Sierra climbers go to Wyoming! 2003

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Wandering Daisy
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Sierra climbers go to Wyoming! 2003

Post by Wandering Daisy » Wed Jan 16, 2019 5:48 pm

Cirque of the Towers

Moderators asked for old trip reports while we are in the winter doldrums, so here is one. Definitely NOT the Sierra, but this was a CMC trip, and we were Sierra climbers, including RJ Secor, who some of you knew. Since the "Beyond Sierra" section does not have a climbing sub section, I put this report here. Moderators, move it if you wish. My husband Dave and I walked in early; RJ met us the next day. Our fourth member, Ellen, joined us later. The following is a trip report I wrote for the CMC monthly bulletin.

Day 1. I had climbed in the Cirque several times in the 1970’s. With all our climbing gear our packs were just as heavy as in the “old days” making the 8-mile trek in exhausting. Dave and I stumbled into a great campsite in the deteriorating weather late Sunday.
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Day 2. Monday dawned cloudy and threatening, giving us a good excuse to check out other campsites, place a note with camp coordinates for RJ and check out the approaches to the climbs. I was astounded at the network of use-trails and the small community that shared little niches in the trees, meadows and boulders. After dinner I strolled around and told other climbers if they saw a funny looking guy named RJ to let him know where we were. RJ missed our message and set up below us, but was directed our way by other climbers at dusk and moved up to our site in the morning.
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Day 3. Tuesday, Dave and I headed for the South Buttress of Pingora (I.5.6). The rock was exquisite- clean positive edges, cracks, moderate but sustained and easy to protect. The second pitch was a beautiful corner with double cracks and each move a solid 5.6. Leads were a bit long for our short ropes so we had to move the belay several times. From the summit we got a jaw-dropping view of Wolf’s Head. Three full rappels and tricky route finding off the shoulder and we were back in camp where RJ joined us, just in time for the afternoon thunderstorm. RJ had taken a rest day and climbed part way up Mitchell Peak to call Ellen on the cell phone.
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Day 4. Wednesday was cool and windy so we all climbed the 4th class traverse from Texas Pass, over Camel’s Hump and on to Lizard Head Peak. True to the guide, there were a few short easy 5th class pitches. Bundled up against the fierce wind we worked the long ridge like a big puzzle - a respectable scramble of excellent rock and exposure. The view of the Cirque from the top of this, the highest peak in the area, reminded me of a magical castle of spires. We found a register and signed in and found one of the few descent routes that avoided the west face slabs and cliffs. Back in camp clouds built and the scheduled 6:00 storm blew in just in time to ruin dinner.
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Day 5. Thursday Dave and I climbed the lower part of the Southwest Face-Left on Pingora, an exercise in 5.6 hand- and off-width cracks, endless 4th-easy 5th class slabs, and a solid 5.7-5.8 end. After about 8 pitches, weather threatened and we escaped to the South Buttress. Two Russians who had completed the classic NE Face graciously offered us their rappel ropes. I told them they were brave to venture onto such a serious climb in the poor weather and they just smiled widely, commenting “gut weter”. I guess Sierra climbing has made us a bit whimpy! RJ soloed Mitchell Peak and Ellen arrived and quickly found us. Dinner was again interrupted by our scheduled storm, this time driving us into the tents for the night.
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Day 6. Friday RJ and Dave climbed the East Ledges of Pingora and I repeated the South Buttress with Ellen. Dave thought the 5.2 rating was a bit sandbagged. Ellen and I met Dave and RJ scrambling down the 3rd class slabs from the summit. We let them set up the rappel while we scampered up for photos. We all rappelled back to the shoulder and descended as it began to spit a bit of rain. It then cleared! We bathed in the frigid stream, washed socks, plotted for the remainder of our trip and actually had a relaxing, sociable dinner.

Day 7. Saturday we woke to low level clouds obscuring the tops of all the peaks. Disappointed, we headed to the 3rd class NE Ridge of Bollinger (Norman Clyde was in the first ascent party in 1941!). The cloud cover offered great storm lighting on the NE Face of Pingora (one of the 50 Classics of North America). From New York Pass, we climbed in and out of clouds over large granite blocks in a brisk cold wind. It cleared as we topped out, ate lunch and watched two climbers on Wolf’s Head. We were back in camp by early afternoon. So fare our main objectives, the NE Face of Pingora and the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head, remained unclimbed. That afternoon we hauled gear up to the base of Wolf’s Head and checked out the climb. We were running out of food and tomorrow would be our last chance.
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Last edited by Wandering Daisy on Wed Jan 16, 2019 5:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.








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Wandering Daisy
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Re: Sierra climbers go to Wyoming! 2003

Post by Wandering Daisy » Wed Jan 16, 2019 5:55 pm

Day 8. Sunday dawned clear! The climb of Wolf’s Head, another one of the “50 Classics of North America” was the highlight of our trip. We quickly headed up to the base, retrieving the gear and made the commitment. We climbed as two separate teams – Dave and I armed with the out-of-print Bonney’s guide (very useful) and Ellen and RJ following. We chose the classic lower part adding 3-4 pitches of shady, cold, exposed class 4th ledges leading to the sunny col where the real climbing began. Part way up the ledges, we heard a thunderous roar. A HUGE block peeled off Warrior I and crashed down a chute, breaking into hundreds of blocks in a cloud of dust. A few rocks made it the meadow, where the previous day, climbers were camped!

The "real" climbing starts!
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Wolf’s Head deserves it “classic” stature. It is mostly highly exposed 4th class. With extensive traversing the second is as exposed as the leader. Fast moving is essential since the constant weaving through the spires required 20 pitches, some only 30-50 feet long due to rope drag. The ever-present exposure is counter-balanced by the perfect rock. It seems like my most frequent comment the entire day was “you’ve got to be kidding!”


We walked on all fours through the half-pitch of fun 30-degree foot-wide ledge with no pro, then several pitches up a beautiful 5.0-5.5 face with parallel cracks. Several hundred feet of horizontal traverse on a wide ledge system ended at the first impossible tower. Here, a hidden “rotten chimney” appeared at our feet and we descends to a small ledge, with incredible exposure, and a very awkward step left around a bulge with over 1,000 feet below.

On the way to the crux, memorable pitches included: a squeeze chimney (interesting with a pack), a traverse on a tiny ledge hanging on to literally a knife-edge ridge, crawling on the ridge, another tight chimney ending in a swing out onto a wide sloping ledge with the impossible looking crux. I offered to take the lead since it was one of those delicate face things that Dave hates. I moved out onto the ledge, hearing RJ scraping and thrashing up the squeeze chimney. I clipped an old soft-iron piton, and gasped, “you’ve got to be kidding!” as I stepped down onto the horizontal 1-inch ledge. Thankfully a few nice crimpers for small fingers gave me a bit more confidence against the 1,500-foot sheer drop-off. About 15 feet out, the edge thinned to ½ inch and the only protection was an awkwardly old piton at the foot level. I was thankful for small feet, because this would be the end if one were to loose it! Another 10 feet and I latched onto the 20-foot “thank-god” crack heading up to the belay ledge. Dave gingerly came across, continued up a layback crack, traversed the “parallel horizontal cracks” and rounded the corner out if site to set up a belay. We now realized clouds were building up. RJ was a bit stuck, so to speed things up I climbed above him and lowered the excess rope between he and Ellen for a secure upper belay. I then started up to Dave. When I got to the corner, the bulge was impossible for short folks – so I dropped into a hand traverse, glad I did not have to lead that one.

More crawling on a very narrow arête and we were again faced with an impossible tower with 1,000-foot drop offs on both sides. Route topo says go left – “you’ve got be kidding”! We waited until Ellen could see us. The sky was now overcast and a few drops of rain fell. Dave disappeared around the corner and finally yelled “off- belay.” I climbed down a bit, peeked around, and saw a 4-5-inch ledge on the nearly vertical tower, with no hand holds and another tough bulge to get started. Thankfully the “ledge” was the lower lip of a crack and Dave placed the number 3 cam. I dropped to a hand traverse and walked the cam along. The belay was an uncomfortable half hanging wedge behind a flake. Ellen peeked around, turned and yelled to RJ “you aren’t going to like this.”
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From our perch there were two choices, climb down, step across another 1,000 foot gap that makes the “Fresh-Air” traverse on Mt. Whitney look trivial and continue up another squeeze chimney, or a direct hand traverse (probably 5.8+). We went down. Dave took off his pack, struggled with the chimney, and got stuck at the top. I took the lead, squirming through a passage by removing all gear, and was spit out upside-down onto another sloping ledge. The sloping ledge continued about 100 feet. I traversed out, peeked around and realized it was a no-go. OK, it was up a pitch then the summit block. As we waited for Ellen and RJ, the weather cleared and we were all on top at about 4:00.
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The fun was not over - the descent is not trivial. After several short rappels and always going left, we finally came to what we thought was the final full rappel. We then coiled ropes and traversed to the notch between Wolf’s Head and the Overhanging Tower. To our surprise, there was one more overhanging rappel to the notch. From here there is a use trail down to the start of the route. We were back in camp by 7:30, tired but happy. The climb, with descent had taken us 13 ½ hours. We belayed all pitches and stayed together, which involved some waiting. We all agreed it was one of the finest alpine routes any of us had done. The next day we packed up and went out to a fine steak dinner in Pinedale.
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robertseeburger
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Re: Sierra climbers go to Wyoming! 2003

Post by robertseeburger » Thu Jan 17, 2019 11:18 am

Perfect reading for a January in the Bay Area with rain all around! Got to get to the Cirque of the Towers some day. maybe even this summer!
(No climbing like you..but maybe the easy way to the top of Mitchell Peak.--or perhaps another class 2 /easy to moderate 3 for a good view you would recommend?). Thanks for posting..

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gary c.
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Re: Sierra climbers go to Wyoming! 2003

Post by gary c. » Thu Jan 17, 2019 11:43 am

Awesome looking country. Thanks for posting your TR.
"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
-- Lionel Terray

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