A Fine Way To Bid Farewell to June
Tim and I were far from done after our climbs in the Wind River Range.
If you ask most climbers to choose between the Winds and the Absaroka Range, most will choose the Winds for their solid alpine and rock routes in the heart of some of America's most beautiful mountains. And anyone who has ever been into the Winds will admit it's hard to blame them for that.
But there are some who venture into the Absarokas and become hopelessly enthralled by them. You are reading the words of one such person, and Tim is another. It is hard to say exactly what it is about the Absarokas that so captivates a relative few-- though it has something to do with not the quality of the climbing but rather the ruggedness, the vastness, the wildness, and the opportunities for solitude and exploration-- but the grip is unyielding and, fortunately, welcome.
The Absarokas are like a beautiful woman who will never be faithful. You give yourself to her because you really have no other choice; you open yourself to her even though you know you shouldn't; you let her hurt you but keep going back. You belong to her.
Tim and I chose Two Ocean Mountain as a morning objective; I knew from another SP member that the summit block was supposed to be technical and rotten, but we figured we could at least get very high on the mountain and, since the climb would be short distance-wise and without a great deal of elevation gain (around 1200' and less than 4 miles RT), we would have energy left for an afternoon climb.
The afternoon objective would be the northwestern summit of the Pinnacle Buttes.
If the mountain gods had wanted, they could have made Wyoming’s Pinnacle Buttes a climber’s paradise. Many of the ingredients are there-- gorgeous setting, alpine conditions, terrifying exposure, dramatic spires and big walls. Yes, they indeed could have made this unique and spectacular massif a climber’s heaven.
But they didn’t, for they also reached down and turned the rock into rotten junk. Beautiful, yes, but treacherous and deadly, like a woman out of film noir or hard-boiled pulp fiction. Like a Siren. Like a rattlesnake. Like forbidden fruit. You get the picture.
Such a shame, sort of. Almost without doubt, there are clean, solid sections with stiff grades that would thrill technical climbers, but the overall quality of the rock is probably the principal reason that the climbing crowd has largely bypassed the Pinnacle Buttes. Other reasons: the off-trail bushwhacking approaches; the fact that the area is, as a friend once put it, “Bear Central” (and this is Wyoming, so the reference is to grizzlies); and the proximity of the Wind River Range and the Teton Range, both of which are visible from atop the Pinnacle Buttes.
Instead, this formation that awes the viewer no matter where he or she views it has dwelt in photographic fame and climbing obscurity. Many of the pinnacles have never, to common knowledge, been climbed, and the many summits, both major and minor, are the realm of bighorn sheep, marmots, eagles, a few wilderness-seeking scramblers, and lightning.
So the Pinnacle Buttes actually are a climber’s paradise-- a paradise for climbers who enjoy route-finding and scrambling; a paradise for climbers who prefer solitude, scenery, and discovery to trophies; a paradise for climbers who love heights and exposure with nothing for protection but wits, balance, and good luck; and a paradise for technical climbers daring enough to explore and test the mostly unexplored and untested routes.
And so we chose the NW Pinnacle Butte. It is the third-highest summit in the complex, a separate "peak" by prominence standards, and a mountain with the promise of a good mix of real mountaineering-- bushwhacking, route-finding, snow climbing, and scrambling.
We had one hell of a good time.
And Tim got to do his first glissade.
Clicking on the pictures below will, in many cases, provide information on route conditions.