The North Face

July 27, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Everyone knows Grand Teton is - well, grand. The tallest mountain in the Teton Range, it demands attention. There's no denying its magnificence. 

I often photograph the Grand and appreciate it. Even so, my favorite peak is located a few miles away: Mount Moran. 

Towering above Jackson Lake and appearing to stand alone, Moran is a stunner. Sublime. It dominates the north end of the park.

[Ironically, Thomas Moran, for whom the mountain is named, never saw it. He did view the Teton Range from the Idaho side, though, circa 1879. About these mountains he wrote, "The Tetons loomed up grandly against the sky, and from this point it is perhaps the finest pictorial range in the United States if not in North America."]

How many ways can Moran be photographed? Let the mountain guide you; the options are probably limitless.

The other night as I camped in its shadow, I found myself spending nearly as much time gazing at Moran's outline against the Iridescent IlluminationIridescent IlluminationMount Moran

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
night sky as sleeping. If you're having a restless night there are worse things to look at.

The preceding evening's unsettled skies (which produced a fantastic sunset) completely disappeared as dawn approached. No clouds, no photo. The camera stayed in the bag and I settled in to enjoy daybreak as a spectator.

After the sun came up and washed the mountain with warm color, I ventured south toward the Cathedral Group to see what was going on there. High-level clouds were drifting into Jackson Hole but they didn't look particularly interesting so I turned around. It was still calm; there would be reflections in the Snake River at the Oxbow. That seemed to be as good a place as any to wait and find out what the morning would bring. 

Sitting along the shore I watched pelicans fishing for their breakfast. Those high clouds began to fill more of the sky, filtering the sunlight. Suddenly, Moran was beautifully lit - almost as if it were bejeweled. The pattern of illumination was almost perfect, sweeping downward from the peak and duplicated in the mirror image below to create an arc. The fact that everything else was in shadow enhanced the effect. 

The magical iridescence vanished nearly as quickly as it appeared. In all the times I've photographed this mountain it's never looked like that. 

I hadn't planned on photographing Moran that day but it beckoned anyway: not the first time this has happened - like last autumn during peak foliage. Because there was still a great deal of haze from distant wildfires, compositions involving the Tetons were often the last thing on my mind. Still, on one of the days when air quality was at its worst, Moran had something to say to me.

Orange CrushORANGE CRUSHMount Moran is rendered as mysteriously spectral thanks to thick haze from distant wildfires and low clouds which seemingly clutch it: a wonderful backdrop for aspens at peak color.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
The clouds looked like giant claws (a grizzly's paw, perhaps?) clutching at the mountain's peak, which was rendered spectrally due to the conditions. This created a really interesting backdrop for the bright orange aspens.

Sometimes you'll find a photograph when and where you least expect it.

Keep an open mind. Let the landscape guide you. 

Twilight Wedge Grand Teton National ParkAWAKENINGBright autumn foliage punctuates the Willow Flats landscape at daybreak while the twilight wedge tints the sky pink. With temperatures below freezing, steam rises above distant Jackson Lake as Mount Moran waits for the sun to rise and warm its face.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

THE LOOKING GLASSTHE LOOKING GLASSGrand Teton National Park, Wyoming If you really want to see Mount Moran differently, you can climb it. 

The first successful ascent (all the way up) occurred in 1922 though there had been an attempt a few years earlier. Many people now summit it each year but you need to know what you're doing; all routes are rated Class-5 technical. 

My ophthalmologist will be climbing Moran next weekend, an ascent which is described as a "unique and remote experience." Because there are no maintained trails to the base of the mountain the approach is made by canoe across String and Leigh Lakes. 

I'll leave the mountaineering to him while I stick with the camera.

Local News 

Yellowstone's June attendance numbers are down 43% from the same period last year, which is unsurprising in light of the flooding. So far in 2022 YNP has hosted just under 1.7 million visits, which is a 20% decrease from 2021.

The park service still hasn't posted June numbers for GTNP but those, too, will likely be lower year-to-year.

Also in GTNP, Moose-Wilson Road remains closed from the Granite Canyon entrance to the LSR Preserve during the week for road construction. It's open weekends. Once Labor Day rolls around the road closes completely until winter.

The current red flag warning will expire at 9pm today.


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