What is awesome about Wyoming’s Snowy Range is that trailheads start between 10,400’ and 10,800’, the highest point is a little over 12,000’, trails are short, and there are many rock faces and snow-filled couloirs. For mountaineers that enjoy technical rock, snow, or both, this means that the Snowy Range is a virtual alpine paradise-- all the fun and challenge but without the long, hard approaches. And even though the area is popular, you don’t see too many people off the maintained trails.
One of seven named rock features on Medicine Bow Peak (all are south of the summit), Pillar Buttress is quite prominent (not in the peakbagging sense) though not as spectacular as ones like the Diamond and Old Main.
The formation is named for its notable pillars, especially the easternmost one, which is known as Petite Marie. This pillar currently has the only developed rock routes on the formation; there are three of them, and they go at 10a, 10b, and 10c/d. This site
has more information about climbing routes.
Pillar Buttress, Sundial Slab, Mirror Lake and Lookout Couloirs
The broken face itself offers possibilities for scrambling (maybe) and technical (definitely) ascents. Other ways to reach the summit (actually, the summit is a talus mound slightly past the top of the cliffs) include hiking over from the Medicine Bow Peak Trail (obviously the easiest way) and climbing one of the Lookout Couloirs (see attached route page, and it is also my understanding that these couloirs are called, from left to right as you face them, First Street Couloir, Second Street Couloir, and Airline Couloir) and then clambering south to the highpoint. Return by following the trail down to Lake Marie or by taking it up to the summit of Medicine Bow Peak and then hiking down to Mirror Lake or Lake Marie.
Weather changes are always a concern in alpine environments, but note that because of the island-like nature of the Snowy Range, weather can deteriorate here much more rapidly than you may be used to. It is not uncommon for summer thunderstorms to hit well before noon. Although car-to-summit distances are short, you nevertheless should still get a very early start and never forget that you will be high and exposed about the entire time you are out.
Pillar Buttress, Sundial Slab, and Lookout Lake
On WY 130, park at the Lake Marie East parking area. This is about 27 miles east from the intersection of WY 130 and 230 south of Saratoga, and it is about 14 miles west of Centennial.
Alternatively, park a very short distance east at Mirror Lake. This actually makes the hiking approach shorter, but I have seen this spot closed by snow several times.
Note: WY 130 is closed in winter and usually does not open until around Memorial Day; it usually closes in October.
You are looking at a one-way distance of no more than two miles, with about 1500' of elevation gain.
From either parking area (see previous section), pick up the Lakes Trail, which climbs to a saddle between Medicine Bow Peak and Sugarloaf Mountain and is one of the three primary routes hikers use to climb Medicine Bow Peak.
The Diamond and Pillar Buttress
As you approach Lookout Lake and the unnamed lake just south of it, begin looking for a way across to the face and the Lookout Couloirs. Ideally, you should leave the trail and cross over to the western side of the lakes before
you reach Lookout Lake's southern neighbor.
Now what to do is up to you; see the first section for ideas.
Summit Above the Diamond and Pillar Buttress
Summit Above Pillar Buttress
View from the Summit Above Pillar Buttress
No official red tape. Take care on the fragile tundra and stick to the drier, rockier areas as much as possible. The area is a haven for mosquitoes, so bring DEET or prepare to do a lot of swatting and scratching.
There is a campground at Brooklyn Lake, the turnoff for which is a few miles east, and the fee is $10 a night (or was in 2008). Reservations can be made at recreation.gov. In heavy snow years, the campground may not open until August if at all. For example, in 2009, it was still closed as of July 8.
There are also some campgrounds off WY 130 to the west.
Some dispersed camping is available in the area.
Backcountry camping is free and does not require a permit. Please try to camp on previously used sites or in spots that are more durable (i.e. not on the tundra).