Type: Aid, Alpine, 1500 ft, 11 pitches, Grade IV
FA: Richard Emerson, Don Decker, and Leigh Ortenburger
Page Views: 11,419 total · 89/month
Shared By: andrew kulmatiski on Jul 14, 2008
Admins: Mike Snyder, Jake Dickerson, Taylor Spiegelberg

You & This Route

17 Opinions

Your To-Do List:

Add To-Do · View List

Your Star Rating:

     Clear Rating

Your Difficulty Rating:

-none- Change

Your Ticks:

Add New Tick


An historic 11p route up a sea of granite on the South buttress of Mt. Moran. When combined with the upper ridge to the summit, this is the longest route in the lower 48. I would be surprised if there is a longer rock route in N. America. The first ascent (1953), the exposure, the paddle in, and the setting, make this a classic.
Climb (5.3) for about 400-500' up a gulley to the second ledge. This gulley is located about 100yds past some trees and the prow (though it is probably possible to climb up some 5.5 to 5.8 almost anywhere from the first to second ledges). Move west about 50-100' and climb 5.7 or 5.9 crack to another ledge system 50' above. Follow this ledge system up and west for about 300-400'. The real climbing now begins up beautiful solid granite. Two, 200' pitches can bring you to the top of a huge detached flake. From the top of the flake some 5.8/5.9 pg-13 climbing (50-75') brings you around an arete to some spectacular exposure at the double pendulum pitch. Two pendulums or an 11d traverse bring you to a 4-move aid section followed by some 4th class. The 4-move aid section can apparently be climbed free at 12a- though you would need some small finger tips. The final pitch follows an amazing handtraverse back east for about 100'. This will leave you at a large bowl with some trees and bushes. Water is sometimes available in a spring here and the rappels begin to east of the bowl.
Continuing to the summit will make this climb several times more difficult. Apparently, good route finding can allow 5.4 scrambling over about 3000' of climbing to the summit. We moved up to the ridge and soloed consistent, extremely exposed knife-edge climbing (5.6) for 1000. It appeared to me that staying below the ridge would allow easier climbing. When faced with a notch and headwall move a few hundred yards east/NE to continue to summit.


Paddle in from the String Lake canoe launch, portage to Leigh Lake then paddle to the Western corner of Leigh Lake at the mouth of Leigh Canyon (1.5hrs). Take a hiker's path from campsite 14b up the canyon (1.5hrs). Head up the scree and talus at Laughing Lions Falls. Scramble up the lower ramp for several hundred yards past a grove of trees and around the huge blunt arete of the buttress to a 5.3 gulley.
Many parties rap from the east end of the bowl at the top of the handtraverse pitch. See descent description for the South Buttress Right Route. Alternative descents can be made at a notch at the end of the long traversing section 1000' past the end of the route. This leads down a gulley to the west towards Mt. Thor (7 rappels in a loose stone chute). Apparently, moving N just above a large chockstone and the first rappel will access a gulley that can be downclimbed. From the summit the CMC route can be descended back down to Leigh Lake.


wires, large nuts, single set of cams with extra 0.75's and 2.0's. A 4 could be used, but isn't necessary. Ace axes and crampons needed for ascent and descent early in the season or in snowy years.


George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
Very few people summit on this route, great job! A buddy of mine who has climbed both this route and the Nose in a day told me he thought this route + CMC descent was harder to do in a day. But I think he was yanking my chain. Nonetheless, a huge undertaking.

We did the raps from the bowl, and they take longer than you might think. You need 2 ropes, and most rappels end with some scrambling to the next, and coiling 2 ropes all the time gets old fast. It's either that or drag them through the rubble. Jul 14, 2008
Glenwood Springs, CO
Drake   Glenwood Springs, CO
Be very careful pulling your ropes on the rappel. A stuck rope can mean a scary solo or a cold night on a ledge. Aug 25, 2008
M. Morley
Sacramento, CA
M. Morley   Sacramento, CA  
This is one of the few routes that has shut me down...twice. Both times due to weather. Even if you don't summit, the early morning canoe ride across the lake makes it worth the while. Mar 26, 2009
jon jugenheimer
Madison, WI
  5.9 C1
jon jugenheimer   Madison, WI  
  5.9 C1
Just climbed the route the other day. Some pics of the route can be found on my blog; climbs2high.blogspot.com/20… Aug 15, 2011
Jorge Gonzalez
San Gabriel, CA
Jorge Gonzalez   San Gabriel, CA
In July, 1975, I climbed something called the "the Staircase Arete," which took three days to the summit, we bivvied on a ledge in a storm and made it to a campsite the next night, then summited the next day. I recall a long dihedral, then a traverse across an exposed face which we climbed right up the center, including a little squeeze chimney which you could tunnel through or surmount by pulling up on some jugs from the outside.

To get to it we passed through a swamp with huge downed trees that were barely passable, then crossed two creeks of swiftly moving water. I recall the climb started to the right of a huge gully by walking right on a ledge system, then pulling an overhang through a crack that split a slab by face.

The rangers almost didn't give us a permit to climb the route because it hadn't seen any activity in years. I figure it might have been a variation of the Direct South Buttress, but I have never seen any description of this climb anywhere. does anyone recognize it, and if so, have any other details of it.

It was really a highlight of my climbing career, being only twenty when I did it, and my partner the ripe old age of 14. Feb 13, 2012
Jackson, WY
Toby   Jackson, WY

In Renny's book there is a description for Staircase Arete. Looks like a fun route. It goes at 5.6 and is right of the south buttress wall.

Nice work, any old photos? Mar 30, 2012
Roy Leggett
Lyons, CO
  5.9 C1
Roy Leggett   Lyons, CO
  5.9 C1
Small offset cams would be the bee's knees for the first moves of aid. Aug 12, 2012
Owen Witesman
Springville, UT
Owen Witesman   Springville, UT
Roy is right. I took the two smallest sizes of X4 offset and they were the bee's knees on the beginning of the aid section. Since it's a bit overhung, I found it extremely useful to have a daisy (actually my PAS on one aider, a sling on the other) to hang on. I'm sure tons of people have done this with just slings, but a pair of alpine aiders and two daisies add minimal weight and just make this so much more pleasant, especially if you're not an old hand at aiding (I'm not). Beware of loose rock on the belay ledge after the aid section.

Don't be intimidated by the exposure on the aid pitch. If you've done the climbing before this, you shouldn't notice it anymore! The worst part is actually the traverse before you come around the corner to the pendulum IMHO.

I wish we had had better beta on the gendarme traverse above the first bowl. Basically what I would say is that once you finish the last hand traverse of the main route and want to continue up, continue up and left immediately without going into the bowl (we did, but because we needed to bivvy). There are multiple ways to do this--just do what's easy. We went over the lip of the left ridge of the bowl and followed up under the lip to a cool chimney with chokstones. On the gendarme, yes, you stay right on the knife edge almost the whole way. Just go right over each obstacle. At the end you reach one last biggish spire that is sort of trapezoidal on top. Don't go on top of this! You can, but then there is a pretty sketchy looking rappel that looks even worse when you see it from the other side. Instead, go around the base of the trapezoid to the right. There is also an option to do a short rap to the right and then just walk around the base of the spire with the trapezoid. Then you're at the saddle (which has another sort of broken spire in the middle of it) where you either continue straight (a bit right and then left up the wall I think) or drop down the gully to the left for the traditional descent.

If you take the traditional descent, which we did, the guidebook descriptions suck in terms of the distances they give. What you do is go almost all the way down the first main gully, being very, very careful about kicking rocks on each other. You will see a huge chockstone. Descend into the bowl right above this and then look right for an easy chimney up to some trees. Once up this, cut left a little to better trees to find rap anchors down into the second gully. You could also cut right and downclimb, I believe. The guidebooks are unclear on this, but that was the only thing that looked doable to me. After the rap, arefully pick your way down the series of gullies and choss that follow. You never need to rap again, but be careful as you approach each edge to avoid cliffing out in the wrong one. Lots of it looks like it doesn't go, but there is always a safe downclimb. As we chose gullies, we did tend to trend right in our choices, although that isn't an absolute rule. If it gets super sketchy, you're probably in the wrong place. As I remember it, the last gully required cutting to the left side of a little ridge to a wall of reddish rock. Going right there would have led to a short waterfall.

The only redeeming feature of the traditional descent is that you get to see the awesome route you just did from a much better angle since most of it is around the corner if you're looking at it from the east.

Also, you may or may not find *any* trail for the approach. Once you get up the canyon a little way, there is a cairn trail marked in the boulders up on the north side of the canyon. On the way out we opted to bushwhack right down along the river, which was no worse. I think I'd actually prefer that route, but if you're worried about Yogi, better stick to the talus. Sep 16, 2015
Jorge Gonzalez
San Gabriel, CA
Jorge Gonzalez   San Gabriel, CA

Sorry I missed your response (by several years). A boring afternoon in my office led me to read the September 2009 issue of Climbing with an article about alpine climbs in the Tetons, and, a return to this site.

What's interesting is I remember it being 5.9 A1 (now C1), although I bypassed the aid portion and freed it. The description of the D.S. Buttress seemed more like what we climbed, although I certainly don't remember any pendulum pitch. The rangers definitely told us it had been first climbed in 1953 (2 years before I was born).

After reaching the glacier and arriving at the last 5.5. pitches, we felt so confident we packed up the rope and free soloed to the top. Lots of older (ha, ha, ha) climbers were yelling at us for being so unsafe. My how the tables have turned.

My partner (age 14, probably a runaway from home), took pictures with a small camera, but despite promises, he never sent me copies.

My wife was born the next month. Oct 26, 2015
As of 10/9/16, the pendulum bolts on the DSB are up-to-date. Two of us went up that day and hand drilled a pair of 3/8" SS bolts. We got one of the old ones out, and reused its hole. The other wouldn't come out and remains as a reminder of what was. Oct 14, 2016
for people looking to summit on this route it can be helpful to know that it is possible to bail to the cmc camp from partway up the ridge. Before or after the horizontal knife edge above the bowl one can do a single rap into a more northern/eastern bowl and going up and down several consecutive gullies/couloirs crossing the other southern ridges make it over to the cmc camp in a couple hours. This is essentially reversing the approach of the upper s ridge route described by ortenburger. early season these gullies will be snow/ice. Jul 7, 2017
Thanks to Jediah and crew for the new 2 bolt anchor on the pendulum pitch. It definitely provides a warm and fuzzy feeling on that exposed hanging belay/lower out.

Some notes on climbing the ridge to the summit since there doesn’t appear to be much beta out there: This thing is mega for sure! Although there are a lot of different ways to go as you’re searching for the easiest possible passage, even if you’re trending on the right side of the crest it is still hours and hours of exposed low 5th, many sections that are at least 5.7, loose rock, and a few optional rappels (or else convoluted down climbs, loose weaknesses and ledges on the east side of the ridge). The crux is piecing this whole thing together and deciding when to take the rope off, tie back in, simul-climb, etc. This massive ridge feature is comprised of tower after tower; some of which appear as if they wont connect, but once you get closer you realize that somehow they do. It’s a serious alpine excursion that is approximately 2,800’ feet from the top of the DSB to the summit?

For planning purposes (which should be taken with a grain of salt), it seems like a good rule of thumb is to plan on twice as much time on the ridge as it took to climb the DSB, plus a 3-4 hour descent of the CMC. Many suitable bivy sites exist along the crest, including one particularly excellent cave/sheltered overhang roughly halfway up. There were a few spots to get water in the upper portion of the ridge before the summit in early August 2018. If attempting the route in a day, it’s nice to get one of the 14a or b sites for the night before and night of the climb. Aug 3, 2018
Tod Gunter
Hailey, ID
Tod Gunter   Hailey, ID
This route was a milestone of my climbing career. Took it to the summit, old school style (and this was in 1994) with no extra bivy gear and no aid gear, just a little extra food and water. We hiked in (instead of paddling) which was mistake number 1. The plan was to shiver bivy in the bowl above the main wall and most of the technical climbing. That went well and the climbing was fantastic.
At that point in my experience I had never had exposure like what you face on the double pendulum. For added adventure factor, I mistakenly set up the initial belay around the corner, on the little ledge which was too low and out of sight of the smooth face. That, combined with the high winds, meant we had no means to communicate for all the complicated rope work required by the pendulums and aid section so, needless to say that pitch took forever but my friend and mentor Dave M. pulled it off.
After "sleeping" on our coiled ropes that night we felt like tough guys and planned to fly up the remaining 3000 feet of easy climbing. Wrong. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE UPPER HALF OF THE ROUTE. We we on the knife edge for awhile then got pulled down to the east looking for water (and finding none). Not sure we ever got back on the ridge but we spent the entire day wandering around on varying terrain and finally summited at dusk with Dave pioneering a 5.8 line to the top. Wandering the CMC face in the dark looking for rappels looked like it was going to end tragically so we resigned ourselves to another shivering night on one of the ledges over looking the Falling Ice Glacier. We only slept once the sun hit the face then we snoozed til noon and took our time making our way down in spite having of no food or water. About a quarter mile from the String Lake trailhead , with the sun setting again, we ran into Leo Larsen (climbing ranger) heading out to look for two climbers overdue on the DBS. Glad he didn't have to go far! Walking out together he told us the route had been done car to car in 18 hours. Thanks for that Leo!
Definitely worth the effort and the push for the summit changed this route from just another great Teton rock climb to a defining experience. Dec 15, 2018