Category Archives: Wyoming

The Open Book (5.9)

Looking up the climb


Like the Snaz, the Open Book is another one of those climbs that has been on my to-do list for years due to a lack of climbing skill and/or partners. I had planned for a solo day (more on that later), but when Ben asked if I was interested in climbing, I saw an opportunity, and dug into my bag of unfinished things. Ben, one of the interns, is young and strong, seemingly more interested in Real Climbing than the kind of stuff that I can do, but he seemed game for a moderate trad route. Given its name and description, this one seemed likely to be even more un-gym-like than the Snaz, with lots of stemming and a finger crack. Predictably, it turned out “the way it always does,” with a fair amount of thrashing and bleeding.

Garnet drying out

It was a cold morning, so we didn’t leave the Ranch until about 6:30. We passed the usual bear on the Garnet switchbacks, ignoring us as she fed on some plant. Based on the giant pile of green bear manure I had found earlier, plants seem to be the majority of their diet this time of year, an impressive digestive feat that can’t yield many calories. Just above, we saw a cub safely up a tree. The bears frequenting this hillside are disturbingly accustomed to people, and while they have not been aggressive, I wish they felt a more normal degree of fear. Preemptive use of bear spray would probably fix that, but I doubt the Park Service would approve.

Despite our late start, we reached the base of the climb while it was still in the shade and quite cold. I had hear of others having problems finding the route, but it was easy to identify, and required no shenanigans to reach. I happily gave Ben the first lead, and he chose the direct 5.9 crack start, soon regretting this decision as he wedged his hands into the frigid rock. I kept my running shoes on until the last moment, then followed, grateful to be on a toprope. I found myself consciously staying out of the crack where I could, and unconsciously using my palms and elbows for counter-pressure to spare my fingers.

Looking down from my fail-belay

We were climbing on a 50-meter rope, and the first pitch as described was supposedly 60 meters, so Ben belayed at a stance somewhere below the official belay. Unlike the Snaz, there are no bolts on the Open Book, so it can be naturally split up like a normal trad route, with pitches where one runs out of rope or gear, accumulates too much drag, or reaches the base of a crux. I led our second pitch, featuring a “5.8 undercling/layback” that felt hard and insecure to me. I put in a couple of good cams as I went, trusted my feet, and was surprised to be able to pull through it. However, I was unable to find a good placement above that section, and couldn’t quite make it to the next stance. I tried out a few things, then went for it and took a nice 15-foot slow-motion fall before the rope finished stretching. I have a pretty good sense for when I am secure on rock, but am willing to go for it on gear.

Ben doing climber things

I thought about giving it another try, but my arms were tired and I was disappointed with myself, so I built an anchor and belayed Ben up. After taking over, he thoughtfully made his way through the layback, then up the namesake pitch, a greater-than-ninety-degree corner with a finger crack. I enjoyed following that part, but was definitely glad not to lead it. While my technique is mediocre and I usually bleed, I am fairly comfortable with hand jams, but trusting much weight to torqued fingers still feels like a terrible idea to me. I managed to stupidly fall right off the belay, but did the layback and the rest cleanly, albeit not always securely.

My head was not quite in the right place, but I don’t believe in being an animate haul bag, so I set off on the next pitch, traversing right under a roof before coming back left on easier terrain above. I struggled a bit with the first part: a crack below the roof offered all the protection I could wish for, but it was also seeping, making the hands and a few of the otherwise-nice feet wet and slick. Teton rock is stickier than it looks, even when wet, but I am still adjusting to what I can trust on steeper ground. I finished the pitch without incident, building an anchor where I thought the guidebook suggested.

Ben led the next, opting for what I think was the “5.9+ roof move,” a sketchy-looking thing around the right of a bulge. I screwed around for far too long following, trying another route left of the bulge in part because it looked easier, and in part because that was where the rope ran. I finally figured out that it was harder, backed off, moved the rope over a bit, and pulled the roof without taking what would probably have been a fairly harmless pendulum fall.

South Fork Garnet peaks

I led the final 5.7 (?) pitch, making it look harder than it was, then we packed up and traversed right to pop out at the base of the Lake Ledges above Amphitheater Lake. We had carried ice axes all day, and used them for the five minutes it took to descend to the lake. I suppose mine could have been helpful for self-arrest, but most of what I did with it was hack away at the slush to free my leg from a self-filling posthole. Axes stowed, we followed the beaten-in path through the snow back down to the summer trail, then fast-walked home to the Ranch. My shenanigans made Ben a bit late for his evening shift, but I don’t think he got in too much trouble.

Having done both recently, we agreed that the Open Book was better than the Snaz. While it is not as long (6 vs. 8+ pitches) or as hard (5.9 vs. 5.10), it is cleaner and more sustained. I was surprised that the highly-rated Snaz involved as much walking while dragging a rope through debris as it did, especially on its first two pitches. While the Open Book had a walking finish, it was rarely low-angle enough to collect debris, or to be dull (at least for me). An efficient team should be able to climb both it and neighboring Irene’s Arete in a day, making for a truly spectacular outing. Thus endeth my trad climbing for the summer.

The Snaz (5.10)

Snaz on return


(Photos featuring Yours Truly, and some others, courtesy Robert. There was some other stuff in the Bend area, including more skiing and cycling, but that’s too far past and mostly of too little interest to write about. It’s a great place to visit, and I miss skiing from the car in June, but I wouldn’t want to live there.)

The Snaz is a Real Climber climb in Death Canyon, which has been on my radar for almost as long as I have been coming to the Tetons. I have failed to do it in the past because I haven’t had a capable partner, and because I have never been a good enough climber. This year was different in the first respect, with Robert emerging from his SoCal bouldering lair, and I hoped that four weeks of intensive climbing gym work would change the latter as well. Robert sadly had little time to spend at the Ranch — he is also a solid all-around mountaineering partner — but Saturday’s forecast of moderate temperatures and wind up high would at least be an opportunity to finally tick this classic Chouinard climb.

Sure, why not?

We started reasonably early from the Ranch, driving down to Death Canyon and up the rough dirt road to the trailhead. The road is rocky and has some deep puddle-holes, but it is perfectly drivable in a van or sedan with caution and patience. I have a bit of gear these days, but we used Robert’s: a light 70-meter rope and an absolutely massive collection of protection, with two cams from 0.1 to 3, a 3.5, a 4, and a set of nuts. In retrospect this was too much: the large pieces were nice, but most of the small pieces’ uses could have been covered by nuts. Also, since we did not rappel the route, the 70 was too much rope: the wind and roaring stream below made communication difficult, and it was tricky to link pitches without creating terrible rope drag. The short version is that I am not good enough to use a large rack and a 70m rope. First, I lack the judgment to eliminate rope drag on a long pitch. Second, the things I am able to climb are not steep and straight, but lower-angle and varied. This means that there are long sections of easy terrain that do not need to be protected, and twists and bulges that prevent the rope from running straight. This could just be old age and familiarity speaking, but I would have been happier with my old setup of a light 50m rope, nuts, single cams from 0.3 or 0.5 to the largest required, and maybe a couple of doubles or link-cams.

Marmot-proof hang

Be that as it may, the approach was pleasant and easy, hiking the familiar Death Canyon trail up to the edge of the moraine, then down past Phelps Lake and up the canyon along the creek, raging with snowmelt from the unseasonable warmth. The climbers’ trail was trivial to find, continuing off the end of the last switchback below the marshy, pond-filled flats of the middle canyon. I was not sure what to expect, but The Snaz and neighboring Caveat Emptor are popular climbs, suitably equipped with a good approach trail, bolted belays, and even a loop of cord in a sheltered alcove to hang your packs away from the waiting marmots.

Snaz from base

The actual climb is preceded by a short low-fifth-class scramble, which I assumed we would scramble in rock shoes. We divided up the gear, me with the rack and pack, Robert with the rope, and started up the approach pitch, an angled crack along the edge of a slab. At only 5.5 it should have felt easy, but I found myself unnerved, unsure of my feet and insecure. I backed down, tied in, and Robert belayed me as I climbed it again, this time having no trouble and placing useless protection. I was unnerved and unbalanced by the experience: it was moderate climbing that should not have given me any trouble, but my head was not in the right place.

Easy leading

We walked up to the base of the real climb, and I led off again, linking the first two 5.7 pitches with our long rope. This climbing felt much easier, with mostly scrambling terrain and only a few steps that deserved the rating. I placed gear from time to time, trying to avoid creating drag, but was still dragging up slack by the time I reached the belay, the gear on my harness clanking and occasionally catching on protrusions. Trad often feels like climbing while fat and clumsy, making easy things hard and hard things possible. I reached the second anchor with a few meters of rope to spare, clipped in, and belayed Robert up to the start of the harder stuff.

First hard pitch

I was embarrassingly inefficient on the transition, slowly remembering the tricks and details, then Robert took off up the first harder pitch, which continued up the dihedral past a bulge and a roof. It did not look so steep, but he was taking his time, and as is often the case on the slicker golden Teton rock, it was harder than it appeared. The first crux required an odd layback to the right, while the second was passed by steep moves on black, positive rock to the right of a roof. I watched Robert steadily at first, but my neck soon tired and I spent more time looking across the canyon and down at the hikers below.

Detached flake pitch

On belay from above the roof, I started up this first pitch of actual harder climbing, and was soon disappointed to find that I am, for the most part, the same awkward, thrashing, bleeding climber I have always been. I often feel that it makes no sense for the same grades to apply to face, crack, and slab climbing, since they require such different techniques. The same goes for training: while my time in the gym gave me noticeably more power and grip on the steep moves past the second bulge, it helped me hardly at all elsewhere. I was determined to climb the pitch clean, without hangs or falls, but it was a slow and awkward process. I worked my way up the first bulge, hesitating before committing to the layback, chewed my ankle a bit torquing a foot in a wide crack, took an odd backstep when I felt that I had the wrong side facing the rock, and generally made things look harder than they probably were.

Some harder terrain

It was a discouraging performance, reinforced when I handed Robert the rack to take the next pitch rather than swapping leads. Here we had the option of taking the Snazette, a long 5.10 finger crack, but neither of us seemed in the mood, so Robert continued up the original route, proceeding carefully as before. Another party had started up the first pitch, but there seemed to be little danger of them catching us. My mind was elsewhere, so I don’t remember much about the pitch other than I was glad I did not lead it, despite again managing to climb it clean.

On route?

The climbing was easier above, so we returned to swapping leads. I led up a crack to a broad alcove, where the route description said to “step left to a double crack.” Though I knew it would create problems, I clipped a fixed blue cam below the roof to the right before traversing left and placing another cam to hopefully direct the rope around the rock. I looked at a spot in the middle of the roof, backed off, and explored around the corner to the left, but found only rounded, lichen-y rock there. Returning to the middle, I got myself as high as possible, then pulled over a bulge to find a sort of double crack. I got in another piece, then continued a short distance to a sloping shelf where I could build an anchor, unsure which direction to go next, but tired of leading.

Final pitch right of roofs

It turns out that I should have continued up and right another fifteen feet, where there was an anchor consisting of two fixed pins and a nut. Robert led past these, then into an easier chimney with an awkward entry. He seemed to find the pitch somewhat beneath him, but I enjoyed it for making me feel somewhat competent for a change. I took the final lead, another short pitch leading left of the 5.10+ triple roofs to easier terrain, where I belayed him up from a slung block. I was cheered by the view and by having acquitted myself well on the last two pitches, and grateful that Robert was willing to come out and make the climb possible. I felt that if, as in previous years, I had a partner and a full month in the Tetons, I would enjoy making some real progress as a trad climber, but that unfortunately will not happen this year. Perhaps I will find myself in the right circumstances here next June, or somewhere else this Fall.

Walk-off

I at least felt smooth and assured on the walkoff, an ascending traverse on class 3-4 slabs followed by a steep and often faint use trail down a gully. Fortunately I found the correct route the first time, because another promising ledge below the one it follows cliffs out at a waterfall. We returned to the trail, and crossed a couple of minor snowfield on the short hike to the start, where I went back up the climbers’ trail to fetch our packs. The group below us had rappeled after the hard pitches, and there was another pair on the route likely planning to do the same. I suppose this is faster than topping out and walking down, but I felt that the upper pitches were still enjoyable, and it is not much of a hardship for the follower to carry a pack with shoes, food, and water. But I’m not a climber…

It turned out to have been an excellent day to climb the route. Though it is on the north side of the canyon, it faces southwest and is therefore shaded for most of the morning. High clouds kept the temperatures reasonable at lower elevations, and the strong west wind was mostly blocked by the crest. The route ended up taking something like ten hours car-to-car, more than either of us had expected, but not an embarrassingly or exhaustingly long day. We both had the energy for another solid outing the next day, but unfortunately the forecast called for wind and rain, and Robert was leaving that Monday. This one climb may be enough to keep my trad skills from completely atrophying, but not enough to lead to any improvement.

Turiano peaks

Ramshorn summit


[I am badly behind on writing, hence this catch-up post.]

Despite the blooming, buzzing profusion of information online, I am a firm believer in the value of guidebooks, particularly those expressing an experienced mountaineer’s point of view; Thomas Turiano’s Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone is one of the best of these. I first discovered it in the Climbers’ Ranch library, where I read it both for pleasure and for ideas for things to do beyond the Tetons. Sadly the book is out of print, and used copies sell for hundreds of dollars. From the thousands of peaks in “Greater Yellowstone,” an area surrounding but mostly outside the National Park, Turiano chooses 107 representatives, and describes their history, geology, and easiest route or routes. This is emphatically a mountaineer’s or peak-bagger’s guide, not a climber’s, as reflected in Turiano’s criteria:

Peaks were selected because they possess a majority of the following characteristics: a commanding view from summit; prominence from at least three directions; high relative elevation; a degree of elegance; distinction from surrounding peaks and environs; and an interesting or unique human or natural history. The overall rock and slope quality of each peak was not a factor in its selection,…

At some point, someone entered the list into the Peakbagger website, and I realized that I had done about thirty of the peaks, some because of the book, but most while pursuing other goals. With some time to kill late in the season, I decided to tag a few more before Greater Yellowstone got too cold and dark.

Sleeping Indian (Sheep Mountain)

This is the peak in the northern Gros Ventres whose silhouette looks like a sleeping Indian when viewed from the Tetons to its west, with a large belly, sharp nose, and headdress. Its official name is “Sheep Mountain,” but there are a hundred of those, a dozen of them in Wyoming alone, and it is a non-descriptive and unimaginative name on the level of “Blue Lake.” The summit, the peak of the belly, is an easy walk from Flat Creek behind the Strategic Elk Reserve. I did this on a smoky, windy day, and thus did not get to enjoy the normally stunning morning view of the Tetons. The nose looked like a chossy and possibly challenging scramble from the summit, but it was too windy and cold for me to want to investigate.

Leidy

This is one of the easiest peaks in the book, added for its summit views rather than its own character. To make it a bit more of a challenge, and to spare my car some unnecessary suffering, I camped near the highway and rode the ~15 miles of gravel and dirt roads to the trailhead. From there, it was a short hike on a decent use trail to the summit. The views both west and east, to the Tetons and Togwotee Pass, would have been spectacular if not for the smoke. As it was, I could just barely make out the Grand.

Ramshorn

This turned out to be the only “legitimate” Turiano peak I managed to do this season. Renee and I had done most of the approach before running out of time, so I knew where to go, and wanted to finish the job. I camped at the same spot, but biked the remaining 4WD road instead of hike/running it. There was some thrashing through downed trees on the way up, but not as much as last time, and I found a pretty good trail climbing out of the head of the basin. Clouds were threatening in all directions, but things were fine overhead, and the peak shielded me from the wind.

The trail ended in the barren upper basin, so I continued over easy tundra toward Ramshorn’s north end. Not remembering the route description too well, I initially tried traversing lower, only to give up on some sketchy, outward-sloping ledges covered in debris that did not seem to be going anywhere useful. I retreated some, then climbed up to the crest, where the rock is, if not better, at least flatter. The best route stays on or near the crest until the final summit knob, with sometimes-wild exposure on the west side.

The summit fin’s north side is vertical, forcing one to traverse left and deal with the stairstep choss, following one ledge until a break allows one to climb to the next one up. The climbing was sort of fun, like a less-solid version of the Crestones’ knobby conglomerate, but still stressful. Above the crux break, I found the ridiculous anchor mentioned by Turiano, some old cord around what looks like a gravel monolith held together by mud. Reaching the north summit requires a bit of careful climbing on crumbly slabs, easier going up than down. The true summit, alas, is separated from the north one by a gap that is just a bit too big to jump, perhaps 15 feet deep, with unpleasant falls on both sides. I carefully climbed into it, not quite trusting the crumbly-looking conglomerate, then had an easier time on the other side. The final knife-edge walk to the highest point would probably have felt trivial on a calm day, but the gusty wind added some spice. I signed one of the scraps of paper counting as a register, then turned to head back with barely a pause.

The weather fortunately held, though there was rain or snow farther north in the Absarokas, as well as in the Winds and Tetons to the south and west. I had to backtrack a couple of times on the ledge-maze part, but eventually managed to find my route of ascent, and other than the summit slabs, everything seemed no harder going down. One thing that was much easier on the return was the trail. It is easy to pick up on top, and while it fades and is confused by game paths lower down, it is still possible to stay on-route, and much better than the cross-country travel in the woods. The mistake I made with Renee was following game trails in the woods to the east; the actual trail stays closer to the creek, crossing small meadows and traveling through more open woods. With easy going on the way out, I was soon on my bike, joyfully coasting down the road to my car.

The Grand at night

Mission accomplished


[This is part of a multi-part trip report of my Wyoming 13er speed record.]

I am used to climbing the Grand in June’s longer days, and have never felt the need to do any but the trail parts in the dark. However the late season and my arbitrary deadline forced me to climb the entire route in the dark. This caused me more trouble than I had expected, as I wasted some time in the boulder-field, and more in the Moraine. I passed my first headlamp folk on the switchbacks below Garnet, and some more around the Caves. The latter nearly caught me thanks to the time I wasted going too high in the Moraine, but I stayed ahead of them, and had little trouble finding the summer route to the Lower Saddle, with its bright hand-line.

Way too early

I passed a few guided groups above the saddle, then made my usual mess of the route to the Upper Saddle. I seem to do this slightly differently every time, but I had never done it by headlamp, which further hurt my route-finding. I passed a couple enjoying the first light of dawn at the saddle, then continued up the familiar route on the upper mountain. There was some snow and ice in the chimneys and on a few ledges, but nothing that could not be easily avoided or dealt with. I had debated whether or not to bring my down jacket, and was glad I did, as it allowed me to hang out on the breezy summit for a few minutes, watching the horizon lighten and the lakes come into view below.

I stopped to speak to the couple as we awkwardly climbed past each other in the double chimney. It was her first time in the Tetons, but she seemed to be handling the dark, chilly scramble easily. We exchanged names before we parted, and the guy actually recognized me, or at least my nom de plume. I passed perhaps a dozen more climbers between the upper and lower saddles, wearing the usual varied quality and quantity of gear. I had no need to hurry, merely fast-walking the switchbacks above the Meadows, but put in an effort to jog past the tourists below Garnet, and even tried to finish at a legitimate run. My much-abused body said “no” to that, but I at least managed to walk to the sign by 9:00, for a finishing time of 8 days and 23 hours. After some time to eat and reflect, I headed over to the Ranch to see who was around. There turned out to be more familiar faces than I had expected, so it was well into the afternoon before I got around to taking a shower. It was closing weekend, and I needed some time to recover, so I happily volunteered to spend a few days helping prepare the place for the winter.

Bastion to Downs (6 peaks)

Flagstone to Downs from Bastion


[This is part of a multi-part trip report of my Wyoming 13er speed record.]

On what was likely to be my last day in the northern Winds, I woke in an unusually positive mood, which persisted as I packed up and climbed the talus-chute to the plateau just south of Rampart’s summit. Fitting that mood, I listened to Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations — the older, manic, live recording, not the tiresome one from 1981. I circled around the back side of Rampart, one of many bumps on the northern Winds’ plateau that rises above 13,000 feet but lacks the prominence to be considered a separate peak. Map in hand, I was able to identify Bastion, the first bump that counted, and was grateful that the highpoint of a jagged ridge to its east was slightly lower.

Flagstone

From Bastion, I dropped down a tedious mix of loose talus, rock-hard old snow, and new powder to a plateau, then climbed again to the next ridge north, dropping my pack to tag Flagstone Southeast. Continuing north, I stopped for some water, then put on crampons to climb the small glacier to Flagstone’s northeast shoulder. Again dropping my pack, I made the cold, windy, but easy hike to the summit. Its name seems at least somewhat apt, as the rock is fractured in giant plates, much larger than actual flagstones.

Klondike and Downs

After returning to my pack, I went left around another bump on my way north, then dropped my pack near another flat piece of ice for the longer side-trip to Klondike. I was interested to note the changing form of the glaciers as I headed north. Those in the Gannett area are more typical mountain glaciers, with steep accumulation zones on the high slopes connected to flatter ablation zones below. Farther north, the ice transitions to small, nearly-flat sheets lying on a plain above 12,000 feet, growing and diminishing with very little movement. Perhaps the Winds once supported a single northern icefield with exit glaciers, like the Columbia up in Canada. They currently fail to support these smaller ice sheets, or glaciers in general, and many will likely be gone within my lifetime.

Klondike Glacier

Klondike’s summit used to be the highpoint of one such small ice-cap, but the piles of rock at its corners are now somewhat higher. I tagged a couple of these and walked over the highpoint of the ice, then made the mile-long walk back to my pack. Fortunately the ice-saddle separating the summit from the plateau was fairly flat, because I had not bothered to bring crampons. From there I had several miles’ rolling walk to reach the next peak, Downs South. After some meandering on a plateau, I made a long descent to a saddle near two large lakes, one clear, the other turquoise and filled with icebergs from the glacier on Klondike’s north slope.

WY 13ers accomplished!

Humping my overnight pack across the tundra was not fun, and the last eight days’ efforts were taking their toll, but at least I had substantially eaten down my load, and had no need to ration what I had left. I crossed the unmemorable South Downs, and promised myself my remaining half a pepperoni after I reached Downs. The summit is one of several humps, unfortunately not the one with the cool southeast-facing icefield, but the one to its east. With the peak-bagging difficulties behind me, I was thinking mostly of how I would return to the trailhead. I had originally plotted out a line north and west from Downs to Hunters Hump, then on from there toward Clear Creek. However it looked like I could reach the high plateau west of the crest more directly via the drainage south of the summit. I therefore dropped my pack (and sausage) at a saddle, boulder-hopped up to the highpoint, and spent a few minutes clowning around on this, my final Wyoming 13er. Granted, I still had to get back to my car, and to climb the Grand Teton the next day for the sake of the speed record, but I was still ridiculously pleased with myself.

First lake on descent

I returned to my pack, chowed down on pepperoni, then got to work. The divide at this point is a high, rolling talus plateau between 12,000 and 13,000 feet, separated from another plateau to the west around 11,000 by cliffs. This lower plateau is in turn separated from the Green River by narrow canyons and more steep drops. Kelsey has little to say about crossing the divide this far north, and even less about routes on the lower plateau (“some places are best kept wild”). Thankfully the USGS has done its job, and we have accurate topo maps of the area, so I was able to piece together a likely route to Faler Lake, from which it is supposedly possible to reach the trail along Clear Creek.

Endless granite

Starting down the valley southwest of Downs, I was struck that it is probably only sometimes a practical way off the high plateau. Late in the season as I was, I was able to descend to one side of the stream, and it is probably covered by snow earlier, but mid-season it is likely a raging torrent blocking the narrow parts of the valley. Emerging to one side of a cascade, I found myself in a rolling landscape reminiscent of the Sierra, with clean granite slabs and faces, lush grass, and many lakes, even the large turquoise one ahead of me unnamed. There were no use trails or footprints, and I only saw a few large animal tracks, either sheep or elk.

Bear Lake

I made my way west and slightly north, aiming to intersect my planned descent route from Hunters Hump. Once on track, I traversed high above Bear Lake on a bench, then aimed for a gully leading to Faler Lake. This turned into a choke of large talus that had tumbled from either side, but was not too difficult. I even found a cairn here, and faint bits of use trail leading down to Faler’s outlet. Other than an ancient and long-disused windbreak near one of the lakes higher up, this was the only sign of human presence I had seen since Downs’ summit.

Clear Lake from near Faler

I was briefly encouraged by a good trail leading along the stream down from Faler, but this soon faded and disappeared, likely just a continuation of the much longer route reaching Faler from the northwest. I found bits of game trail on the steep slope down to Clear Lake, but was glad to be headed down and with a light pack. Starting in this direction would have been miserable. Unfortunately things became dramatically worse at Clear Lake. Sometimes I would find a bit of game trail in the woods; sometimes, I could walk along the narrow, rocky beach; twice I had to climb well away from the lake when cliffs came straight down to the water.

Clear Creek arch, at last

Finally reaching the outlet, I found a couple of old fire rings, giving me hope that fishermen had maintained, or at least beaten in, the old trail leading down to Clear Creek Arch. Unfortunately this was not the case: I found one set of boot-prints from this season, and occasional trail, but progress was slow and miserable. A fire had left many downed trees and some nasty brush, making it easiest to climb away from the creek and cross talus-fields where possible. In the woods, I was forced to constantly step over or balance along fallen logs. Kelsey’s description of it as “the worst bushwhack in the Winds” may be an exaggeration, but even to someone who has spent significant time in the North Cascades, this was rough going. I continued making steady progress, but abandoned my hopes of stopping in Jackson to download some new listening material. As long as I could reach the maintained trail by headlamp time, I would be satisfied.

As it turned out, I managed to (barely) reach the car without a headlamp. I minimally unpacked my pack, threw stuff in the roof box, and took off for Lupine Meadows. Between the rough Green River Road and the lower night-time speed limits, I reached the trailhead around 11:00 PM. Having started Francs Peak just after 10:00 AM, I wanted to finish the Grand before that time to stay under the next round day. To guarantee that, I allowed myself seven hours to go up and down the Owen-Spalding. I shoved food and water in my daypack, set my alarm for 2:30, and passed out.

Woodrow Wilson to Desolation (5 peaks)

Gannett from Koven


[This is part of a multi-part trip report of my Wyoming 13er speed record.]

During the previous day’s evening headlamp time, I had come up with a sketch of a plan to tag the Gannett-area peaks. I figured that the upper Dinwoody Glacier would be lower-angle and have better snow cover, so I could use it to get from Woodrow Wilson to Pinnacle Ridge and Glacier Pass. The pass is close to the current FKT route on Gannett, via Wells or Tourist Creek, so I could probably climb Gannett from there. And I knew that I could get back up to the crest from the saddle between Desolation and Rampart. Hopefully Koven would take care of itself. To make this work, I had to backpack over Woodrow Wilson, going up the west chute and down the north ridge/face. Thus I would climb the Sphinx Glacier again, making my earlier climb of the Sphinx a total waste (though it did not cost me a day).

Lower Titcomb Lake

Not having pre-made my breakfast the night before, I got off to a slightly slow start, leaving my boulder home to hike up Titcomb Basin. Partway up I ran into two friendly guys headed over Indian Pass on a backpack. We talked for awhile, and I learned that one of the men, Mark, was an expat and guidebook author living in Ecuador. One nice thing about doing speed records measured in days instead of hours is that taking time to talk to people or enjoy the view does not actually slow you down. Twenty minutes chatting simply meant that I would have twenty fewer minutes to lie in my bivy and fail to sleep that evening.

Leaving Titcomb Basin

After some pleasant cross-country travel up out of Titcomb, I climbed the familiar boulder-field to the Sphinx Glacier, then put on crampons to make the easy climb to its top. From the upper left side, I crossed the ridge south of Wilson, where the west couloir became obvious. Unsurprisingly, it no longer held any snow. I made my way up the rubble in the chute and the rock to either side, awkward and slow with my overnight pack pulling me backward and bumping into things. The final scramble from the top of the couloir would have been easy and fun with a daypack, but was somewhat more thought-provoking with my heavy load. I took some time on the summit to repack, shoving my bedroll into the pack and strapping my daypack below the topper. I had eaten enough of my food for it to fit, and this streamlined the load and distributed the weight slightly better.

Crevasse issues on Wilson

While it looks like an easy walk down a plateau from Wilson to the upper Dinwoody Glacier, there is a steep notch that forces one into a class 3-4 gully to the left. This was made a bit trickier by the snow, but still quite a bit easier than the way I had come up. As I had hoped, the upper glacier was not too steep, and had decent snow-cover. However, there was a tricky crevasse across much of the slope below Wilson, and a steep band of ice and rock leading up to the part below Pinnacle Ridge. I made my way down the right side of the Wilson lobe, then crossed the big crevasse on what looked like the best of several snow bridges. From there, I crossed a flat section to the rock/ice band, which I surmounted with a little easy mixed climbing, sometimes wedging a foot in the crack between rock and ice, and even getting a few solid tool sticks.

Chute up to Pinnacle Ridge

Back on low-angle snow, I dropped my pack and set off up the gully north of the highest Pinnacle with only my crampons and axe. This was badly melted out, and involved more hijinks in the ice/rock interface on the right side. I eventually reached bare debris, where I stashed my axe and crampons and carefully made my way to the ridge. From there, moderate climbing on the west side led to a notch just below the top, where a few steeper moves got me to the top of the summit block. I admired the view of Wilson, sketched my way back to my pack, then had an easy walk along the upper glacier to below Glacier Pass, which was of course a miserable loose talus-chute on both sides.

Glacier Pass and Gannett

Here I again dropped my pack, drinking some water and shoving a bag of trail mix in my pocket before heading north toward Gannett. I worked my way around the right side of the next subpeak, finding a bit of horribly rotten class 4-5 climbing across a gully, but otherwise moderate terrain, and even an old sling from someone else who had come this way. I found a cairn at the saddle past the subpeak, where I apparently joined the Wells Creek route, and soon merged with the standard Gooseneck route from the Dinwoody side. I had been hoping to run into others, thinking it would be amusing to greet them with no pack and just trail runners, but I had the peak to myself, though I saw a well-used boot-pack below the Gooseneck bergschrund. I posed for a bit on the Wyoming highpoint, then retraced my route to Glacier Pass.

Desolation, Rampart, Koven

The other side of the pass mostly sucked, with only a few stripes of skiable scree amid the unstable talus. I contoured around the bottom of the pass, then climbed north to a notch in the ridge at the top of the Minor Glacier. The glacier itself was easy going, flat and gritty enough that I did not bother with crampons. Unfortunately it has badly retreated, leaving behind a maze of steep, gritty slabs encircling the terminal lake below. I found some of the day’s sketchiest climbing as I made my way down and right, eyeing Koven and trying to decide how to climb it. My original plan had been to traverse from Rampart to its north, but the descent from Rampart looked hard, and Sarah had found some 5.7 climbing on its north ridge. The south side was supposedly easier, and it looked like I could reach the col at its base from this side.

Climb to Koven saddle

This would be a longer excursion, so I packed my daypack and left my big pack on a boulder. Fortunately I took a waypoint at its location, because I almost immediately lost it in the chaotic talus around the lake. I meandered up a mixture of grass and slabs toward the col, then followed a rotten black gully almost to Sachem Peak before cutting back left to reach the ridge. I had to do some backtracking and a bit of low fifth class, but there were no serious difficulties. Looking over the other side, I saw that the Gannett Glacier came close to the ridge, and that the other side was ledge-y and easy. The route was as described in the old Bonney guide, mostly easier with a bit of low fifth class following ledges east of the serrated ridge crest. I finally climbed a rib next to a dirt chute to reach the crest, finding an old rap anchor. From there, I stayed mostly on or left of the ridge to the summit, passing another gully and a rap anchor above a short fifth class slab below the summit. I enjoyed the view of a seldom-seen side of Gannett and its broad, flat upper glacier, relieved to be done with the technical unknowns of my route.

Sunset on Gannett

I stupidly wasted time cliffing out trying to find a better way down, then retreated to the known path down the chossy black gully. Shouldering my pack, I continued to the base of the valley, then up easy talus to the saddle between Desolation and Redoubt. It was getting late, but Desolation rises less than 1000 feet from the saddle, and Eric mentioned that its east ridge was enjoyable fourth class. I found a wonderful flat spot to camp, dumped my pack, and took off up the ridge unladen. It delivered on the promise of fun, moderate scrambling, making it a nice cool-down after the day’s more challenging and adventurous climbing. The ridge is generally narrow and favors staying on the crest, and ends at the high end of the summit plateau. I tagged the summit at sunset, then hurried back down to have a hot meal and settle in for the night. As long as the mystery de-approach from Downs west to Clear Creek worked, I was in a good position to finish the northern Winds in only six days, one less than I had hoped and two less than I had feared.

Fremont to Febbas (8 peaks)

Jackson, Fremont, Sacagawea, Helen


[This is part of a multi-part trip report of my Wyoming 13er speed record.]

There remained eight ranked 13ers east of Titcomb Basin and Dinwoody Creek. Four of them — Fremont, Sacagawea, Helen, and Spearhead Pinnacle — form the eastern wall of Titcomb Basin, while the others — Warren, Turret, Sunbeam, and Febbas — form a line south and east of the Dinwoody drainage. I had originally planned to do the two groups separately, but it seemed possible to link them all with a long effort and a bit of luck. This would require linking the first four peaks along their east sides, which are glaciated and seldom-visited.

Sunrise through Indian Pass

I hopped off my perch and started back up toward Indian Pass at first light, headed for the standard southwest slope of Fremont Peak. I left the trail at an arbitrary, convenient-looking place and made my way up gentle grassy slopes, aiming for the faint saddle where the south ridge separating Indian and Titcomb Basins merges into the peak’s face. I occasionally found bits of trail, which turned into a cairned route once the going became steeper on the slope. There was the occasional third class move, but most of it was easy walking and boulder-hopping. It was also uncomfortably cold, with the sun still hidden behind the mountain and a steady wind from the west, and I climbed in my heavy gloves and down jacket, with the hood pulled around my face.

Titcomb shadow

Reaching the summit ridge, I found a cairn and register at the highpoint, and paused on its sheltered and sunny side to recover and prepare for the day’s first unknown. If I could descend to the Upper Fremont Glacier, I could quickly reach Sacagawea without losing much elevation. Otherwise, I would be forced to retrace most of my route, drop to Mistake Lake, and reascend Titcomb Basin’s east wall between Sacagawea and Helen. Kelsey describes a route up one of the couloirs on Fremont’s northeast side, but I was not sure it would be feasible so late in the season with running-shoe crampons.

Fremont ESE ridge

I set off along the ridge northwest, peering over the right side, and eventually reached the second major couloir, which looked like it might work. Putting on crampons and taking out my axe, I carefully kicked my way down one side, but found the snow too hard and steep to be comfortable. I returned to the notch and hiked back to the summit, thinking along the way. Looking at the map, it seemed that if I could make my way along the peak’s east ridge and the rock separating the Upper Fremont and Bull Lake Glaciers, I could reach the flat section of the former. The ridge looked serrated, but not impassable, and an exploratory scramble over the first gendarme was encouraging.

Upper Fremont Glacier

The ridge’s north side was snowy and sheer, and the crest too crenellated, but the right side looked broken enough to be passable. I began traversing, trying not to stray too far below the ridge, and soon found a band of black rock that offered mostly easy passage with the occasional fourth class section to cross a gully. Not only was I making progress, but I was warm and happy to be discovering a “new” route. The traverse led nicely below the ridge’s difficulties, and I scrambled back around to the glacier near 13,000 feet, where I could easily cross the flat snow and ice. I skipped joyfully across the gentle plateau of snow and ice, feeling like I was the only person to have done so in a long time. Looking back at Fremont’s imposing northeast face, I saw that the couloir I had tried ended in a gaping bergschrund, so I was lucky to have abandoned it quickly.

Ecuadoran register

Sacagawea is a minor peak from this side, a talus-pile leading to a final, tricky scramble over a couple of false summits. I had been enjoying my time on the leeward side of the crest, so the scramble along the summit ridge, either on the snowy northern side or exposed to the southwest wind, was an unwelcome change. After a few clear days, the wind was also bringing in smoke from perpetually-burning California. I signed the unexpected Ecuadoran register, then retreated to the back side, where I had to descend quite a ways east to get around cliffs on the peak’s north side.

Helen from SE

The normal route on Helen climbs its southeast glacier and face, but the former looked too steep and icy for my gear, with possible moat problems getting to the latter, so I dropped farther and climbed the easy class 2-3 east ridge. I found only a bit of route-finding and fourth class scrambling near the summit, which had an excellent view of Warren and Turret, and an unclear view of my next objective, Spearhead Pinnacle, a lesser peak hidden in the confusion of pinnacles south and west of Warren. Now I just had to figure out how to reach it.

Gannett, Pinnacles, and Warren

Helen can be climbed from Titcomb Basin via a col to the north and one of a few couloirs on its north side, and skied via the giant couloir leading from near its summit all the way down into the basin. I made my way down a chossy couloir to the saddle, then scrambled along the west side of the ridge to eventually reach the saddle south of Forked Tongue and Spearhead Pinnacles. From there I crossed the small and somewhat crevassed glacier to their east, surprisingly finding some boot-prints likely from within the past week. The snow was all melted out from the couloir north of Spearhead, so I had to battle loose dirt and rock on my way to the col.

Forked Tongue Pinnacle

I was apprehensive about Spearhead, since it is supposed to have the hardest mandatory climbing of the 13ers (5.4), and Eric and Matt brought a rope. Climbing along the north ridge, I was also periodically buffeted by the wind. I found most of the climbing to be class 3-4, either on or left of the crest. The crux was a short, steep return to the crest; I sort-of chimneyed behind a large detached flake on my way up, and found an easier way farther right on the way down. Beyond the crux, there was a fun hand traverse, then easier ground leading to an exposed but surprisingly comfortable summit. I once again kicked myself for not bringing a pen to sign the register, and not having any conveniently-bleeding cuts on my hands. Once back below the crux I relaxed, figuring that the rest of the day was a simple matter of endurance. I had plenty of daylight to climb Warren, Turret, Sunbeam, and Febbas, putting me a day ahead of my original plan.

Doublet and such

Warren was a straightforward climb from the debris-field to its south, via either chossy gullies or the more solid ribs in between them. Looking behind me, I was grateful that Doublet, Dinwoody, and their neighboring spires do not have enough prominence to qualify as peaks, as they look extremely difficult. Kelsey describes a route up Warren from Elsie Col, which separates it from Turret, that works around a step in the ridge via a “chimney” on the south. I looked for something like that, crossing a sloping plateau and descending a chute leading to the south side, then doing some fourth class scrambling to exit the chute and return to the crest. Perhaps this was what he meant, but in any case it worked and got me to the col.

Febbas and Turret from Warren

Turret supposedly has a couple of routes from this side, a “southwest ridge” that is actually mostly in couloirs, and a couloir used on the first ascent. I started up what I thought was the “southwest ridge” couloir, but apparently missed the side-chute one takes to gain the actual ridge. Instead, I topped out at a notch, then made a sketchy downclimb into the main couloir, which I followed until it topped out between two of the summits. From the top, I had some tricky downclimbing getting down the north ridge to Backpackers Pass, as several sections were slabby and covered in snow. I generally stayed left of the crest, in a sort of face/bowl, before crossing where the ridge turns to downclimb some sketchy slabs, then descend easier talus to the saddle.

Febbas from Sunbeam

Sunbeam was short, quick, and not particularly memorable after the rest of my day. It also seems more popular than any peak since Fremont, as it is an easy hike from Blaurock Pass. My descent to the pass was made more pleasant by some patches of snow covering the talus. From there, it was a quick side-trip to Febbas, the highpoint of Horse Ridge, a huge tilted plateau on the east side of the range. Its summit has an impressive view of the glaciated side of the Divide, from Gannett to Jackson.

Dinwoody hell

Pleased with my work, I returned to Blaurock Pass, where I picked up a faint trail that faded into and out of existence on the long descent to Dinwoody Creek. It was getting toward evening, and I met two campers at a lake near the junction with the official Glacier Trail, though they were not in a conversational mood. I found a dry crossing of Dinwoody Creek, then picked up the trail near where it reaches the moraine and disintegrates into multiple cairned paths. This part of the day was unpleasant and depressing. The big Dinwoody Glacier has retreated a half-mile or more, leaving behind a mess of dirty lakes, loose sand, and piled boulders. Slogging through this wasteland toward the shrunken, separate lobes of what was once a single glacier, I decided that I would prefer to avoid coming this way.

Helen from Bonney Pass

I eventually reached the glacier, and put on crampons for the climb up to Bonney Pass. Looking at the upper glacier on my way by, I saw that the lobe extending from Wilson and Pinnacle Ridge was bare and badly crevassed, making my route to those peaks from this side likely difficult or impassable. I reached the pass around sunset, and fortunately made it down the other side before headlamp time. The steep, loose descent on a faint trail gave me yet another reason not to climb the Gannett-area peaks from the east. I had plenty of headlamp time to come up with another plan as I walked down the endless head of Titcomb Basin, then past the two large lakes, disturbing a man in a tent along the way. Too tired to cook, I crawled up on my rock and into my bivy, then ate half a pepperoni before falling asleep.

Ellingwood/Harrower to Jackson (4 peaks)

Sunset on Ellingwood’s north arete


[This is part of a multi-part trip report of my Wyoming 13er speed record.]

My failure to grind out evening trail miles the day before incurred a morning pack plod, from Shannon Pass down to the approach trail from Elkhart Park, then up to the Indian Pass trail junction. Knowing I had a big day ahead, I managed to get started toward the tail end of headlamp time. This kind of mindlessness, some of it forested and uninteresting, required me to dig deep into my podcast reserve to pass the time. The one that stuck in my mind was an interview on the FKT podcast with a guy who seemed seldom to travel without a “crew” on all his FKTs, including at least pacers, aid station workers, and a social media person; sometimes there was also a videographer. This engendered dark thoughts of professionalization, commercialization, and the all-consuming cancer of social media, where micro-influencers (i.e. sharecroppers) eke out a bit of free stuff promoting and leveraging their “brands,” so that soulless engineers can be paid well into the six figures and Mark Zuckerberg can buy private islands and politicians. But then my mood brightened: I was out in a beautiful and remote place, using my abilities as I chose, and accountable only to myself. If I turned around and headed back to the trailhead, no one else’s time would be wasted, and only a few friends would be the wiser.

Bridge at Fremont Crossing

I began seeing more people after joining the standard Titcomb approach from Elkhart Park, perhaps a dozen before I reached the Indian Pass junction. I found a giant flat-topped boulder nearby, an adequate “durable surface” to camp, and eagerly dropped the big pack to prepare for the day. Not knowing what to expect, I brought crampons and ice axe in addition to my ration of two Clif bars, two packs of pop-tarts, and a quantity of wasabi almonds. The day was already well advanced, and I had four peaks to climb, but I was still on the right side of the equinox and could count on clear skies.

Lake below Ellingwood

First up was Ellingwood Peak, so named in the 1930s, then officially rechristened “Harrower” in honor of a ranger and Pinedale mayor in 1968. Both men have legitimate ties to the peak, and Harrower has a cooler last name, but I am a climber, so I prefer to call it “Ellingwood.” As I hiked toward the unnamed lake at its base, hopping from rock to rock in the low stream, I debated which route to take. The easiest way would be to circle around to the saddle with neighboring Elephant Head and scramble the class 3-4 ridge up the “back.” But the north arete is a 5.6 Kelsey claims is “the best in the Titcomb area,” which has been on my to-do list for many years. Remote, long, and utterly committing, it would be the technical crux of my whole outing. I had not done any scrambling at that grade in awhile, and was somewhat tired and on a deadline, but the arete would be much more engaging than the standard route, and I was not sure when I could next motivate myself to either dayhike it or backpack in for it.

Somewhere on the ridge

I vacillated as I skirted the lake’s south shore, and began heading toward the easier standard route, but then some switch flipped in my mind. I was here for adventure, and ready to apply myself. My indecision had put me awkwardly high for the approach, so I had to side-hill across some talus-fans and couloirs, doing a bit of fourth class to get out of one. I skirted up and around some ice in another, and ended up on a grassy ledge at the base of what I thought was the arete. I retreated a bit to climb a step on the right side, then started up a dihedral with a crack. Though I did not feel comfortable and backed off, I saw a large stuck nut, suggesting that I was in the right area. I tried another dihedral to its right, felt better, and found an ancient spinning hanger attached to the rock by a skinny, rusty bolt. Now confident that I was on-route, I got to work.

High on Ellingwood’s ridge

While there are plenty of ledges on which to rest, the north arete’s climbing is sustained. Much of the first part is stemming up slanting dihedrals left of the indistinct ridge, which feel secure on the route’s solid, grippy rock. Higher up, I also found some short, easy liebacks and a heady section of steep face climbing on knobs to return to the crest. It is heads-up climbing requiring good route-finding, and there are no possibilities for escape, but nothing felt harder than the first pitch. I took a couple of photos, but was mostly focused on the climbing, paying no attention to time as I climbed higher and the ridge became more pronounced. Though it is north-facing, most of the route was fortunately snow-free. This changed near the top, where a slabby headwall held patches of snow and ice. This forced me to the right, where I had to carefully climb some featured but worse, lichen-covered rock that did not require friction climbing.

Knife Point

Finally at the summit, I found some kind of giant milk jug for a register canister, which contained the register and an explanation of the peak’s official name, but alas no writing implement. I basked in the sun and my success for awhile, then set about finding my way down. The peak’s standard southwest ridge route was tricky near the top, with a bypass to the west where many people seem to rappel, but soon eases off to ledge-walking on the east side. As the ridge nears a saddle, I headed east, aiming to cross the deglaciated bowl beneath the peak’s south face. This would probably be an easy walk with snow, but was instead a mix of talus and benches, with several slab-sided gullies requiring a bit of route-finding to cross. I meandered up and down while staying fairly high, then climbed to the saddle southwest of Knife Point. Though it looks impressive from some angles, and shelters a substantial glacier on its northeast side, the peak is mostly an easy scramble when wrapping around its south side, and its east face is a boulder-field. I stood on the summit block, noted the bighorn skull someone had placed nearby, then took off across the endless talus to Bete Noir, a.k.a. Brown Cliffs North, an unimpressive plateau well east of the other 13ers.

Bete Noir from Knife Point

Bete Noir’s summit is one of several bumps on the plateau, most looking like giant brownish-gray cow turds. I tagged the one with the cairn, plus another pile of talus to its northeast that looked just as high, then headed back the way I had come, following a convenient ledge around the steep talus-slope on the col above Alpine Lakes. This is probably part of some backpacking route, because I found a bit of a trail leading down into the disaster once covered by the lower Knife Point Glacier. I crossed this wasteland of loose talus, glacially-pulverized grit, melt-streams, and brown ponds, then crossed the remaining glacier on my way to Indian Pass. I could have avoided it entirely, or stuck to low-angle parts, but I had not yet used the crampons I had brought, so I decided to give them some exercise.

Indian Pass

Reaching the wooden post at the pass, I picked up a decent trail heading back toward camp, which I followed only a short distance. The standard route on Jackson is described as a ramp leading up from the first lake below the pass, but I saw a higher chute leading to Jackson’s long summit plateau, and decided to take that instead. It was the loose garbage-chute I expected, but turned out to be an easy and efficient route through the cliffs. From the top, I climbed a shallow valley to the crest, then turned left to boulder-hop toward the summit. A couple sections of snow made travel easier, but it was mostly bare.

Fremont from Jackson

From Jackson’s summit, it was clear why it is not normally linked with nearby Fremont: its north face down to the glacier is sheer, and Fremont’s southeast ridge up from it looks difficult. I enjoyed the late-afternoon views of Ellingwood and Island Lake, then returned to the shallow valley. Figuring the standard route might be better than what I had found, I followed some cairns heading left from the bottom of the valley. They led into a bowling alley and disappeared, leaving me to pick my way down loose terrain and gritty slabs that felt harder than what I had climbed.

Once back on the trail, I made an earnest effort to jog and walk quickly to beat the sunset. However the trail is braided and confusing in places, and the evening light on Ellingwood’s north face compelled me to stop for frequent photos. Less than a mile from camp, I came upon a line of kids with running vests, one even hipster-ed out in skinny pants, a checked shirt, and chunky glasses. They were coming back from Fremont, headed to a camp somewhere below Island Lake. I passed them after chatting for a minute, then watched them hike by in the fading light as I performed my evening camp routine. I had big, uncertain plans for the next day, and wanted to get as much sleep as I could on my not-quite-flat pedestal.

Henderson to Whitecap (6 peaks)

North from Henderson to Gannett etc.


[This is part of a multi-part trip report of my Wyoming 13er speed record.]

I had thirty peaks to climb in eight days before I ran out of food, and hoped to do them in seven. That meant I had to average just over four a day, and my single peak the day before was dragging down my average. It was time to fix that. There are six 13ers surrounding the cirque above Peak Lake, with Bow, Henderson, and American Legion on one side of Knapsack Pass, and the Twins, Split, and Whitecap on the other. While one cannon simply traverse along a ridge from one to the next, they seemed to form a natural link-up. Looking at them up close, it seemed easier to tag Bow by itself (and I had had extra time the day before), leaving the other five and giving myself time to add Sphinx in the hope of simplifying my route later on.

Henderson from the west

I left my camp in place at Shannon Pass shortly after first light, hiking down the trail a ways before heading off cross-country before Upper Jean Lake toward the lake at the base of Henderson’s east face. I knew that Eric had used the north ridge, and Kelsey said the face was class 3 or 4, so I could use whichever seemed most convenient. I filled up on water at the lake’s inlet, looked at the long talus-slog leading to the col with American Legion, and decided to climb the face. There are many possible paths, following a mixture of talus and ramps, and I picked what felt best as I made my way to the ridge just north of the summit. The ridge itself is a bit of a block maze, so I dodged back and forth, eventually taking the west side to reach the summit. Here I had a mostly-unobstructed view of the Titcomb Basin peaks in morning light, showing their most intimidating faces. The ridge south to two unnamed 12ers looked hard, but American Legion seemed to be a simple boulder-hop from the col. The register was an old gem from the 1940s, left by the Wasatch Mountain Club before the peak had a name.

Descent from Henderson

Getting down to the col was a bit trickier than I had expected, in part because I had to contend with snow lingering in places on the north-facing ridge. The ridge crest remained intermittently blocky, so while I could sometimes follow it, I often bypassed it to one side or the other. American Legion was mostly as easy as it looked, with only a bit of scrambling near the summit. Befitting the peak’s name, the register was a well-kept book in a sturdy ammo can decorated with military pins. Unlike Henderson, this peak sees a fair amount of traffic, including the authors of a documentary about the death of the Colorado River, at the start of the longest route water can take to reach the Gulf of California.

Descent from American Legion

After adding my name, I faced the day’s first big question mark. Kelsey says that he reached Knapsack Col from American Legion with a rappel to the glacier, and that someone mentions climbing the north ridge in the register, suggesting that it goes. However this is not a normal route, and there is also annoying little Winifred Peak standing in the way. Though it looked like I might be able to pick my way east down the face to the glacier, my life would be much easier if I could descend the ridge, so I headed off to give it a try. A number of towers and drops made this difficult and time-consuming. While I preferred to bypass them on the sunny east side, I was often forced to the shady and snowy northwest, where I encountered the day’s sketchiest climbing getting down and around a notch and ravine. The route would have been easier when dry, but still apparently low fifth class.

Twins, Wilson, Sphinx

Finally at the col, I was relieved to make an easy boulder-hop up Winifred, then descend some loose scree and talus to Knapsack Col, finding a faint use trail along the way. The south ridge of West Twin looked difficult, so I descended around the right side to reach the col between the two Twins via the southeast glacier. Having done Bow the previous day, I had some extra time, and decided to tag Sphinx and possibly Warren. If I tagged the former, I could climb the latter from the Dinwoody side, avoiding another trip up from Titcomb toward Knapsack Col in another few days.

Sphinx ‘schrund

Dropping around the East Twin’s slabby south ridge, I crossed some annoyingly hard ice to try to stay high, then climbed a talus-field to the Sphinx Glacier. This was crevassed on the left, but easy in running shoe crampons to the center and right. I followed a snow ridge above a deep wind-carved swale below Sphinx’s west face, then was stopped just before the Sphinx-Wilson col by an annoying bergschrund. It looked possible to climb out the other side on the right, but tricky to climb in, so I traversed to the far left where it met the rock, then sketched my way back across the icy remnant above the ‘schrund to the rock below the col.

Wilson from Sphinx

Stashing my crampons, I started up the northwest ridge, cruising some class 3 climbing on dry rock. Unfortunately the ridge steepened and forced me to the left, where snow on outward-sloping ledges made for careful climbing. I wandered quite a ways from the ridge, then climbed straight back up to the crest beyond the difficulties, where easier and drier ground led to the summit. Sphinx has magnificent views in both directions, with the Titcomb Lakes on one side and the much-shrunken Dinwoody Glacier on the other. I studied what I could see of Woodrow Wilson: the south chute looked unpleasantly loose at least, and possibly impassable with a large, exposed chockstone; the high glacier lobe to its northeast looked more promising. My hopes of adding Wilson to the day were dashed, but at least the Dinwoody route looked promising.

Dinwoody Glacier from Sphinx

I tried to get clever and stay closer to the ridge on the descent, but this proved ineffective, and I wasted time cliffing out on slabs before returning to the slow but tried-and-true route on the snowy side. Relieved to at last be past the ‘schrund, I skipped down the glacier, then ground out the talus slog back toward the Twins, dropping lower rather than fighting the steep ice. As it turned out, this side-trip was a waste of effort, though it did not cost me any time in the overall speed record.

Split from Twins

Reaching the Twins col was slightly tricky, with steep-ish bare ice giving way to loose garbage on top this late in the season. East Twin was an easy boulder-hop, while West required a bit more scrambling, once again made trickier by lingering north-side snow. Looking toward Split from both, it was clear that it made no sense to traverse the serrated ridge from West Twin. A traverse down and around via the Mammoth Glacier only drops to about 12,000 feet, and Split is an easy boulder-hop from the saddle to its west. Reaching the lower Mammoth required a bit of path-planning, as the upper part had several long crevasses partly hidden by snow. However nothing desperate was required, and I was soon traversing under Split’s sheer northeast side and zig-zagging up a glacier tongue to the saddle. I was getting tired, so the talus-grind to the summit was slow but mercifully short.

Mammoth Glacier from Split

From the summit, I had a magnificent view of the upper Mammoth Glacier in some worryingly late-feeling afternoon light. I took some time to contemplate the day’s second and third big question marks. The slope down from Whitecap to above Peak Lake looked easy, but the ridge to it from Split looked intimidating. Kelsey does not mention the ridge at all, and says of the unnamed intervening peak more or less “there is no reason to climb this slag-heap.” Eric had dropped all the way around and down to almost 11,000 feet when linking these two peaks, but that sounded miserable, so I resolved to try the ridge, trusting in my ability to usually make things work.

Whitecap ridge

Peak 12,845′ was unremarkable, but nowhere near as bad as Kelsey’s description had suggested. The ridge itself, while perhaps little faster than going around, took less energy and was much more fun, cheering me toward the end of a long day. The best route tended to stay on the crest or to its left (dry) side, with only one tricky low fifth class bypass on the snowy right. My hopes of boasting a coveted First Ascent in the Winds were dashed when I found a cairn at a convenient notch bypass, and again when I found that some kind of decent-sized animal, whether bear or cat, had climbed to just below the snowy-side crux. No matter: it was all uncharted territory to me, and I enjoyed just as much uncertainty and problem-solving as if I had in fact been the first mammal to touch these rocks.

Shannon Col from Whitecap

Whitecap, named for a permanent summit snowfield, is bare now, and I found no register in a quick search of the summit cairn. It felt late, and Shannon Pass still looked far away. I roughly followed the route I had picked out on the south side, aiming for the valley north of a rib descending southeast to the stream above Peak Lake. However, many lines are possible on this side of the peak, and no doubt others have climbed it on their way over Knapsack Col. I picked up a decent trail at the valley bottom, and was surprised to meet a group of two couples hiking one way or the other. After seeing no one all day, it felt almost crowded. The trail makes its way around Peak Lake’s north shore before joining the Shannon Pass trail. I made it back to camp before dark, and probably should have put in another hour of hiking, but decided that this was enough. I believed (incorrectly) that I had taken care of the most uncertain part of my trip, had snagged Sphinx as a bonus, and felt well on track to make it out in seven days.

Bow

Trailhead cabin


[This is part of a multi-part trip report of my Wyoming 13er speed record.]

I woke to rain. Pounding, drenching rain starting around 2:00 AM and continuing until dawn. It felt like a repeat of the storm that had scuttled Renee’s big plans earlier by dumping several inches of fresh snow on the high country, making the talus treacherous and quick travel impossible. I lay half-awake in my car until it stopped, then emerged as it cleared to see how bad things looked. There was fresh snow on the peaks on either side of the Green River, but it did not look too deep, and I was already well into my record attempt. Sometimes sunk costs are a useful motivator. I stuffed more things in my pack, ticking them off on a checklist on my phone, the only way I could hope to pack effectively in my groggy state. I shoved my sleeping bag into my bivy with my pad, rolled the whole thing up, and strapped it under the topper, then started up the Highline Trail around 7:00. A mile or so up, I fortunately realized I had forgotten my down jacket. Dropping my pack, I muttered and jogged my way back to the car, where I grabbed the jacket and shoved another couple handfuls of trail mix in my mouth. It was the last food I would eat without carrying it on my back for… eight days? I was not sure.

This part of the journey was a big question mark. The thirty 13ers of the northern Winds, stretching from Ellingwood/Harrower in the south to Downs in the north, are connected by a network of ridges. Many have only a couple of known moderate routes, which are often highly condition-dependent. I had some link-ups in mind, but none was certain. All of the approaches are long, ranging from fifteen to over twenty miles. The shortest is from Elkhart Park, well south of all the peaks. Of the other two, from Trail Lakes and Green River Lakes, the latter is overall closest to the peaks, but requires a twenty-mile trail slog to reach the southern end, and a mysterious cross-country route via Clear Creek to reach the northern. I assumed that I could figure out Clear Creek on the return with a lighter pack, and could grind out the slog south along the Highline Trail with a full load.

Lakes and Squaretop

The Green River Lakes, and Squaretop beyond them, are built on an inhuman scale, so the first part of the hike feels endless. It does not help that the trail follows a rolling path nearer and farther from the water. The trailhead parking lot had been packed, so I was not surprised to meet a horse-packer and several backpacking parties on their way out. These hearty folk seemed in good cheer despite having endured a vicious soaking only hours before. I was already hating my load by the time I crossed the bridge and started up the switchbacks leading to Trail Creek Park, which bypass an impassably narrow part of the Green River gorge. I refilled from a rivulet where the trail levels off, then made a further climb to Vista Pass, where I stopped to eat some pop-tarts and admire my first view of a 13er, Whitecap Peak, across the Green.

Stroud Peak

From here, the trail descends slightly as it returns to the Green, then climbs through talus to Cube Rock Pass. This was once apparently a built-up stock trail, but has decayed in places to a line of cairns. Shoulders sore from the unaccustomed weight, I descended toward Peak Lake and dropped my pack to look for a spot to camp, despite its only being mid-afternoon. Fortunately frustration at a lack of flat sites, plus time without a heavy load, caused me to remember my mission. I put the pack back on, hauled it south over Shannon Pass, then dropped it at a flat spot to tag Bow Peak. This would save me some time the next day, and make use of the unexpectedly pleasant evening weather.

Bow north face

From the pass, I trended up and right on grass, then talus and slabs, finding nothing harder than class 2. I stayed right of the crest along the sloping summit plateau, only approaching the northwest ridge as I neared the top. The steep north sides of Bow, Arrowhead, and American Legion Peaks held some recent snow, and behind them rose the higher Titcomb and Dinwoody peaks in craggy, snowy glory. At last I felt I was in the mountains where I belong, and I reveled in the view, forgetting the day’s grind and the uncertainty ahead. Surprisingly, I also had cell service — the northern Winds are narrow enough that one often has line-of-sight to a Pinedale or Dubois tower — so I messaged a couple of people to share the views and my excitement before returning to camp.

My evening routine was reasonably efficient. First, roll out my bivy with pad and bag already in it, and inflate the pad. Second, boil a pot of water while putting breakfast in my thermos: half a cup of whole powdered milk, half a cup of oats, and a quarter-cup of trail mix. Third, add some of the boiling water to the thermos and use the rest for dinner: four ounces of pepperoni, a half-cup of grits, and a generous pour of olive oil. Finally, rinse the pot, brush my teeth, stuff most of my clothes into the inflater sack for a pillow, and wriggle into my bag for the night. I rarely sleep well while backpacking, and there was almost no moon, so I had plenty of time to admire the Milky Way and brilliant stars so high and far from civilization. Tomorrow the serious peak-bagging would begin.