Monday, July 22, 2013

Cirque of the Towers

Pingora: South Buttress (5.6 variation) Trad, Alpine, 3 pitches, 500 ft., Grade II
Wolfs Head:  East Ridge (5.6) Trad, Alpine, 5-10 pitches, 1000 ft., Grade IV

A friend of mine refers to alpine, high altitude climbs that have potential of being deadly and disastrous as "THE BIGS."  It's true, "the bigs" can be dangerous and downright scary, but most of the time they are aesthetic and rewarding.  The Cirque of the Towers is the definition of the bigs.

Cirque of the Towers from South near Jackass Pass

The Cirque of the Towers, located in the southern Wind River Range, are famous if you are a climber and unheard of if you aren't.  Hundreds of routes are scattered throughout the area ranging from class 2 walk-ups to 5.11 very committing routes.  Two "Fifty Classic Climbs of North America" are located on adjacent mountains within the cirque; Northeast Face (5.8+) of Pingora and East Ridge (5.6) of Wolfs Head.

My equally ambitious and available climbing friend and I left Utah for the Big Sandy Trailhead to do Wolfs Head and maybe another route in the cirque on Thursday evening.  We fish-tailed our way up at least 60 miles of dirt road to the trailhead, which we reached at midnight.  We packed our things and hiked in 6 miles to Big Sandy Lake in the dark in about 2 hours.  We were spooked by every cracking branch and sound from the surrounding forest but the only living thing we saw that night was a passive porcupine.

The following morning we were able to appreciate the surrounding scenery as we made our way up towards Jackass pass and into "The Bigs."  We meandered across the cirque and made our way to Cirque Lake where we set up our tent within a stroll of the beginning of several climbing routes on the surrounding peaks.

Looking south from near Jackass Pass over Arrowhead Lake

*We climbed in approach shoes

SOUTH BUTTRESS, PINGORA - 5.6, Trad, 3 pitches, 500 ft., Grade II
After taking a nap and resting from the hike in, we decided to go climb the South Buttress of Pingora.  We were at the base of the route within 30 minutes from Cirque Lake.  We climbed the route in 3 pitches in about 1.5 hours.

Pitch 1: I lead this easy pitch up a series of fun flakes and cracks over two large ledges just before the right-facing dihedral.  

Pitch 2: Brent led this pitch up a steep dihedral with several large cracks on the face, very fun pitch.

Brent leading 2nd pitch up right-facing dihedral
Looking at East Ridge of Wolfs Head from Pingora South Buttress

Pitch 3 (5.6 variation):  Downclimbed to climbers left to large ledge and then I led this fun crack to the summit block where we scrambled to the summit.
5.6 variation - final pitch
5.6 variation - final pitch

We spent an hour in the early evening sun on the summit admiring the views and the intimidating East Ridge of Wolfs Head.  We then rappelled down the route with a 60 m and walked off the south shoulder back to camp.  We were asleep by 9 pm.

Pingora summit

Heading down Pingora in the early evening

In bed in the cirque

EAST RIDGE, WOLFS HEAD - 5.6, Trad, 5 pitches, 1000 ft., Grade IV
We left Cirque Lake at 7 am and climbed up the sketchy approach ledges unroped to ridge by 8 am.  From there we roped up and began climbing the East Ridge.  The exposure was phenomenal and the climbing fantastic, the whole way.

We simul-climbed up the narrow, shallow ramp to the where the steepness increases dramatically.

Pitch 1: I lead this sustained 5.6 pitch up the crack on the East Ridge to a ledge where the slope eases.  Talk about having fun!  Brent then led and we simul-climbed to Tower 1.

"Scrambling" up the steep ledges to the East Ridge of Wolfs Head

Top of the shallow ramp

First belayed pitch up steep east ridge

Pitch 2: We down climbed the chimney to the south side of Tower 1 and I led the traverse around and up through the "slot pitch" to a big ledge.  There was not room for me and my pack so I took it off and shimmied through.

Simul-climbing low 5th class rock on ridge crest before Tower 1

Squeezing through tight "slot" around Tower 1

Pitch 3: Brent led this "Piton pitch" across a blank and exposed ledge and up a fun 5.6 crack.  This was the only point on the climb we wish we had brought climbing shoes.  Small foot holds, non-existent handholds, and thousands of feet of exposure below was enough for Brent to exhale audibly as he finished the pitch.

Brent traversing along the very exposed Piton Pitch

Me following the Piton Pitch 

Pitch 4: I led the pitch across the north side of Tower 3 along two parallel cracks and then up along the ridge crest.  This was a very fun pitch, well-protected, and very exposed!

About to climb the parallel cracks on Tower 3

Traversing along the Parallel cracks on Tower 3

Pitch 5:  Brent led this pitch on the south side of the ridge, where a perfect horizontal crack on a vertical face allowed us to climb across by smearing our feet and hand traversing to a chimney and squeeze.  Another excellent pitch.

Brent leading the hand crack traverse
After crawling through the tiny opening to the north side, we simul-climbed up easy terrain to the summit.  We were on the summit by 11:30 am.  We ate lunch, patted ourselves on the back, and rapped down the west side several times and then traversed south towards Overhanging Tower-Wolfs Head Col.  We were back at our tent at 2 pm.  It took 7 hours total from camp, we spent 4 hours on the route.

After the climb, we packed our things and we were back at the car by 7 pm.  Needless to say, it was a long day and we wanted some delicious food.  So we stopped and got a burger at a joint just outside of Farson, Wyoming called BIG D's COUNTRY BURGER.  The food was excellent and the chef took a lot of pride in not using heat lamps, talked up some random fishing rods, and an app called "Urban Spoon."  He told us it's a cool app on the world wide web where you can see what others have said about food in your area (He was shamelessly telling us to rate his restaurant and comment on ho good the food was).  As he put it, "For the fans, by the fans."  He meant well, but I don't think he realized that its the year 2013.  Regardless, I the food was good.

Summit of Wolfs Head

Cirque Lake, Pingora, and Wolfs Head

Cirque Lake