True Ski Mountaineering in the Twelve Thousand Couloir – Peak 12,000+ (Mount Moran) – GTNP, WY (05.06.23)

Peak 12,000+ is the largest west sub-peak of the Mount Moran massif, home to a truly stellar and seldom visited ski mountaineering line we’re calling the Twelve Thousand Couloir. Sustained 45 degree no-fall skiing on a 1,000 foot hanging snowfield, with a thin 55 degree escape crux, and 4,200 total feet of quality skiing to Leigh Canyon below, characterizes this “should be classic” descent.

Peak 12,000+… it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, or come to mind when Leigh Canyon ski descents are mentioned. Dwarfed by the Southwest and Sandinista Couloirs on Mount Moran, the Hidden Couloir on Thor Peak and Woodring’s Carson North Couloir (Fallopian Tube), this remote giant hardly stands a chance – and to be fair, we had no intention of skiing it either. However, look between the classics and you will find an inspiring, aesthetic and steep south facing boomerang couloir on the largest sub-peak of Moran’s west ridge. With 4,100 feet of sustained “at least 30 degrees” skiing to Leigh Canyon, major no-fall exposure in the upper couloir, a stimulating and very steep mid-route dogleg choke and phenomenal views in every direction, the Twelve Thousand Couloir makes a serious bid for first team Leigh Canyon ski descents, and speaks to the tremendous sprawl of amazing ski mountaineering in the Teton Range.

Mike Parri and I wandered upon this beauty by sheer chance, after our original intentions for the Southwest Couloir on Mount Moran were dashed by a massive R5D4 glide avalanche of day’s past, which completely decimated the exit gully. The debris pile was harrowing, and the lower crux of the route was literally impassable, scraped to bare granite. It seemed any aspect below 11,000 feet fell victim to the previous week’s mega-thaw, even the tightest of north faces. Audible one took us to the glacier underpinning Thor Peak’s Southeast Face with hopes of investigating the Hidden Couloir, to no avail. Though we had a thin rope and rack, six wires and four cams seemed a little bare bones for the 300-some feet of 5.6 slabs barring the Hidden. These slabs are usually covered with varying degrees of snow, but today they were in full summer condition. Stumped with no direction, but determined to ski something given our proximity from the car, I was able to con Mike into exploring one of the two south facing couloirs rising directly from glacier. I say con because the lower flanks of both lines had avalanched, leaving behind a gruesome and nearly unskiable bed surface. However, the looker’s right of the two couloirs, what would end up being the Twelve Thousand Couloir, had a strong shaded dogleg and generally southeast facing upper couloir with impressive walls. The top 1,000 feet lied out of sight, but I saw a reasonable opportunity for smooth dust-on-crust ski mountaineering – Mike relented.

Leigh Lake and the Falling Ice Glacier on Mount Moran

We reached the top of the couloir two hours later, enjoying a spectacle of oscillating weather that flipped from crystal clear to full white-out, driving snow to sun, with every other step. The climb was of the highest quality, classic steep snow front pointing with a crux of icy neve in the 55 degree arena. Just as I hoped, ski conditions steadily improved with elevation, and the upper couloir was mostly smooth with two inches of sticky dust on a firm crust. The view from the skier summit was spectacular. The west ridge of 12,000+ rose a mere 100 feet over head, an impressive shark’s fin of black diabase that had me wishing we didn’t stash the rope below. Thor was eye-level and a stone’s throw to the west, and Moran’s Triple Glaciers sprawled to the north. This was truly a unique and magical place.

The west ridge and summit of Peak 12,000+ from the top of the Twelve Thousand Couloir

Our ski down was made in the epitome of ski mountaineering conditions. The upper couloir skis more like a broad face, with a sustained 45 degree slope angle above major no-fall exposure. Given the icy conditions we kept our pace mellow and controlled, though the snow was edge-able and as such, the experience was very enjoyable. The dogleg choke skier’s left was the crux. We began making turns but quickly relented to a side slip through the narrows, which was filled with debris and a few unexpected bulges of water ice. 800 feet of trashy but thankfully lower angle skiing over lumpy avalanche bed surface followed in the lower couloir – but hey, we knew that was coming all along. From there, just 3,000 feet of stellar preserved corn to Leigh Canyon below. Sometimes I feel like I would trade good corn for powder – so playful, predictable, fast… I just love, love, love it.

Mike Parri committing to the Twelve Thousand Couloir
Hop turns for the boys
Entering the choke

Rounding hour ten, glob-skinning on the home stretch of a sunbaked and barely frozen String Lake, Mike and I enjoyed one last magical moment – the clouds parted. We looked back at the Moran massif, obscured in some degree of cover all day, and were amazed to see the Twelve Thousand Couloir staring right back at as. The upper couloir isn’t visible from directly below or even the canyon bottom – so here, over four linear miles away, we enjoyed our first real glimpse – and I must say, we were both pretty damn proud, grinning ear to ear. For a first Leigh Canyon tour I left pretty satiated, but I’ve been known to have a fast metabolism. 11 hours car to car, and another sacred adventure in Grand Teton National Park.

Clouded dawn on Leigh Lake
It’s all part of the game
❤️ Icelantic Skis and Range Meal Bars ❤️
Overstoker #1

Ten Thousand Too Far is generously supported by Icelantic Skis from Golden Colorado, Barrels & Bins Natural Market in Driggs Idaho, Range Meal Bars from Bozeman Montana and Black Diamond Equipment. Give these guys some business – who doesn’t need great skis, gear and wholesome food?

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Ski mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing and all other forms of mountain recreation are inherently dangerous. Should you decide to attempt anything you read about in this article, you are doing so at your own risk! This article is written to the best possible level of accuracy and detail, but I am only human – information could be presented wrong. Furthermore, conditions in the mountains are subject to change at any time. Ten Thousand Too Far and Brandon Wanthal are not liable for any actions or repercussions acted upon or suffered from the result of this article’s reading.

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