August 01, 2010

Climbing Road Trip Part II - Cirque of the Towers

After spending a month in Wyoming's Wind River Range, I apparently hadn't had enough.  Ava and I decided to begin the second part of our climbing road trip by heading into the Cirque of the Towers, which, as the name suggests, is an amazing cirque lined with granite towers on nearly all sides.  The abundance of clean alpine granite lines in this area is astounding.  This is located only a few miles south of where my course passed by just days earlier (we intentionally avoided the area due to its reputation for being crowded).

Before I begin to recount these adventures, please follow my logic: Cirque of the Towers - C of the Ts - Sea of the Tease.  Thank you.

We backpacked into the cirque on our first day with plans of achieving alpine glory on the subsequent two or three days.  The weather was questionable nearly the entire time, but we went for it anyway and were glad that we did.

Pingora on the right, with Wolf's Head just to the left and behind Pingora
On day two we got up early and hiked up towards Pingora Peak, aiming for the classic South Buttress line.  We ended up taking a non-standard approach to this climb that involved some interesting scrambling.  Sufficient wandering around on ledges eventually led us to the start of the climb, where we ran into two fellow NOLSies who were just starting the same climb.  I led the first pitch, which was an enjoyable 5.6 crack/corner system on surprisingly clean alpine granite.  Ava valiantly led the next 5.6 pitch which continued in a similar fashion.  We were then faced with the option of traversing to yet another 5.6 corner or continuing straight up a 5.8 crack system known as the "K" cracks.  The left side of the "K" cracks looked amazing, so I got my send on.  The first two pitches were great, and this one was notably better.  After that, a 300-foot scramble led us to Pingora's summit.

Leading up the first pitch of the South Buttress (look at those pretty new ropes!)
The "K" Crack Pitch
A Craig Weiland inspired summit shot on Pingora
While the climbing/scenery/summit/etc. were amazing, we both left wishing the route was at least twice as long.

Our camp with Pingora and Wolf's Head in the background
We awoke early again on Day 3 and marched back up the cirque in search of the East Ridge of Wolf's Head.  There wasn't much searching necessary, as we could see if from our camp, but getting to the base of the ridge proved interesting.  It was supposed to be a Class 3 scramble on grassy ledges.  We found the grassy ledges but still had to pull out the rope for a few moves down low and and two easy 5th class pitches up higher.  The fact that it sporadically rained on us while gaining the ridge didn't help.

Once on the ridge, the reason this climb is so famous slaps you in the face.  The first part of the east ridge varies from 1-foot to about 6-feet wide and is split by a crack that provides excellent protection as it ascends toward the jagged summit ridge.  Considering the shear drop off on both sides of the ridge makes its position splendid.  Despite the dramatic position, the climbing is relatively easy until the towers along the summit ridge are encountered, at which point the route finding and climbing difficulties increase.  The exposure below us was made more real when we were forced to traverse around some of the towers.

Feeling the exposure (notice the climbing shoe camouflage)
The blocky towers of the summit ridge
Ava traversing under one of the summit towers with lots of air below
Once we finally made it to the top, I felt more than usual the reality of only being half way there upon reaching the summit.  I believe the suspect weather contributed largely to this.  We still had to get down and the descent route would be off an entirely different side of the mountain.  The descent was adventurous, for sure, but we found the necessary rappel stations and safely made our way back to camp for what seemed like a longer day than it actually was.

We had optimistically hoped to climb the Northeast Face of Pingora on the following day, but due to several factors including: copious amounts of rain the night before, our bodies feeling the ware of the previous three days, sustained difficulty of the route, continuing questionable weather, and consideration of opportunity costs, we opted to hike out and head for the Tetons.  I hope to return to this amazing cirque many times in the future as the number of incredible alpine granite lines is practically limitless.

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