This last weekend Price and I went for an attempt of the longest route in the lower 48, The South Buttress direct of Mount Moran in the Tetons, it was beautiful, woke up early after a drizzly night, morning mist hanging over the crystal clear lake, a short break in the clouds and Mount Moran’s East Buttress was glowing golden high above us. We paddled the canoe filled with gear across String Lake, river otters watching us as we passed on the calm glassy water. We portaged the 300yds to Leigh Lake, paddling for another half hour to the North Western shore where the lake is fed by runoff from the Falling Ice Glacier. We packed our racks with food and water for overnight, a 50m rope each and started hiking up the beautiful glacial drainage eating wild raspberries along the way, talking philosophy.
Our plan was to climb 11 pitches that day and bivy in the small meadow before the final ridge, a longer than expected approach put us on top of the 2nd ramp and the first pitch of climbing at around 10am. Price had the first lead, and started up the pitch that was supposed to be 5.7 but felt much harder, my guess is that we were on a variation (later confirmed to be South Buttress Wrong). Thirty feet up he placed a yellow metolius cam, then weighted his right foot for the next move when a giant block the size of a mini-fridge broke off and headed straight for me. The rock made a sickening grating sound as it slid, after one bounce the block exploded sending football sized rocks raining down towards me and my unprotected head. Everything went into slow motion, behind me off the ledge was an 8 foot drop to a rock below and my only real option to escape the falling rock rapidly approaching. As I was trying to let out slack I jumped, football sized chunks falling around me, somehow I succeeded in dodging the most murderous ones but ended up coming up just short on slack and pulling Price off, slapping his forehead on the rock as he fell.
After a brief moment of silence, we gave a few war whoops in reaction to the adrenaline rush. What a close call! Price continued slightly shaken to the first belay. Six or seven pitches later we got off route and into some tough 5.11 climbing, I had to pull through a hard roof protected only by my smallest micro nut that is not intended to hold a fall and a screamer with a 20 pound pack, it was some of the scariest, coolest movement on rock I have ever done.
After this pitch we sat down and looked at our topos of the route. It looked as though we were on a route called “South Buttress Wrong” 5.11a A1 grade V, we didn’t have much more than an hour and a half of daylight left and knew we couldn’t make the bivy spot by dark so we decided we had to bail out.
We know now that we need to cross the lakes on the first night,and hike to the top of the 2nd ramp and bivy there for a bright and early 6am start up the first pitch and that we need to traverse left after the third pitch to the third class ramp. We’re going back for another attempt next weekend.
“Where there is no peril in the fight, there is no glory in the triumph”