Words and photos by Kim Havell
On Friday August 29th, Julia Heemstra and I set out for a car-to-car attempt of the Cirque Traverse in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. The route runs a course of 9 peaks (5 of which have technical climbing, 4 of which are scrambles), 18 miles, with roughly 25 pitches of climbing and 15+ rappels. Having just moved to WY two years ago, I had not yet had the chance to climb in the legendary Cirque of the Towers and was excited to go for a big objective. I had visited the slopes of the Cirque this past spring on an exploratory ski trip but had not yet touched the rock.
Julia and I left Jackson, WY on Thursday night and headed up the trailhead at Big Sandy at 3:30am on Friday. After 9 miles approaching the base of Pingora Peak, we were greeted by the sun warming the rock. We headed up Pingora as quickly as possible, touching the summit, and then dropped over to find the quickest descent down to Tiger Tower. After 4 rappels off of Pingora Peak, we simul-climbed up and over Tiger Tower and continued onto Wolfs Head, where we completed the sidewalk pitches, simul-climbing once more. For the last 4 pitches on Wolfs Head, we belayed the exposed traverse maneuvers to reach its summit at around 2pm.
It took us another 2 hours to rappel off of Wolf’s Head and scramble over to reach the summit of Overhanging Tower. As we prepared to drop down to the base of Shark’s Nose, I rapped off the edge of Overhanging Tower to reach an old anchor that was in compromised condition. The clock was ticking. Julia reached me and we discussed our options. We might have to rebuild up to 5 anchors for the remaining rappels of the full traverse route. We had about 4 technical pitches of moderate climbing left but with route-finding, anchor building and fatigue as a major factor in our time evaluations. My goal was to climb the route in daylight, enjoying the views and all the summits. So, we agreed to retrace our steps back up to the top of Overhanging and descend down to the col to return once again to the car. To proceed would have meant finishing the route at late at night or early morning with no moonlight to guide our path and some unknown hazards lurking ahead.
As it was, we reached the trailhead at 10:30pm. Our goal now is to complete the last part of the traverse and then go back again to link it all together in light and fast style.
The magic of mountain objectives often lies in the mystery. We had a spectacular day working as a team to solve unknown link-ups, making careful evaluations of risk, hazard, and timing in our climb. Great day in the hills. Thanks for keeping my motor running out there, PROBAR.