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The Mount Moran Quest Begins – First Winter Attempt


Sometimes in life you get your butt kicked. This past weekend, (February 16th, 2013), was one of those times for me. I’ll be the first to admit that getting whipped isn’t fun, but if life wasn’t full of challenges and tough times, it wouldn’t be nearly as fulfilling. I love ski mountaineering for many reasons, but first and foremost are the “life experiences” that I gain every time I go out for an attempt on one of these big mountains.

As you probably have already surmised, I did not reach the summit on this attempt of Mount Moran. Instead, I learned some valuable lessons in humility and paying attention to the details.
After summiting Buck Mountain last May and successfully skiing from the summit, I was confident that my summer and fall of training that involved countless miles of trail running, mountain biking, climbing, and early season backcountry ski treks would have me well positioned to make a successful assault on Mount Moran in the Tetons.

There is a saying that, “Confidence is that feeling that you have before you fully understand the situation”. (Paraphrasing from one of my skiing shirts). Well, that pretty much sums up my first attempt on Moran, and the HUGE dose of humility that I was just force fed. The bad news is that I have a long ways to go to be able to really be successful in this pursuit of big mountain winter descents. However, with life the sweetest rewards are those that are the most difficult to obtain. This adventure forced me to really assess my weaknesses, face them, and determine if I am willing to do what it takes to overcome them. Humility is a good thing in life.

As we all know, “the devil is in the details”. In the mountains, as in life, we must be responsible for our actions. The guides are there to coach us, and to do all that they can to see that we return safely, but ultimately they depend upon us to perform at the proper levels and to “do things right”. I made two critical mistakes that cost me tremendous amounts of energy and ultimately contributed in part to my inability to reach the summit.

The first, seemingly small thing was that when I put my skins on my skis at 4:30AM, I failed to bring them fully tight and make certain that ABSOLUTELY no air pockets existed between the ski and the skin. What this meant was that as we crossed the first steep slope an hour or so later, my skins began to come loose and let in air, then snow. This has a devastating effect on the glue that holds the skin to the ski and I had to battle that the rest of the way.

The second “dumb” thing was that I thought that my lifter on my binding was clicked in the highest position when the guides told us to boost it up to the highest level. In reality, I was NOT in the highest position and this caused me to expend critical energy to over compensate for this lower setting.

These were not the only factors that contributed to my inability to successfully summit, and as in life it is usually a number of factors that contribute. The real learning in this case is that all of the factors that contributed WERE in my control. I won’t let that happen again.

Lest you think that this adventure was a bust, just take a look at the GoPro video to see the awesome 4,000 foot of powder skiing that we had! My guide, Aaron Dahill, once again provided valuable expertise, instructions and a fantastic experience for this outing. Each time that I go on one of these mountaineering adventures with Exum Mountain Guides I gain a greater appreciation and trust in their abilities and approach to guided ski mountaineering!

What went right:
+ Weather and timing were close to perfect.
+ The overnight camping experience, including a gourmet meal of Wyoming antelope, baked potatoes and sautéed veggies.
+ The snow conditions offered some great powder, and yet were stable enough for the stringent standards that the guides deploy. (The many pits dug and analyzed served as valuable education).
+ 4,000 vertical feet of steeps, rollers and some tree skiing.
What went wrong:
– I made mistakes in how I initially put my skins on, which led to them getting loose and having the snow weaken the glue.
– I didn’t fully understand my AT binding and thought it was set in the high mode for some of the steep uphill skinning. By the time we figured that out, I had wasted a bunch of valuable energy.
– My uphill skinning technique in steep terrain needs a lot of work.
– My current ski setup is fine for low angle approaches, but needs to be upgraded for big mountain approaches, like the Tetons.

For those who have seen my previous blog entries on this site, you know that not every adventure that I undertake ends up with my full objective being accomplished. However, they all have been successful because I returned safe, had a great time, and strengthened friendships along the way! This trip was no exception and was definitely a positive experience!

GPS Data: (Starts at campsite and ascent)

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