Friday, August 14, 2009


My buddy Chris Johnson and I have been talking for several years about meeting up for a back country climbing trip in Wind River Range. The Winds are a popular hiking, fishing, backpacking and thankfully climbing destination. Cirque of the Towers is the main climbing attraction, rightfully so. The Cirque, as it is referred to, is a massive ridge of perfect alpine granite encompassing several alpine lakes, meadows, and more boulders than you can imagine.

After making the long drive across the plains I arrived at the trail head campground. Chris had just got there 30 minutes earlier and his truck had already purged all of the clutter and gear from the back onto the ground. We ate, drank, talked trash and tried to organize for the next day.

After a good nights sleep we began the horrible process of finding out how much our backpacks were actually going to weigh. Climbing gear, backpacking gear, and 6 days worth of food quickly added up to around 75 lbs. We should have brought a scale for justification. Regardless they were large, heavy and very uncomfortable. Luckily the first 5.5 miles to Big Sandy Lake has very little elevation gain and we were able to bang it out in less than 2 hours. We rested soaked our feet then began the rough and tumble trail to the Cirque. 3 hours later with aching hips we crested Jackass Pass to see the Cirque in all of it's beauty.

Chris on the trail to good times. the faint red lines are routes that we got to sample. From
right to left; NE Face of Pingora, South Buttress of Pingora, and East Ridge of Wolfshead

We established camp hung our food and started planning for routes.

After a late start the next day we stumbled up to the NE Face of Warrior I. My legs and hips were sore and stiff, and by 11 a.m. we were climbing. The first 4 pitches were mungy and not exactly what I had hoped for. Trip reports I had read online had rave reviews of this climb. The next 4 pitches improved dramatically and I lucked out and got the money pitch. 100ft of thin hands to hands on splitter granite followed by 50 ft of thin crack and slab climbing on and above rp's.

Me finally thinking that all the choss up to this point
has been totally worth it.

The following day we got up early (like you are supposed to for alpine) and boulder hopped our way over to the NE Face of Pingora in the dark. We got there at 6:50 to find 2 party's already on the route, and moving painfully slow. I have never understood how such slow people manage to arrive at routes so early. Chris and i took our time mulling around the base using the restroom and finally got started once the upper party was at the 2nd belay and the leader from the lower party was almost 1/2 way up the second pitch. The lower party's follower was having trouble making the face traverse moves off the first belay when Chris suggested placing a cam then clipping a cordelette into the cam so he could tension traverse. He did this then we unclipped his cam so he could reel it in. I gave him a 60 ft head start then lead up the 2nd pitch to share the belay with the lower party. They had decided to bail, yippee, so i waited for them both to get down and out of the way before bringing Chris up. We climbed efficiently upwards on pitch after pitch of the best alpine granite that I have layed my hands on in years. We caught the upper party on the 7th pitch and shared the last 4 belays with them. Around 1 we summited, snapped some photos then took our time on the descent with no eminent weather visible. Once at the base of the SW Face of Pingora we found a little waterfall and some dry grass with an excellent view.
We hung out for several hours to avoid the horrible mosquito's down in our camp. Around 4 we stashed our gear in the boulders since we planned on coming back up the following day for a link up of 2 routes. Once back in camp we found Chris's roommate Tommy and his friend Todd. They were supposed to be in the day before, and had gotten to the Cirque after dark, setting up camp within 50 yards of us incredibly.

The third day we woke up to rain, then sun, then rain and so on. Late morning we gave up on climbing and headed down to lonesome lake to explore and watch Tommy and Todd fish for dinner. By 3 p.m. the clouds had cleared and blue skies had returned. Chris and I hoofed it to camp, got food and water then blitzed up the trail to our gear. While retrieving our packs 2 like minded individuals walked by. One of them looked very familiar and we soon realized that it was Jeff, a friend of Chris's ex-girlfriend who we had climbed with in the desert several years prior. We caught up while scrambling to the base of the South Buttress of Pingora. Jeff and Drake chose some route left of the buttress proper and we took something to the right. 3 pitches later Chris was finishing up the gorgeous "K-Cracks" with some very threatening weather on top of us. It was around 5:30, we made 5 fast double rope rappels to reach the ground and ran back down to camp avoiding getting drenched.

The following day we climbed my favorite route of the trip. Wolfshead via the East Ridge III 5.6 unadulterated fun. Pristine Alpine setting, check. Perfect Alpine granite, check. Knife edge ridge, check. Massive exposure, check. Crazy gendarmes, check. Hand traverses on splitter cracks, check. Foot traverses on splitter cracks, check. This route dished out the goods pitch after pitch. Chris and I kept thinking that I had just climbed the "money pitch" when his next pitch would be even better. We approached via the gully between Tiger Tower and Pingora then traversed into the start. This turned out to be very easy and quite quick. The standard approach via the grassy ledges looked very wet and took some party's several hours as opposed to the 30 minutes for the gully. The photos do not do this climb justice at all, if I went back I would climb this route again in a heartbeat.

Wolfshead as viewed from the south.

We waited below Wolfshead till Tommy and Todd were done with the NE Face of Pingora then we all headed down to camp for dinner.

That night we had some snowflakes in the evening, and woke up to cold windy weather which quickly turned into moderate to heavy snow. We had planned on hiking halfway out, doing a climb on Sundance Pinnacle then making our way back to the trail head. Instead we scrambled to get camp broke then hit the trail before too much snow could accumulate. Thankfully the rocks were melting the snow and only a small amount was showing up on the grassy areas. By the time we got to Big Sandy Lake, we were below the clouds and it was easy hiking to the cars. Once back to the parking lot, beers, chips, cheese and candy were devoured. Jeff and his partner Drake soon showed up and the 6 of us went to Pinedale for calories. It was an excellent trip, and I am now psyched for a trip to the Bugaboos next summer.

Myself, Tommy, Todd and Chris right before the weather moved in.


  1. Hey! Awesome! I was in the Cirque from August 12-15. Maybe be we there at the same time?

  2. Just missed you. We hiked in on the 3rd and out on the 8th.