Alpine Climbing in the Cirque of the Towers (Photo Trip Report)

Alpine Climbing in the Cirque of the Towers (Photo Trip Report)

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 42.77920°N / 109.2247°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jul 23, 2009
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Summer


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.

CLIMBERS: Brenton, Glenn, Levi, 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

Cirque of the Towers Panorama
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.
Cirque of the Towers
Big Sandy Lake about 6 miles in.
Cirque of the Towers
Sundance Pinnacle and Warbonnet, approaching Jackass Pass.
Cirque of the Towers
The classic view from Jackass Pass.
Cirque of the Towers
Enough to make a man weak in the knees.
Cirque of the Towers
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
Mitchell Peak (Our route is in the middle-left of the peak, on the 1,300-foot wall).
Mitchell Peak
Here comes the 25% chance of thunderstorms.
Mitchell Peak
The first two pitches on a broken crack system.
Mitchell Peak
The third pitch route crux. It definitely got our attention.
Mitchell Peak
Belaying on the "grassy ledges" pitch.
Mitchell Peak
The final third of the Northeast Face Left route.
Mitchell Peak
Some fun, fun climbing.
Mitchell Peak
S'more of that.
Mitchell Peak
The top, with a killer view of the Cirque of the Towers.
Mitchell Peak
Former Odgen Utah resident, Levi, workin' the Jeff Lowe tribute mustache.
Mitchell Peak
The walk-off to Arrowhead Lake / Jackass Pass.
Mitchell Peak
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!
Wolf s Head
Wolf's Head.
Wolf s Head
Topping out of the Tiger Tower Gully.
Wolf s Head
Tiger Tower with Pingora behind.
Wolf s Head
Ready to dive in? East Ridge ahead.
Wolf s Head
The dive in.
Wolf s Head
The famed east ridge.
Wolf s Head
The sidewalk section. Not really that bad.
Wolf s Head
Top of the ramp cracks.
Wolf s Head
The beginning of the Towers Traverse.
Wolf s Head
The terrain is moderate so we were all excited for the lead.
Wolf s Head
One of the best tower traverses.
Wolf s Head
More of the same.
Wolf s Head
Looking down on the same tower traverse.
Wolf s Head
Looking west on the skywalk.
Wolf s Head
Looking east on the skywalk.
Wolf s Head
Looking down on the skywalk.
Wolf s Head
Last scramble to the summit.
Wolf s Head
The summit block.
Wolf s Head
So goooooooooooood!
Wolf s Head
Looking back from the summit.
Wolf s Head
To this point we had dodged the growing storms, but this one looked unavoidable.
Wolf s Head
Rappeling . . . as fast as possible to beat the thunderstorm.
Wolf s Head
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!
Cirque of the Towers
Never saw any bears. That's a good thing.
Cirque of the Towers
Ready to burn my mosquito head net.
Cirque of the Towers
The hike home, those last 3 miles were looooooooong.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-16 of 16

musicman82 - Aug 4, 2009 7:31 pm - Voted 10/10


This looks like it was an amazing trip - the photos are seriously sick! You should add a primary image to finish the page - thanks for sharing this amazing place...

marauders - Aug 5, 2009 12:20 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Great!

Thanks. For me photography is half the fun.


rpc - Aug 4, 2009 7:42 pm - Voted 10/10

GRRReat photos!

you should (if you want) attach to wolfs head could benefit from the nicer shots than what i have there now. cheers.

marauders - Aug 5, 2009 12:19 am - Hasn't voted

Re: GRRReat photos!

Definitely. BTW, thanks for your great topo of the route.

Bill Reed

Bill Reed - Aug 4, 2009 10:32 pm - Voted 10/10

If you keep posting....

stuff like this, it's gonna get a lot more crowded in there. Nice stuff.

marauders - Aug 5, 2009 12:21 am - Hasn't voted

Re: If you keep posting....

Ah, what to do . . . it's a double-edged sword.

Joe White

Joe White - Aug 5, 2009 1:53 am - Voted 10/10

so great!

Awesome TR!


vanman798 - Aug 5, 2009 11:55 am - Hasn't voted


Another amazing trip, along with amazing pictures.

marauders - Aug 5, 2009 4:03 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Wow

Thanks. I love your profile photo from your recent trip.


cp0915 - Aug 5, 2009 4:19 pm - Voted 10/10

A Droolfest

This is great stuff. Thanks for the stoke!


96avs01 - Aug 5, 2009 4:59 pm - Voted 10/10

Just back

from my first trip to the Winds and this TR has me even more stoked about going back! Great TR! Cheers


SarahThompson - Aug 5, 2009 6:17 pm - Voted 10/10

Sweet Pics!

Thanks for posting. I just made my first trip into the Winds and am looking forward to visiting the Cirque someday. Your photos show the routes very well.


goofball - Aug 6, 2009 12:22 am - Voted 10/10

another WOW

fantastic pictures. makes me want to want to learn to climb. incredible views that few humans ever get to see.


sync - Aug 6, 2009 12:42 pm - Hasn't voted


Truly awe-inspiring! Looks like you had a fantastic time in beautiful surroundings. I'm very jealous.


Garfimi - Jan 18, 2010 11:57 am - Voted 10/10


Once again another great trip report. Great writing and amazing pictures. What a great trip!



ampman1961 - Jun 8, 2011 4:59 pm - Hasn't voted

Beyond Awesome!

I really enjoyed living vicariously through your adventure. Your "To the point" style of writing and the beautiful photography makes this one of the very best climb reports I have ever read.
I look forward to more from your future adventures. AAA+++
Best regards,

Viewing: 1-16 of 16