Cirque of the towers, Wind River Mtns, Wyoming
July 24-27, 2008
Our trip started with the idea to climb the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head in the Windriver Mtns, Wyoming. Was it a good idea? The answer to this question is left to the reader’s judgment. Wolf’s Head is a huge granite razor back ridge located in the Cirque of the Towers. I had heard about this climb as one of the “50 Classics”. I began to search information about the climb, its difficulty, approach time etc… and then we set the date and time to go.
On Thursday July 24th we began the long hike in at the big Sandy Trail head located 9 miles from our destination. Our packs were HEAVY! , I still don’t know exactly how heavy but we estimated around 50-60lbs, enough to make our legs hurt only 10 steps down the trail! I looked at Sunnie and said, “This is going to be a long hike”. She agreed, and gave me some encouragement, “we can do it!”. Somehow we made relatively good time and ended up at Big Sandy lake(about half way) and felt a boost of confidence. After we took a short rest we began the long steep hike up to Jackass pass near the Cirque. This section was only 3 miles according to the map, but it seemed much longer. But after a lot of encouragement from Sunnie we made it to the shortcut around Jackass pass, and then headed down into the Cirque. The view was most impressive! and in every direction was a vertical granite slab that made my mouth water with desire! I thought to myself, “someday I will climb all of these”! We began to look persistently at Wolf’s head since we would be climbing it the following day! Wow! It looked wicked! It cut across the sky in the background of the Cirque of Towers with its jagged gnarlyness! It was nice to see it with the naked eye after all of the photos I had seen. The photos were NO comparison!
After some scurrying around, we found a nice little campsite nested in some trees. We were exhausted! We hurried to set up my favorite Sierra Designs Tent (an awesome gift from my brother) and then cooked dinner. I was in a rush because we desperately needed sleep before an early start (3 AM) in order to avoid afternoon thunderstorms (unfortunately mentioned below!). As I a lay down in my sleeping bag I began to drift off fearing all of the things that could go wrong in the next day’s climb! Was I crazy? Why did I like to climb anyways? This stuff is dangerous!! Sunnie's parents are going to kill me! I hope we don’t die! After telling myself it would be ok (even though I didn’t know) I managed to fall asleep.
My alarm went off and I immediately awoke filled with adrenaline! as if my body knew what was coming. Sunnie!, I called out! Time to get up! I heard a few groans from her direction as she woke up and I said to her in a long drawn out voice “Wolfs head is waiting!” We decided to sleep ½ hour longer and that we didn’t need that much of an early start. 3:30 rolled around, the extra ½ hour felt good and now it was time to hit the trail. After eating strawberry miniwheats and sorting all the gear we were on our way about 4 AM. There was about a half moon, so visibility was nice!! After about 45 min of hiking we were looking up at the approach scramble known as the “grassy ledges” “yep, they looked grassy! Only one problem, they were wet and so was the rock surrounding them. The descriptions I read said these ledges were only Class IV but we found them to be much harder!
About 4 slippery pitches later we found ourselves directly under the saddle of the East Ridge. I felt recharged as I looked up at the razorback ridge I had dreamt about for weeks. It looked awesome! One short scramble and we were sitting on the saddle looking at the first pitch and the famous “sidewalk section”.
As I was building an anchor I told Sunnie, “I’m going to need some positive encouragement on this part!” She said to me in her calm confident voice “you’ll do great!” I knew that if I got scared on the first pitch I would be in real trouble for the rest of the climb! As I crossed the sidewalk I was determined to not look down at the massive exposure that surrounded my every move.
After a few steady moves I made it to the end where I was able to place a cam securely in the rock, AHHHH! It felt good to be past this section and I felt much more confident. I could hear Sunnie screaming in the background “you made it look easy!” I climbed a little further up and then I cheered Sunnie as she climbed the same sidewalk section, she did great!
By this time it was about 7 AM and we were just getting to the first tower. According to the topo we would be passing 5 towers before the summit. These towers were where the true 5.6 climbing would be. The exposure was much worse than the sidewalk and as I looked around the first tower it took me a minute to figure out how to get across. It seemed that there was a hold just where I needed it, the best climbing I had ever done!
The towers must have taken a long time because after the 4th it was already 1:00 and I could see more clouds gathering over head. I realized the need to hurry to avoid a storm. I yelled to Sunnie as I belayed her up “hurry! climb as fast as you can!” We passed the last tower and I was running toward a false summit about 200 yards from the true summit. By this time Black clouds were everywhere and the sound of thunder was near. I climbed on top of the false summit and FROZE! when I heard electric buzzing sounds all around me. I was full of alarm! It was the most unnerving sound I have ever heard! I immediately yelled back at Sunnie “Get DOWN!” and after sharing a few expletives with myself I crouched down expecting to be a piece of fried meat at any moment! Sunnie was about 40 feet down the ridge from me crouched against the wall at the belay! Something to the right of her caught my eye, a large fracture close to her location. I hurried back and we both stuffed ourselves into the fracture hoping it would offer us some kind of protection. For the next 25 minutes(seemed more like an hour!) we listened to the constant sound of electric charges all around us. At one point I told Sunnie, “think positive! it might counter-act the charges!” This was one of the few times I could not laugh at my own joke.
Finally!, Sunshine could be seen, we emerged from the crack and hurried to the summit! A beautiful view, but our nerves had still not recovered! We just wanted to get down!
We got the ropes organized and began the 1st of 6 rappels . After several hours of scrambling we arrived at our camp. I looked at Sunnie and said “WERE ALIVE, WERE ALIVE!”.
It was the end of an eventful day and we knew what Wolf's Head was like Fully Charged!!
Daniel Francom,Sunnie Hansen