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Direct South Buttress 
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South Buttress Right, Mt. Moran T 

Direct South Buttress 

YDS: 5.9 French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 17 British: HVS 5a C1

Type:  Aid, Alpine, 11 pitches, 1500', Grade IV
Original:  YDS: 5.9 French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 17 British: HVS 5a C1 [details]
FA: Richard Emerson, Don Decker, and Leigh Ortenburger
Season: summer
Page Views: 10,218
Submitted By: andrew kulmatiski on Jul 14, 2008

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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.

Photos of Direct South Buttress Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Mike traversing over the void on the DSB.
Mike traversing over the void on the DSB.
Rock Climbing Photo: the double pendulum/aid pitch near the top of the ...
the double pendulum/aid pitch near the top of the ...
Rock Climbing Photo: Bobby traversing the long ridge to the summit.  Th...
Bobby traversing the long ridge to the summit. Th...
Rock Climbing Photo: Another look at the double pendulum. Thin crack ab...
Another look at the double pendulum. Thin crack ab...

Comments on Direct South Buttress Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Jul 7, 2017
By George Bell
From: Boulder, CO
Jul 14, 2008

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.
By Drake
From: Glenwood Springs, CO
Aug 25, 2008

Be very careful pulling your ropes on the rappel. A stuck rope can mean a scary solo or a cold night on a ledge.
By M. Morley
From: Sacramento, CA
Mar 26, 2009

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.
By jon jugenheimer
From: Madison
Aug 15, 2011
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a C1

Just climbed the route the other day. Some pics of the route can be found on my blog;
By Jorge Gonzalez
From: San Gabriel, CA
Feb 13, 2012

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.
By Toby
From: Jackson, WY
Mar 30, 2012


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?
By Roy Leggett
Aug 12, 2012
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a C1

Small offset cams would be the bee's knees for the first moves of aid.
By Owen Witesman
From: Springville, UT
Sep 16, 2015

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.
By Jorge Gonzalez
From: San Gabriel, CA
Oct 26, 2015


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.
By jediah porter
Oct 14, 2016

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.
By neil grimaldi
Jul 7, 2017

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.

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