Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pingora, Winter

All  Photos: Nielsen Davis

Guest writer Niels Davis, take it away.

Fun with Sleds:


It seems each time I go to the Cirque of the Towers, I get the most exhausted that I’ve ever been. After a trip JD Merritt (’16) and I took this January, The Cirque has been cemented in my mind as a place where I continually discover new personal limits. Our plan was to drive as far as we could and ski the remainder to attempt the Cirque Traverse however, things did not go exactly as planned.
    One notable moment on the drive in was the sighting of a mountain lion bounding through the snow away from us after we came over a hill and surprised it. It was incredible to have the chance to see such a beautiful animal in motion. So much more graceful than us spending the afternoon repeatedly digging our car out of the snow and then getting stuck almost immediately afterwards. Eventually, we decided to abandon the heat and shelter and we turned to skis. Our friend Gus Griffin (’15) drove back to go ski with his cousin in Jackson and we skinned off into the dark with our equipment loaded into two kid’s sleds we picked up at the hardware store that morning. Concerning the sleds, some lessons need to be learned the hard way.

Getting stuck for the N-th time. This is where we started skiing.

by not making friends with any 'slednecks', I have gone and shot myself in the foot.  We skiied nearly 20 miles through flat desert on snowmobile tracks.  Yes, there is an easier way.

the end of another short, cold day

    The 12 miles we had estimated to the Cirque became 28 or so and after two-and-a-half days of skiing through the desert and woods we arrived in the Cirque slightly more tired than we expected. Despite the warm, sunny days, the nights were cold and our sleeping bags already wet so we opted for a snow cave. Due to the increasing winds signaling the closing of our weather window, and our physical condition we decided the Cirque Traverse was out of the picture. The next day we waited for the sun and set off for the South Buttress of Pingora. We reached the base around 10:30 a.m. and warmed our feet in the sun before switching to mountain boots and scrambling the initial portion of the climb. JD set off up the first pitch switching to rock shoes halfway through. He led the next two pitches in the rock shoes while I took photos and followed in mountain boots. The granite was warm enough in the sun and we were able to climb without gloves. The K-cracks held minimal ice due to the southerly aspect. I led the final snow gully up to the summit and belayed JD. This was the golden moment of the trip. The sun shone through and we fist pounded and looked out at the rest of the Wind River Range, particularly eyeing the snowy East Ridge of Wolf’s Head and the rest of the traverse that had evaded us this round.
Switching boots on the first real pitch.

Leading the left K-crack.

Following Niels' lead on the last pitch.

We rappelled as the sun set, leaving a few nuts and some cord on two instances when our rope fell short of the rap stations. The wind began to pick up and we were glad not to be on the ridge.
(editor's note: the storm got fucking heinous a couple of hours later, that night.)

 We hiked out the next day, taking the alternate 24 mile route back to Sink’s Canyon in Lander. As we admired the lesser-travelled Cirques to the east of the Cirque of the Towers, snow began to fall and visibility lessened causing us to skin over the wrong pass. We bushwhacked uphill while our sleds caught on each tree and bush for a few hours. As we gained the ridge, we realized that we had turned out of the canyon too early leading us to the wrong location. Nightfall came and we decided to call it a day. In the morning we realized that where we had expected a nice pass there was another cirque––a welcome sight in instances other than this one. That day we found the right pass and were determined to make it to Lander. For a long moment we travelled on a frozen creek, where JD lost a ski through the ice and had to get a little wet to retrieve it just an hour before sunset. We skied through the dark and eventually found the trail that would take us back to Lander. It was nice to let down our guard for a while and pound out a few miles, though we soon found ourselves rambling around in the woods as zombies after losing the trail. One of the sleds had broken in the front and began shoveling snow so we rigged it fishtail forward, which was a little more efficient. By the end of the trip it was only half of a sled, mostly held together by the cord used to lash our gear to it. We begrudgingly resigned ourselves to the tent and wet sleeping bags once more. The next morning we skied five or six more miles to the trailhead where JD’s brother met us. We drove back to his house, having completed an epic journey, and ate a lot of eggs and waffles. That night we drove back to Colorado Springs in order to make it back for school the next day. We kept ourselves awake with long, typical talks about relationships and the meaning of life, both almost exclusively illustrated with climbing analogies.

Wolf's Head

It had been textbook type-two-fun. As I sit here now amidst piles of books, the feeling in my sore legs brings me back to the final post-holed steps to the summit of Pingora and the storm clouds brewing over Warbonnet and Lizard Head. All in all we skied roughly sixty miles, managed to get a climb in, and received an incredible glimpse into the Wind River Range in winter. For now, we are satiated.

Pingora, Winter Ascent, Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range, WY.
South Buttress, K-Cracks 5.8

an untold amount of suffering while tied to sleds.