August trip to the Winds, and a lesson in improvised rappels:
Jan 22, 2011, 3:04 PM
Registered: Feb 6, 2008
It's taken me a while to post this, but since I'm unemployed and it's the middle of January, I figured this as good of a time as any.
From May to October of 2010 I was working in Montana as an off-road driving instructor. I had managed to hook up with a few people to climb with there, including one girl that worked at the same place i did. Liz was psyched on climbing and down for some good adventures and relatively big missions, at least by my standards.
So round about July, Liz asks me if I'd be interested in a trip to the Wind River Range with her. I was on board without even knowing where it was or what we were gonna be climbing. After a little research, I couldn't wait to go. Our trip was scheduled for late August, the 21-27 if I remember correctly. This is by the way, prime time for the Winds. The weather is still really good for the most part, the flies are going away, and the flowers are still out.
So July passes and the first part of August drags on and my girlfriend and Liz's friend Ty have now joined the trip. This is good and bad. At first Ty coming meant we were a party of three, then with April we were 4, but April has only been climbing since February, 6 months ago.
In preparation for the trip I decide I need a set of double ropes. They'll be handy for the rappels and wandering routes of the nice big faces in the Cirque of the Towers. I spotted some on Mountain Project around mid August and hopped on them right away. I received them right before the trip set out.
A quick note about myself. I've only really been cragging for the three years I've been climbing. I've done some multi-pitch up to about 3 or 4 pitches, but never anything like this. This was me jumping into a huge adventure head first. I had never really back country camped either so I had to get a few things to take with me, like a filter pump.
Well the night before we were to leave arrives. April had flown into Bozeman that day and I picked her up from work. We're at the condo packing our stuff and I pick up my new double ropes. I had received them a few days before, but was busy with work so I just tossed them aside. Anyway, I figure now is a good time to check them out. They looked brand new when I pulled them out but I uncoiled them and just ran my hands across the sheaths. Then I spot it, athletic tape wrapped around the sheath of the dark green rope. Curious, I unwrapped the tape and this is what I found:
I wasn't very happy but the core was fine so I figured I'd use it for this trip and then get another later. I paid $140 for the pair and the other was perfect so it's whatever.
Well April and I finished packing for the night, I had all of my stuff in my Osprey Atmos 65 and April had all of her stuff in her new Gregory Deva 70 that she caught a deal on for this trip. My pack weighed in around 70 pounds, hers a scant 45. I guess that's how it goes though.
The next morning Ty and Liz arrive, 45 minutes late. Their stuff isn't packed and we just cram it all into my car and get going as fast as possible. We intended to leave around 5am, we got out of Livingston around 6:30 in all actuality.
The drive down to Big Sandy National Forest (I think?) was around 8 hours if I remember correctly. After stops for gas and food I believe we got to the parking lot for the Big Sandy Campground and trail head around 3pm on the 21st. After waiting for Liz and Ty to pack, we started off around 3:45ish. This is April and I at the trail head with our packs stuffed full of food, camping gear, a change of clothes or two and climbing gear.
The hike to the Cirque of the Towers is approximately 9 miles, with the first 7(?) being easy to moderate terrain. April and I hiked a bit faster than Liz and Ty in the beginning but by the time we got to Big Sandy Lake (5 miles in) they had caught up with us.
BIG SANDY PIC
It was here that April started to lose steam. She’s not the worlds strongest hiker by any means so we started to slow down and eventually Liz and Ty would have to stop and wait for us from time to time. We hiked on until around sunset and thought we were at Arrowhead Lake (but not 100% positive), which is right before Jackass Pass, the entrance to the Cirque of the Towers. So instead of pushing on through the night we set up camp there for the night and decided to go fresh the next day into the Cirque.
TENT PIC FROM NORTH LAKE
Well April and I got an earlier start than Ty and Liz the next day because we knew our pace was a little slower and we soon learned that we were actually at North Lake the night before. We found Arrowhead and decided to take the “climbers trail” over Jackass Pass. The climbers trail cuts across the bottom of the lake and up the left side of the pass instead of going to the far right. You hike through some talus and up over the pass and down to where most of the climbers camp when they get to the Cirque.
HIKING OVER THE PASS
Well we crested the pass and saw, in all its glory, Pingora, standing tall and majestic dead ahead. Below us was the beautiful and lush alpine valley that the Cirque surrouns, in full bloom. It was absolutely gorgeous and I was so excited that I almost took off in a sprint until April stopped me for pictures.
ME HIKING INTO CIRQUE
Well April and I crossed into the meadow below us and hiked onwards toward the base of Pingora. To our left, Sundance Pinnacle, The Warrior Towers and Warbonnet soared above us. Ahead, Pingora and Wolfs Head climbed out of the ground magnificently. We hiked on until we found a place to set up camp and dropped our stuff. Since we hadn’t seen Liz or Ty we decided to hike back and look for them. We met them as they were coming down from the pass. They too, could hardly hold back their excitement. We hiked with them back to where we had dropped our stuff behind a big boulder with a small cave. We stopped there for a while, at some food and they wandered across the stream to a spot about 100 yards from us and set their stuff down.
PIC OF CAMP WHILE ON PNGORA, BLUE TENT
April and I decided that because we had gotten there early we’d go and attempt the classic South Buttress of Pingora. We were armed with a new guidebook and figured we could knock out the three pitches of classic climbing quickly. We quickly unloaded all of our unnecessary gear and took off for Pingora. We followed the well used climbers trail through the meadow and patches of alpine woods and brush, through wild flowers and up some scree until we reached the gully that joins Pingora and Wolfs Head. According to the picture in the guide book, this is where it looked like the approach to the base of the climb went up. We scrambled up some nasty 4th class stuff, through some perma-snow, and soon realized this wasn’t right. We had gone too far up the trail.
We dropped back down and hiked back towards the massive shoulder that come off the East Face of Pingora and saw a trail winding up. At this point it was getting late and we decided to just drop our gear and hike up to see if this was the actual approach. After scouting it out, we were happy with our new beta and we hiked back to our stuff. We stopped for some pictures of the wild flowers that were in full bloom before heading back to camp and filling Liz and Ty in on our approach beta.
April and I set up camp after getting back, made some dinner and watched other parties continuously summit Pingora. Just before dark it started to rain so we took shelter under our small cave, made dinner and made plans for the next day. We decided that since we had a full day to climb, we’d attempt something bigger for our first route in the Cirque. We settled on the East Face, IV 5.7. It seemed manageable and took a beautiful line from the base of Pignora all the way to the summit. We hung up our food out of the way of critters and knocked out a little while after sundown.
EAST FACE LINE, WITH APPROXIMATE BELAYS
MY PINGORA EPIC
We awoke the next morning, to a cold but crisp air that had settled into the Cirque over the night. We waited for the sun to get up over Mitchell Peak to the east. The sun really warmed us up fast so we loaded up, grabbed some breakfast and headed on to the base of Pingora. We may have slightly under-estimated the hike, but the start time also played a role in how late we got to the base of Pingora. We arrived at the base of Pingora around 10:15 and promptly racked up. This was our first time dealing with double ropes, so after modifying Aprils belay technique slightly, I headed up the beautiful first pitch. I followed a ramp up and left until I reached the right of the two cracks that cleaved the face.
Now I have to admit, our communication wasn’t exactly the best so when I called down to her to ask how much rope I had left I think she said 15 feet, but I’m not sure. No matter, the top of the first pitch was 20 feet up and to my left so I stopped short at what was obviously a belay spot for many people. There was a ton of tat slung around a column of rock in the crack. I backed it up and brought April up.
APRIL ON THE FIRST PITCH.
APRIL COMING UP THIRD PITCH
After that, I scooted over and up to the left to a ledge that you could have put a family tent on. I brought April over, we re-established the gear and I set off up a beautiful left facing corner system. The climbing was great, the rock was great, and everything was going good. On the way up I noticed a huge flake with some tat slung around it. I reached a nice belay spot and brought April up again. At first we were moving along slowly, but picked up speed when we hit some slabby pitches. On two or three of the pitches I probably placed two pieces of gear the entire rope length it was so easy. This started to ease the growing concerns I had of us making it to the top on time.
PIC OF APRIL COMING UP A HIGHER PITCH
Well, round up 800’ (I think) the climbing started to get a little tougher again. We were starting to hit “tougher” ground and the rapid progress slowed down a little bit. Remember, April has been climbing for 6 months prior to this. Also holding us back a little bit is the fact that April is climbing in Miuras sized for single pitch cragging and her toes are screaming at her.
Well I’m watching the little clock that is dangling off on my new Black Diamond BB Pack and it’s getting late. We’re getting close to the top but I think I took the wrong line and did some 5.10 variation of a pitch. This took April a good 30-45 minutes to get through the crux of. By the time she made it up to my belay she was beside herself. She was crying, in pain, scared, and just in bad shape. It was 8:00 now and I knew I had to make a decision. We could push on through the night and bivy at the top of Pingora, or we could rap the route in the dark. April didn’t seem like she was in any shape to keep going, we had hardly warm gear with us, and the night before it had rained on Pingora around a little after dark.
We were two-three pitches from the summit, no more than 300 feet probably and I decided we had to go down.
PIC OF LONESOME LAKE FROM PINGORA
Quick note, there is no standard rappel option for this route. The descent from Pingora is down the South Buttress route.
The first rappel wasn’t huge, but it was off a nice tusk that I slung for a belay. I wrapped some webbing around the foot diameter tusk of rock, put a rap ring on it, and set on down to a big ledge that we had left two pitches ago. Along came April, and we pulled the rope.
The sun was now behind block tower to the West and it was getting dark fast. On went the head lamps. I slung a boulder that was sitting on the ledge after doing some quick math and determining that it SHOULD hold. The boulder was about 3’x2’x1.5’. That put the boulder at approximately 9 cubic feet and using a unit weight of 150lbs/ft3, I decided I was good to go. I threaded the rope and headed off into the darkness, trying to remember the route and where I could possibly stop to build a rap.
I stretched the rope as far as I could in an attempt to get down faster and it paid off. I found a baseball sized chock-stone under a house sized block. I tied off to it, girth hitched it with a skinny sling and backed it up, and told April to come on down. She got to the rappel and anchored in. We pulled the rope and threaded it through the biner I had clipped to the sling and before setting off I left April with specific instructions.
“If this chock even twitches, leave the cam and rap. If it doesn’t move, pull the gear and come down on just the biner.”
I set off into the night constantly scanning for the tat that I had spotted on my way up earlier. I cut this rap short at about 100 feet and found another chock to sling and rap off of. April came down and I gave her the same instructions before heading off into the night again.
I continue to rap down and found a nice horn to sling. I slung the horn with some webbing, called for April, and then continued on after she arrived.
Now I was really looking for the tat. I knew it had to be close, but I remember it being about 50 to 75 feet out to the left of the route.
“WOOOOOO!!!! I found that tat!!!” I hollered. I was getting close to the end of the rope but I had enough to make it over. I locked off and started to traverse across the face to the tat. I made it to the tat, clipped in and called for April. When she was in sight I let her know what she was going to have to do and she managed to get over, albeit a little shook up. I backed the tat up and took off.
I was hoping that this next rap would get us to the big ledge at the top of the first pitch so I set off once again into the dark, this time trending back right across the face dimly lit by headlamp. I spotted the ledge, then looked at my rope below me. I was getting close to the ends and wouldn’t make it to the ledge like I’d hoped. I was sure I could down climb, but I built an anchor so April could rap to the ledge from where I’d made it to.
April got down to me and looked confused. I explained what was going on and she made the short rap to the ledge. I cleaned all but the #1 camalot in my anchor and was getting ready to down climb when April started hollering at me about not down climbing. So I found a small tusk of rock, dropped a sling and a biner on it, and made the short rap. I was hoping I’d be able to get the sling back my flipping the rope hard enough but that sling and biner is still up there, right off the ledge.
We sat on the party ledge for a second and collected our thoughts while staring out over the meadow below us. We noted some fires and headlamps down below and checked the time. It was around 10:45.
We needed to get going soon so I started to rap off a huge slung boulder on the ledge. On my way over I realized that I had broken this pitch up into two sections so not wanting to die this close to getting down I swung over to the old tat I had backed up earlier, clipped in, and dropped a nut in the crack nearby. I instructed April on what to do and after getting her over to me, we pulled the rope real quick and I headed down to the ground.
I got down and immediately started packing up. April got down, got out of her shoes and followed suit. It was now around 11:15. After packing up we started hiking back to camp picking our way through the talus at the base of Pingora in the dark thanks to some well placed cairns left by others. To those before me, thank you for the cairns.
We got back to the tent around 12, cooked a quick dinner and hit the sack. We talked about not climbing the next day and some other options before passing out for the night.
April and I awoke the next morning to the sun coming up over Mitchell and quickly warming our tent. To our surprise we both felt good and decided we’d hike up to Pingora, get on the East Ledges II 5.2, and intersect where we’d left off on our route the night before. Fortunately the routes intersect right below where we'd bailed so we could do the route in two pushes, I guess.
EAST LEDGES AND EAST FACE ROUTES
We cooked some breakfast, loaded up, and headed back out feeling good about the day. We arrived at the base of the shoulder of Pingora and headed up following the path we’d scoped out two days before. We hiked up gentle switchbacks, scrambled up some moderate 4th class, and eyed the East Ledges route.
We weren’t really sure how to start the East Ledges and really wanted to do the classic line up the South Buttress. So we said hell with it, we’ll leave the gear and go up this beautiful line.
SOUTH BUTTRESS II 5.8
Approximation of line on left of picture
We got our stuff organized and I started up the beautiful right facing corner of the first pitch, plugging and chugging the hand crack in the corner to a nice belay spot on top of a pedestal. I brought April up and re-racked my gear. I headed out to the right, traversed around the face and back into another corner system, this time with twin cracks splitting it, one in the corner and one in the right face. This was like heaven. I was chugging along up beautiful 5.6 terrain split by perfect hand and fist cracks in immaculate granite in the stellar setting that is the Cirque of the Towers.
I gained the ledge at the top of that pitch, below the iconic K-Cracks and brought April up below me. She was having a blast and excited at the cool first two pitches. She was even more psyched when I pointed out the last pitch despite her throbbing toes. Some people were rappelling off the last pitch so we waited for them to pass, exchanged a few words about the pitch, and I headed off up the left crack. Good jams lead to a nicely textured face split by a beautiful crack with bomber finger locks. A couple of smeary moves and good finger locks lead to a ledge below some 4th class to the summit. I stopped and brought April up to my position, explained the next steps and we set off slowly up the 4th class scrambling.
APRIL COMING UP K CRACKS
At this point April was crying her feet hurt so bad, but she didn’t let that get in her way we summated Pingora shortly after. We stayed and looked around for a little while and ran into another party on the summit. They had just come up the North East Face IV 5.8. We talked to them and talked about our descent in the dark last night. They said they had watched us all night and were saying prayers hoping we’d get down safely. We said goodbye and headed back down the 4th class to where we’d left our ropes. We rappelled back down to a ledge near our packs, hiked over, packed our stuff and went back to camp.
SCRAMBLING TO THE SUMMIT
SUMMIT CELEBRATION, YAY WHISKEY
Later that evening we caught up with Ty and Liz. They had done a 5.10 route going up Warrior I. They had gotten a super early start and got back right before dark. We talked about plans for the next day and decided we wanted something easier as a group. April opted out of any climbing for the next day because of her feet so we decided on Block Tower as an easy route to knock out in a few hours the next day.
April and I awoke to another beautiful morning in the Cirque and I crawled out of bed to see if Ty and Liz were up. They were nowhere to be found so I got to work sorting gear, April pumped some water, and I made some breakfast. By the time April and I had eaten Liz and Ty were stirring and we got ready to head out for the Block Tower around 11:00.
April assumed the position for the rest of the day while we were gone:
APRIL SLEEPING ON ROCK AT CAMP
We picked this route because the guide said there was one pitch of 5.5, one pitch of 5.4 two pitches of 5.2, and about 600 feet of 4th class. We figured it wouldn’t be hard to knock out in four to five hours with three of us and one rope.
We headed up towards Pingora, passed by it, hiked along below Wolfs Head and it’s beautiful corners above us and arrived a permanent snow pack after crossing talus around the Cirque Lake. Cool thing about the Cirque Lake, it's totally hidden from view until you hike all the way up to it from down in the meadow. It's also the highest lake in the Cirque (I believe) and feeds the streams that run through the meadows. I assume something flows into Cirque Lake from the other side of Block Tower/Sharks Nose.
After negotiating the snow pack to the base of Block Tower we found the route. It started in a chimney and went for what the book states as 120 feet. Ty lead the first pitch, Liz tied in short about 15 feet in front of me and I was on the end of the rope. Well Ty took the entire 60 meters of rope before he built a belay. Liz and I climbed up to the belay, scouted out the next “pitch” and decided I would lead it. Liz tied back in near Ty and I headed off for another 100 feet or so. I climbed what should have been 4th class by the book, but was really easy 5th class. I got up to a belay ledge in the 4th class terrain and brought Liz and Ty up. I set off again through moss and gravel covered ledges ranging from 6 inches wide to 2 feet wide. This was actually kind of scary… I was traversing up and right with hardly any pro on mossy and gravelly ledges some 400 feet up with nothing but ledges to hit below me.
BLOCK TOWER EAST FACE II 5.5
After about 4 more rope lengths of 4th class and easy 5th class (close to 800 feet probably) we arrived at the chimney pitch. Liz took the easy chimney up to an aręte where we swapped leads again I climbed up the low angle aręte. The guide gave this section 125 feet. I ran the rope out one whole length and then Ty and Liz passed me by on easy terrain until they reached the ledge another 75 feet away…
Now the last pitch is described in the guide as a “wide crack to the summit.” Normally when I think wide crack I think fist size to arm bar. This was a full on chimney and after sitting around scratching our asses for a few minutes Liz said “fuck it” and took off up the sketchy looking chimney. Confirming the route was an old nut. Liz made some sketchy moves out of the chimney, up the face, and onto the summit. Liz was our hero at that point. Ty and I followed suit with Ty trying to not kick loose rocks on me tied in 10 feet behind him. We reached the summit, took some pictures and evaluated our rappel. There were three pitons tied off in a crack. Good. We backed it up, rapped off, and cleaned our back up gear.
PITONS AND TAT
ME AND LIZ
VIEW FROM THE TOP
We reached the ledge and started to rappel back down the low angle blocky aręte, trying not to fall off either side of it for fear of a heinous swing along the face dropping away 6 inches to either side of us. Two rappels took us to the top of the chimney where we rappelled back down to the last ledge at the top of the 4th class terrain. Since I had lead the way through here I took the lead on the way back. In a half ass down climb I meandered down the face to a huge block. We tied off the block and made another rappel hoping to barely reach a ledge below.
Halfway down the rope I realized the rope wouldn’t reach so I started looking for other options. I spotted some tat off to my left and started traversing along broken ledges and faces to until I was close to the end of the rope. I slid the rope out of my belay device by just letting the ends fall through and took a few steps over to some tat around a flake. Liz and Ty followed and we set up another rappel, not entirely sure of where we were going. Once I took off though I quickly found the tat that I had belayed off of at the end of my first pitch of 4th class on the way up. We rappelled the rest of the route without any incident, gathered our gear at the base and started back to camp.
Ty and Liz, more comfortable on snow glissaded down while I picked my steps carefully and slowly. I caught up to them in the talus and we hiked along Cirque Lake, back towards Pingora and eventually back to camp as the sun was setting behind the Block Tower.
That was our last day of climbing and the next day we packed up and headed out. Once again April and I went ahead of Liz and Ty but they soon caught us as April tried to cope with a big toe that was in excruciating pain. They passed us and we eventually caught up to them as they were taking a dip in North Lake near where we had camped earlier that week.
TY AND LIZ SWIMMING
April and I headed on trying to gain ground but Liz and Ty soon passed us again so we took our time and meandered back towards Big Sandy Lake.
APRIL HIKING OUT
APRIL AT BIG SANDY ON THE WAY OUT
We eventually made it back to the car and found Liz and Ty there ahead of us. They had my trunk open and were cleaning out trash. When we walked up and dumped their packs they tossed me a shirt that had been in my trunk. It was full of holes and they were picking up little pieces of torn paper and mouse shit from my trunk. Apparently a mouse had gotten in my car while we were gone and he built a little home somewhere in there.
After loading the gear up we headed out of Big Sandy and back to Montana. On the way back we saw a trailer on fire at a campground and Ty was pulled over because I told him my speedo reads 5 mph fast. The cop that pulled us over let him off, but not before giving me grief about my .38 special in the glove box (which was totally legal considering my permit). We drove through Teton and eventually made it back to Livingston late that night.
About three months later April lost her toe nail on one foot and the other is just now coming off. I learned about the ropes I had purchased and that the girl that sold them to me didn’t really know much about them but had to sell them due to a family issue that was going on.
The trip was definitely an experience. I learned a lot about myself and about climbing and camping in remote areas. It's definitely something I'll do again if I have the chance. It's an adventure that I had a blast being a part of and would recommend to anyone thinking about it.
(This post was edited by currupt4130 on Jan 22, 2011, 5:36 PM)
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