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Four climbs in the Cirque: Warrior I NE Face, Pingora NE Face, Warbonnet Black Elk, Sundance Pinnacle NE Arete
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Four climbs in the Cirque: Warrior I NE Face, Pingora NE Face, Warbonnet Black Elk, Sundance Pinnacle NE Arete

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Four climbs in the Cirque: Warrior I NE Face, Pingora NE Face, Warbonnet Black Elk, Sundance Pinnacle NE Arete

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Wyoming, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 46.79788°N / 62.93344°W

Object Title: Four climbs in the Cirque: Warrior I NE Face, Pingora NE Face, Warbonnet Black Elk, Sundance Pinnacle NE Arete

Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 18, 2014

Activities: Trad Climbing

Season: Summer

 

Page By: StephAbegg

Created/Edited: Aug 20, 2014 / Oct 1, 2014

Object ID: 909820

Hits: 2134 

Page Score: 81.18%  - 13 Votes 

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Trip Report

The Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming's Wind River Range had captured my attention this summer. In July, I spent eight days in the Cirque. It had been a fun and rather successful trip where the weather was great and I climbed six Cirque classic moderate routes in six days. Nonetheless, I finished the trip feeling a bit disappointed, since for reasons I still don't quite understand my partner and I did not climb or even attempt any of the routes we had planned to climb. So a return trip to the Cirque before the summer ended was definitely on my mind.

Since the Spring, I had been corresponding with climber Dow Williams about planning a climbing trip. I put the bug in his ear about a trip to the Cirque, naming some grade IV routes like Warrior I's Northeast Face (a classic "Beckey adventure route") and Warbonnet's Black Elk ("hardest route in the Cirque") and Feather Buttress ("wildest 5.9 pitch in America"). Dow was interested and we set aside some dates to do a few of the harder routes in the Cirque.

It's always iffy when you nail down trip dates well in advance of any reliable weather forecast, but we were lucky and nailed a five-day weather window between thudershower systems. On the first day of our trip, we hiked into the Cirque and established camp below the northeast side of Warrior I. For some reason, I had it in mind that this would be a good camp for Black Elk as well, which we figured would be our first objective while we were fresh. But (doh!) the better camp had been a mile back just off the trail before Arrowhead Lake. So we quickly adjusted our plans and decided to climb the (Climb 1:) Northeast Face (IV, 5.9, ~8 pitches) of WARRIOR Ias our first climb of the trip. This turned out to be a good choice — a nice 5.9 warm-up with enough route-finding challenges to make it a non-trivial undertaking. The key with this route is to stay on route and then it's a great climb. For our second climb of the trip, we decided it logistically made sense to choose a route in the Cirque before moving camp and tackling Black Elk. We tossed around the idea of climbing Feather Buttress on Warbonnet, but ultimately decided against it due to our lack of route beta and the shady aspect of the route (temperatures were cold in the shade, especially if windy). Since Dow had never been to the Cirque, we decided to run up the (Climb 2:) Northeast Face (IV, 5.8, ~11 pitches) of PINGORA, a Fifty Crowded Classic that features sustained and fun crack systems and is a must-do climb of the area. Despite arriving at the base of the route to discover three parties already queued for the second pitch, we were on top of Pingora in just over three hours. This gave us plenty of time to pack up and move camp to below the base of the southeast side of Warbonnet, where we could sit and stare at the next day's objective: (Climb 3:) Black Elk (IV, 5.11a, ~9 pitches) on WARBONNET. We were mostly worried about the infamous wide crux 5.11a pitch, since we had brought only two size 4 Camalots, whereas various sources suggested the need for four or five cams of this size. Sure enough, we found two size 4 Camalots to be woefully insufficient for the crux pitch, forcing us to break the pitch into three short pitches. But apart from this pitch (which was good, just quite burly and a bit inefficient with our rack), the climb was superb. It was my favorite route and certainly the prize of the trip. The next day, we hiked out. But a mile from camp, we couldn't resist dropping our packs on the trail climbing just one more thing: the (Climb 4:) Northeast Arête (II, 5.10c, ~4 pitches) of SUNDANCE PINNACLE, whose gleaming face beckoned in the morning light. This was a fun and rather spicy adventure with a mellow descent. Satiated with climbing for the day, we shouldered our packs and hiked the remaining six miles out to the trailhead. It was a phenomenal trip—four Cirque-area classics (three of them grade IV) in four days, wow! Thanks Dow for being a great climbing partner and taking all of the hard leads so I could kick back and enjoy my role as photographer.

This page provides a trip report for our four climbs in and around the Cirque.


 Jump to:
Climb 1Climb 2Climb 3Climb 4
WARRIOR I 
Northeast Face
(IV, 5.9, ~8p)

PINGORA
Northeast Face
(IV, 5.8, ~11p)
WARBONNET 
Black Elk
(IV, 5.11a, ~9p)
SUNDANCE PINNACLE
Northeast Arête
(II, 5.10c, ~4p)


APPROACH DAY  - AUG 15
Meet at the trailhead, pack up, and hike in and establish camp in the Cirque.
Photos:
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Photo Descriptions:
a-d. There are some rather sharp turns on the drive to the trailhead, and it's easy to take them a bit fast before realizing that gravel does not have the same grip as pavement. I passed a truck that had evidentially flipped on one such turn. Not a good start to a climbing trip. 
e. Dow hiking along the west side of Arrowhead Lake on the approach to the Cirque.
f. We passed below the towering SE Face of Warbonnet. The Black Elk route (which was our third climb of the trip) goes right up the center of the face. 
g-i. We camped near the southern entrance to the Cirque, under the towering walls of Warbonnet and Warrior I. I found a flat boulder to pitch my tent on. 
j. Hanging our food to get it away from the 5.12-climbing marmots.
k. Near our camp we found a nice bivy spot. I would have retreated to here if it had rained a lot, since my tent has lived a good life and by this point has too many rips in the fabric to be called waterproof.
l. A dramatic photo of Wolf's Head and Pingora as seen from camp.
m. Warbonnet as seen from camp. The Feather Buttress route goes up the sweeping buttress. We tossed around the idea of climbing this route, but in the end decided against it due to too little route beta and the shady aspect of the route.
n. During our trip we enjoyed the light of a waning moon. This photo shows moonlight on Warbonnet and Warrior I from camp.
o. Starry moonlit night above the Cirque from camp.


CLIMB 1 - AUG 16
Climb WARRIOR I Northeast Face (IV, 5.9, ~8 pitches).
Time Stats:
6:15 am - leave camp
6:52 - at base
7:07 - begin roped climbing
12:05 - summit
12:27 - begin rappels
2:00 - base
2:45 pm - camp
~5 hours base to summit, ~1.5 hours summit to base, ~8.5 hours camp to camp
Route Notes: This route was first climbed by Fred Beckey and John Rupley in 1962. Beckey + Warrior + 5.9 = Potential 5.9++++ Adventure!
Ascent Notes: There are stories of parties epicing on this route or having to bail because they get off route. Our goal was to stay on route at all times, which we did following a useful topo I found on mountainproject.com. I led us a bit offroute for the final pitch, but we made it up on more difficult offwidth terrain than needed. We combined Pitches 1 and 2. I led Pitches 1, 2, 5, and 7. Dow led Pitches 3, 4, 6, and 8. Pitch 3 is perhaps the crux pitch. Pitches 4, 6, and 7 were my favorites.  
Descent notes: Beta said to have 2 ropes for the descent, but we decided to bring one and scope out the rappel sling situation as we climbed up, and figured we could always climb to the summit and hike off if we felt we could not do the rappels with a single rope. When we saw the gendarmed summit ridge and the amount of additional climbing required to get to the summit, we made the decision to rap. It turns out that the rappel descent can indeed be done easily with a 70m rope (a 60m rope would be tough as several of the raps were rope-stretchers). We made 9.2 rappels with a 70m rope. We had to leave one sling/biner and do a short 20 ft rap (where the 0.2 comes from) off a fixed nut/biner someone else had left. 
Photos:
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e2.    
f2.    
g2.    
h2.    
Photo Descriptions:
a. Heading up the talus to the base of the route. This took us just over 30 minutes from our camp, which was perfectly-situated for a climb of Warrior I.
b-c. The Northeast Face route is notorious for being a classic Beckey adventure climb where parties get off route and either climb through sketchy terrain or bail. We were determined to nail the route. We found Tom Wolfe's beta (written + topo) on MountainProject.com to be very useful for navigating the route. When you stay on route, the climbing is quite good and the route is a fun day.
d. Looking up the flakes of Pitches 1 and 2, which we combined with a little simulclimbing.
e. Looking down from near the top of the pillar that marks the top of Pitch 2.
f. Dow leading up Pitch 3. This was perhaps the mental crux of the route, as the climbing was a bit unprotected and the rock quality was not ideal. Rock quality improved above this pitch. From where Dow is in the photo, he climbed up a bit, and then traversed leftward on slabs and face moves to the right-facing, right-leaning corner above.
g. Make sure to choose your hand and foot holds wisely on this pitch. I had a nubbin break off in my hand.
h. Dow starting up Pitch 4. This pitch features a hand crack, offwidth, and finger crack. This is a clean and sustained pitch with great climbing.
i. The offwidth on Pitch 4. A size 4 Camalot is nice to have here.
j. Dow following the top of Pitch 5, which was a 5.5 slot on the right of a pillar. This might differ from the Bechtel guide route on this pitch, but either way Pitch 5 ends at the top of the pillar at the base of the "money pitch".
k. Dow starting up the splitter 5.9 hand crack of Pitch 6. This is the "money pitch."
l-m. An old bolt and old piton on Pitch 6. I wonder if these date back to Beckey's FA in 1962?
n. Looking up Pitch 7, which moves up slab and flake toward the rap anchor near the edge of the corner, and proceeds to step right around the corner here and go onto a nice exposed hand traverse. The climbing is 5.7ish.
o. Looking down while leading Pitch 7.
p. I took the hand traverse too far right on Pitch 7, and we ended up a bit right of the normal route. So we climbed up this corner, which was kind of grainy and difficult (5.10-?) offwidth. The normal route follows easier cracks to the top.
q. The Northeast Face route does not top out on the actual summit. This photo was taken from the top of the route. The true summit of Warrior I is on the right. Getting there requires negotiating some impressive gendarmes, which reportedly can be overcome by rappelling and then some 5.7 climbing. We had entertained the idea of traversing to the true summit and walking off via the Wisconsin Couloir, but when we saw the scope of the ridge gendarmes we decided to brave the rappel route with a single 70m rope. I think very few climbers continue to the true summit.
r. Another view of the Warrior I summit ridge from the top of the Northeast Face route. You can see the rap anchor in this photo as well as the giant chasm before the ridge gendarme.
s. A view of the gendarmed ridge between the true summit of Warrior I and where the Northeast Face route tops out on the right. This photo was taken from the summit of Warbonnet a couple of days later. I would suspect that the supposed 5.7 route first rappels into the deepest notch, then involves downcliming and then traversing and climbing back up along the weaknesses in the photo. As long as all goes well, it's much faster to just rappel the NE Face to get back to camp.
t. This is a photo of the Wisconsin Couloir and Pylon Peak. For climbers choosing to traverse to the true summit, the Wisconsin Couloir is the usual way to get back into the Cirque. It is probably just a bunch of loose 3rd class scrambling.
u. The second rap station we used (note we had a single 70m rope, so many of our rap stations could be bypassed with double ropes).
v. The second rap did not quite make it to the third station with a single 70m rope, but we found a nut and biner someone else had rapped off of to get to the next station.
w. The third rap station we used.
x-z. The fourth rap station we used.
a2. The fifth rap station we used.
b2. The sixth rap station we used. This was the only one we had to establish ourselves, despite the fact that most sources claim two ropes are needed for descent. The rap cord and biner I used here I had actually taken off a horn below the Overhanging Tower-Wolf's Head col on my July trip.
c2. The seventh rap station we used.
d2. The eighth rap station we used.
e2. The ninth rap station we used. This got us back down to the start of the route. We were pleasantly surprised how easy the rap descent went with a single 70m rope. It only took 1.5 hours from summit to base. (Note: Many of these raps were nearly to the end of the rope, so a 60m rope would not be a good choice if you are planning on trying to descend with only one rope.)
f2. Descending the talus back to camp. Less than 30 minutes.
g2. I had tweaked my knee while climbing the offroute offwidth on the final pitch of the climb. It was pretty painful but I did not sense any weakness in the ligaments, so I decided to just load up on Vitamin I and treat the knee as if it were uninjured. Fortunately the knee improved over the course of the trip despite the continued climbing.
h2. Evening light in the Cirque. It's such a beautiful area. No wonder I want to keep coming back.


CLIMB 2 - AUG 17
Climb PINGORA Northeast Face (IV, 5.8, ~11 pitches).
Time Stats:
5:30 am - leave camp
6:36 - base of route
6:45 - begin roped climbing (had to wait 10 minutes between pitches 1 and 2)
9:59 - top of route
10:11 - summit
10:55 - begin descent
12:00 pm - camp
~3.5 hours base to summit, ~1 hour summit to base, ~6.5 hours camp to camp
Route Notes: This is a Fifty Crowded Classic and certainly one of the classic climbs of the Cirque. Great views, exposure, and beautiful sustained climbing.
Ascent Notes: We got an early start as we knew there would be other parties on route. Even so, when we got to the base just as the sun rose, there were already three parties piled up at the first pitch. Fortunately all the parties were incredibly friendly, and also understanding that we were a faster party, so we were able to simulclimb past all of them over the course of the first hour or so (another thing we had in our favor was that the weather forecast was bomber for the day, so the other parties were not frantic about waiting 10 minutes to let us pass). Descent Notes: We rappelled (4 raps) and then scrambled down the South Buttress. I had done this descent a couple of times already this summer so I had it dialed and we made quick work of it.
Other Notes: I had climbed this route already back in 2007 with my cousin Lisa (this route had actually been one of the first multipitch alpine climbs either of us did), but it is a route worth climbing twice so I was happy to run up it again with Dow. Even with 7 more years of climbing under my belt since 2007, I was surprised at the sustained nature of the climbing, which can make even the 5.7 on this route seem spicy at times.
Photos:
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Photo Descriptions:
a. I took a long exposure photo as we got ready in the morning darkness. The forecast was bomber, so our main reason for getting an early start was to beat the crowds to the base. The Northeast Face of Pingora always has parties on it on nice days in the summer. Plus, it was a Sunday....
b. Another photo taken while getting ready in the morning darkness.
c. Getting to the base of the route involves hiking quite far around to the far side of Pingora. The route is not visible from the Cirque.
d. Dow running to the base of the route to get our spot in the queue. Mitchell Peak and Lonesome Lake are in the distance.
e. 
Despite our early start, when we arrived at the base of the route there were already three parties getting started. Fortunately, they were okay with letting Dow and me jump ahead and climb past them.
f. As we waited, we had a nice view of morning light on Mitchell Peak and Lonesome Lake.
g. Some cool clouds above.
h. Looking down at climbers on the lower pitches of the Northeast Face route on Pingora.
i. Dow climbing somewhere midway through the Northeast Face route on Pingora.
j. A view of Warbonnet and Warrior Peaks on the other side of the Cirque.
k. We staggered our belay positions with these two climbers named Brian and Mandy for a few pitches. They were climbing the route for the first time, but would be climbing it again in a few weeks along with the guy who would marry them on the summit. What a great way to get married. A few months later, Dow came across