Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wyoming, Pt. 2: Wind River Range

It's been a crazy week since I last wrote.  We spent from Monday through last night in the backcountry, hiking out past dark with headlamps on as lightning and thunder threatened on the horizon.  It was completely worth it, though- 40 pound packs beside.  ;)

We hiked first into the Deep Lake area, bringing with us two friends-of-friends of S's brother who wanted to try climbing in the backcountry.  
Cody had been climbing for six months, and had "taken the last month and a half off".  Oliver was pretty exclusively a boulderer, so we had an interesting combo that turned out to be great company.  We were often regaled with tales of their antics, and had to watch for "herds of moose" whenever dinner from the night before made a noise en route.  After hiking in, we climbed two routes on Haystack mountain- the North Face and Railroad Tracks in two days.  
We learned when climbing North Face that when the guidebook says, "start early due to afternoon rainstorms", it really means "start early due to afternoon rainstorms".  
Note the fashionable sock mittens I was using to keep my hands warm at the belay!  We reached the summit as the clouds were darkening on the horizon, and the wind was whipping hard enough to make even S and myself a little nervous as we negotiated our way around the 4th class slabs.  It began raining on the descent, but by the time we made it down to the slabs the rain had stopped and at camp it was full sun again.
Railroad Tracks was in great weather, but the cracks were a bit mungy, more filled with grass than with great spots for hand jams and cams.  S and I swapped leads on what we quickly learned was a 50 meter rope (normally we'd climb with a 60 m, but that's the "extra" rope that the boys brought).  What was supposed to be a chill handful of pitches up to 5.8 grew into 8 pitches, plus scrambling at the top for the summit.  We were pretty excited to be up there, as you can tell:
and when we got back down to camp it was almost 12 hours from when we started.  Doing a route with a 4 person belay takes forever, and I doubt we'll do it anytime again soon.  Dinner that night was inhaled rather than eaten.
After Deep Lake, S and I said adios to the boys and headed to the Cirque of the Towers, the crown jewel for climbing in the Wind River Range.  You can see Warbonnet as the peak with the sheer drop off the right hand side here:
After a grueling hike, we climbed one of the most popular routes in the Cirque- the South Buttress on Pingora.  Unfortunately, my camera died before I even reached the Cirque, so I'll have to get pictures next time.  The climb itself was spectacular, with incredible cracks and alpine granite towering above the valley floor.  S and I swapped leads yet again, scurring up the cracks and laughing like kids in a candy store.  We had another unfortunate run-in with the weather as we descended, resulting in wet ropes and bad rappels.  It didn't cloud our experience of the climb too much, though, since the climb itself was fantastic.  After we hiked down and back to camp, we packed up and headed back out of the Cirque, ignoring unhappy ankles and knees as we booked it to the trailhead in the twilight and increasing darkness.  When it got truly dark, we sang Cake songs back and forth and worked on our own climbing version of "Oh Give Me A Home"- lyrics forthcoming. :) 
It was an incredible time, and we already have a list going for the next climbs we're going to do back in the Cirque.  For now, a couple of rest days (though this time they're more like 'healing' days) and getting ready for the last section of our trip- the Grand Tetons!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Wyoming, Pt. 1

It's been crazy for the last week and a half or so.  I'm currently writing to you from Pinedale, Wyoming, after the first third of my summer climbing trip.  It's been fantastic so far- S and I have done 6 straight days of climbing, and only now can we stop and let our bodies recover for a couple of days before we head out on the cliffs again!
I'll do a few blog posts to cover the big spots that we hit.

S and I spent a whole day laying out all of our gear, packing, figuring out logistics, running errands and getting the kittens' stuff together before heading up north to drop the kittens off with Scott's Mom, their official kitten-sitter for the next month.

Neither of them were excited for the car ride, despite their new luxury accommodations in the form of a large dog kennel.  :)
We spent the next few days jumping in the Temperance River, hiking into Carlton Peak to climb, and helping the kittens get adjusted to their home for the next month.
After the down time, it was time to head off!
We stopped to say hi to my Mom in the Twin Cities, then spent a very long time driving across South Dakota, watching corn fields rush by.  We made a stop at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, mostly to see what all the fuss was about and for a chance to stretch our legs.

We really had to stop when we hit Spearfish Canyon near Mt. Rushmore, because there was a big concentration of sport climbing that couldn't be ignored.

It was a great chance to start climbing at altitude.  Duluth is at around 700 ft. above sea level, so Spearfish Canyon at 5,000 feet was a good start for the bigger peaks we were going to hit up later.

We did three straight days of climbing in Spearfish- really awesome rock and routes with beautiful views.  The weather never got too insanely hot, which was a big plus for us. Sport climbing also means no heavy trad gear- just a rope and some draws, a couple liters of water and snacks.  Great way to ease into the trip.
After a great morning of climbing, we packed up our gear and headed out again, aiming for the Wind River Range.  After Casper, we took a small detour to a canyon we had heard had great climbing, and were in absolute awe when we got there.

100-500 foot cliffs with beautiful crack systems running from the river straight up to the edge of the cliff.
We had to stop.
We really didn't have a choice, being crack climbers and all. :)

The rock was incredible, with great crack systems heading up and down all around us.  We got up with the sun, climbed until the temperature was past 90 degrees and we were sweating out of the cracks, then had a siesta nap, lunch, (a movie one day at Casper's little movie theater), then back to the cliffs when it started to cool off again.

Words can't even describe how incredible the rock was.  We did both top-rope top-belay and trad from the bottom, though we have no pics of trad climbing since there were only two of us climbing and we both needed to pay attention during that part.

On our sixth straight day of climbing, we were dirty, sweaty, covered in bruises and cuts, and completely sore all over.  We climbed a few more routes before finally calling it, succumbing to the incessant whining of our bodies that enough was enough.  We grabbed some huge burritos from Pacho's Tacos on the way out and have spent the day driving to Pinedale, WY for a full rest day today, including laundry, cleaning out my car ABE, showers (we badly need them!), and planning for the next part of our trip.
Monday morning we'll wake up, pack up, and hike into the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range for another 5-6 days of climbing peaks.  Most of them top out higher than 12,000 feet, with incredible views and hopefully not too many mtn. storms.
Hopefully my next post will be next weekend from Jackson, WY, after our Cirque trip and before our trek into the Grand Tetons.  Until then, I'm off to find a shower and get a nap in.  Rest days really are important, as much as I don't want to take them when I'm surrounded with such incredible climbing all around!