Posted on: October 6, 2006

Bean Bowers starting up the crux pitch, Pitch 6 (5.12a/b), on the first ascent of South Buttress Prow (IV 5.12a/b [5.9 R/X], nine pitches), Mt. Moran (12,605'), Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, September 29, 2006. The pitch featured sustained 5.11+ climbing with a technical crux at the end, pulling the lip of a roof on rattly jams with smeary feet. Bowers, Greg Collins and Hans Johnstone onsighted the route in a day—perhaps the hardest onsight yet achieved in the range. [Photo] Bean Bowers collection

Editor's Note: On the penultimate day of September, in perfect Indian Summer weather, three of the Tetons' strongest climbers, Hans Johnstone, Greg Collins and Bean Bowers, embarked on an adventure up the Tetons' proudest shield of stone: the massive south buttress of Mt. Moran (12,605'). Johnstone, known more for his ski mountaineering accomplishments in the range—in February 1997, he and Mark Newcomb made the first ski descent of the Grand Teton's Hossack-MacGowan Couloir, climbing and skiing it in a day, and he made the first descent of the Grand Teton's East Ridge in 2006 with Rick Hunt—had spied the line on an earlier reconnaissance. The resulting one-day outing was perhaps the hardest onsight effort the range has yet to see. Below is a first-hand account by Bowers, himself no stranger to hard climbing: in January he made the first free and first one-day ascent of Fitz Roy's Casarotto Pillar (ED: 5.11, 1200m) in Argentine Patagonia with Josh Wharton.

Greg Collins getting into the business on the 5.10b fourth pitch of South Buttress Prow (IV 5.12a/b [5.9 R/X], nine pitches). The pitch was the first independent pitch of the new route, which begins with the first two pitches of South Buttress Direct (V 5.8 A1, 11 pitches, Decker-Emerson-Ortenburger, 1953; FFA: V 5.12a, Gribble-Mish, 1979), then follows an easy pitch of South Buttress Central (IV 5.8 A3, seven pitches, Becker-Koedt, 1967; FFA: IV 5.10R Breitenberger-Trull, 1984) before breaking into the new ground visible here. [Photo] Bean Bowers

On September 29—a splitter autumn day with a cool, stiff breeze out of the west and no clouds in sight—Hans Johnstone, Greg Collins and I canoed across the waters of Leigh Lake to the base of Mount Moran's 5,000-foot south buttress in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park. From the scree cone below Moran's south flanks, a large dihedral is visible to the right of the south buttress's prow. On its left wall a set of two steep, white dihedrals can be seen; to their left, on the steepest part of the prow, just right of its skyline, is a white wall with a steep crack. A series of short roofs pulls it away from the rest of the wall, up and out toward the pinnacle of the prow. Hans had mentioned to Greg the possibility of a route here, to the right of South Buttress Direct (V 5.8 A1, 11 pitches, Decker-Emerson-Ortenburger, 1953; FFA: V 5.12a, Gribble-Mish, 1979) and left of the big corner and steep slabs of South Buttress Central (IV 5.8 A3, seven pitches, Becker-Koedt, 1967; FFA: IV 5.10R Breitenberger-Trull, 1984). I came along for comic relief.


We did the usual entrance pitch onto the second ramp and scrambled to its end, to the start of the South Buttress Direct, which we followed for its first two pitches. Where SBD angles left we continued up the South Buttress Central for an easy pitch. Where SBC goes up steep slabs, right of a large, right-facing dihedral, we contined straight up a clean 5.10b corner to a stance below the white dihedral (Pitch 4). Here we did a short 5.9 R/X pitch up and left to get to the steep crack just right of the prow. The next pitch (Pitch 6; 5.12a/b) sported sustained 5.11+ climbing; cleaning on lead resulted in some large airborne blocks, but fortunately for the followers the pitch overhangs about 25 feet in 100 feet. The pitch features mostly one and a half to tight, two-inch hand jams with a technical endurance crux at the end as you pull the final lip on rattly finger locks and smeary feet.

Another corner pitch of nice, lichenous 5.10b climbing exited left around two large, wedged blocks to a stance in a small corner. The eighth pitch avoids the last small roof on the left, crossing over its top and back right up steep, exposed finger locks exiting on the prow of the prow. The ninth and final pitch deposited us perfectly at the start of the last pitch of the SBD, a 5.5 exit traverse. All of us having done the upper 3,000 feet of 5.7 to Moran's summit before, we opted for the rappels to the base, having established South Buttress Prow (IV 5.12a/b [5.9 R/X], nine pitches).

Hans Johnstone pulling through the 5.12a/b crux of South Buttress Prow (IV 5.12a/b [5.9 R/X], nine pitches) on the first ascent. Johnstone had spied the line on earlier forays on Moran's south buttress, which, when climbed in its entirety, offers 5,000 feet of climbing on generally sound granite. Johnstone made the first integral winter ascent of the buttress in 2001 with Renny Jackson and Mark Newcomb. [Photo] Bean Bowers

Here at Alpinist, our small editorial staff works hard to create in-depth stories that are thoughtfully edited, thoroughly fact-checked and beautifully designed. Please consider supporting our efforts by subscribing.