Southwest Couloir, Mount Moran

southwest-couloir-on-mount-moranIt seems high pressure is in the house in the Tetons lately and here for a long term stay. With a ton of avalanche classes and other skiers making their rounds on the lines close to the parking lots and trailheads, I teamed up with Reed Finlay for an adventure far from everything else. We loaded up our pulks with overnight gear, and headed out for a quick (but long) one night trip into Leigh Canyon and Mount Moran.

steve-romeo-skis-the-upper-southwest-couloir-on-mount-moran
Randosteve skis the Southwest Couloir on Mount Moran.

reed-finlay-enjoys-the-sunset-from-leigh-canyon-campThe approach slog was long and pretty boring, since low clouds blocked all the views of the peaks. We followed the groomed park road nearly all the way to the North Jenny Lake junction before veering off towards the Leigh Lake parking area. It probably added a couple miles to the skin in, but it was nice to be on the firm, groomed track just the same. After close to 15 miles of skinning, past String Lake and Leigh Lake, and into Leigh Canyon, we made camp directly below the Southwest Couloir and watched the sunset on Breccia Peak and Togwotee Pass.

alpenglow-on-togwotee-pass
Sunset on Breccia Peak.

reed-skins-towards-the-southwest-couloir-on-mount-moranWe wanted to get an early start the next morning, since we would be climbing Moran and skiing back out the trailhead the same day. Our alarms were set for sunrise-in-leigh-canyon5am, but we didn’t pull ourselves out of our comfy and warm sleeping bags until 6. Overnight, a cold fog moved into the canyon and everything was covered in a thick frost, and it slowed our progress as we prepped our packs and drank coffee before we set out towards our objective.

morning-light-on-unnamed-teton-peak
Morning light on an unnamed peak near Paintbrush Divide.

reed-climbs-the-crux-exit-to-the-southwest-couloir-on-mount-moranOnce we started skinning, it didn’t take long for us to rise above the fog layer and the sun began to light up the fog bank, and shine on the surrounding peaks in the canyon. Unfortunately, we would be in the shadow of Mount Moran for most of the climb and away from it’s warming rays.

steve-romeo-climbs-the-crux-exit-to-southwest-couloir-on-mount-moran
Randosteve climbing the lower crux of the Southwest Couloir.

steve-romeo-boots-the-lower-section-of-the-couloirAfter a few hundred feet of elevation gain, we arrived at the exit crux to the Southwest Couloir. It was filled in with snow and ice, so we put on reed-finlay-nears-the-top-of-the-southwest-couloir-on-mount-moranour crampons and pulled out the ice axes and began bootpacking. There was 4,000’ of climbing still ahead, and while we probably could have put our skis on and skinned again once above the icy crux and past a short rocky scramble, we embraced nature’s stairmaster and continued kicking steps up towards the couloir.

steve-romeo-nearing-the-top-of-the-south-west-couloir-on-mount-moran
Nearing the top of the couloir.

reed-finlay-skis-the-southwest-couloir-on-mount-moranI was feeling strong at the start of the climb and lead the way for the first 3k’+, but let Reed move in front for the final 1000’ in the gut of the Southwest Couloir proper. We popped into the sun for a short stretch, but once in the couloir, were back into the shade. Above 10k’, the wind picked up and it was hard to reed-finaly-skis-the-southwest-couloir-on-mount-morankeep the hands warm, since they were above our hearts as we bootpacked. At the very top, the looker’s left split appeared to go higher than the right and we climbed to where the snow meets the rock, which was about 100’ from the ridgeline and 200’ from the summit of Moran. With many more steps to take that day, we called it our turning around point and clicked in for the decent.

rough-seas-in-the-southwest-couloir-of-mount-moran
Reed negotiates rough seas.

steve-romeo-skis-the-southwest-couloir-on-mount-moranWith wind pressed snow, sustrugi and weathered powder as our base, avalanches were far from our minds and it was nice to make turns reed-finlay-skis-mount-moranwithout having too worry about slabs or sloughs taking us out as we skied. I kung-fu turned down the wind formed fin at the top and kept the arms wide to maintain balance. The tall cliffs of the couloir framed a beautifully bright Leigh Canyon (and beyond) and I couldn’t wait to get back into the warmth of the sun.

steve-romeo-ski-in-front-of-thor-peak
The elusive Hidden Couloir on Thor Peak peaks out at the top of the photo.

reed-skis-out-of-the-southwest-couloir-of-mount-moranAs we lost elevation, we could see our megamid down in the cold trap of the canyon below. We would be there soon, packing our gear back into our pulks for the long sprint back to the trailhead as the sun dropped behind the peaks. But before that, we would still have to negotiate the narrow, icy crux at the bottom.

steve-romeo-skis-mount-morans-southwest-couloir
Randosteve glad to be back in the sun.

steve-romeo-skiing-the-southwest-couloir-of-mount-mroanSidestepping into the double fall-line snow-tongue that led to the ice bulge, it became too narrow for my skis and I contemplated what to do next. Feeling confident, I pointed my ski tips downhill, straight-lined thereed-downclimbs-the-crux remaining 15’, then aired the 10’ drop over the ice bulge. Landing at the transition at the bottom of the bulge, the snow was quite soft from the sun and a couple smear turns quickly brought my speed down. Reed decided to play it safe and downclimbed the ice bulge. Probably the smart thing to do, since an injury this far from the trailhead and with no cell service would not have been good.

the-long-slog-home
Reed skins on Jenny Lake Road.

The skin back to the car was uneventful and we skinned in complete darkness for about two hours. We had headlamps, but didn’t take them out of our packs and relied on our Jedi senses to stay on course and arrived back at the trailhead at 8pm. The long and strenuous two days gave my lingering head and chest cold a chance gain the upper hand and now I am paying the price. But you only live once, so c’est le vie.

24 Comments

24 Responses to “Southwest Couloir, Mount Moran”


  1. 1 lucius Feb 1st, 2011 at 6:54 am

    Great TR and photos Romeo. Nice adventure for Reed and you. Stay safe and keep the great pics coming.

  2. 2 Aaron Feb 1st, 2011 at 6:55 am

    Looking good Steve!

  3. 3 randosteve Feb 1st, 2011 at 6:56 am

    thanks fellas. wind chills to -50F today…too cold to ski? florida sounds pretty good right now. (did i really just say that?)

    kinda post trip debriefing, but consulting the map a day or two ago…it looks like it’s actually a shorter distance to get to leigh canyon this time of year if you start from colter bay (8.5 milles) , as opposed to taggart lake (10.5 miles). BUT, since the park road is usually groomed from taggart, the firm conditions could negate the shorter distance.

  4. 4 eric Feb 1st, 2011 at 8:53 am

    nice work & write-up!

  5. 5 Omr Feb 1st, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Awesome Steve! That’s why I can’t stay away, even when the hippies on your blog puport to be Keynes or Marx or Mother Teresa when it comes to the economics and ethics of ski building. Where are they now that you’ve gone huge?

  6. 6 Terry Feb 1st, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Wow, Steve!!! Gorgeous photos and excellent writeup. Thanks for adding a great start to my day reading this!

  7. 7 randosteve Feb 1st, 2011 at 9:41 am

    thanks. omr…they are probably out skiing and getting frost bite. :)

  8. 8 Kartch Feb 1st, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Awesome! Your story may motivate me get over the effects of stuck-to-the-couch-itis that I’ve succumbed to lately. Nice work.

  9. 9 Smokey Feb 1st, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Well done Steve! That unnamed Peak up Paintbrush looks amazing. Thanks for sharing…

  10. 10 Nick Feb 1st, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Steve – great TR and pictures! Awesome trip by you two.

  11. 11 Jason Feb 1st, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Great times! Good shots and what a ski!

  12. 12 daniel Feb 1st, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    wow, nice work guys!

  13. 13 Jim Feb 1st, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Steve ! Great trip report , awesome pictures !

    Just one thing though ……. You weren’t using a Camera made in China were you ? – if so…. well then all those starving little kids that died to make you able to take such great shots will haunt you forever !!! How dare you !!

    Just kidding – Love the trip reports

  14. 14 randosteve Feb 1st, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    jim…my boots were made in germany. did they too have to die so i could ski?

  15. 15 Jeramie Feb 2nd, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    So sweet. Hopefully it continues long into spring. Nice shot of Breccia! Tomfoolery is looking good.

  16. 16 Starky Feb 2nd, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    Just opened the new BACKCOUNTRY. Nice photo!

  17. 17 Josh Feb 3rd, 2011 at 1:22 am

    wow, nice trip and TR… any guess as to how hard the climbing would be to top out on Moran from the SW?

  18. 18 randosteve Feb 3rd, 2011 at 6:26 am

    thanks. haven’t seen the photo yet.

    and josh…the guidebook says 5.4 to the top.

  19. 19 bobbyg Feb 3rd, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    nice line!!!! Looks like a great ski in a phenominal place. Thanks for the pics, they’re beautiful. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that line was first skied by the one and only Big Wally and his party.

  20. 20 randosteve Feb 3rd, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    bobbyg…you are right. in the spring of 1980.

  21. 21 J freeze Feb 4th, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    I was out skiing across the tetons, did not get frostbite, skied table, upper cascade was powder, and avalanche was pristine on the igs. Where were you Omr? blogging? Jealous of the Moran descent Steve, looked amazing, even on bd’s…

  22. 22 O.G. Bobby Pinwheel Feb 6th, 2011 at 9:02 am

    How was the boot pack that we left for you?!!!!!!

  23. 23 Justin Feb 6th, 2011 at 10:33 am

    How about a review on the TLT5s now that you’ve had them for a while. Did I read that you were skiing them with powerwrap liners in them? I’m surprised you can fit those in there, it must significantly detract from the crazy touring range of motion of the boots, but I would think they ski a lot better like that (the stock liners are super wimpy).

  24. 24 randosteve Feb 6th, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    O.G…funny. i left the part out that we saw you back there. anyway, we went up the main outlet of the sw…so not where you had gone up by bear paw. and your track was completely filled-in in the couloir.

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