Northeast ridge of pingora
In late August, Matt and I made the trek out to Wyoming to the Wind River Range. The Winds, as they’re known, is a large swath of untouched wilderness in central western Wyoming. The area doesn’t have any national park status or many amenities, which leaves this beautiful place off of many travelers’ must visit lists. This helps drive crowds down for such a spectacular place. Depending on where and when you go you may not see another soul.
Our objective for the trip was to get a feel for granite alpine climbing, and to climb the two routes in the Cirque of the Towers on the 50 Classic Climbs of North America list. This list was put together by Steve Roper and Allen Steck of the 50 must do climbs they felt embodied climbing in North America. There are some climbs on the list that have been repeated only a handful of times and are quite difficult, then there are some climbs like the one’s we were going after that are relatively moderate, but still great climbs. The two climbs we were going after were the Northeast Face of Pingora, 5.8+ IV, and the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head, 5.6 III.
To get into the cirque you will drive 40 miles to the trailhead on dirt roads, and then hike in 9 miles over Jackass pass. The last three miles are pretty grueling and included a bunch of scrambling over scree fields.
It was worth it though. Coming over Jackass pass and seeing the cirque for the first time was being like a kid in a candy store. The colossal granite towers soared out of the ground. Seeing that much granite felt reminiscent of Yosemite Valley. Matt and I sat down at the pass and took it all in.
It wasn’t far from there that we set up camp and got our situations in order. We had decided on tackling the Northeast Face the next day, which was a Friday, before the weekend crowds arrived.
We awoke at 6:30 and headed out of camp by 7:30, and made the hour long trek/scramble to the base of the route. We kept looking and looking to see if what we were looking at was the route, and it didn’t really seem right. But then, as we rounded the corner, you knew that line was the route. After all the pictures we had looked at before the trip we knew we were in the right spot. As we approached the first pitch there was a party already on route so we got ready and started to follow them up. Matt and I had decided we were going to switch off every two pitches. Matt was taking pitch 1. There was a scary, slabby, down climb move to get to a little ledge where there were anchors… It was one of those times where you’re glad you were on second for that move.
After a short second pitch, I took the lead to the next ledge and brought Matt up. I continued over some roofs to the top of the fourth pitch and handed the rack to Matt. In conversation we didn’t really agree on which crack to follow. Matt first tried the right crack, and decided it didn’t look promising so he tried the left crack. After climbing 40 feet or so he was in a small dihedral with tiny gear and he’s hanging on a piece. A few moments go by and I ask Matt what he’s thinking. Yelling down, he says, “It looks pretty thin with not great gear!” Perfect. Matt ends up down climbing to give me a shot at it. Not super psyched, I take the rack and head up. Upon reaching Matt’s high point I think, “Dang, it’s thin with not great gear.” There has to be a way though right? So I started looking for holds and trying to figure it out. It’s the great puzzle that is climbing. I’m able to sink a smallish nut that I think I could hang a truck off of and take off into the granite abyss. In that moment I was so focused on each individual move, it could have been raining frogs and I wouldn’t have noticed.
I ended up taking the rest of the leads for the route, as Matt wasn’t feeling well. I topped out the last pitch right at sunset, and belayed Matt up to the ledge. We’d made it. It was a long day and we were only halfway done.
With Matt not in the best condition, we decided to lay our gear out and spend the night on the ledge to go down in the morning. Well, unbeknownst to us, it was going to get really freaking cold that night. An hour or so of uncomfortable shivering on this ledge and somehow Matt had caught his second wind. He was feeling energized and had this fire in his eyes that he was going to get to the warmth of his sleeping bag.
Packing up our gear we set out to find the rappel stations. Matt had this uncanny ability to find these stations in the dark and we were down on the ground after 4 rappels and some scrambling later, stumbling into camp at 3:30AM. The stars were out. The grasses had a heavy frost and we could see our breath by the glow in our headlamps. I was exhausted and tired, but happy to be in my sleeping bag and not on a ledge at 12k feet.
The following day we slept in, ate all the food we could, and slept some more. We were recovering from the long and heavy hike in and gearing up to climb the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head the following day.