5.5 Mod. Snow
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The North Ridge seen from Jackson Lake.
This long and remote route is an excellent mountaineering outing, on generally good rock and with the likelihood of some snow travel as well. It was Petzoldt's most memorable climb on the peak, done in an early season ascent when snow climbing would have been an unavoidable feature of the day. Parties should evaluate conditions and be prepared for snow in the big couloirs and on the ledges, depending on the timing of their ascent.
The setting is unique and spectacular, and once atop the crest near Phil Smith Peak excellent views include Traverse and Bivouac Peaks to the north across Moran Canyon, the Triple Glaciers to the west, and the scabrous, repellent north face of the Moran itself.
The route is inboard of the north (right-hand) skyline of the peak as seen from the Oxbows, the Jackson Lake Dam, and other common vistas of Moran in the north end of the Park. It climbs up and through the complex face left of the crest of the ridge, making some big traverses leftward on huge ledges, and surmounting numerous short headwalls and crossing small riblets on the way to the notch between Peak 11,795 (aka, unofficially, Phil Smith Peak). From the notch the route stays closely along the crest to the North Summit. The short cliffs guarding the north summit plateau are trickier than one would like, late in the day.
Expect a rough approach day. Among various options, one can put in at Spalding Bay and boat around the corner and into Moran Bay at the bottom of the drainage coming down from the north side of the Northeast Ridge. Expect savage bushwhacking, the most severe in the Park, up and into the remote cirque under the NE Ridge, and place a camp as high as possible, giving thought to water and to one's plans for descent. Continue up towards the extensive walls that form the wide base of the ridge, passing to the right of a distinct, separated buttress of darker rock below the walls. Traverse left across the top of this buttress, following increasingly narrow and exposed ledges leftward until prudence dictates use of the rope. Two or three pitches up and left, then up and back right, will get a party established on the route and onto terrain where the view upwards opens up a bit. After that, routefinding and scrambling ability will determine the flow of the day.
Descent to camp can be made via the Northeast Ridge, a long tiring piece of work but it does make a clean round trip.
A small rack of nuts and cams, and plenty of runners, will provide sufficient protection. Cams to a #3 Camalot would be adequate. No fixed gear is likely to be found, not to say that there isn't any... it's a big route with many route variation choices.
The number of pitches will vary from party to party and with the conditions encountered, but if climbers were to belay much of the route up to the notch, then the ascent would take forever. The more scrambling and third classing a party can do, the better off you'll be in avoiding a bivy. Thoughtful routefinding is important for a satisfying ascent. An excellent photo of the route with a 'line of ascent' can be found in the Ortenburger/Jackson guide book and would be worth seeking out.
Paul Horton scouting the walls guarding the North ...
Parties descending the NE Ridge will have an unav...
The route begins at the lower left skyline of the ...
View across the Triple Glaciers and a fragment of ...
The shadow of Mt. Moran marches across Jackson Lak...