We decided we would hike in on a Saturday, take a look around and then fire it Sunday taking as long as we needed. Having never been to the Cirque and not knowing any of the trail beta or route beta we figured we had a good shot at doing it in a day from camp. However the weather had other ideas. At the trailhead on Saturday morning at Big Sandy we met some Scots who assured us that the rain that was beginning to fall was no big deal so we forged ahead into the wilderness, eternal optimists in running shorts we were not dissuaded. It rained the whole way in, which turned to hail at Jackass Pass, which turned to heavy snow in the Cirque. With the amount of unroped travel we intended on doing, this was essentially a non starter for our team. We ended up sitting in a cave staving off hypothermia by drinking coffee and eating a ton of food, all the while wondering "WWPCD" (What Would Peter Croft Do). Eventually we decided to drop some elevation and make camp in case the morning dawned clear and sunny, which was not what ended up happening at all. We woke to more rain and clouds, but by 8 am the sky was blue and the weather was again splitter. Knowing we were in no position for a proper attempt on the Traverse we decided to pull a page from my book of shenanigans and "Take a look" (note to the reader, if you ever hear me say that phrase, you are about to get sandbagged). We made it out to Pingora relatively quickly and were able to traverse all the way out to the Shark's Nose before route finding and the advancing hour forced us to bail. All in all we managed Pingora, Tiger Tower, Wolf's Head, and Overhaning Tower but at a brutally slow time of 7 hours from the base of Pingora. Rapping down the col beneath Shark's Nose we knew that the keys to success on the next round would be much faster movement (we pitched some parts out, we weren't aggressive about passing parties, we took a lot of rappels that led nowhere) and a familiarity of terrain (we had no idea where we were going or what the routes climbs like).
On the walk out of the Winds we decided that we were coming back in 3 weeks time to fire the Traverse, and that we were going to do it car to car, hopefully in less than 24 hrs.
"A modern day warrior
Mean, mean stride
Today's Tom Sawyer
Mean, mean pride"
With those lyrics blaring from our stereo we made our way up north once again to tackle the Cirque Traverse. Working non stop the last 2 weeks around Outdoor Retailer has left me with a ton of enthusiasm and pent up energy, no better place than the Winds to capitalize on that energy.
The plan was as follows:
Leave Salt Lake mid day and drive to the Big Sandy Trailhead. Sleep for 2 hours and cast off at midnight towards the Cirque.
Bring a minimal rack (5 runners, 10 loose biners, 4 nuts, 3 cams, 3 lockers, 1 nut tool, and a 70m 8.1mm rope we would fold in half).
Carry little to no water on the approach and just pound water at every creek via a Life Straw (thanks Rick and Jesse for the ProTip)
Fill up at the Cirque for the water needed on route
This time around we had a purported splitter weather forecast and some familiarity with the terrain. We met a couple of guys in the parking lot who had done the traverse the day before from their camp near North Lake. Seemed totally doable now and with that confidence we set the alarm for 11:30PM and crawled into our sleeping bags.
The alarm went off and we bolted upright. Pounded a ton of water, ate some food, crushed some Red Bulls, and hit the trail. Within 5 minutes Bryan was puking up a lot of that water and food. Not a great start as the strategy hinged on pre-hyrdation and constant motion. We told ourselves that no matter what we needed to maintain momentum and that would be the key. Bryan quickly recovered with some slurping from the next stream and we just flew down the trail in the darkness. Before we knew it we were in the Cirque and hoped we’d see our friends Greg (Grippa of ST fame) and his lady Kristin who were also going to attempt the Traverse this weekend but in our evening daze and fast pace we must have missed them.
We were tied in and starting up Pingora at 4am, having dispatched the 10 miles of trail quickly, we turned our attention to the climbing. The technical climbing on the Traverse keeps on you until you are off of Block Tower, about half way in. Our strategy this time around was that we would climb each tower in a single simul block, swapping leads at every tower. With our rack of 7 pieces we didn’t really have to place much gear (nor could we), allowing us to climb the towers in roughly 30-45 minutes each. Our only real delay this day was when we topped out Pingora at 4:30am it started to rain pretty hard, which did not work with our strategy at all. We ended up rapping down and then waiting for the dawn to see how extensive the storm cell was. We also had to do this because the lichen on the slab start of Wolfs Head was super slick and did not bode well for simuling or soloing those pitches. So much for that splitter weather. We waited it out for about 20 minutes and with the rising sun and some wind, we were back in action. The rapping ended up being a time suck and took about 1 hour per tour. On this round we arrived at the base of the Shark’s Nose (our previous high point) in around 4 hours instead of 7. Familiarity with terrain is irreplaceable. The next few towers went just as quickly and then we were done with the technical climbing. Only the slogging remained.
And there was a lot of slogging. One summit after another after another. We were running low on energy and very low on water when we arrived at the summit of Warrior thinking we were on Warbonnet (note this is where unfamiliarity with the terrain beyond Shark’s Nose hosed us) only to look further down the way and see Warbonnet still a ways off. For the honest tick we had to slog on. We arrived at the summit of Warbonnet happy but still fully aware there were many miles still to go for us, and not really sure how to get back to trail. After endless amounts of scree scrambling and dirt gullies we popped out near North Lake and began the trudge back to the car. Sucking out of streams with the Life Straw was a much needed boost in morale as darkness came once again and we found ourselves running low on energy, conversation, and stoke. The Cirque Traverse behind us, we rolled into the parking lot, 22 hours 47 minutes and 32 seconds after we had departed. We pulled off our shoes and threw our sleeping bags on the ground, but we didn’t dare pass out before clinking the bottles of our celebratory beers.