Pingora in A Day Attempt

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 24, 2006
Activities Activities: Hiking, Trad Climbing, Big Wall, Mixed, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall

Mitchell Peak

After climbing Gannett a few weeks earlier, I was looking forward to the relatively short hiking approach to Pingora.  The approach drive, however, was longer and far less obvious and marked with signs.  We saw more than 1 person driving back and forth between Sandy and the Big Sandy trailhead.  From the Big Sandy trailhead we casually packed past Big Sandy Lake and had the first views of some of the most impressive rock towers I've ever seen.  Just past North Lake we traversed the west side of Arrowhead Lake, just under War Bonnet Peak.  This shortcut has a distinct trail that leads over a pass into the Cirque of the Towers without dropping down too far near Lonesome Lake, like the Jackass Pass trail does.  

War Bonnet Peak

We had a spot with a great view of the route and the dilemma that we faced was: we found a backpacking spot and set up camp just 1 mile from the start of the climb of the South Buttress and it was only 2pm. What to do?  Not being one to sit around, we headed out to start the climb.  We crossed a beautiful meadow and followed the Cirque Lake drainage and started the scrambling portion of the climb just to the west of the South Buttress.  Following cairns across Class 3 and 4  territory with intense views of the surrounding rock towers, we made it to the base of the technical section and roped up.  We later found out that this first pitch could be bypassed on the right side with some Class 4 moves and could have saved us some crucial time.  The first 4 pitches I led were easy and short, and went rather easily, but time was running out and we still had several pitches and a descent to complete.  The 5th pitch under the K cracks presented the first challenge to me and with darkness approaching and energy levels depleted after the heavy backpack earlier in the day, it was painfully decided to retreat off the climb.


On the descent we saw several other parties and I overheard one climber say in a celebratory way "Psilocybin and Jack Daniels here I come".  I couldn't help but stop and take in this amazing area as the sun went down.  Wolf's Head, Watch Tower, Pylon Peak, Warrior Peaks, and The Shark's Nose just to name a few, all towered menacingly  over the Cirque of the Towers Valley. This is one of the very few times in my life where I was almost okay with not reaching the summit because the experience and surrounding terrain were so wonderful.  Besides some of the world's best backcountry climbing, this area has great backpacking.


On our way out, we learned that there was a group, long overdue on Wolf's Head. They had been out for 36 hours and there was some real concern regarding the safety of the group.  While I really loved this area, I was discouraged by the sheer number of people in this backcountry. It seems clear to me that one day, unfortunately, there will some type of quota system in place.  Besides counting about 50 different tents in the Cirque, we saw a group every 5-10 minutes while on the trail. This was late August and the weather was still excellent, which may explain the crowds. The mosquitoes have a reputation in this area and there were none at this time.  All in all, my first trip to the Cirque was an enjoyable experience.  If your looking for some of the best rock climbing in the Rocky Mountains, this is the place. Just don't expect solitude while climbing or approaching.

Sean Pingora Climbing


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