8/30/98 - 9/6/98
Climbing in the Wind River Range, Wyoming
Author: Mike Sullivan
Participants: Mike Sullivan and Ingeborg Sacksen
For this report, I'll skip the usual "On Wednesday morning, we laced up our boots by the light of our headlamps" literary approach. Due to evil spirits and a minor back injury, we only did two climbs in seven days, so most of the trip's details are stupendously boring. Besides, if you're addicted to alpine rock climbing, you probably either have already been to the Wind Rivers, or have at least seen a copy of Joe Kelsey's guidebook and are vaguely familiar with what it's all about.
here to check out the archive report of Steve and Gina's 1997 trip to the Cirque of the Towers, which gives lots of interesting details about the breathtaking approach hike, Elvis, and other cool stuff.
Here are a few general comments, in case you
are considering a first trip of your own:
1) From my home in Buena Vista (4 hours north of Los Alamos), it took 8.5 hours to drive to the trailhead. There are 50 miles of dirt roads (1.5 hours driving time in good weather) between Farson, WY, and the Big Sandy Trailhead. The drive is a drag, so stay as many days as you can once you finally get there. Better yet, quit your job and do it as part of an extended road trip all over the West...
2) Once in the Cirque, spend extra time looking for one of the many beautiful hidden campsites, instead of staying in the big boggy basin above the waterfall. A critical factor in evaluating potential sites is to locate a good place for marmot- and bear-proof food storage.
3) Pingora and Wolf's Head are not the only peaks worth climbing; they are only the most crowded. You can find solitude virtually anywhere else in the Cirque. The Deep Lake Basin (6 miles to the south) also holds a large number of outstanding routes. We split our trip up between The Cirque and Deep Lake, and left a food cache in the steel bear-proof boxes at Big Sandy Lake, about halfway between the two places.
Here's some info on the two routes we managed to accomplish:
Pingora Peak's South Buttress - OK... so Pingora deserves its popularity. This short route has a fun approach and immaculate rock - not a speck of choss, moss, or lichen anywhere near the route. It's only 3 pitches of 5.6, but you can make it harder. There's a fun 5.7 variation with some delicate moves on the second pitch, and the third pitch has both 5.8 and 5.8+ variations. The 5.8 (left side of the 'K' crack) was wonderful, and so was the 5.6 standard pitch. (We felt an irresistable urge to do both of them...)
Steeple Peak's North Ridge (aka The Great North Chimney) - The compelling summit of Steeple sits between two other gorgeous peaks (Haystack and East Temple) on the eastern lip of the Deep Lake Basin. You can clearly see these three beauties from most high places in the Cirque. "North Ridge" is a misnomer for the route - on the fourth and fifth pitches, you chimney through the peak, to emerge on the southwest side for the final pitch. The fifth pitch was a real blast, but might make you unhappy if you have short legs. Both the first and sixth pitches have excellent 5.8 dihedral/crack systems, requiring lots of jamming, stemming, and some really great liebacks. The final move of the sixth pitch puts you right on the tiny summit. This is a terrific and truly classic alpine climb. The scenery is among the best I've ever seen, and I think the descent was nearly as enjoyable as the climb was. A good write-up and photos of this route can be found in issue #67 of
Rock & Ice.