Tuesday, August 14, 2012

From Beulah to the Bighorns

Beulah, Wyoming, population 73.

What the fuck am I going to do with myself for the next 10 days?

That question ran through my head over and over again as I watched the sun set over the Bear Lodge mountains in the distance.  There are many places in Wyoming that can make a man feel lonely, and the northeast corner of the state is certainly one of them.  I had managed to find something to climb at each previous field school locality, but this situation appeared to be rather grim.  However, things aren't always as they appear.

Turned out I was a mere 20 minutes away from Spearfish Canyon, SD, which is filled with high quality sport routes.  I took it on myself to do what I do best- show up at the crag and creep around until I find someone who's down to belay.  I decided to check out the Skeletal Remains crag, and quickly found a pretty big group with an odd number of people (score!).  A really cool guy named Forest, though skeptical at first, belayed me on top rope up an easy 5.10, then let me lead a 5.8, which gave me a bit of a feel for the style of the area.  In my opinion, the routes tend to wander a bit and have sort of an adventurey feel to them.

Forest working another 5.10a

I hoped to make it back out later in the week, but field school took priority most evenings, so I didn't get a chance.  We did all go to Devils Tower as a group, which got me psyched up about doing the Durrance Route the next week (which I didn't, and will explain later on).

The Durrance Route as seen from the approach

Other than bouldering a bit on the wall of the nearby Wyoming visitor center, that's about the extent of that week's climbing.  Shortly after finishing up field school, my family and good friend Ibi came out to visit.  I took everyone to Vedauwoo the first day to get them used to traditional climbing outdoors.  I quickly led Kim Crack and hung a top rope on it for them to get a feel for crack climbing.  Everyone got to climb it, but within a half hour, we got rained out and had to hang out for the rest of the day.  On another note, I've inexplicably become much more bold in my trad leading.  That day, I led Kim on 2 C3's, and not long ago, I led the second pitch of Le Petite Arbre (my first Voo 5.8) on only 3 pieces.  Much of the fear that used to plague me is now gone, which let me know that I was ready for my big goal of the trip- the South Buttress of Pingora in the Cirque of the Towers.

 The mighty Pingora

With both 5.6 and 5.8 variations, the South Buttress is unquestionably the most popular route in the Cirque, if not the entire Wind River mountain range.  Starting on the south shoulder of the peak, the climb moves up 3 pitches of moderate climbing with good ledges to a 200 foot 3rd class scramble to the summit itself.  All pitches are graded 5.6 except for the K Crack variation of the last pitch, which goes at 5.8.  I had wanted to climb in the Cirque since the day I heard about it, and had been studying the routes for months.  I figured that this would be a great introduction to alpine style multi-pitch routes, and I sure was right (for me at least).

DISCLAIMER:  The next few paragraphs contain copious amounts of detailed and accurate beta.

 The arduous hike in

 The Cirque of the Towers

The cirque is reached by a long and difficult 9 mile hike in.  As a person known for being a cardiovascular machine, trust me, its a tough hike.  When you eventually make it to the cirque, you can camp pretty much anywhere, however the most popular spot for climbers seemed to be the hillsides at the base of Pingora, which offer good tree cover.  From camp, the approach to the South Buttress is another 20-30 minutes of tough hiking/scrambling to the base.  Now the approach gets kind of foggy when you reach the scramble- the best way I found was to walk almost all the way to the corner where Pingora meets Wolf's Head, then turn right and walk up a long ledge covered in dark and broken rock, which leads to the rest of the ledges marked with cairns.  

 The 3rd & 4th class ledges

 After the scramble, the route begins at a fairly short and broken wall.  About 30 feet of 5.5 takes you to a huge ledge, where I set up a belay in order to avoid rope drag and get Ibi and my younger brother, Cobi, used to the rope systems.  Most parties, however, continue from the ledge and up another 70 feet (also moderate 5.5-5.6), making one long pitch.  That next ledge is much smaller and much more suited to a party of 2 rather than 3, and is where we began to run into trouble.  After crowding the small ledge, I could already see that Cobi and Ibi were starting to get scared...really scared.  But we had no choice, there was nowhere to rappel until we reached the top of the next pitch.

 The view from the second ledge.

I honestly thought the second pitch was the most fun.  It was airy and aesthetic with interesting features, and noticeably more difficult the previous one (closer to 5.7).  The combination of the exposure and increased difficulty led my two inexperienced partners to near heart attacks.  They reached the next ledge (which is quite roomy) wide-eyed and clutching their chests, gasping for air like they'd just been exercised of demonic possession.  It was at that point that I realized I definitely should have known better than to take those two up this 2000 foot mountain with barely any experience.  From the base of the K Cracks, I made the decision to bail and not torture them anymore...a mere 70 feet from the final scramble. 

Most people will tell you that you need to do a double rope rappel for this route, but I had heard you can do it with one 70 meter rope.  I decided to chance it with my 70 meter, and I can definitively say that you can easily get off this route with a single 70 meter rope, and I highly recommend doing so to save weight with a party of 2.  There are 3 rappels that are done with double ropes, and a fourth one exists in between rap stations 2 and 3.  You'll have to do a little swinging/wandering from the intermediate station to the last one, but other than that, its all smooth sailing.  For some reason, the rappels scared Cobi and Ibi far less than the climbing, and they didn't believe me when I told them that most climbing accidents occur on rappels.

  Ibi expressing himself.

 Cobi rapping up the climb (HA!)

Back at camp, with Cobi and Ibi incredibly happy to be on the ground again, I knew that climbing Devils Tower with them would no longer be an option.  I wasn't very bummed about that though, as we would be spending the next week in a cabin in the heart of the bighorn mountains, which has more limestone than you can wrap your head around.

 The walls of Ten Sleep Canyon

The cabin of solitude

About a 2 mile drive from the cabin, I came across a boulder field that I named the Cemetery, after Ibi commented on how it looks like a graveyard.  The Cemetery is full of interesting Bighorn Dolomite boulders which had never been touched.

 The Cemetery

I only put up a few lines, mostly in the V1-V3 range and not really worth naming or anything.  The best of the boulders are up in the wooded area, however they are VERY dirty.  The best one I climbed was an overhanging crack which is a little difficult to read.  It goes at about V4, however I didn't top it out since I couldn't clean the top and it was as dirty as boulders get.

Quite a pretty boulder actually

After spending the next few days hiking and trail running in the Cloud Peak Wilderness (which is absolutely spectacular), I took everyone out to the easiest crag in Ten Sleep canyon for an evening of sport climbing.  I had studied Aaron Huey's guidebook  (which is one of the best guidebooks I've read) all week, and decided that this would be the easiest place to get in several pitches in a short amount of time.  I led two 5.6-5.7 climbs and two 5.10- climbs, which I let Cobi and Ibi top rope afterwards.  They really enjoyed themselves since they weren't terrified, and it was a really good way to end our trip.  Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures.  I grabbed Ibi's sister's fancy DSLR camera and took what I thought were a whole bunch of super badass photos, when we realized that we forgot the memory card and none of the photos were saved.  But oh well, at least we'll always have the memories. 

1 comment:

  1. Fun Post! Love the picture of Ibi. Beginners get really scared on multi-pitch climbs sometimes. You feel bad for them, but it's funny too.