Trip Report
Wind River Mountains with Jimmie
Monday March 27, 2017 1:15pm
Cirque of the Towers – the name just has a romance about it. To us Gunnisonites it was like the lost city of gold or the fabled fountain of youth, and we were drawn to it in our quest for adventure like moths to a flame. Circa late 1970’s Jimmie Newberry and I had ventured north for a late summer mountaineering session in the Tetons when we stopped off at the Winds on our way back south. We hadn’t a lot of time so were planning a quick in-and-out and hoping for a break from the weather in order to give both Pingora and Wolfs Head a go.

Pingora in the foreground and Wolfs Head in the background, Cirque of ...
Pingora in the foreground and Wolfs Head in the background, Cirque of the Towers.
Credit: Nick Danger

We met up with some like-minded folks in the parking lot and hiked in with them over the aptly named Jackass Pass where the trail rises approximately 300 or 400 ft above the low point in the pass. I don’t believe this pass is named for the local fauna. Also, the weather wasn’t behaving like it had our best interests in mind.

Approaching Jackass Pass.
Approaching Jackass Pass.
Credit: Nick Danger
The towers in the cirque, the weather in our face.
The towers in the cirque, the weather in our face.
Credit: Nick Danger
Looking down into the Cirque of the Towers from the vicinity of Jackas...
Looking down into the Cirque of the Towers from the vicinity of Jackass Pass.
Credit: Nick Danger

Our first morning in the cirque dawned not rainy so Jimmie and I went on a walk-about to see what the place had to offer, and to scout out the approaches to Wolfs Head and Pingora. We accidently took a rope and a rack with us because, well, that’s just the kind of guys we are. We found some nice crags for some warm-up climbs before committing ourselves to an alpine start the following morning.

Jimmie in the Cirque.
Jimmie in the Cirque.
Credit: Nick Danger
Jimmie belaying on our crag de jour.
Jimmie belaying on our crag de jour.
Credit: Nick Danger
Yer loyal scribe leading up a pleasant little crack.
Yer loyal scribe leading up a pleasant little crack.
Credit: Nick Danger

Everyone else camping within our vicinity were going to Pingora and it was obviously going to be a bit crowded up there, so Jimmy and I placed our marker on Wolfs Head for the day. That afternoon back in camp Jimmie and I were approached by a climber from Devils Lake, Wisconsin, who wanted to know if he could tag along with us on our sojourn to Wolfs Head. He had never climbed in the mountains before and was somewhat overwhelmed by the scale of things in the Cirque. My memory for names is not even the envy of 2-year-olds, but I think our new friend’s name was Jeff. Given the difficulty of the routes at Devils Lake, he was a solid rock climber but a newbie to genteel pastime of mountaineering. Of course we said yes, and the following morning at first light we were off bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Wolfs Head.
Wolfs Head.
Credit: Nick Danger

We eagerly scrambled to the point in the ridge where the south Ridge route starts, then romped our way along the ridge towards the start of the actual climbing. Although Jimmie and I felt right at home jumping down some of the drops and scrambling over minor pinnacles along the narrow ridge unroped, our new colleague Jeff from Wisconsin was nonplussed by the exposure and our rather casual attitude towards it.

Scrambling and romping along the ridge.
Scrambling and romping along the ridge.
Credit: Nick Danger
More romping.
More romping.
Credit: Nick Danger
Jimmie waiting for the other romper roomers to catch up.
Jimmie waiting for the other romper roomers to catch up.
Credit: Nick Danger
Looking back across the south ridge towards Pingora.
Looking back across the south ridge towards Pingora.
Credit: Nick Danger

Where the ridge angled up there was a bomber crack for jamming but the angle was still low enough for safe 3rd classing. At the top of this section we decided to ease the discomfort of our new friend Jeff and rope up from this point forward.

Jimmie 3rd classing the crack.
Jimmie 3rd classing the crack.
Credit: Nick Danger
The Jeff scrambling up to our rope-up point.
The Jeff scrambling up to our rope-up point.
Credit: Nick Danger
Jimmie belaying farther up the south ridge.
Jimmie belaying farther up the south ridge.
Credit: Nick Danger

There comes a point along the ridge where large exfoliation cracks yield a nice traverse and chimney system around on the left (west) side of the ridge. None of this is even moderately difficult climbing, but the rock is sound and the setting is nothing short of spectacular. Added to this were the clouds moving in, which added a very “Lost World” vibe to the whole enterprise. I half expected pterodactyls to come soaring out of the mists.

Jimmie working his way into the chimney system.
Jimmie working his way into the chimney system.
Credit: Nick Danger
Jeff traversing around the side of the ridge on the exfoliation crack.
Jeff traversing around the side of the ridge on the exfoliation crack.
Credit: Nick Danger
More Jeff, more traversing as the weather closes in.  Pterodactyls fai...
More Jeff, more traversing as the weather closes in. Pterodactyls failed to make an appearance, however.
Credit: Nick Danger

By and by, we achieved the summit in a total white-out. It was quite eerie; we couldn’t see squat, couldn’t hear squat because of the way the cloud damped out all noise from the basin, yet the air was almost dead calm. Working our way north and down the ridge off the summit, we came to the rap anchors. We had not brought any route descriptions with us and had failed to memorize any details about the descent. And we couldn’t see anything. After threading our ropes through the anchors and initially tossing them off the right side of the ridge, I looked apprehensively as the ropes hung free down into the mist. I had a bad feeling about all of it. We reconsidered our options and decided to rap off the left side of the ridge instead. It was a wise choice. We found additional anchors right where they should be just as we slipped below the cloud base and were down in two easy raps.

Jimmie at the 2nd rap anchors just as the clouds started to lift.
Jimmie at the 2nd rap anchors just as the clouds started to lift.
Credit: Nick Danger

A grand time was had by all and Jeff was quite taken with his first mountaineering experience. The following morning found us enveloped in icky, poopy, and yucky weather, with no idea how long it would last. We elected to pack it up and head out. We were young enough at the time to think we had all the time in the world to return and pick off Pingora. While I certainly do not regret not climbing it in the rain that day, I do rather regret never going back. My good friend John Ferguson did go into the “Circus of the Towers” some years later and reported that Pingora is well and truly worth the effort to go back over Jackass Pass. That being said, I would love to return to Wolfs Head as well, if I could convince my crabby knees to give Jackass Pass one more try.

  Trip Report Views: 3,313
Nick Danger
About the Author
Nick Danger is a ice climber from Arvada, CO.

Comments
thebravecowboy

climber
The Good Places
  Mar 27, 2017 - 01:58pm PT
ST gold!
WyoRockMan

climber
Grizzlyville, WY
  Mar 27, 2017 - 02:28pm PT
Way cool!
SteveW

Trad climber
The state of confusion
  Mar 27, 2017 - 02:43pm PT

Is Jimmy wearing a Whillans harness there, Nick?
Awesome! Though I couldn't make it this year (upcoming shoulder surgery), we could give it a try next year. . . (I did Pingora with
Kent Lugbill in '77, but we didn't get Wolf's Head. So we could reverse the acquisitions)!
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Mar 27, 2017 - 06:47pm PT
Beautiful classic peak. Good friends. Moody photos and writing that took me there like it was yesterday. Just what I needed on a Monday morning. Fantastic adventure. Thanks for sharing.


Scott
EdBannister

Mountain climber
13,000 feet
  Mar 27, 2017 - 09:57pm PT
thank you for posting
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Mar 28, 2017 - 02:58am PT
Really nice Nick, I've always loved that place!
Cheers!
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

climber
Out Of Bed
  Mar 28, 2017 - 05:20am PT
as always wow, awesome, sweetness,



Thinking of linking this to one or all of the Wyoming threads.?

[Click to View YouTube Video]]



Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
Author's Reply  Mar 28, 2017 - 05:39am PT
Gnome, You always deliver the song goods in a major way, thank you majorly for that.

SteveW, Yes on the Willans harness. Good luck with the shoulder surgery, I had to have mine done in '78. The rebuilt shoulder has not stopped me from doing the many things I love to do, but it has acted as a buffer on over doing things I love. Example, very long bike rides or motorcycle rides get painful towards the end of the day.

Cheers to all for reading and enjoying. It pleases me to honor my friends and share our adventures.
ydpl8s

Trad climber
Santa Monica, California
  Mar 28, 2017 - 08:39am PT
Another nice one "Nick"! There are a bunch of old Devils Lake climbers on this site. I'll bet some of them know exactly who your Jeff character is.

At that time of year you probably avoided the mosquito scourge, good on ya.
Moss
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Mar 28, 2017 - 08:55am PT
Nice....thanks for the great TR!
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Mar 29, 2017 - 05:31pm PT
Thanks for reminiscing. Your TRs have been some of the best material posted here of late!

Both routes are classics and well worth doing.

I was in there with Brad Udall back in the mid seventies and would love to go back again. You can get pretty far in on horseback if your knees are really the issue. I don't think horses go past Jackass Pass though.
Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
Author's Reply  Mar 30, 2017 - 05:48am PT
Thank you, Steve, for both the kind comment and the excellent advice about horse packing. Perhaps I shall yet get my aging self back to the Cirque.
cheers
nora daddy

Trad climber
Memphis, TN
  Mar 30, 2017 - 06:29am PT
Damn the knees, hire a beast of burden to carry your gear. Will save your knees and your energy and you'll be ready to climb when you get there. Talked to some guys who did it and it's my plan when I go back. Great report I to want to go back.
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Mar 30, 2017 - 07:13am PT
Great tr in such a special place. Just hiking in the winds is great but climbing puts it over the top.
ddriver

Trad climber
SLC, UT
  Mar 30, 2017 - 07:50am PT
I don't think horses go past Jackass Pass though.

Correct, but I've seen llamas and goats used to get over Jackass. There is/was at least one outfitter offering this service.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Mar 31, 2017 - 06:30pm PT
Does anyone know if camping is allowed at Cirque Lake these days?
Go