Wind River - Cirque of the Towers - Expedition 2020 Write Up
Day 1 - Approach Day
After a restless night of sleep I was woken up to my body being shaken by my climbing partner telling me we had over slept our approach day alarm -- what an adventure this was going to be.
As we drove towards our destination I couldn't help but shut my eyes, from the grogginess and constant heaviness I couldn't overcome. However, I will never forget the excitement that flooded into my stomach as we approached the outstanding sights of the Grand Teton and its surrounding summits. During the drive I studied the topographical map and climbs of the area in the Wind River Range, more specifically the Cirque of the Towers, a mystical location with unlimited potential for mountain climbing, and our destination for the adventure. Once the mountain range shot skyward from the dry desert plains of Wyoming the excitement could barely be contained in the car among me and my two climbing partners. With almost 150 pounds of gear on our backs for our climbing objectives, we began up the sandy trail towards the Cirque. Each step in the dry trail felt more difficult than the last, but when an objective is the only thing you care about the weight seems minute. Moving along the crystal clear stream adjacent to the trail, we found ourselves at the three-fourths point at Big Sandy Lake, blue depths motionless in the afternoon light. A massive, walled mountain stood at the southern end of the lake that we admired, along with it’s sharp pinnacle that sat apart of the northern ridgeline. A quick stop at Arrowhead lake was the final point before the Cirque of the Towers would finally be in view. The granite boulder hopping was a great warmup along the lake before climbing up the infamous ‘Jackass Pass’ with Pingora Peak and the Wolf’s Head (our climbing objectives) standing as the first of the cirque summits we could clearly see. A moment of anxious silence milled through the group as we reached the grassy meadow sitting below the Cirque; feeling insignificant, as the chess-piece-like mountains rose dramatically in every direction, staring down at us. We stood gazing at the vertical face braving to testing our skill against a force greater than ourselves, the mountains. As we set up our array of yellow camp equipment in the meadow, the colorful sunset smoothed-over the jagged peaks all around us. We sat at camp preparing our ‘five star meal’ of couscous and ramen to go with mentally and physically for the morning assault on Pingora Peak.
Day 2 - Climb Pingora
I woke up to two separate alarms, both reading 6:00 AM; it was time to get after it. The striking view of Warbonnet Peak along with the large faces of Warrior 1 and 2 were captivating. I was frozen in place studying their faces, while the the kiss of the morning sunrise warmed the icy mountain tops
A class 3 scramble to reach the base of the great peak would go smoothly as gear dangled from every loop on our harnesses, the jingling was the only sounds heard at 10,000’ feet in the waking moments of the morning. After navigating through the lower shelf we moved to the loose gully that would lead us to accessing the ridge line of the Southern Buttress of the great Pingora Peak, stands almost 12 thousand feet above sea levevl. The massive granite slab acting as a red carpet stood between us and the base of the left facing Dihedral to the beginning of the climb. The great crack system resulted in some great stemming and hand/foot jams to advance through the first 80’ pitch of the climb. The next pitch would be our last stop before the beautiful K Cracks, the stunning crack system viewable from our camp. Moving through the wide gully that reached the base of the cracks went very smoothly. I began pondering wanting to lead the Crux Pitch of the K cracks, but before I could say anything, Blake, one of my partners assured me that I would be able to send the climb and that it was mine to lead. Before I could syke myself out I answered with a confident, “Yes.” Nerves raced through every inch of my body as the massive wall stood between me and my goal, with nothing but a crack in the massive granite face to advance myself to the top. Mind racing, heart pounding I touched the crystalline wall and everything became clear; my mind left the negative thoughts below–climbing as if I was one with the mountain. Blood oozed from my knuckles from a cut in my hand as I maneuvered up the leaning crack, using friction as a foothold for the leg that wasn’t lodged in the granite. My hands moved smoothly, swimming up the granite, placing protection in sections that would be possible to hold a fall if I was to make a mistake. Once reaching the top of the pitch I looked away from the wall to the stunning landscape that captivated all 360 degrees laid out around me. A glacial tarn sat smoothly below the jagged ridgeline separating Pingora Peak from the Watchtower. it took my breath away as I stood atop the great pitch that was sent.
Once my climbing partners met me at the top of the pitch, we rejoiced with enthusiasm as we moved up the side of the mountain to scramble the last 100’ to the summit. The summit atop the broken granite blocks that make up the top of the great Pingora Peak stamding at an impressive 11,884 feet. It created a great moment of clarity as the Views of the Cirque and it’s beautiful summits, guarded by vertical faces of granite, coupled with glassy lakes sitting high alone in the alpine at the bases of these peaks standing before me, the moment felt like a dream. A sense of happiness and sadness always overwhelms me while atop mountains, on one hand the views and experience are captivated by the dramatic landscape from above, and on the other hand, the temporal feelings only can last for so long, as the goodbye retreat from the summit is always the hardest goodbye, yet the rejoice of only having the feeling and views from a summit are singular-only lastingfor a moment-possibly what makes them so special.
ROPE!! Yelled Blake, as the blue strands flew down the vertical wall in order to begin our descent off the mountain, making three long rappels to reach the base of the granite saddle that brought us to the base of the great peak we started up much earlier in the day. Once reaching camp safely we laid in the soft grass and admired the great summit we stood atop earlier in the morning.
Day 3 Climb Wolfs Head
Awakened by a cool breath of wind grazing past my face, I took in the scenery and blinked continuously until the outlines of the Cirques summits stood clear, standing above me. Our objective was the Wolf's Head, lying at the north end of the Cirque, guarded by a broken ridge line that would entail multiple “no fall” scenarios. The route was home to many dangerous points that would result in serious consequences if a mistake were to occur. We began moving through the morning dew to reach the base of Tiger Tower, a pit stop on the way to the Wolfs Head, we began our scramble up a western facing gully dividing Pingora and Tiger Tower. Loose rock and exposure woke us up immediately as I found myself traversing across a extremely exposed slab with no hand or feet holds, relying only on the friction of my hiking shoes and the rock, imminent death sitting at bay below me as the mountain face would likely claim me if a fall would occur. Moving through the hairy section we regained the gully, picking and choosing our route carefully as we traversed the face and reached the summit of Tiger Tower as the sun began to ignite the ridge line of Wolfs Head. Rappelling off Tiger tower and following the connected ridgeline we racked up and switched to the climbing shoes before climbing the majestic vertical shooting ridgeline. To gain the base of the mountain, a pizza-box-wide ramp at 30 degrees must be passed, nothing but exposure on each of our sides while crossing (the ground sat 1,000’+ below). Rhythmic breathing took hold as the ramp was passed. Pitch one and two gained the large NE ridgeline as we moved through two beautiful crack systems to reach the top of the ridge line and the real climb–Maneuvering up, over, and through the massive granite tower blocks between us and the Summit of Wolfs Head. Exposed climbing would be an understatement to describe this route, as we found ourselves on many delicate hand and foot traverses along the ridge. Pitch three was an exposed down climb to a ledge that would lead to a massive offwidthy’ break in the mountain, only pleasant if you were skinny! - As sideways was the only way you could even think of fitting through the route, as I grunted through the claustrophobic crack in the granite, I began feeling as if I was rebirthed by the earth once I was crawling out of the tight squeeze. The next three pitches were the best varied climbing terrain an adventurer could dream of. Starting with a crack spanning 50’ across a blank face with no hand holds, only a toe-deep crack that you must shimmy across, depending only on the tips of your toes. Halfway across the line in the granite I felt the intense exposure of the vertical face above and below me but didn’t dare look down. Instead I inched my way across the face and reached the ledge leading to the next pitch. The pitch started with a unique layback against a crack, followed by the opposite of the previous pitch-a hand traverse with no footholds, moving around a bulge in the ridgeline (with the same amount of exposure). With all the hard climbing behind us we took in the less-seen views of the completely vertical north side of wolfs head as we led a final ledged traverse pitch. The “crown” of a summit block was the final scramble to the incredible summit of Wolfs Head, standing proudly at 12,165 Feet. Sitting atop its windy summit with only jaw dropping views to occupy our minds as we sat in silence. A sense of clarity is felt atop a beautiful summit, carrying the feelings of appreciation to have been lucky enough to have rejoiced atop such a spectacular high point.
Rappelling off the backside of the mountain, we embraced the whipping wind as we moved smoothly over the extreme terrain–after 6 separate rappels we reached the top of the col separating the neighboring Overhanging Tower, and the tail of Wolfs Head. Moving through the loose terrain and living-room-sized boulders we eventually descended past the lake and made our way back to our camp in the meadow below. Continually taking in the views of the spectacular mountain summits we had the privilege to sit atop. As we celebrated with dates, pineapple, and couscous we sat under the stars, falling into a deep sleep below the summers best meteor shower. Life doesn’t get any better than enjoying the sights of mountains you have stood atop, illuminated by the stars-simplicity in its finest form, just the way I like it.
Day 4 Camp Break Down
Packing up camp and saying goodbye to the Cirque of the Towers we stopped above Jackass Pass and watched silently as the clouds whisped across her great summits-poised to be returned to again someday again. We backtracked on the trail to the car awaiting us some 9 miles back to the high plains of Wyoming. Taking in the simplicity and experience of the weekend we chatted at the car until we were ready to depart from the great journey we embarked on days before.