Trip Report
Pingora (NE Face)
Sunday January 5, 2014 6:35pm
2012-08-22 - Pingora NE Face closeup of the upper part of the route.
2012-08-22 - Pingora NE Face closeup of the upper part of the route.
Credit: PellucidWombat

Pingora reminds me of a longer, more sustained, more alpine, and overall more difficult climb than the Regular Route of Fairview Dome in California's Tuolumne Meadows. This route ranks among one of my all-time favorite 5.8 climbs. The face, while quite large and intimidating, holds a beauty of a route. The line seems improbable, but weaknesses link together just right to keep the climbing at a moderate grade. The climb also has two distinct characters: lower down the angle is shallower and the cracks are more flared, so it is more friction and face-like climbing at 5.7, but higher up, as the angle increases, the cracks split deeper and cleaner, so the climbing is mostly very nice 5.7 hand and fist jamming.

Pingora NE Face closeup of the upper part of the route.

Pingora NE Face

Pingora NE Face

After linking the South Buttress of Pingora and Wolf's Head the day before, Thomas and I were eager for more of the great climbing that the Cirque held. The weather was looking better today, so it was on!

Although there were two parties ahead of us, we took our time getting started and although we gained on them, we never quite caught up to them when climbing. Still, we finished the route in only 5.5 hours from the base, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the summit and move our camp down to the lower meadow to be closer to Warrior I and War Bonnet for the following days. This climb had consistently stellar pitches of fairly sustained 5.7 climbing. It is one of the best routes I have done, and every pitch was different and interesting.

Alpenglow above Cirque Lake.

Alpenglow on Overhanging Tower.

War Bonnet in the morning.

Wolf's Head in the morning.

NE Face of Pingora seen from below.

NE Face of Pingora headwall. The route ascends cracks and chimneys on the left side.

The first pitch is strange in that it has no obvious beginning. Terrain turns into exposed friction slab, so we belayed from there, but simul-climbed to keep the traverse to one pitch. There is one 5.8 friction part, so you want to be belaying before that! If I recall correctly, Thomas had a bit of difficulty leading the 5.8 part until he found that staying a bit lower than one would think was key. After that strange first pitch, the climb picks up fast.

We had only brought one set of cams up to a #4 Camalot, and I suck at liebacks and friction climbing, so I was a bit out of my comfort zone on the first pitch, as it was sustained, but also long so I had to conserve gear. I guess in the end it forced me to climb a little faster instead of fiddling with gear.

P2, the most sustained pitch of the route, and pretty long! I had tunnel vision and tried to climb the corner. Don't do that! Climb the face to the left and then step in at the little roof. This corner is slick, steep, and there is no pro in that seam until the stepover.

Looking up P3 and the fun little roof (5.7).

P4 5.8 arcing lieback and stem to start. It eases up a lot after turning the corner.

P4 easier terrain.

P5 seam. Not quite as bad as it looks, but you do have limited options for pro and jams.

Climbers on P7 and P9. As the route got steeper, the climbing got less slabby and the seams opened up to jam cracks, keeping the difficulty remarkably consistent.

Climber leading the wide section of P7. Oddly, the #4 cam needed for that pitch protects a lieback at the end. All of the wide climbing was protected by smaller pro.

Thomas arriving at the P4 belay.

Warrior I from Pingora.

P5 piton

P6.5 and P7. Thomas had gone partway into P6, allowing me to make an easy linkup of the rest of P6 and P7. P6 traverses right from here into a corner and to a ledge beneath the 3 corners above. P7 has the 5.8 wide crux of the route and ascends the left of the 3 corners. I think the right corner is the 5.9 lieback variation.

Finishing P6, just reaching the traverse ledge to the 5.8 wide on P7 (far left crack).

The notorious 5.8 wide wasn't that bad. Really it was more just tight, awkward jamming deep inside the crack as you paste your body into the flare. I was expecting to be pushing the #4 Camalot up with me as I wriggled up the thing, but the crack really only took #1-#3 Camalots . . . until the end, where you flip out into a lieback and make a blind placement with the #4 to protect the last 10 ft.

P7 wide. Yummy.

Following P8. The route is definitely getting steeper! More jamming and less friction now.

P9 5.8 step across. A nice hand crack on the right takes you to a tricky step across to access the left corner. With 70m ropes I linked this with P10 to finish.

P10 easy chimney. I'd call it 5.6, but you have to know how to chimney to get that rating! No cheating :-P

I've heard some people call the 'easy chimney' pitch not so easy. I'd call it easy. It just is honest. If you are solid at old school 5.6 Valley chimneys, it is easy. If you aren't . . . well there is some groveling to be had, but the chimney is short and well protected.

Mitchell Pk from the top of the NE Face.

We could have taken the standard south side rappels, but as we were familiar with the rappels to the Tiger Tower notch where we could supposedly downclimb at cl. 4 directly to our camp, we chose the more familiar line. This time, knowing better, we kept the rappels short, used a EDK, and made much better time down than the day before.

Wolf's Head seen on the Pingora descent down the gully between Tiger Tower and Pingora.

Downclimbing the gully was interesting because near the end it cliffs out. I don't see how it is cl. 4. Or at least it is easy to take the wrong way down! We traverse out along some promising ledges on the Pingora side of the chute and ended up in some iffy cl. 5 terrain. Once it was apparent that it would only get worse, we rigged a rappel, and with doubles we were able to make it to the ground in one rappel.

Warrior I seen from the Pingora descent.


After 3 full days of hiking and climbing, Thomas and I were ready for a break. So we took a rest day and wandered around the cirque for some picturesque views. It was a very relaxed day in a very beautiful place! Even if you have an ambitious climbing plan, I highly recommend leaving aside at least one day to just hike around and enjoy the views.

Pingora S Side from camp.

The Watchtower

Warrior I

Pingora above Lonesome Lake.

Cirque of the Towers Panorama. (click to enlarge to give it justice!)

Mitchell Peak above Lonesome Lake.

Watchtower to Pingora seen from camp.

We felt VERY solid at the proficiency that we knocked off the South Buttress of Pingora, Wolf's Head, and especially the NE Face of Pingora. While the climbing ratings are definitely stout and old school, it seemed that the grades were light. Because of this, we expected to make short work of the NE Face of War Bonnet the next day, and use our left over energy to go for Fred Beckey's classic 5.9 on Warrior I after. Oops.

Cirque of the Towers at night. Lights are from climbers descending Wolf's Head and Pingora. Stragglers . . . :-P

For rack we just brought 1 set of nuts and one set of cams from #00 C3 to #4 C4 Camalots. This sufficed for all of our climbs in the Cirque, although a double rack to a #2 would make the NE Face of Pingora somewhat more comfortable. The #4 is semi-optional on that climb, depending on your comfort with liebacks.

Just as for any climb in the Rocky Mountains range, expect some amount of afternoon storms and lightning. Start early and aim to be done earlier in the day if you don't want to take chances with safety and success on a route.

As far as bugs, we totally lucked out. Between a dry winter and coming late in the season, there weren't any! Which meant we could enjoy the everpresent Pika squeaks and sublime alpine meadow camps to their fullest. The place was so nice that my last night there I forewent the tent and slept out on a granite slab under the stars.

Personal Website
Photo Album Links:
2012-08-21 - NE Face of Pingora (IV, 5.8, 10P)
2012-08-22 - CoT Rest Day

Other Cirque of the Tower Trip Reports:
South Buttress of Pingora and East Ridge of Wolf's Head Linkup
War Path on Warbonnet, NE Face, Left

  Trip Report Views: 7,090
About the Author
PellucidWombat is a mountain climber from Berkeley, CA.

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Nor Cal
  Jan 5, 2014 - 06:36pm PT
somebody help this guy, he's out of control. strong work again!

  Jan 5, 2014 - 06:42pm PT

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Jan 5, 2014 - 06:49pm PT
Yeah, these have been 90% finished for a long time. Finally getting around to throwing them up since I have spare time on my hands! I have some good, more obscure climbs to finish up later. While I can't climb, this is a good way to stay motivated for recovery :-)
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jan 5, 2014 - 06:55pm PT
You're On a roll, wombat!!!

Social climber
  Jan 5, 2014 - 07:09pm PT
Seriously, I can't believe it, but Wombat...who needs guidebooks? All I need to do is bring these 2 TR's with me. Another great job on a detailed TR (I mean, everything jives with what I've seen while there and my guidebooks). Now you could make my trip prep REALLY easy....did you get to Mt. Hooker too?

El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
  Jan 5, 2014 - 07:15pm PT
That's a great route.
Thanks for the memories.

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
  Jan 5, 2014 - 09:40pm PT
Thanks PW . . . Beautiful

Oakland, CA
  Jan 5, 2014 - 11:41pm PT
Oh my god. The pics are spectacular.

If I stare at 'em long enough I feel a faint pull to (gasp!) drive farther than Yosemite and (double gasp!) climb something outside of California. You're dangerously broadening my honed-to-a-pinpoint taste for climbing strictly on Valley granite... Blocking your avatar with the add-on before this goes too far.

Thanks for the share, Mark.

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Jan 6, 2014 - 12:23am PT
F*#king awesome, informative, well written and succinct. Thanks.

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA/Boulder, CO
  Jan 6, 2014 - 01:14am PT
BITD, there used to be many more grass hummocks on P5 and P6. It was a bit of a dilemma to use the hummocks as footholds understanding what might happen if one of them let go while you were standing on it.

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Jan 6, 2014 - 01:23am PT
Jeeze, I can appreciate that! The terrain on those two pitches did remind me a bit of some of the hummock wonderlands I've encountered in Yosemite (but more cleaned out). Nothing quite like pulling a mantle onto one and hoping it doesn't rip off.
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
  Jan 6, 2014 - 11:24am PT
The Wind River Mountains, what a great place!!! Thanks for posting.

  Jan 6, 2014 - 11:26am PT
Thanks for that stoke! Pingora has been on my tick list ever since I saw a photo of it...

sigh....every year I think "maybe next year I'll get over there"....

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Jan 7, 2014 - 04:07pm PT
Now you could make my trip prep REALLY easy....did you get to Mt. Hooker too?

Haha, unfortunately, no. But that is on the short list next time I get back there, along some others in the broader Winds, the NE Face of Warrior I, Cirque Traverse . . . maybe more stuff on War Bonnet :-)

If I stare at 'em long enough I feel a faint pull to (gasp!) drive farther than Yosemite and (double gasp!) . . . Blocking your avatar with the add-on before this goes too far.

Dangit LeBrce, you're on to me! One of these days I've gotta lure you farther afield for some alpine climbs with me - take the LeBruce/Wombat Yosemite Power Combo to higher altitudes :-)

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Jan 7, 2014 - 04:47pm PT
As always, PW, your trip report is superb. I'd always wanted to climb the NE face ever since the (remarkably straightforward) description appeared in the Vulgarian Digest in early 1971 or so. Now I really want to climb there.

Thanks again for your continuously excellent work.


Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Jan 7, 2014 - 07:33pm PT
Nice TR! You know how to pick out the good that climb. First time i did it in the early 70's i saw a Fisher ambling along at the base.
Crag Q

Trad climber
Louisville, Colorado
  Sep 2, 2015 - 05:53am PT
Great write up and photos.

Trad climber
The state of confusion
  Sep 2, 2015 - 07:46am PT
Another stellar report from PW.

Great stuff, lads!

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
  Sep 2, 2015 - 08:01am PT
What a stellar collection of photos of this most beautiful area!
Strong work.
norm larson

wilson, wyoming
  Sep 2, 2015 - 03:10pm PT
One of my favorite routes anywhere. Easily the best alpine rock 5.8 I know of. I think I've done it more than 10 times over the past 40 years. Each time is a delight. There used to be a lot of grass hummocks on the hummock pitch that were quite quivery. Exciting, now they are gone and every stopper placement is cleaned out ready to drop a nut into. Nice pictures. Thanks for the great TR.

Trad climber
Tacoma, WA
  Sep 2, 2015 - 04:33pm PT
Amazing looking place, hope to get there next year if I can.
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