Cirque of the Towers

Wind Rivers Range, Wyoming, September 2002

This year Cousin John and I embarked on another adventure, this time to the Wind Rivers range of Wyoming. John had been talking the place up for years, having been there several times before. I knew next to nothing about the place, but was eager to escape into the mountains again, and Labor Day weekend provided an opportunity for both of us.

We hiked into a magical place known as Cirque of the Towers, famous among rockclimbers. It had taken a while to get there. Friday I had rushed straight from work to the airport, flown into Colorado Springs where I met John, driven to his house, sorted gear and packed for a climbing trip, and finally gone to bed after midnight.

Four hours later it was rise and shine ! Then it was a mere 9 hour drive through the sagebrush desert of southern Wyoming ("Wyoming ??? Because !") to the trailhead at Big Sandy at the foot of the Wind Rivers. Time to stretch out and kick back for awhile ? Not a chance ! We still have a long hike ahead and it's after 3pm already.

John wants to push it all the way through to Cirque of the Towers, but we start running out of daylight (and I run out of gas !), so we set up the Bibler at North Lake and collect rocks to throw at the black bears we expect to see that night. There was bear sign all over.

But the bears apparently had better things to do that night. So we finally got some sleep and, fresh and rested and full of oatmeal, set out for the Cirque. After a bit of a scramble over boulders along Arrowhead Lake (to bypass a much longer trail) we finally reached the top of the saddle between Warbonnet and Mt Mitchell.

Behold ! The Cirque of the Towers.

We found a nice place to camp nestled under some cedars, not far from a creek. Home, sweet home ! Finally, we have a chance to rest up. John is eager to do some climbing, but that can wait till tomorrow. I spend the rest of the day exploring, taking photos, and just lazing around on a flat rock down by the creek.

That evening, we are treated to a beautiful sunset followed by the alpenglow. We have a plan for tomorrow: to climb Pingora. That is the flat-topped pyramidal peak that appears in most of these pictures (it is hard to avoid !). I am a bit anxious about the whole deal, having only been on one multi-pitch rock climb before (and that was a "walk-down"). But this is certainly the place to try it !

The next morning we get up, make breakfast, pack the climbing gear, and head for the base of Pingora. Then it's a long zig-zag up a series of steep rock ledges to get to a notch on the South Buttress. From there, we rope up and wait for another pair of climbers to clear the route. John gets impatient, but he spots another crack that "probably isn't the route, but looks good". I put him on belay and he starts up. "5-7", he declares. For me it's quite a challenge, but still doable.

Four rope pitches and a final rock scramble later, we find ourselves on the summit (11,884 feet).

We spend some quality time exploring the summit of Pingora, which is broad, so there is quite a lot to see. The views of the rest of the Wind Rivers range, of course, are magnificent. Especially impressive is the edge-on view of Wolfshead - a nearby peak that looks like a serated knife slicing into the sky.

But all good things must come to an end. Eventually, we have to start back down ("But, John, we just got here !").
After a series of three long rappels, we find ourselves back at the notch where we retrieve our hiking shoes and head back to camp. We can hardly wait to cook up another delicious freeze-dried dinner. If only we had some beer stashed away !
(a lil' nip o' whi-key will have to do)

The next day we go exploring around the base of Pingora. We run into some other climbers who are starting up the east face and chat awhile. Then we go on to explore a beautiful mountain lake in the valley below.

Another great trip, John. Thanks for hauling me up Pingora !

You can't beat fun !

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