Tag Archives: Mount Moran

Skillet Attempt – Mount Moran

Location: GTNP, Mount Moran, Jackson Lake, Skillet Glacier
Elevation: 10,780′, 5,094′ gain/loss
Distance: 24 miles RT
Difficulty: 5 stars
Time: 12-16 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 1/16/2016
Snow Conditions: Powder, consolidated powder, faceted powder, crust 20″ under new snow



Skiing the Skillet back in May of 2012 was one of my first major ski descents in the Tetons.  I can still remember the feeling I had entering the runout under moonlight, looking upwards 6000′ to the summit of Moran.  It took us a long time, but we made it to the top of the Skillet and enjoyed the views from the summit of Moran.  We skied the whole “couloir” down to Jackson Lake without issue, despite my alpine boots and lack of skins.  Ever since than, I have looked up at Mount Moran and wondered what a 6000′ ski down the Skillet would be like in winter conditions.  You certainly couldn’t paddle a canoe to Bearpaw Bay, or bring a 12 pack for the afterparty-but the advantages would be the potential powder. The Skillet lies in one of the more remote places in GTNP, requiring a 7miles (one way) skin from Colter Bay and a 6000′ climb to the summit of Moran.  This type of day requires a level of fitness and snow conditions that don’t happen often.  With that said: Dane, Brian Close and I decided to give it a try on Saturday with the weather conditions calling for snow after 11am….

With all this in mind, we left Jackson at 5:15am and were moving from Colter Bay at 6:25am.  It was dark, but I used my Suunto Traverse to make the way in the direction of the northern edge of the Skillet Couloir.  We continued on for about an hour in the dark until the sun stared to shine through and at that point, we realized we were on target-heading right for the Skillet!



Around this time we crossed our first of three major areas of “slush pockets”.  These occur when, “the ice cracks and water can rush up through the crack on top of the ice but under the insulating snow, and form slush pockets.   These slush pockets can become very broad, sometimes covering entire lakes under the snow, and they are a hazard to travelers.” (Wintertrekking.com)

These points on a skin are a little scary, considering we had yet to hear of anyone crossing Jackson Lake and it was very early in the morning.  Regardless-we gingerly continued on and hoped for the best.  We had been making great time for the first half of the lake (about 3.5mph), but the last half was SLOW and we hit land at 9:25am, 3hrs after beginning.


After cleaning off our skis (the slush freezes quickly) we ate some food and got our gear ready for the climb up the Skillet.  It was around this time I realized that the handle of my Black Diamond pole was hanging on by a thread.   I touched it and it fell off my pole….


After some wonderful “Gorilla Tape” construction by Dane, my pole was functional, but not ideal-considering it was missing the handle.  It was only 120cm long, not the 145cm I usually skin with, but we had to move on.  We worked our way up and to the left through willows and tight pines, until we were finally in the runout of the Skillet.  Here we took a look at the time and saw that we needed to move fast.  It had begun to snow lightly over the past hour and we were still around 5000′ from the summit.  We continued up, stopping only once to drink water-very aware of the time we had to make up.


The snow was exceptionally deep and we were not able to make good time.  We worked our way into the gut of the couloir, finding more consolidated snow in avy paths on the lower portions of the run.  We continuously were looking around and taking check of the snow conditions.  We didn’t see any “major” concerns, despite the fact it was snowing on a huge line in a remote area-so we continued up.  At around 9000′, the sun crept out of the clouds and we were greeted with limited visibility.  The couloir appeared to have flushed at some point in the past few days and the wind was blowing from the northwest….with this new information, we continued on and into the belly of the Skillet.



At about 10,000′ the run mellows out into a 20 degree zone with massive cliffs on either side.  Here, there clouds rolled in and the snow picked up.  We moved up for a while, but eventually the sound of snow flushing off the upper reaches of the mountain became too much to ignore.  We stopped at 10,780′ on a raised portion of the belly to discuss going further.  We could see the last cliff band in the couloir that we had to overcome before the “handle” of the Skillet.  We had a quick chat about what to do next, but there wasn’t much of a discussion to have.  Everything would have had to happen in our favor for this to be a success and with the visibility near zero, we only had once choice….ski down to the lake.  While we were disappointed, the snow was DEEP and we had a blast ripping our way down to the lake.


We tried for something most wouldn’t even consider and failed.  While it was a tough pill to swallow, I am confident to be back at the Skillet in the near future to accomplish the rare feat.  We made it back across the lake and to Colter Bay just before sunset, 11hrs after starting.  We were tired, thirsty and cold-but at least we tried.

Keep on Adventuring!

Sickle Couloir Attempt, Mount Moran

The Sickle Couloir is a major ski line off Mount Moran, with slopes maintaining a consistent 40-50 degree pitch and numerous rock bulges towards the bottom of the run that often require rappels.  It is a line I have been longing to ski for a few years and a definite on the “hit list” for this year.  It tops out around 11,800′ on a north shoulder of Mount Moran and continues down to a cirque at 9000′.  It has hang fire from above, is a “no-fall-zone” and one of the prettiest lines in the park. With all this in mind; Dane, Tristan and I woke up on Wednesday morning (after skiing the Southeast Couloir off Bivouac Peak just the afternoon before) at 5am to give it a go.  In hindsight, 5am was too late.  With the light of the moon and proximity to the run, we should have been moving at 4am, but the -10 degree temperatures gave us second thoughts about an alpine start.  Nevertheless, we awoke and tried to boil some water after a fitful night of sleep.  We moved slowly and before we knew it, we were leaving camp at 6:30am.

Dane, soaking in the sunrise.
Dane, soaking in the sunrise.

From our camp, the cirque below the entrance to the Sickle Couloir was around 2300′ of elevation gain and 1.5 miles of skinning.  This should have taken around 2hrs, but instead we immediately ran into some problems.  The first and major issue was our skins.  Instead of sleeping with them in our bags, we left them inside the tent thinking they would be fine.  This wasn’t a problem for Dane, who had new skins, but Tristan and I soon found that our glue was too cold to actually stick to our skis about 20 minutes into the skin.  With the sun behind a moraine, our only option was to try and make it work with the skins sliding all around unattached to our skis.  After numerous disastrous switchback, we decided to pull the skins and put them in our jacket to try and warm the glue while we bootpacked up the moraine.  This lasted about 20 minutes, until the constant postholing became too much and we tried to put our skins back on, hoping the glue was “alive” again.  Unfortunately, the skins didn’t stick and we were left in the same spot 4 switchbacks and 20 minutes ago.  The good news was that the slope had mellowed a bit and we could make due with the garbage skins until we found some sunlight to thaw the glue out.  About 1000′ from the cirque, we found some good morning light and were able to let the skins warm in the sun to a point where they would adhere to the skis.  This took around 15 minutes and we were soon hustling to make up all the lost time, calculating that we would be skinning across the lake in the dark if something didn’t change.

View of Moran from our skin warming delay.
View of Moran from our skin warming location in the sun
Dane working his way up into the cirque.
Dane working his way up into the cirque.

After about 45 minutes, we came into view of the cirque, but I had another problem. My foot had gone numb a while ago (which is normal for me), but now that numb foot was having shooting pains that caused me serious issues.  I thought that I must have some form of frostnip developing and knowing the entire couloir was in the shade, decided to stop in the sun and try and apply some foot warmers before the climb.  This was a first for me, but I would rather not continue on, than get frostbite and have serious issues lingering for the remained of the season, or even worse.  So my stop caused yet another delay and after I was finished, tried to catch up the Dane and Tristan who were working their way up to the start of the climb.  As we came into the cirque, you could see the wind was howling up high.  Mount Moran was alive with spindrift, a large contrail trailed off the summit and all of a sudden BOOM!  A large “sluffalanche” came crashing down into the cirque off a 100′ cliff.  The remnants of this failure kept coming off the cliff for 30 seconds.

Lingering remnants from the "sluffalanche"
Lingering remnants from the “sluffalanche”

Then a massive gust of wind came off the mountain, blowing snow everywhere and creating a near whiteout.  This gust lasted for a bit, but the wind lingered with several other gusts over the next few minutes.

Looking up the Sickle with the wind creating near whiteout conditions.
Looking up the Sickle with the wind creating near whiteout conditions.

All the while, Moran was demonstrating her might, releasing “sluffalanches” off all her slopes.  While all this was happening, the three of us had to decide if we wanted to begin the climb up the Sickle Couloir.  We had come so far: skinning across Jackson Lake, spending a night in negative degree temperatures and persevering the delays from earlier in the day.  Our main concerns were: the wind chill, the poor visibility due to the wind gusts and being knocked off the mountain by a “sluffalanche” that we couldn’t see or hear racing towards us.  The decision was easy… all the signs were working against us. Today would not be our day to ski this iconic line.  We discussed this briefly, then changed over and skied some powder down to Jackson Lake and our camp.

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We were disappointed, but felt good about the decision to bail.  In those situations, only one thing has to go wrong for the day to turn into a disaster – and many things had gone wrong, so when the stars don’t align, you don’t push forward.  We packed up camp slowly and tried to thaw our frozen bodies in the sun.  We took off from camp at around 12:30pm, as the wind continued to whip off Mount Moran.  We made our way out of Moran Bay and took one last look up towards the Sickle Couloir.  A large, new sluff pile was sitting at the base of the couloir.  We felt relived about our decision and that each of us would “live to ski another day”.  We made it back to Signal Mountain Lodge in a blistering 3.5 hours, just in time to grab some happy hour beers in town and reminisce about the past few days.

Working our way home.
Working our way home as the wind hammers Moran.
Reveling in the beauty of the most beautiful mountain range North America has to offer. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Reveling in the beauty of the most amazing mountain range North America has to offer. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)