Situated in middle-of-nowhere Wyoming, the Wind Rivers runs diagonally from the southeast corner of the Yellowstone region and extends southeast, terminating a few hours shy of Utah. Desert surrounds this landscape, and approaching certainly gives one the feeling of remoteness.
This feeling of remoteness comes to an abrupt halt at the trailhead, where we were met with at least 50 other cars (stories exist of more!). Turns out that not all these cars hold climbers. In fact many are backpackers, day hikers, scout groups, and fishers. Despite the popularity of the Big Sandy Trailhead, the feeling of remoteness quickly kicks back in during the 9 mile hike to Cirque of the Towers. Cliffs become taller and steeper. The trail becomes more rugged. The squeals of pikas and borough-homes of marmots speckle the trail. Then about two miles out, you get your first glimpse of Pingora.
The first pictures I saw of Pingora were on the internet. It’s one of those features you look at and your mind concludes there’s no way that’s in North America. Then a friend of mine and I were trying to decide where our next big climbing trip would be. He had pestered me about the Wind River Range in the past. After looking it up and being practically dumbfounded, I agreed to go.
We drove up to the trailhead after work and camped out in the car. The next morning we took an early start. We arrived at the Cirque of the Towers about six hours after leaving the trailhead. After picking up our jaws from the ground, we set up camp.
The first two pitches were amusing, clocking in at 5.6. But there was enough variation to make you think about some placements, and get a hold of the rock. The third pitch I found very entertaining, with everything from jams to stemming. Finally, we arrived at the base of K-Cracks, the 5.8 portion of the climb.
We acquired the summit 2.5 hours after starting. What a view! And an amazing way to get there!
I had searched in earnest for good descent beta, but found next to nothing clearly spelling out what exists on the rock. Sources say encouraging things like, “a 60m will require some down climbing. You might be able to make it on a 70m.” And other stories about getting lost on rappel or using manky anchors added to the level of optimism.
Ultimately, a 70m WILL get you down hassle free. And here’s a descent map for you. The original picture was taken by David Fantle (I pulled it from mountainproject.com and then added the belay stations to the picture).
We had lunch back at camp and watched the clouds build. Today was a 20% chance of thunderstorms day. We had run into some other climbers who heard that another party had been hailed on in yesterday’s storms, which was a 40% chance. Tomorrow was going to be a 40% chance. Did we want to take the risk and commit to the 11-pitch Northeast Face of Pingora?
Opting to be dry and happy, we packed up our gear and began hiking out around 1:30PM. On our drive out we saw storm clouds building over the Wind Rivers. It was probably the right choice.
The Winds are a spectacular region of the country with nearly unparalleled beauty. It seems like every new location has that, which is part of the allure. Probably even more amazing is that we didn’t run into the legendary mosquitoes that so many people complain. The two dry winters in a row must have helped.
Another trip will have to scheduled to tackle the two 50 Classic Climbs in the Cirque of the Towers. And if you get a chance, I’d highly recommend you put the effort in and go enjoy this part of Creation.