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!


Mark said...

You mention 8 pitches, but the link mentions ~2, saying "Twenty feet higher, the parallel cracks become difficult. Take the left crack. 5.8" So do you follow the guidebook's advice? Or Yogi Berra's ("When you come to a fork in the road, take it")?

Mark said...

You note 40 pounds of gear, but judging by the size of your (nice new) backpack, it's half your weight, so a bit over 40 :-) Did you weigh that stuff in Duluth, just so you could report "facts" in your blog, or is that a wild guess?

Mark said...

Your postcard of the Cirque is closer to how I imagined "Mordor" & "Mount Doom" in "The Lord of the Rings" than what Peter Jackson chose in NZ for the film. Uff-da! I knew it couldn't be "just off the highway exit." Your story about the hike confirmed that.

Mark said...

None of the link photos is quite like that postcard's aerial shot, which truly captures the mystical unworldly look of the Cirque. 'Twas nice of God to add thunder & lightning for ooom pah pah accompaniment to your songs; a perfect fit for your Tolkien-like adventure. Can't wait to see you in Rivendell on your way back to the "North Shire."

firebert said...

KATIE!! Its me Christian! we will be in the Tetons at the same time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!