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Trip Report for the Cirque of the Towers
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wyoclimber


Sep 4, 2002, 3:36 PM
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Trip Report for the Cirque of the Towers
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Trip 1:
This first report is on my attempt of the South Buttress of Pingora's Peak, Cirque of the Towers, in the Big Sandy wilderness area, Wind River Range, Wyoming. This was during July 11, 12, and 13 of 2002.
I am a beginner alpine climber, so the information below is NOT expert advice. It is more of an account of how I am fumbling my way through learning a new aspect of climbing. There may be some good info for those that have not been to the cirque yet, weather experienced alpine climbers or not. And maybe some good info for others beginner alpinists in other areas. If you are a beginner, you might learn from some of my mistakes, but definitely don't rely on this info alone! If you know what you are doing in the high country, you might get a good laugh at my follies.
This was the first alpine adventure for both my partner, Yvette, and I. I spent about a month collecting beta, and got some really good information. How much of it I took to heart is a different story…
I had heard that the 10 mile hike in can be a bit of trouble. I should have considered who was telling me this, as they are seasoned alpine climbers… been doing it for years. My underestimation of the hike, and the short time frame we were working with is what cost us the summit.
One of the challenges of this type of adventure is that everything you have has to be packed in on your back. After a lot of consideration, I got my pack down to about 75 pounds. The majority of this weight is - 15 pound double ropes - 20 pounds of cams, nuts, tricams, beaners, slings and such - tent - sleeping bag and pad - food - cloths - water filter - cooking supplies - and emergency kit. There is lots of water up there, but it has to be purified. On this first trip, I was carrying up to 3 liters of water on me all the time. On later trips, I maxed out at 1 liter, and filtered more often. (I'm learning to shave weight where ever I can!)
The hike in is fairly level for the first 5 miles. It starts at 9000 feet and ends around 9500. The trail is well established and very scenic. (And sometimes quite crowded with climbers, hikers, fisherman, horses, and even pack goats!) On this trip, we set up camp here, at Big Sandy Lake. We had heard and read that the hike from the lake to the cirque is about 3.5 miles, but a little rougher terrain. We were planning on doing this 3.5 miles in about 3 hours the following morning. As it turns out, it is 3.5 miles from the north end of the lake to the close side of the cirque. It is 5 miles from the south side of the lake, where we camped, to the far side of the cirque, where we climbed. This 5 miles took us almost 7 hours to negotiate, with switch backs, boulder fields, scree filled steep trails, and frequent stops as the entire 5 miles are over 10,000 feet. Once getting to the base of the climb, we knew that there was no way to summit in the light, but we started climbing anyway. We climbed until 10:30 pm then decided to turn back. We made it about half way up the 1000 foot climb. We rapped to the ground, ate all the food we had left, which was nothing more than instant coffee, sugar packets and creamer packets. We had hiked in as light as we could, and thinking we would be back later that evening, we didn't bring enough food for the 20 hours we were out. The five miles back to the tent with tiny head lamps provided us with plenty of bush whacking and trail finding opportunities… it was brutal and cold. Without the GPS, it could have gotten even worse on this moonless night! We got back to the tent around 8:AM the next morning. Ate like wild animals, and crashed in the tent for a couple of hours before hiking the rest of the way out. Yvette was a trooper through all of this: hungry, cold, tired, semi-lost (I couldn't pick up the real trail for the first 2.5 miles) without the comfort of a summit, and still never a complaint. Talk about strength and endurance!
We chalked it up as a learning experience, and committed to summit that peak later this summer.


[ This Message was edited by: wyoclimber on 2002-09-04 15:36 ]


wyoclimber


Sep 4, 2002, 3:37 PM
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More to come...
Questions/Comments welcome!
-Wyo


wyoclimber


Sep 6, 2002, 2:18 PM
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This is a shot of me taken by climbchick, we are at about 10550 feet, and about a mile from the peaks. Pingora is the peak on the right, and the south buttress is the point where the light and shadow meet.



wyoclimber


Sep 6, 2002, 2:40 PM
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Trip 2:
July 26-28, 2002
Attempt on West side cracks III 5.8, of Warbonnet, Cirque of the Towers, Wind Rivers, Wyoming.
Don (Dgraham) and I left RS for the trail head at 8:30am on Friday, started hiking at 10:30. The hike seemed better in ways than last time. I guess knowing what was in store made it go by faster. The weather on Friday was cool (Highs in the mid 60's) and was rainy on and off. About a mile into the hike, I started feeling pain in the top of my left foot. I had my shoe laced too tight. So I immediately ignored it for a while, until I stopped for a break about a mile later. I guess I should have done something earlier, cause I did some fairly painful damage to the tendons in the top of my foot. The rest of the hike in was uncomfortable on the sore foot, (not to mention the 10 hours in the climbing shoes the next day…) We planned to hike all the way into the cirque on Friday, to minimize the approach to the crag on Saturday. We were about half way up the switch-backs going up from the lake when the lightning and hail started in with the rain. We sheltered under a tree for about 30 minutes to let it pass, before we climbed to the top of the hill.
After it stopped raining, the sun came out for a bit, it was so incredibly beautiful! The birds were singing, the light sparkling off the raindrops, the wildflowers unnaturally bright, and the air clean and crisp. We stopped for a while to just soak it in. We made it all the way into the cirque in 8 hours. We set up camp on the ridge above arrowhead lake, right at the base of Warbonnet. It was such a perfect camp site, except for being a bit close to the trail. 2000 vertical feet of sheer granite cliff above us, with snow melt trickling down the cliffs 10 yards from the tent
I set my alarm at 6am for Saturday. When it went off, it was dark, cloudy, raining pretty hard, and real windy… so we went back to sleep. Got back up around 9:30, ate, dressed up in every piece of clothing I brought, including the goretex, and headed up. There was about 4 pitches of heinous 4th class scrambling up a boulder filled gully. We were going one at a time, with the one below sheltering behind a substantial boulder while the other climbed the gully, starting rock falls left and right. The gully was narrow enough that you could almost touch both sides with your hands stretched out. For the last couple of pitches of this, we roped up due to the steepness and looseness of it. Probably the worst terrain I have ever crossed in my life!
After a couple of hours of this, we got to the base of the climb. It was now around 2pm. The first two pitches went well, the rain held off, and the wind wasn't too bad. The temp was such that I was just slightly warm climbing, and a little cool belaying while wearing goretex, polartec fleece, and dryclimb type tops and bottoms. The third pitch, I got off route. I went up one dihedral, was not able to place any pro, and about 30 FEET above my last piece, was getting into some HARD moves, 5.10+ it felt… so I down climbed, and tried another crack to my right. Same situation, runout and getting harder. Down climbing again, to a rap station half a pitch up from my belayer, I set up anchors, and looked at the only beta I had, a photo copy of the page describing the climb. It had a picture with a line on it, and that was about it! I finally decided that the route was going off to the left, and as I belayed my second, it started to rain. By now it is 5:00, cold, windy and raining, and we are still roughly 400 feet from the summit. I was feeling kinda wiped out from the 30 minute scarefest adrenaline surge. Don and I talked it over, and decided to bail. At our high point, about 1400 feet above camp, it was very cool, and kinda intimidating to look down at this very small, fuzzy little yellow dot, and know it is my tent. Kinda makes ya feel small… But I was so very happy right then. Even though we didn't summit, as I learn to do this, my biggest sense of accomplishment I think comes from staying in control, and staying safe. I had all that and more. The mtn we were climbing afforded an awesome, if somewhat distant view of Pingora. At the point we turned around, we were about 50 to 100 feet higher than Pingora is, so I was able to see the top of it. I had a few moments alone there while don was rapping down to really focus on and appreciate the view. (we made it to about 12,000 of the 12,369 peak, and pingora is 11,884) So then on to the 3 raps in the rain to the base of the climb, then 4 raps to get through the boulder gully. Made it back to camp about 20 minutes after dark. Slept in, and hiked out on Sunday. It took us 6.5 hours to hike out. I was seriously worried about if I was going to make it out with my foot acting up. I had to stop about once an hour, and loosen the laces on my shoe as my foot swelled up. I kept getting shooting pains up my leg that would stop me in my tracks. The weather was perfect on Sunday, each time we would stop, I would strip off my shirt, and lay on a boulder in the sun… and did I mention, NO BUGS!!! There were virtually no mosquitoes, biting flies or even the scary antenna bugs around. We could leave the doors to the tent open, and even talk with out getting bugs in our mouth. I didn't even open the bottle of deet I brought! This is all opposite of the first trip up there. Yvette and I went through ALL the deet we brought. In fact, on the first trip, we met a couple of parties that had run out of deet, and cut their trip short because they couldn't stand the bugs…
One thing I learned on this trip, is that two way radios are more of a necessity than a luxury. That third pitch started with a 20 foot traverse to the right, into a right facing corner, so I quickly lost sight of my belayer. With the wind and the terrain, communication was very hard. When I started down climbing and re-down climbing, there were moments when I was wondering if Don knew what I was doing, and taking up slack, or if the rope was just piling up on a ledge below me, and Don thinking I was stopped. We tried calling out to each other, but that just left us more confused than before. On the third trip, I took some talkabouts, and they were worth their weight in gold…


wyoclimber


Sep 7, 2002, 7:02 PM
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This is a picture of Warbonnet. The Left Side Cracks goes up the center of the sunlit face, passing to the right of the huge detached flake in the center of the face.



climbchick


Sep 8, 2002, 9:50 PM
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Here's a link to my TR for the first trip to the Cirque: Yvette's TR. There are some more pics there.


wyoclimber


Sep 9, 2002, 2:00 PM
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Trip 3:
Summit of South Buttress - Pingora Peak - Cirque of the Towers - Wind Rivers - Wyoming.
Aug 29-31, 2002
Yvette (climbchick) and I got back together to fulfill our promise of summiting Pingora before the end of the season. Unless you are more into suffering than most, (I think I am, I'm already planning the next trip!) Labor day is the official end of the season in the Cirque. By this time, the weather becomes volatile. the snow and hail that fall almost every afternoon starts to accumulate. Low temps are often below freezing, and highs can be anywhere from 70 to 30 - sometimes on adjacent days!
Having learned A LOT from the first two trips, we planned our schedule a little better. I picked her up from the SLC airport on Wednesday, and drove to the Big Sandy Lodge, with one detour to climb Pulpit rock on the way. After a good nights sleep at the lodge, we hit the trail. The familiarity with the trail saves some time, as you know better when to take breaks, planning for the next obstacle. The weather was cool, and threatened rain several times. Once we even put on gortex and pack covers, only to take them back off 10 minutes later. The mountains surrounding the trail make it hard to judge the weather for more than a few minutes at a time. We made the 9.5 miles to the center of the cirque in roughly 7 hours. When we got to the last ridge, we felt the air change, taking on a menacing quality. Looking up, and across the cirque, we saw a wall of precipitation moving rapidly towards us. We had just enough time to drop our packs, gear up with goretex, and get the packs back on before we were hit with rain, hail, and sleet. The thunder and lightning were close enough to make the air sparkle, and our ears ring. We were only 20 minutes from camp on relatively easy trail, so we pushed on.
Once in camp, we set up a little shelter out of the rope bag, a boulder and a fallen tree. Dinner was made and ate, and we hit the sack.
Woke up on Friday (Happy birthday, Yvette!) being able to see our breath, and struggling to get the body moving through the cold thin air. It felt as hard to keep my body going as it was to keep the fire going the night before. I live at 6400 feet, and base camp was at 10400. Not a significant gain, but definitely noticeable. Yvette gained 2 miles of elev in just over a day!
We got an early start (for us…) and were at the base of the climb, ready to go at noon. Once again, we decided to climb two easy 5th class pitches instead of hiking up the shoulder via the trail. We averaged a full pitch every 45 minutes. Yvette and I swapped leads for the first three pitches, then I finished the last two roped pitches, and the last pitch is 3rd class scrambling. Pitches 3, 4 and 5 are the actual climb, and they are LOADS of fun. There are several alternatives for the climb. There are two separate routes on the 3rd pitch, three choices on the 4th, and two more on the 5th. Every alternative looks as fun as the others. The rock is all solid, and the belay ledges spacious. The two way radios were very helpful. Being able to really communicate from belay ledge to belay ledge was great. They also helped with route finding and warnings (we had a party rap down our route while we were climbing it!) Things that rope tugging and shouting just can't adequately communicate.
After finishing the last roped pitch, during the scramble to the summit, the altitude started to really affect Yvette. Her breathing was increasingly difficult , heart racing, and head swimming. I was concerned that she was going to have to bail, within sight of the summit! When I brought it up, she informed me through struggled breaths that she was going to summit if she had to crawl there! Hardcore!
After a brief respite, she got her breath back to normal, and we strolled up to the summit. We spent at least an hour hanging out on the summit, enjoying some of the ample food we brought, (never be hungry again!) and a nice big fat cigar. Another climbing team summited 30 minutes behind us, providing us with an opportunity for some pics on the summit together.
We swapped rappels with the other party, both of us using double ropes, and made it back to the ground in short order. A little coffee at the base, and a short hike back to camp for dinner wrapped up the day.
The next morning brought the hike out. The number of people coming in that we passed was disconcerting. The most painful part of the trail is still the last two miles to the car. Even though it is gently down hill, on perfect trail, it becomes a struggle to put one foot in front of the other.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip. It really rekindled my spirit, to have things go as planned, and reaching the summit without incident. If I had backed off an alpine climb for the third time, I think I would have been hard to muster the fortitude to attempt another one (not really…) This time, during that last two miles of hike to the car, was the first time I wasn't wondering why I put myself and others through all of the tribulations to do this. This time was truly rewarding and fulfilling, leaving me with a sense of peace and accomplishment that will stay with me forever.


[ This Message was edited by: wyoclimber on 2002-09-12 19:45 ]


wyoclimber


Sep 9, 2002, 2:55 PM
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On my next trip, there are some things I want to do different.
First and foremost, 3 days (which all three trips have been so far) is just barely enough. It is, in fact, a bit grueling! I hope to have four days as a minimum on future trips. Some days to have as free days, either resting (ya, right) hiking around the area (possibly) or going after several summits on one trip there (Hell Ya!) Also, if the one day you have scheduled for climbing turns to thunderstorms, the whole trip can be for naught.
I need to figure out the food planning. Every trip up there has found me packing out 5 to 10 pounds of food! That's a lot of extra weight in and out. I know I need to take extra, but that much? I still have a lot of survivalist instincts from my scouting days, and its hard for me to not pack for the worst, but it needs to be within reason.
More later…



climbchick


Sep 9, 2002, 7:56 PM
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Summit day was my birthday and Bill snuck up two cupcakes complete with candles so that we could celebrate on top. What a great partner

http://www.home.ix.netcom.com/...ngora/Candles_SM.jpg


cyberhobo


Sep 9, 2002, 8:26 PM
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Ah, only those with a special taste for suffering can truly appreciate those mountains. Thanks for the reports - they bring back many wonderful, wet, cold memories of my 4 attempts to 3rd-class Gannett Peak (1 success:). I have nad the unique distinction, I believe, of even suffering from Chicken Pox in Wind Rivers!

Cheers,
-dylan-


dgraham


Sep 14, 2002, 11:42 AM
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  Great description of our climb on Warbonnet. I am looking forward to next summer when we can get back to "The Cirque" and climb Pingora AND Warbonnet. Keep in touch while your in the Gulf.

DG


wyoclimber


Sep 15, 2002, 12:30 PM
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Will do, Don...
BTW, it's gonna be hard to wait till summer, got any cold weather gear?
b


squishclimber


Sep 15, 2002, 1:05 PM
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I have climbed Pingora and Wolf's Head. They are both great peaks and it is an awesome area.
The important thing to remember when you are at the tree line is you SHOULD NOT be having a campfire, unless it is for a true emergency. At this altitude the soil's nutrient content is a limiting factor in sustaining plant life, and fires destroy nutrients that would otherwise recycle from decaying wood to soil. It takes a VERY LONG time for new trees to grow at 10000+ feet due to the very short growing season and poor soil conditions.
In the two weeks we were there we saw no one with a campfire. There were over a dozen climbing parties in that two week period.
If we want areas like this to remain beautiful and open to climbers think hard about the consequences of fires at such an altitude.


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