I’ve been wanting to make a trip into the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range for a few years now; it contains two of the vaunted 50 Classic Climbs of North America (East Ridge of Wolf’s Head and the Northeast Face on Pingora Peak) and all photos I’d seen of it evidenced the usual Wind River majesty.
The Cirque is pretty remote. Just getting to the Big Sandy TH access point requires 35-40mi of driving on dirt road, and then it’s a 9-10mi run into the basin, which is on the far side of Jackass Pass. As such, I was surprised to see a nearly-full trailhead parking lot on a late-in-the-season week night.
An early season snowstorm last week had shut down my plans for some alpine scrambling up in the Tetons, and a couple bike rides around Dubois in the previous days had confirmed that snow was lingering above 9000′, so I had low expectations for getting to do any scrambling in the Cirque. Still, I was looking forward to at least getting to run in a new (to me) beautiful area, and I packed my rock shoes and chalk bag in my running vest just in case there happened to be some dry rock.
I’ll let some photos tell the rest of the story of my last day of summer.
This is the view that greets you when you pop over Jackass Pass and get your first real view into the basin. Pretty unreal. Pingora Peak is on the far right, followed by Tiger Tower, Wolfs Head, Overhanging Tower, Sharks Tooth, Block Tower, The Watchtower, Warrior I & II, etc, etc. It’s an impressive place.
After running across the basin on a climber’s trail, it’s a 3rd/4th Class scramble up grassy ledges to the shoulder of Pingora at the base of the South Buttress. The obvious K-Cracks are at the top center of the peak with the right-facing dihedral below that providing the excellent two pitches leading to a giant ledge at their base.
Where the real climbing starts. I climbed the crack/corner to the left and then got into the right-facing double-crack dihedral above there. This pitch was fantastic. Super solid rock, perfect holds, fun movements stemming and liebacking. Really ideal scrambling on alpine granite in an amazing setting. The K-Cracks are out of sight above this pitch.
Looking up at the K-Cracks from the ledge at their base. The standard route (and the one I took) is the left-most crack system. Guidebooks rate this beautiful pitch a consensus 5.8, but that felt a bit soft to me. Maybe that’s just because the fingerlocks are uniformly super high quality and there’s sufficient feet the whole way.
This is the view from the summit of Pingora. The East Ridge of Wolf’s Head erupts just over my left shoulder, followed by Overhanging Tower, etc just behind me.
The downclimb from the top of Pingora was involved. I was onsighting the (supposedly 5.2) East Ledges route from above, but I don’t think I ever found the 5.2 line. After making it down, I traversed over to the Tiger Tower-Pingora Col and then along the base of TT to the bottom of Wolf’s Head’s East Ridge. What an amazing feature!
Looking at back at the first two towers on Wolf’s Head’s ridge. The first tower was easily passed on this (south) side by a short hand-traverse around a boulder. From there one would normally squeeze through a chimney to the north side of the rock to a roomy ledge and then a piton-protected face traverse. Everything on the north side was covered in snow and ice. Not gonna happen. The alternative was traversing beneath this diamond-shaped face on the south side, high on the ledge tucked just above all those short, parallel cracks. The crux was pulling over a small bulge/roof on handjams (deep in shadow here). I waited for a while as a party of three in front of me made the moves, but after they’d cleared out I decided to at least go have a look but wasn’t willing to commit to the final move unroped with 1000′ of air under my heels. The move itself wasn’t that hard, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to reverse it and I also knew that the route would subsequently deviate onto the north side a few more times (where I would encounter snow and ice again), so I humbly downclimbed. No worries, I still got to experience some of the more beautiful pitches of scrambling I’ve done. And in reverse, too!
The snowy/icy ledge/face that is the typical route around the second tower.
After I’d downclimbed the initial pitches of Wolf’s Head, I still had lots of energy and it was still early in the afternoon, so I decided to console myself with another lap on the beautiful South Buttress of Pingora before running the 10mi back out to the trailhead. Here I am at the top of the K-Cracks pitch, looking down the incredibly clean crux pitch. Just look at that finger crack! So much fun!
From my final time on the summit of Pingora, looking south back across the basin to Jackass Pass (lower left) and the north faces of Warrior II, Warrior I, and Warbonnet.
I keep you for a while now and I admire you. I like your thinking of life without complications. I’m glad to hear that start running again, but in recent times has left a little to forget yourself, if not too much to ask, could you trim your beard slightly. pls.
sorry my English is not perfect
Super cool, Anton. That’s all in my backyard; let me know if you are ever interested in an adventure companion.
ah man bummer ya couldn’t grab the entire cirque but still a sweet outing! Was planning it this labor day weekend but weather had other plans. That north facing slab trav would of been super sketch ropeless!
Thoughts on these other amazing linkups: Tenaya, Matthes, Echo, Cathedral linkup (Tuolomene); Palisade Traverse; WURL; Grand Traverse (teton)???
WURL! J Campbell is tracking the fkts…
Thanks for sharing all your adventures…
It makes me want to leave France to discover these rocky mountains!
Do you know if there are any courses that combine climbing and racing in Colorado? (for beginners ++)
Outstanding. An onsite of Pingora is the real deal – plus you lapped it! East Ridge of Wolfs Head is easier, but not when there’s snow on it.
Nice! That is an amazing area. Have only been to Jackass Pass, but am eager to explore further someday. Those are some committing solos, nice work!
Wow, onsight soloing K Cracks is solid. You’re at a whole other level from when your film came out. North Ridge of the Grand is still another click up in commitment, but damn, you’re in the ballpark. Props
Rob – I was having this very conversation with someone just the other day. The Alexander’s Chimney scene in In The High Country is unfortunate…I was just getting into scrambling at the time, let alone starting to do real, technical climbing again after a few years away. For reference, a month after Alexander’s I was following a 5.6 pitch in Eldo and came off simply because I was pumped and had zero crack technique. I now regularly solo that pitch 100% comfortably (everything solo should be 100% comfortable!). K-Cracks felt soft to me; maybe everything in Eldo and the Flatirons is just sand-bagged (to be sure, A LOT of it definitely is). North Ridge of the Grand would be fantastic, but rest assured I won’t be on-sighting it! Before this summer, the thought of ever being able to scramble the Grand Traverse seemed ridiculous. It probably still is (because of the North Ridge), but it’s something I can now at least dream about and see myself maybe, possibly progressing towards.
Nah, that scene was one of my favorite moments. “I haven’t been that scared in a long time…or ever maybe…” I’m not familiar with that route or anything, but that moment of fear is completely human and relatable.
Thanks for sharing this blog
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You should try to post more frequently!I enjoy reading what you say. You’re an inspiration.
Awesome blog you are writting here.
What pack are you wearing in the Picture?
Best regards from EU
Hi Marko – Just rigorously testing an Ultimate Direction proto-type!
I was wondering what are some good cities in Colorado to live? I know most of Colorado is filled with great outdoor sites to see, but what cities are good to live in where you can work, but yet run the mountains as well? Thanks.
Cool to see you stretching your talents on some cool link ups with the bike and climbing. Triple of fun of running only. Seems your soloing is coming right along. I think you would be well suited for a go at the Grand Traverse in the Tetons. Rolo’s 6:51 is daunting but we really haven’t had anyone of your pedigree step up. Rolo is generous with the beta if you’re keen. Lots of little route tricks to make it flow. Give it some thought.
frozen wave of grey granite crashing down on Pingora, it may not be the biggest feature in the cirque, but it is by far the most peculiar. Wolf s Head is featured in Steve Roper and Allen Stack s masterpiece,
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I had low expectations for https://www.russellbromleys.co.uk/tag/russell-bromley/ getting to do any scrambling in the Cirque.