In Steve Bechtel's stellar guidebook
, he provides a tantalizing description for the Cirque of the Towers:
"The Cirque of the Towers holds legendary status in American climbing. The beauty of the area is well known, the mystique of the name inspiring, and the climbing is as good as it gets . . . The Cirque of the Towers is one of the great gifts of the mountain gods."
Amen, brother. This was our group's first climbing trip to the Cirque, and it easily surpassed our expectations in scenery, climbing, and adventure.
, Matt J.
, Matt L.
For those of you in Utah, or the general area, we planned this trip using the UtahOutsiders Yahoogroup. There's a large and growing group of active climbers, backcountry skiers and canyoneers in this group that are always putting together trips and looking for partners. Anyone is welcome, join here
The Cirque of the Towers as seen from Mitchell Peak.
Day 1: SLC to the Cirque
We left Salt Lake City on Tuesday afternoon and arrived at the trailhead under a blanket of stars. Fat and happy, after eating at the Wrangler Cafe in Pinedale, I could hardly sleep with anticipation surging through my nerves for the adventure to come. Our goal was to hike into the Cirque, climb for 3 days, and return home beat, bruised and exhausted.
The 10-mile hike to our campsite in the Cirque was more difficult than I anticipated. Everyone else appeared to fare quite well, but for me, it was a seriously painful event. I got there nonetheless, and we set up camp around 4pm near the Cirque Lake area. The Cirque was relatively empty compared to the zoo-like atmosphere we were anticipating. We could only see two others tents during our hike in.
Big Sandy Lake about 6 miles in.
Sundance Pinnacle and Warbonnet, approaching Jackass Pass.
The classic view from Jackass Pass.
Enough to make a man weak in the knees.
Camp below Warbonnet, Warrior I, and Warrior II.
Day 2: Pingora
Like most climbers who venture into the Cirque, we had Pingora on our list. Some of our group were feeling saucey enough to attempt the Northeast Buttress, while others (myself included) were happy to get our first taste on the South Buttress / K-Crack Variation. In the end, we all went to the South Buttress together.
The day was bluebird and the climbing was spectacular. There was only one other team on the route, so we pretty much had the mountain and the summit to ourselves. After the climb, we napped on the south shoulder of Pingora in the afternoon breeze to keep away from the pesky mosquitos in camp. It was paradise.
Approaching the ramp up to the south shoulder.
The base of the first pitch, which doubled as our after-climb loft.
The second pitch, looking out over Lonesome Lake.
Topping out on the second pitch.
The K-Cracks. Fun, with one really scary move (speaking for myself).
The summit looking down at Wolf's Head.
Matt, workin' the rope.
Four of these, and we're back where we started.
Seriously, this is paradise.
The hike down, following Cirque Lake's stream.
Day 3: Mitchell Peak
We had two more peaks on our list for this trip: Mitchell Peak and Wolf's Head. We thought Mitchell Peak would be the harder, longer day, so we opted to try that next, which would give us more recovery time before our hike out of the Cirque.
Our regional weather forecast for the day read "25% chance of thunderstorms", which in the Cirque probably translates into "100% chance of thunderstorms". We left camp at dawn and made it to the base of the Northeast wall by 6:30 a.m. We could already see a wall of clouds coming our way, with a huge storm that had just missed the Cirque to the south. So whatchagonnado? We aimed for the moderate Northeast Face Left route, and the first 3 or 4 pitches appeared straight-forward to rappel from, so we started climbing and if it rained, we could retreat safely.
During most of the climb the clouds were threatening rain, but pitch after pitch we climbed higher on nice, dry stone. The route itself was a bit dirty and wet in the cracks, and one pitch in particular had a scary runout. Overall, it was a phenomenal adventure, but I don't think any of us have any interest in reclimbing that sucker. Props to Levi and Matt L. for tackling the intimidating cruxes on this route.
Mitchell Peak (Our route is in the middle-left of the peak, on the 1,300-foot wall).
Here comes the 25% chance of thunderstorms.
The first two pitches on a broken crack system.
The third pitch route crux. It definitely got our attention.
Belaying on the "grassy ledges" pitch.
The final third of the Northeast Face Left route.
Some fun, fun climbing.
S'more of that.
The top, with a killer view of the Cirque of the Towers.
Former Odgen Utah resident, Levi, workin' the Jeff Lowe tribute mustache.
The walk-off to Arrowhead Lake / Jackass Pass.
After threatening all day, 20 minutes after we got to Jackass Pass the rain fell in torrents.
Day 4: Wolf's Head
After our Mitchell Peak experience, I was feeling a bit more suspect of the weather. Wolf's Head appeared to be more of an "all-or-nothing" route, where it is possible, but difficult, to bail partway through if the weather turns. Our forecast again said "25% chance of thunderstorms", but we took that as meaning "you're gonna get hit, so climb early and fast."
The morning was looking much better than yesterday on Mitchell Peak, so that gave us a shot of optimism. We approached the East Ridge route via the grassy ledge pitches, only to find them soaked and dripping with water. This looked like a tedious, sketchy pathway, so we opted to climb up the Tiger Tower gully instead. There was a short section of firm snow to gain the gully, but after that it was 3rd/4th class scrambling to the top of Tiger Tower. We rapped onto the East Ridge, and although weather was beginning to build over Warbonnett and the Warriorr peaks, we decided to go for it. The oncoming waves of potential weather held my nerves for ransom on most of the climb, but only once we reached the Overhanging Tower col on descent, did we actually don the rain gear. With all three of our objectives climbed safely, we had a phenomenal sensation of gratitude and relief. What an adventure!
Topping out of the Tiger Tower Gully.
Tiger Tower with Pingora behind.
Ready to dive in? East Ridge ahead.
The dive in.
The famed east ridge.
The sidewalk section. Not really that bad.
Top of the ramp cracks.
The beginning of the Towers Traverse.
The terrain is moderate so we were all excited for the lead.
One of the best tower traverses.
More of the same.
Looking down on the same tower traverse.
Looking west on the skywalk.
Looking east on the skywalk.
Looking down on the skywalk.
Last scramble to the summit.
The summit block.
Looking back from the summit.
To this point we had dodged the growing storms, but this one looked unavoidable.
Rappeling . . . as fast as possible to beat the thunderstorm.
The rain started when we reached the col. Let it rain, we're safe.
Day 5: The Cirque to SLC
What can you say after a great trip, with great guys, and no "weather days"? We're lucky. That's the way we felt our entire hike back to the car, and the drive home. Can't wait to go again!
Never saw any bears. That's a good thing.
Ready to burn my mosquito head net.
The hike home, those last 3 miles were looooooooong.