Badlands Peak *
Religion is a mental disease, often confused with spirituality. --pjs-1965
Being such a large country, America is blessed with a great variety of spectacular natural wonders, and the American West has mountain ranges that easily find places on lists of the world's most beautiful mountains.
Wyoming has two such ranges-- the Teton Range and the Wind River Range. More user-friendly, the Tetons are more popular and iconic. Since the approaches to the alpine country are relatively short and since the peaks rise directly from Jackson Hole for thousands of feet with no intervening foothills, the Tetons draw hikers and climbers and photographers from all around the world.
Yet so do the Winds, though to a lesser extent. The longest mountain range in the fabulous Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
, the Winds are not so easily seen from roads (even when they are, namely on the west side, the peaks are so distant that there is not an intimate feel), and climbers and backpackers typically face long approaches, sometimes taking two or more days, to get to the truly alpine parts of the range.
Titcomb Basin is where one finds or accesses the highest peaks and largest glaciers in the range; it also has several fine technical routes on the peaks. Further south, the peaks of the Cirque are a good bit lower than those around Titcomb, but there are numerous high-quality technical routes on the spires there.
An additional plus, or minus, for the Cirque is that of all the major alpine settings in the range, it has the shortest and easiest foot approach (the driving approach is a different matter; it is very long, though not as difficult as you might have heard).
The popularity of the Cirque kept me away from it for a long time, but after I finally gave in and visited Titcomb following years of avoiding it for the same reasons, I decided I had to see the Cirque at last as well. Technically, I had seen its peaks before; I had looked out at them from the summit of Washakie Peak 13 years before, but that's not the same as being on and among them, is it?
Somewhere around 1 P.M., I reached the trailhead at Big Sandy and shortly afterward headed off, packed with food, gear, and beer to last me up to three nights. Climbing goals would be Sundance Pinnacle, Warbonnet Peak, the two Warriors, Temple Peak, and maybe Haystack Mountain. Warbonnet and the Warriors would let me see the Cirque and be atop some of its peaks without having to go over Jackass Pass. Then I would head out and make the long drive to the Snowy Range between Saratoga and Centennial so that I could settle a 4-year-old grudge on the last day of my trip and then return to Denver and fly home to the flatlands.
Just two hours is what it took to reach Big Sandy Lake, and I was lucky enough to find a good site close to a bear bin so I didn't have to hang my food. Soon, the thunderstorms that were easy to see building during the drive in hit, and I had to hang out in the test, killing mosquitoes that had slipped in as I was getting in myself.
As the storm passed and the rain abated, I decided to use the remaining daylight to attempt a climb of Sundance Pinnacle, which would allow me to check out the south ridge of Warbonnet as well.
Unfortunately, spells of rain continued to hit. Fortunately, I did make it to the summit, but the wet conditions made a Class 4 route feel harder and scarier. Probably, I should have saved it for the next day since it would have been just a quick diversion on the way to Warbonnet, but hell. It worked out.
Back at camp, I shoved Ramen noodles and beef jerky down the maw, had a couple beers, and wet to bed.
The next morning...we can usually look forward to clear mornings in the mountains, even in the midst of thunderstorm season. Not so this day. While the sun was not nonexistent, there was less sun and more clouds. Luckily, things actually got better as the morning went on, and the day became quite hot for the altitude.
Warbonnet's south ridge turned out to be disappointingly easy, though there was some redeeming exposure at the end. Still, my first "real" view of the Cirque did not disappoint, and I was hungry to hit the Warriors.
Both Warriors required a little scrambling, but nothing spicy. Actually, the hardest and best part was going from Warbonnet to Warrior 1. Joe Kelsey, the guru of hiking and climbing the Winds, says it is Class 2 from Warbonnet to Warrior 1, but I found it to be harder than that because of an intervening ridge and subpeak on Warbonnet. (This subpeak is well worth summiting for the very airy perch and the great views.) Maybe there is a Class 2 route over that ridge and I just didn't see it, but my way over it was Class 3 with a touch of Class 4. You could definitely Class 2 it by dropping way down into the basin south of the peak, but that would add significant extra distance and elevation gain.
By the time I got back to camp, it was both too early and too late, and it created a hell of a dilemma for me. Although it was way too early to call it a day, it was too late to do another objective. Haystack Mountain was a real possibility and probably would have been the next objective, but it had suddenly become really hazy, maybe from smoke blowing in from somewhere, to the point that as close as Haystack was, the haze made it seem not worth climbing since I would't see much from the summit.
My other option would have been to try Temple, but that would have added 13 miles to the day and over 3000' of gain. After the earlier outing, I just didn't see that happening.
Sometimes, when it's hard to decide on something, other factors decide for you. This day, there were two: mosquitoes and heat.
No matter where they are, mosquitoes suck. And not just blood. Among the many places in the country known for terrible mosquitoes are the Winds in early summer. While I was at camp, even though I had strong concentrations of DEET on, the bloodsuckers were still trying to find any vulnerable spot. Going into the tent was a poor solution because it was hot and I started sweating, even stripped down. Although going on a hike up one of the nearby lake basins was an option, it was still too early for that to chew up much time.
First, and this is important, I need to make it clear that this is not the 11,107’ Pyramid Peak marked on maps of the range. Instead, it is a local name, seemingly well known to the owners, managers, and staff of the Red Rock Ranch, which has some of the best views of the peak and most definitely offers the easiest access.
From either the ranch or the nearby Crystal Creek trailhead, Pyramid Peak makes a nice destination for a day climb; from its summit are excellent views of the massive complex of Sheep Mountain, aka Sleeping Indian (in fact, this Pyramid Peak is really probably a subpeak of the Sheep massif, and it does not have the prominence to stand as a ranked peak), and, on a clear day, the Tetons, the Absarokas from the Togwotee Pass area all the way to super-remote Younts Peak, and the Wind River Range, including Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s highest. This is a view that takes in Wyoming’s two highest peaks and its most remote.
As is the case on most of Wyoming’s alpine summits, there is neither a cairn nor a register up top. Enjoy the frontier feel and don’t ruin it.
From the main highway heading through Jackson Hole between Jackson and Yellowstone, follow roads and signs that direct you west toward Kelly.
If you have even a park map, and you should, you will see the different options, so I’m not going to go into detail for people too unwise to have a decent map.
Depending on your approach drive, the intersection with the Gros Ventre Road will be either a couple miles north or south of Kelly. Turn onto that road and head east into some really pretty country.
Around 10 miles along the road, and after it has turned from a narrow paved road to a narrow dirt one, you pass the Red Hills, the currently closed Red Hills Campground, and then the currently open Crystal Creek Campground. Shortly past the second campground is a bridged crossing of Crystal Creek, and not far past that is a right turn onto the road that accesses the Red Rock Ranch and the Crystal Creek TH.
I have been a guest at the ranch, and the owners, managers, and staff are great people, but I will tell you that there are signs placed in a way that might make you think the whole road is off-limits. It isn’t. If you are a ranch guest, head in and enjoy the hospitality and utilize the easiest approach to this peak. For those who are not ranch guests, just bear left at the major fork and drive 2 easy miles to the trailhead. High clearance is not necessary for most cars, but people with high clearance and 4wd can shave a little more distance if they want; as the road continues a little bit beyond the official trailhead.
If you are a ranch guest, just head west or southwest across pastureland and then start ascending steep, open slopes in the general direction of the peak. Those starting from the trailhead should make for the same slopes while staying off private property. Resist the temptation to head up the drainage of Shorty Creek. It would work, but it would be a mess. I descended that way and had to stay high above the creek to avoid cliffs and the worst bushwhacking. On the other hand, I did see a pretty gorge and some waterfalls that very few others ever see.
Higher up now, follow easier open ground toward the peak and Point 10,144. Although it's not the way I went-- I ended up doing a long, forested slog up to talus slopes in a bowl just northeast of the summit-- I think the best way, because the terrain is more open even though this way will mean giving back some earned elevation gain, is to go up Point 10,144 and then head south to Pyramid Peak's summit.
One-way distance is about 3 miles. Elevation gain is about 3500'. The difficulty should not exceed Class 2, but it is possible to get into some Class 3 near the summit.
Note the posted regulations and avoid private property unless you are a guest, employee, or owner on said private property.
Camp at the aforementioned Crystal Creek Campground or at the trailhead. Or spend the big bucks to stay at the ranch and enjoy the food and amenities. The manager's wife is a hiker and a climber, so you can talk mountains with her in the evenings while everyone else is talking horses.