Trips to theWind Rivers have become an annual tradition for me, my family and friends. Despite growing up in Wyoming and having an avid interest in rock climbing I was late to summit my first route in the Wind River Range. The ascent came in 2011 with a climb of the South Buttress on Pingora. My partner and I intended to climb the East Ridge of Wolf's Head the same day but it was not to be. CJ and Jed Wittacker and I returned in July of 2012 to reclaim our prize, the stunning East Ridge of Wolf's Head.
We left Salt Lake City at 6am and put the accelerator down toward Rock Springs. After a late truck stop breakfast we were soon headed north across the sage covered plains and hills of southwest Wyoming. Before long the southern reaches of the Wind Rivers came into view. A sight I have grown to love and crave. It felt good to have gravel under the tires as we veered off the highway. Pronghorn watched curiously as we sped across the winding dirt tracks. The hills gave way to aspens and pines and by 12pm we were at the Big Sandy trail head. With double ropes, an alpine rack and light overnight gear on our backs we tromped our way to the meadows around Big Sandy Lake. As it was only 2pm we decided a quick route on Haystack was in order. We made our way to the base of the route but were thwarted by incredible winds and light rain. Disappointed we made our way back to camp. By the time we arrived back at camp the winds had died and Haystack stood illuminated in the alpenglow. Our party was left wishing we had waited out the gusts.
An alpine start had us on the trail to the Cirque in the pre dawn hours. We cleared Jackass Pass just as the sun was lighting up the Cirque. One of the best alpine views I have ever beheld. An hour later we were approaching the final scramble to East Ridge of Wolf's Head. We had already spotted at least two parties on the route. Two more were climbing the 4th class pitches to reach the true start of the route. One of the parties appeared to be struggling and moving very slowly. The prospect of waiting behind multiple parties of climbers sounded dreadful. After a quick discussion we decided to double up with a climb of Overhanging Tower and Shark's Nose. With limited beta we started moving quickly to the small saddle between Wolf's Head and Overhanging Tower. It was not long before the route steepened. About 200ft of low 5th class terrain in the form of meandering cracks guard the summit of Overhanging Tower. We roped up for two short sections but scrambled most of the way to the summit. The views of Sharks Nose North Face were impressive. We managed to down climb Overhanging Tower via some easy cracks.
Exposed ledges led to the col between Overhanging Tower and Sharks Nose. We scrambled the first 4th class pitch which goes up a steep ramp with massive exposure. Once atop a pedestal CJ roped up and led a pitch of moderate 5th connecting several cracks. I tied in next and climbed a ramp of solid granite with thick texture and horizontal cracks. Near the top of the ramp I built an anchor and belayed CJ to my position with Shadow Lake far below.
With a vague route description we pressed on. We followed the ramp around to a small ledge on the west face which drops steeply below. At this point we were off route. Upon returning home I consulted the Kelsey Guide which warns about "following off-route pitons near the top of the ramp which lead up a 5.9 crack." This is the route we climbed. Without that information we felt we were still on route. A steeper but excellent hand crack looked appealing and I set off. I soon realized the climbing was more like 5.8 and came to the conclusion that we were off route.
Thus far the crack was solid and protection was reasonable so I pressed on. After climbing about 50 feet I came to a small roof. Looking out over the roof I could see another 50 feet of finger crack. We had brought a single set of cams as we had planned on climbing the East Ridge. Surveying the rack I had only a few cams remaining with only one or two smaller units. Climbing into the unknown with only a couple of small cams and nuts did not sound appealing. I elected to make an anchor and belay CJ up to the roof. We were able to restock the rack and CJ stepped up to the final lead.
The last pitch was a finger crack that split the large featureless west face of Sharks Nose. CJ pulled out from under the roof and cruised the crack placing small cams and nuts before reaching easier terrain. The pitch went at about 5.9 and was a proud lead, especially in this setting. In retrospect the line would be better climbed as a single pitch which could be well protected with double TCUs (Yellow, Orange, Red) and double small cams (BD .75, 1). I led a short pitch of 5.4 to the summit block. The last few feet to the summit are unprotected and lead to an airy stance. We snapped some summit shots and rapped down via the NW Buttress.
We returned to Cirque Lake and downed some gels and bars. We still had a long ways to go. He hit the trail and arrived back at Big Sandy Lake around 7pm. We took our time eating diner and packed up camp. About 9pm we set out for the trail head, we made good time and arrived at the car about 10:30pm. We tooks shifts driving and pulled into Salt lake at at 3:30am a little less than 48 hours after we had left. A whirlwind trip into the spectacular scenery and granite of the Cirque of Towers.
Route Description of the Route We Climbed (credit CJ Whittacker)
P1-2: Follow Thoroughfare (AKA NW Buttress) route past the steep crack up to the end of the ramp. To continue on the Thoroughfare climb the short steep crack to the left and continue up the easier slabs above.
P3: Climb steep corner and move right around large rounded block onto NW deck/slab (5.6—airy after the block). Traverse horizontal cracks past a very large sloping deck (below rap anchor) onto small ledges and into a corner. After the
large rounded block the climbing is easier but the traverse is difficult to protect for the second.
P4: Start left in the corner up a finger crack in the dihedral then follow 5.8 hand cracks on the face, past an old pin to a small roof. Pull roof on left (5.7) and follow wandering 5.9 finger cracks to a nice ledge (avoid the cracks to the right of the roof that terminate).
P5: Short (5.4) pitch with limited protection to the summit. Down climb to the belay to rappel.
Gear: Rack up to a #3 Camelot, (double TCU's and small cams)
Thoroughfare (NW Buttress)