skillet even existed and that people can ski Moran. Shows how much I knew. I love the canoe rides too – makes for a much more adventurous outing. And, wow to top it off with the Boar’s Tusk! Heck yeah! Congrats to you guys. Cheers!

    1. Brian Post author

      Brandon – looking down the CMC route, it reminded me that this mountain is actually pretty difficult. Not to say Skillet was easy, but it was the easiest way up the peak. I’d still like to get up the Grand one day – with NO snow.

  4. Michael R.

    “Grundle! (aahahahaha) Grundle!”. What a weekend, quite a whirlwind really when you think about it. We crammed a lot in for a three day weekend! You are making it sound like I handled the conditions much better than I did, that was tough and I had my share of falling stops as well, and one intentional jump turn crash to avoid a hole in the snow from eating me alive! I agree with Sarah, GNP here we come 🙂

    1. Brian Post author

      Mike – good times. This was so much fun. Hopefully more to come in the future….and Glacier of course.

  5. globreal

    Wow! Incredible trip report. And I would agree with Sarah (above) in regards to the canoe approach. I’ve not ever seen that in a TR! Thanks for sharing your Wyoming adventure. I am now looking forward all the more, to mine coming up.

    1. Brian Post author

      Britt – goodluck with whatever you get in to up there. Hopefully the weather treats you as well as it treated us.

  6. Rick

    Freak’n awesome looking trip boys and a well written report B!
    Those snow conditions looked challenging, but that kind of thing just makes the trip even more memorable!

  7. Dillon

    Brian, nice way to spend the long weekend. Enjoyed this one buddy. Written in true Helmut form, but I think what really got me was the shots man. It looks like the kind of place where you could probably just sit on the shore of the lake, beer in hand (obviously), and just take it all in and appreciate it for hours. If Gaperguides gives you any free passes for mentioning them on ETR, you know who to give them to. Well done!

    1. Brian Post author

      Dillon – GaperGuides had a sign “now hiring” on the front and probably need a tax accountant.

  8. DKYarian

    This was a fun read. Grundle, gapers, canoes, lakes – this report has it all. Heck, you even got a comment from lordWaffles! Thanks for posting about the wild expanses outside of our fair Colorado-land. I get the impression that NW Wyoming is basically a mini-CO except with steeper peaks, less people, no brain damage from I-70, and more beautiful, wide-open spaces. Awesome work my man!

    1. Brian Post author

      Dave – You nailed it re: NW Wyoming. Thanks a lot for the comment and for the contributions you make to this site.

  9. Ben

    Looks like a Grade A weekend to go along with that Grade A beef! Snow conditions aside, this just looks like a sweet outing all around. It’s been added to the bucket list of ski descents that’s for sure.

  10. Presto

    Love it! What a delightfully entertaining trip (and subsequent report). I am saddened by the lack of pictures of FOOD (just kidding). I concur with you on the salt and pepper pistachios … awesome. Spent several vacations in various parts of that expanse called Wyoming … “big sky” has meaning in a state like that. Glad you didn’t succumb to the murky depths of the lake (I’ve read many trip reports about canoeing to Moran … best way to get ‘er done considering foot travel, even in season, and portaging can be a fustercluck of wrestling with oversized bushes, unsteady footing and a speed slower than a slug on a good day … those who hike the approach tend to wish they had taken the water route). Killer photos … glad that your weather held out well for your successful adventure. Happy trails, my friend.

    1. Brian Post author

      Hey Teri – Thanks a lot for the comment and for checking out the site. I can’t imagine what kind of fustercluck would be waiting for those poor souls who shwack to that mountain. Not to mention Grizz!

  11. Corduroycalves

    Brian, awesome trip report! I’ve done remote camping via canoe before but not peakbagging, and the fear of losing my equipment to the watery depths was always in the back of my mind. Glad you had a great time and I look forward to reading your next trip report!

    1. Brian

      Thanks for checking in Mike. That was definitely the main concern re: losing all our expensive gear. Talk to you soon.

  12. Darrin

    Damn! What an adventure! I’ve always wondered what it would be like to paddle across that lake for Moran, well done.
     
    “they stole my f’n idea” Bwahahahahaha

  13. Jim Dalton

    Great trip report and photos. Brings back my own good Wyoming and Teton memories from 35 years ago. It does not sound like much has changed in NW Wyoming.
    Thanks for the post.

    PS. Are grizzlies a concern on Mt. Moran? Did you take bear precautions?

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