This August my partner Jamie, aka Flower Power!, and I were able to make a climbing trip to Wyoming’s Wind River Range. When Flower Power! and I started talking about climbing and summer goals, she mentioned the Wind Rivers, but thought it probably wouldn’t happen this year. I had been to the “Winds” in 1993, the last spot I stopped at before heading to Lover’s Leap in Lake Tahoe California. So far this stop at Lover’s Leap has lasted over 27 years. Always wanting to go back to one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, the gears starting turning to make a trip to Wyoming this season. By early summer we had it on the calendar for the third week of August.
The date arrives and we plan to leave after I finish a half day of guided climbing on the East Wall of Lover’s Leap. With the recent massive electrical storms that hit the Bay area and Central coast of California, Flower Power! was delayed helping friends evacuate from the approaching fire storms. Instead of the three o’clock departure, we aren’t able to leave until 10:30 p.m. Looking at a 15 hour drive from Lake Tahoe, we hit the road and see how far we can get. Four hours later we pull off for a quick sleep in Nevada, and we are back at it too soon. Pulling into the Big Sandy Trailhead we are blown away at how many cars are parked there.
It’s now 5:00 p.m., packs are on, and we are hoping to make it to Big Sandy Lake before dark.
Keeping a good steady pace, we make it to Big Sandy with enough light to set up camp, eat dinner, and crash out for some over due sleep. Waking up early the next morning we are fired up to get over Jackass Pass and to the Cirque of the Towers.
Arriving at the camping area of the Cirque, we set up our camp not far from Pingora. Since we will be starting the approach in the dark the following morning, we decide to hike to the base of the Northeast Face of Pingora. This is one of the Fifty Classic climbs of North America, so that means it’s fantastic and popular. Enjoying the hike through this alpine wonderland, we stop many times to look at the stunning crack climbs heading up Pingora, giant boulders, wildlife, flowers, and a dip into Lonesome Lake.
Waking up early, we leave camp at 5:30 and soon see a set of headlamps in front of us, and another pair coming from behind. Scouting the approach the day before, we quickly catch up to the party in front of us. We help them find the start just as two more parties show up. Graciously the ladies in front let us go first, so we make quick work of racking and roping up. The climbing is super fun with corners, cracks, and has small crystal knobs that remind us climbing in Tuolumne. We stretch out the pitches with our 70 meter rope and reach the summit at 9:10.
After snacks, pictures, and laughs, we start our descent down the South Buttress. Before our final rap, I see another station off to the side that appears to heads towards Wolf’s Head. Still early in the day and the weather looking good, I suggest we head over and climb the other 50 classic in the area, the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head.
Flower Power! agrees and we rappel into the gully in between Pingora and Wolf’s Head. After coiling the rope we are back ascending the fourth class ramps and ledges to the start of the ridge. Starting the climb later in the morning works perfect, with all the parties on the climb already well in front of us. Simul climbing the first half moves us quickly over this fantastic and exposed ridge. Once the route starts to weave around the towers, we start to pitch it out to minimize rope drag and keep communication clear.
A few short rappels and scrambling brings us to the backside of the Cirque and over to the Wolf’s Head/Overhanging Tower Col. Since it’s late in the season, there is little snow to negotiate, just soft scree to fill our shoes.
We reach Cirque Lake where I strip down and take a very cold dip in the clear alpine water. At the shore of the lake, we gaze at the amazing Mitchell Peak and decide to climb the 5.9 route up the North face the following day.
After a hearty dinner of dehydrated food that I prepared in the summer, we crash out hard with a early start again planned for the following morning. 4:30 in the morning we hear our alarm accompanied by the sound of a steady rain hitting the fly of our tent. I quickly turn off the alarm and fall back to sleep to the sound of the rain. By 6:30 the rain is just a lite off and on drizzle. We have a leisurely breakfast and watch the clouds become less threatening. Our plans change from Mitchell Peak to a low commitment climb up the South Buttress of Pingora. This route also serves as the descent if the rain comes back in. We aren’t the only party with this idea and find a handful of climbers roping up at the base. With many route options to take, we easily skirt pass parties and are once again on the summit of Pingora, but not alone as the day before.
We descend back to camp, pack up and get ready to hike over to the Deep lake area. After waiting out a brief thunderstorm, we head back over Jackass Pass towards Big Sandy Lake.
Skirting around the north side of Big Sandy brings us to a gentle upward slope through the damp forest. Passing numerous piles of fresh bear poop, we keep our conversation at a higher decibel level. As the light of the day fades, we find a nice flat granite slab to set up our tent and camp just below Haystack Mountain.
Haystack is a beautiful, nearly mile long dome that has a number of classic multi-pitch climbs, some over 1,000 feet. It also has one of the most fun descents, the Grassy Goat Trail!
Our first climb is the Minor Dihedral, a seven pitch 5.9. Climbing up what we think is the start, we soon figure out we are off route. I down climb back to Flower Power!. Moving a little further to the left, we run into the ladies from the first morning on Pingora. We follow them up the first couple of pitches and reach a nice ledge. Once again they let us pass right before we reach the main dihedral that gives the route its name. A fantastic right facing corner that goes for almost 200 feet.
The wind is blowing hard and after the finish of the climb we quickly head down the Grassy Goat Trail. This descent takes a narrow diagonal ledge system with a handful of fourth class down climbs right back to our camp.
Back in camp we relax by the stream, snack, and have a cup of tea. With a few hours left of daylight, I decide to go and solo the North Face of Haystack, a four pith 5.6. The guide book mentions “If it’s windy anywhere in the world, it will be windy here!”. Reaching the base the wind feels like it’s at hurricane strength, which gives me a little apprehension, but also invigorates me. I head up the climb, being pushed around by the wind, but the climbing is easy and straightforward.
Topping out in the nuclear wind, I quickly go down the Grassy Goat Trail for the second time that day.
For our last day of climbing, we decide to climb the Central Corner on Haystack. A six pitch, super clean, right facing corner that goes at 5.9 and somewhat reminds me of an easier version of OZ in Tuolumne Meadows.
After the technical climbing we decide to scramble up to the summit ridge. We have just a light breeze, and the views from on top are amazing!
Once again we head back down the Grassy Goat Trail to camp. We have lunch and decide to go up to check out Deep Lake which is about a twenty minute hike up canyon from our camp. A chilly dip in the lake and a warm granite slab to gaze at our beautiful surroundings. Haystack, Steeple Peak and Temple Peak loom above us. Looking at the guide book, I see there’s a 5.6 ridge traverse starting at Steeple Peak and going north up the ridge of Haystack. I decide to give this a go, and I leave Flower Power! at Deep Lake. I move quickly around the west shore of the lake and up the talus and slabs that lead to Steeple Peak.
Gaining the ridge, I start making my way back to the north. Most of the climbing is third and fourth class with stunning views of the surrounding peaks and lakes. I come upon the crux of the ridge and change out of my approach shoes into my Moccasyms. Going up and down a couple of options, all of which feel harder than 5.6. Scooting around the east side of the ridge and climb a super exposed face that brings me back to the ridge and easier climbing.
For the fourth time, I descend the Grassy Goat Trail back to camp, and I find Flower Power! cooking our last dinner. We talk about how much fun we had been having and wishing we had more food to stay longer. With the remaining light, we have a dance off on the slabs and a game of rock reverse Jenga.
I get up early the next morning and decide to do one more climb before we hike out. Once the sun starts to hit the top of Haystack, I grab my shoes, chalk bag, and water and throw them in my small pack. I head up towards the Grassy Goat Trail to a climb that starts just to its right, Railroad Tracks. This is a six pitch 5.8 that seems like it doesn’t see much traffic. A lot of the cracks are filled with grass and dirt, but the crux sections are clean enough. A couple of 5.8 pitches with easier climbing in between lead me to easier ground not far from the descent.
Having the descent dialed now, I run down the Grassy Goat Trail for the fifth and final time back to camp. We enjoy the last of our coffee and food, then we pack up and head out to Big Sandy opening.
Back to Lover’s Leap
The hike out is quick, but the trail is quite busy since it’s a Saturday. We reach our car a little after noon, throw our packs in, and drive towards Big Sandy Lodge for cheeseburgers and Mountain Dews. After our gut bomb, we are off to our 15 hour drive back to Lake Tahoe and Lover’s Leap. Near the end we switch drivers every hour with the drive taking a toll. We pull back into Strawberry around 3:30 a.m. and take much needed showers and head off to bed.
After breakfast Sunday morning, we drive over to the East Side of Lover’s Leap to do a climb on the East Wall before Flower Power! heads back home. We traverse the base of the wall passing lines of climbers on all the popular climbs. Reaching the last climb on the East Wall, Fandango, we find it empty. A super fun two pitch 5.9 brings us to the top of the wall. We sit on top in silence with big smiles thinking about how rad of a trip we just had!