Climbing in the Wind River Range
After a full day of driving, we finally reached the Big Sandy Lodge. Greeted by our friends who had left the previous day, our stoke level was very high! We were about to spend the next seven days climbing in the Wind River range! This was a place that I had always heard amazing things about but never had the opportunity to make the trip until now. We had missed dinner at the lodge, which was served at 6, but the owners were extremely nice and insisted that our friends take plates for us so that we had food upon arrival. After enjoying a nice hearty home-cooked meal, we did some final gear sorting and prep before calling it a night.
First views of the Winds on the drive-in
I was woken up by my alarm at 5:30 the next morning. I'm not usually one to wake up extremely early but I have no problem doing so when it's for something I am really excited about. I got out of bed and we loaded up all our gear that we were going to give to the horses to pack in for us. This would be the first time I have ever had the help of animals to get gear into the backcountry. We thought since we were going to be staying for a full week it would be nice to pack in a few extra camping items and food. Oh yeah, and a whole lot of beer!
We had paid for three horses, and each one could take up to 145 pounds. There were six of us total so each team could bring an extra 145 pounds worth of gear. After we had weighed everything out, we found that we were packed to the limit! A full 435 pounds distributed amongst three horses! The kicker to all this was that the horses were only going to bring our gear the first 6 miles to the base of Jackass Pass. After that, we were on our own to hump the gear another 3 miles up and over the pass to what would be base camp in Cirque of the Towers. I thought it was going to be a pain but didn't really worry too much about it.
Once we were all loaded up, we went into the lodge for breakfast. Chicken enchiladas, grits, hash browns, fresh fruit, and oatmeal was served. We all ate until we were uncomfortably full and then it was time for our journey to begin.
On the trail with light packs
We left from the Big Sandy trailhead with very light packs due to the horses carrying the majority of our gear. Full of excitement and the feeling of nothing on our backs made the first 6 miles fly by! This was my first real view of the Winds when we reached Big Sandy Lake and we could hardly believe how quickly it went. Since we had beat the horses to the drop spot, we decided to all go for a swim. After a nice refreshing dip, we had one more short hill to hike to the spot where we would be meeting the horses with all our gear.
Views from Big Sandy Lake (Haystack Mountain in the center)
The horses were nowhere to be seen so we decided it might make the most sense if we had half the crew fill up their packs with the other half's gear and do the first run over the pass. This way when they did arrive, the other half would have empty packs to load up. I was elected to stay. I pawned off a few of my personal items in my backpack and then made myself comfy as we waited for the arrival of the horses.
They finally should up around 2 p.m. We had begun to slightly worry if they were still coming or if we were in the wrong spot because we had been told that they would be there no later than 12. It was a great relief to finally see them stroll over the hill with all our gear. The wrangler unloaded everything and then set off. I Loaded up as many things as I could in my 80-liter pack and then I filled another pack with climbing gear and food. My plan was to carry this second pack on my stomach like a kangaroo pouch. Fully loaded up, we set off at a snail's pace to make it over the pass towards our base camp.
The horses arrive with our gear!
The next few miles were miserable. I must have had around 90-100 pounds of gear on me and the worse part was that the front pack was so filled I couldn't really see where I was placing my feet. This wouldn't have been a problem if it were a flat trail but try walking a load this heavy over a pass of talus and you will understand why my mood began to change. Finally, after about an hour of hiking, we ran into the other half of our group who had found a spot for camp and was heading back for their second load. My friend, Adam, said he would grab my front pack and show us the camp spot they had found. I was so happy to have it off my stomach. Even though I still had a ton of weight on my back, it was so much more manageable. Plus, being able to see where I was placing my feet helped too!
Hiking over Jackass Pass and looking back with Arrowhead Lake below
We reached camp about 45 minutes later but it was not time to rest yet. It was about 5 p.m. and there was still more gear down at the drop. Adam and I unloaded and immediately turned back around. We gathered up as much as our packs could take once again, and headed back to base camp. We finally arrived back at camp around 7:45. We had managed to get almost all 435 pounds over the pass minus about 20 beers which we decided we could go back for on a rest day. What we thought was going to be an easy 9-mile day, had turned into a 15-mile day with 6 of it being full of heavy loads! Nevertheless, we were happy to be done. Adam joked, "In 3 days when we are drinking beer and sipping tequila after climbing we won't even remember this day!" We made a quick dinner, had a beer, and passed out.
Views from basecamp
The next morning I woke up and my body felt tired. I was way too excited to be in the cirque to not climb though. Beautiful granite towers surrounded us and I felt like a kid in a candy shop. There were so many amazing climbs to choose from. Adam and I decided we wanted to do something with a short approach since both our legs were feeling a little worked from the day before. After a while of debating, we chose The North Face Centerline on Mitchell Peak. It was relatively close to camp, seemed like a good warmup at 5.9, and the descent would put us right back at camp. We ate breakfast, racked up our gear, and headed off to our objective for the day.
After about a 45 minute hike we were at the base of the route and the stoke level was high! Our other friends were climbing across the way on Pingora Peak and we tried to spot them but had no luck. I lost the rock paper scissor match which meant that adam would get the first pitch. It started with fun 5.8 climbing and then route finding got a little tricky. Adam found himself run out about 40 feet from his last piece of gear on 5.9 climbing. After a little downclimbing, and then finding a piece of gear, he was able to make it to a ledge to bring me up. There is little information on climbing in the winds as it seems everyone has wanted to keep it adventurous. We came to find that out quickly, but I enjoyed the fact that there was a little more uncertainty. It kept things exciting as you were not 100% sure what was coming next. After about 5 hours of climbing, we topped out on Mitchell Peak.
Views from Mitchell Peak looking at the Cirque
As we were descending down towards base camp, a helicopter flew into the cirque. We could see our tents down below us and to our surprise, the heli actually landed right next to them. This was very worrisome as we had 4 other friends out climbing that day. We rushed back to camp as quickly as we could and were luckily greeted by our friends. They had a chance to talk with the rescue team who said they had to highline a girl off a rock that had been knocked unconscious. I always hate to hear about things like this and really hope she is making a full recovery.
The next morning, four of us decided to take a rest day. The weather didn't look good and we were all pretty tired. Two members of the group decided they were going to go for the 5.8 on Pingora followed by Wolf's head ridge, which would link 2 of the 50 classic climbs in North America together. The rest of us headed down to Lonesome lake for some swimming and fishing. We had a nice relaxing time down at the lake. Around noon, it began to rain and thunder on us. We figured it would be a good time to make it back up to camp for shelter. Happy with our decision to take a rest day, when we got back to camp, our friends were already back with some unfortunate news that one of them had fallen and hurt their ankle. Our spirits remained high that he would feel better the next day so we just had him ice it and relax. We enjoyed the rest of our evening with beautiful views and an amazing sunset.
Fishing at Lonesome Lake
My alarm woke me from a deep slumber at 4:30 a.m. With the possibility of afternoon thunderstorms, we decided that it would be best for us to start climbing early. Today we were going to climb the first pitch of the Driese-Kehoe into the South Face Right on the Wolf's Head. This would put us up on the ridge which we planned to do afterward. The South face was a great climb with awesome rock and cool moves. We even got to see our friends pass by above us on the ridgeline as they had woken up an hour earlier and were going for the entire cirque traverse.
Sunrise looking out towards Jackass Pass
Once on the ridge, we kiwi coiled the rope and decided to simul-climb. I instantly understood why this was considered one of the 50 classic climbs in North America. The rock quality was amazing, the features were wild, and there was great exposure on both sides of the ridge. We finished the ridge in two long simul blocks. What a great morning of climbing!
On the Wolf's Head Ridge
Nice exposure along the traverse
We made it back to base camp by 12:30 and there still wasn't a cloud in the sky. I took a dip in the water to cool off and then we decided that we may as well do some more climbing. We chose the Roof of Tears because it was close to camp and had the option to rap the route in case rain did come in the afternoon. It was also only three pitches that would make for a perfect afternoon outing. Once again, this route did not disappoint! The last pitch was especially amazing, featuring a huge arching roof to a bolted overhang. Such a great climb!
Final pitch on the Roof of Tears
After our early wake-up call the day before, we thought it would be nice to not set the alarm. We had a nice leisurely morning at base camp drinking coffee and made a big breakfast. Once we finished eating and hanging out, Adam and I geared up for another one of the 50 Classic climbs. We would climb the Northeast Face of Pingora in the afternoon.
At the base of the North-East Face of Pingora
We reached the base of the climb at 12:30 and had the route all to ourselves! Again, I understood why this climb was considered a classic! We had a blast on this route and would highly recommend it to anyone who is in the area! When we got back to camp, we talked to our friend that had fallen and injured his ankle. He was in good spirits but it was clear he would not be climbing again on this trip. He had made the decision to leave the next morning. It was a bummer to see our two friends go but on the bright side, his fall could've ended a lot worse. We were glad that he too wasn't leaving in a helicopter.
Views from near the summit of Pingora
The next day would be spent mostly resting. A local had told us about some sport climbs that he put up close to our camp. This seemed like a perfect down day activity. We strolled over to an area just above Arrowhead Lake and clipped some bolts for a couple of hours on a few fun routes. Another great day in the books!
Friday was my partner's birthday and we had been excited to climb Black Elk all week. We figured this would be a perfect day for it! Unfortunately, upon arriving at the base of Warbonnet we looked up to see four other parties already on route. What a bummer! I hate being stuck behind other parties so we decided it would be best to do another route this day. After looking over Mountain Project for a bit, we found Brown Cow on the same peak. There was very little info on it except, "Climb the obvious center line up the face." We were able to identify a key dihedral up high from one of the pictures and decided to start climbing and aim for that. This turned out to be another excellent route! We were delighted with our decision to change our plan last minute. That night back at camp, we celebrated Adam's birthday with beers and whiskey! We were all extremely happy to have another awesome day in the mountains!
Adam on the second pitch of Brown Cow
Amazing corner pitch we were aiming for
Feeling quite content with what we had already done, we still had one day left. Our two other friends had to leave early the next morning to get back to work. It was sad to see our trip coming to an end as Adam and I were the last two remaining. We chose to climb a formation called Warrior 1 that had loomed over our base camp all week. After we finished, we decided to run a load of non-essential gear down to the drop zone. We were also motivated by the handful of beers we had left behind! Back at camp, we enjoyed our last few beers and reminisced about the great times we had during the past week. The next day we would be hiking out with heavy packs on but only for a few miles until we would meet the horses for relief. This was a once in a lifetime trip and I'm already thinking about the next time I can get back!
Warrior 1 and 2 as seen from base camp
by Jed Kravitz