That paddle was pretty frekin cool. No wind, tons of stars, and a nice meteor display with another shooting star every 5 minutes all around us. As we turned the corner into Leigh lake Mount Moran got bigger and bigger with every stroke and it's massive south face began to show itself. We were headed for the Direct South Buttress, a classic-esk route that technically ends half way up the side of the mountain. It goes at 5.9 C1 depending on who you talk to, some would say 5.12-, but not us on that day. Our original plan was to go to the top, and down the CMC route, on the Southeast side of the mountain.
We landed the canoe and started walking up the typical valley found in the Northern part of the Range, so I have read. We walked on a "trail" through thickets, wet-ish terrain and boulder hopped at other times. We walked for about an hour up and onto the lower of two west trending ramp systems just past an awesome waterfall. I would LOVE to get back here some time to climb this once it is all frozen up.
Laughing Lion Falls.
The South side of the mountain is complex fully featured terrain. Multiple faces, ridges, gullies, and bowls dominate this landscape and make for one interesting day. We gained the top of the ramp, passing a good bivy spot in the talus below the real ramp, then again at the very top of the ramp on the corner. We took a small break here to get our gear ready, but kept the rope stowed. We climbed about 80 meters of low 5th class through some broken loose terrain up the prominent gully. We got the rope out for the last 5 meters up and onto the very top of the second ramp, that begins the route proper.
Carter on the First Pitch (3rd on the topo)
The first real Pitch went at 5.7 with Carter leading one of the sloping right facing Dihedrals to the upper black dike and traversing left after that. I got the second lead to a continued left leading traverse, first left, then up around a block and upwards left for the rest of the full 60 meters.
Leading the 2ed pitch. 5easy.
That put us below a 5.8 corner that the topo has a loose. There were a few blocks, but it wasn't to bad, and Wes handled it fine.
Wes leading the corner.
That pitch brought us out left again to a huge sloping ramp on the south west side of the mountain. Carter was up to lead us back onto the ridge proper with the 4th proper pitch. Carter lead up left to a pin along the base of wall and then up and back to the right. He combined the next two pitches on the topo, but had significant rope drag because of it. It was a long traverse back right to finish the 55 meter pitch to a good belay.
Carter leading out left to gain the ledge system 10m directly above him. We worked up and right of the white band in the rock. The next pitch heads into the large cracks seen on the right edge of the photo.
It was my lead next and I climbed up out of the belay that was was under a alcove with a flake in it. I went out left as it looked a bit better, and I didn't want to fall on my belayer. I worked up and right into a corner then onto a large ledge at the base of a cool chimney. I never have been a fan of chimneys, but this one was fun! It was an expanding outward chimney, with a few horizontals to use and a crack on the left to use as well. Eventually you get on the outside of the chimney and keep working up and then slightly right unto a large flat ledge.
Me leaving the belay.
From the big ledge on the right side of the arete, Wes was up and lead straight up for the crux free pitch of the route. You work your way up and back left, over the tops of a pinnacle followed by some fun face climbing. You then grab the side of another giant flake and work your way up, eventually standing on the top of it. Aesthetically, it was freking awesome!
The large flake that you climb up and over.
From the top of the flake, Wes got in two very small wires on the face before a short traverse to the right. One of those wires is still fixed...sorry Wes! Their is a small ledge there to make the traverse that sucked me in by walking across it, I called up and Carter and Wes responded to use it as a hand rail instead. There are good feet below and that's what I did. After the traverse you climb straight up past two old rusty pins that have rings on them, kind dated there. This was the free climbing crux of the route, with a tricky 5.9 move to get up to the belay.
The belay consisted of two 1/4 bolts with one of them sticking half way out, that we equalized back down to another pin and a small wire that carter got into a seem. Interesting to think about now that it's over...
And this is when the fun began! From here their is a pendulum out to the right to get to a steep thin crack in the wall to exit the route. Carter took the lead on this as he has all of the Yosemite experience, and began by being lowered out by me on belay. He clipped into two equalized pins below and right to really get the swing going to grab the fixed gear out right. He made it out and clipped in. He used all the tricks he knows to the aid section for only bringing two short adiers, and no other real aid gear.
First the Pendulum
Next the Aid. C1
Wes following. He is tied in short and rappelling to the beginning of the aid.
After the aid section a large ledge was found and we reracked our gear for the next and "final" pitch (so says the topo). A sweet hand traverse with marginal feet (rated 5.5!) worked out right for 35+ meters under roofs and along a large horizontal crack system. A small corner is reached and easily climbed to the belay up till the rope runs out. That is the end of the route and you can rappel down and right from the bowl or continue up the mountain from there, which was our plan.
I lead another 2 pitches of mid to low 5th class back up onto the ridge arete, which then turned into an awesomely scary Knife edge ridge.
Leading the rock between the end of the route and the ridge.
Carter leading the Knife edge. We simul climbed the ridge all tied into the same rope.
We got to the end of the long ridge with a large wall in front of us, a bowl to the right and a gully to the left. We had only one leter of water each left, the desire to go to the top, and I was the vocal ok with going down. After some discussion or our options, (water, time, location, weather forecast...) we took the gully left and wend down. About half way down the loose, crap filled gully we found a weakness right to a ridge with a few trees on it to get into the next gully to the north, as the one that we were in cliffs out and is highly highly recommended not to go down! We got into the next gully and began the first of two rappels, followed by more down climbing and gully washing to another rappel to more down climbing down more scree. We eventually got down to an endless pile of scree and boulders to make it back to the creek by well into dark. It took us over three hours just to get down to the creek and 5 hours total to get back to the lake.
We bushwhacked through some nasty thick crap in the dark yelling for bears every now and again. We picked up he trail and lost it again about 20 times all the way back to the lake to our waiting boat and a drom bag full of the WATER!!!! I drank so much and we paddled back to the car arriving around 2:30am and back to the house in town 24 hours after we started. Wes started the drive, didn't even make it to the park entrance before we swapped drivers and I drove the rest of the way, by almost falling asleep myself before we even reached town. Carter was out from minute number two curled up in puffy.
Because our original plans of paddling in on saturday afternoon and getting up to the base of the route that night were changed at 9pm friday by a weather forecast that never materialized, it through a small wrench into the execution of the climb. We bailed after the route was technically over, but way before our plans to make it to the top and down to the CMC campsite to bivy for the night where there is water.
Over all, it was another Awesome freking day in the mountains, and had a great time climbing the route! Next time we will make the summit with different planning and faster climbing now that we have some knowledge of the mountain.
Below are a few more rad pics from the climb in various locations.
All photos are from myself, Carter Stritch (http://www.spireequipment.com/) or Wes Womack.