OverviewWashakie Needles is the fifth highest peak in the Absaroka Range of Wyoming and one of the most dramatic. The southeastern-most major peak of the range, it is visible across great distances and from a significant portion of Wyoming: from the Bighorn Basin (as far as the Montana border), throughout the Wind River Basin and as far south as the Sweetwater desert. The distinctive shape of the peak, along with its tandem, Dome Mountain, makes it recognizable as a northern horizon peak from summits in the Wind River Range.
The peak is remote, more challenging than most peaks in the range, and has only been climbed by a few dozen people. Routes have been climbed on all sides.
The plural name "Needles" was probably originally given to the surrounding radial formation. The radial build exists because, not unlike Devils Tower, this is the core of an ancient volcano. This means that, in the midst of massive mountains of lava/breccia, hard, erosion resistant, metamorphic andesite and dacite thrusts skyward (granodiorite formed from an igneous extrusion within a metamorphic/breccia/conglomerate base is dacite). This gives it an appearance different from neighboring mountains. Volcanics in the Absaroka run fron NW to SE which means that shortly after the formation of Washakie Needles, the eruptions stopped.
ApproachFrom US #26/287 either 11 miles E of Dubois or 66 miles NW of Lander/Riverton, turn onto a gravel road at signs that say "Inberg-Roy, Spence-Moriarty, Trial Lawyers College". Follow 16 miles to the FS boundary where the road (#277) gets rougher and climbs over a hill for several more miles to the East Fork Wind River trailhead. The East Fork road requires Subaru-type clearance.
Follow the trail for 4 miles to a trail marked "East Fork of the East Fork". Follow this for 1.5 miles but when the drainage turns north, cross off-trail to the the eastern drainage. The route then continues cross-country up the easternmost drainages to the ridgeline where you can drop into the upper Owl Creek drainage. Contour around the northern tip of the reservation boundary. It's about 12 miles to the base of the peak. [See Select Peaks guidebook (listed below) for a full description].
Special ConditionsGrizzlies have been sighted on the mountain itself. The mountain is managed by the Washakie Wilderness of Shoshone National Forest. There are no maintained trails in the immediate drainages. Access from the east and south are on private lands.
History & TriviaWashakie is pronounced 'wash-uh-kee'.
The name first appears on an 1873 map by U.S. explorer Captain William Jones. It is one of two peaks named in the late 19th century for Chief Washakie of the Shoshones (the other is Washakie Peak in the nearby Wind River Range; coincidentally they are of near identical height). Jones took two men to get a closer look at the peak during a multi-day side excursion from their Yellowstone Expedition. They climbed within a few hundred feet of the summit.
Dr. Harold Masursky, a Flagstaff astronomer and planetary geologist had observed the peak while surveying in the nearby Owl Creek Range. He made the first complete ascent in 1950 with Dr. George Viele, geologist and director of the UM Wind River Range field camp.
The second ascent was made by University of Wyoming Outing Club members Keith Becker & Gayle Stalheim, in 1957, after three attempts. On an earlier attempt for the second ascent, August 31, 1956, Keith and partner Glen David completed the first ascent of the challenging NW Summit. Knowing the climb would be technical, Keith says, "Glen and I forged some pitons in his Grandfather's blacksmith shop there before going up to try the Needles."
The original summit register, still intact, reveals that most ascents have been repeats by a small group of local climbers; a total of a few dozen. Since the failure rate on the peak is quite high, maybe thrice that amount have attempted it. Part of the reason for the low success rate was the rating of Class 4 given in early guidebooks. The exposed summit pitches are closer to 5.3. (There were no successful parties in 2000).
Sources/BibliographyTuriano, Thomas (2003). Select Peaks; Indomitus Books, Jackson, WY.
Bonney, O.H. (1977). Guide to the Wyoming Mountains, 3rd Ed.; Swallow Press. Chicago,IL.
Keith Becker quote c.f. from personal conversation.
Mercer, Lee and Maughan, Ralph (2000). Hiking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness Areas; Falcon Press. Helena, MT.