Friday, July 26th
After climbing, we headed back into town and cooked up black bean tacos, while organizing or loading up our packs. Doug wound up getting too excited with a bag of flour and before long all the interior and exteriors of the cars, along with all the gear, was coated in a layer of white dust.
After successfully jamming our packs with ridiculous quantities… and with ridiculous weight… we were ready to go. We all got in our cars and drove towards Big Sandy Trailhead to sleep for the night.
Saturday, July 27th
We had a slow, relaxed morning, despite our original plan to wake up early and hit the trail. We talked and laughed over peanut butter/banana/apple sandwiches and coffee. Sometime after 11:00 we parted ways with Seth and Max and made our way to trailhead.
As we ate lunch, a group came off the trail and realized they were locked out of their car. When they decided that they would just smash the window, Doug came to their assistance and enthusiastically took a trailer hitch to the window.
At 12:30 pm we finally started to hike. The first 5ish miles were easy hiking and seemed to fly by. The remainder of the 9 miles to the Cirque are said to be a heinous hike through an area named Jackass Pass. As we were beginning this section, storms began to roll in, so we decided that Dave and Alex would pump water, while Doug scouted out a place to take shelter and wait out the storm. After last seeing Doug walk by us without his pack, we waited for him to return. Forty-five minutes of wondering where Doug went, why he wasn’t back, and where his pack was, lead us to decide to continue along the trail and hope to find him. About a mile up the trail, we spotted his red bandana tucked under a rock on the side of the trail… and then spotted Doug ready to nap underneath a huge pile of boulders. We joined him, and cooked up some baby-back rib flavored rice while we waited for the rain to end.
A few more miles of hiking brought us to the climbers trail through a talus field. Beautiful views began to come into view. Could this REALLY be The Cirque??? This hike was not nearly bad enough based on the reports we read. We finally (joyously) accepted the fact that we WERE in The Cirque and the hike was not as bad as we expected with our overloaded heavy packs. We scouted out a killer area to set-up camp, cooked some dinner, and headed to bed.
Sunday, July 28th
We declared a rest day and slept in. We perched ourselves on what we referred to as “Scout Rock,” soaked in the amazing views, familiarized ourselves with the peaks, and picked out an area to hike towards for our rest day activity.
As rest days for us typically go, it was not what most would consider restful. It turned into a 12ish mile hike towards the top of a mountain. Along the way, Alex began to feel altitude sickness setting in (headache, fatigue, sucking for air). Altitude sickness has no rhyme or reason for who or when it will hit. So, despite the fact we had spent a good deal of time in high altitude this summer it struck. Alex waited along the side of the trail, napping and enjoying the views, while Dave and Doug continued on towards the summit. Two hours later, Dave crept around Alex from behind in bear-like fashion to scare Alex, while Doug caught it all on tape. Turns out they never actually reached the summit; it was too far to reach before the afternoon storms would roll in.
Along the way back to camp, we spotted an elk with a large rack that ran away before we could snap a picture, and a moose that Dave scared out of the woods unintentionally and then proceeded to run after.
After arriving back at camp, Doug cooked us a delicious dinner of fried polenta with a red wine sauce (yeah… who cooks like this on a camp stove???) Despite the deliciousness of the meal, we were still hungry, and Doug proceeded cook more dinner while getting food all over camp. Apparently, Doug makes an even bigger mess around camp with food than Alex.
We went to sleep that night, dreaming of a 12-pitch climb on Pingora.
Monday, July 29th
At 4:45 am, the alarm woke us from our sleep. In the morning darkness and chill we began to ready ourselves for the day. Breakfast would be a hearty one… cream chipped beef…. not from a foil packet of dehydrated backpacker food either! Alex knew the altitude sickness still had her…. her head was aching and she had no desire to eat… she always wakes up ravenous! She sadly resolved in her mind that she wouldn’t be able to climb, but didn’t want to admit it aloud. Dave recognized her current state, and she agreed she needed to stay back and acclimate.
Dave and Doug set off over what they referred to as 6 pitches of talus to reach the base of East Face Left (5.7) on Pingora. Along the way they eyed up the lines of the climb and grumbled over their dissatisfaction with the writer of the guidebook.
About forty-five minutes later, they were gearing up at the base, when Doug realized he had forgotten an important piece of gear back at camp… his climbing shoes. He decided to tackle the climb in his big, bulky, insulated hunting boots. Not exactly the best footwear for the activity!
Dave climbs an entire 60 meter rope length, ignoring Doug’s persistent/unwanted “beta” from below. Dave wants another 15 feet… so Doug decides to climb up 15 feet to give him the extra length. Along the way, Dave traversed a hand crack, and protected it with tricams. As Doug followed, he decided to traverse with his feet in the crack, which meant he had to clean the gear at his feet… quite an awkward task, especially with his gargantuan stature. When Doug arrives at the belay station, Dave notices something is amiss with the Camelbak tubes coming from the pack Doug is wearing… the bite valves are missing and water is dripping out. Doug assures Dave that all is well… he has one in his pocket and is confident the other is at the base of the climb.
Seeing the weather had the look of impending doom, they decided to bail from the climb and return to camp. This is the last point off the wall for 5-7 more pitches. They successfully rappelled off of a sketchy boulder (luckily it did not move). Along the way back to camp, they bashed the guidebook author more, this time for his claim that no large gear is needed for the climb. In typical Dave fashion, he ignored this information and took a hearty rack. He was glad he did, since all that remained on his sling after the climb was his smaller pieces of gear. They also bashed (literally, baseball pitch style) the illogical and random cairns that are all over the place, providing no clear trail. They did not just destroy, however, they also rebuilt a new cairn system along the way.
The remainder of the day involved lots of eating, followed by several storms with heavy rain and winds. During the first storm, Dave and Doug began to trench around their sides of the tent to pull the water away from us and our gear. During a break in storms, a full-blown trench was created all around the tent. The “Mississippi River” proved to provide good protection from the rain.
Around 1:00am, Dave and Alex awoke to hear screams of “HELP US!” from Pingora. Upon getting out the of tent, headlamps flashing their “S.O.S.” signal could be seen on the mountain, as well as lights towards the bottom and on the climbers trail along the side. Knowing the climbers were already receiving help, and we had next to no knowledge about the mountain, we stayed put in our site. Falling back to sleep was difficult, and we spent a lot of time discussing the climbers’ situation, and what other skills we would like to add to our knowledge base. We later learned a local climber, named Jerome, hiked up the talus and trail in the dark and rain, and lowered sleeping bags and coats to them, so they could make it through the cold and rainy night, and be rescued in the morning.
Tuesday, July 30th
After the previous night’s occurrences, we slept in until after 8:30, and ruled out climbing for the day, since it was already too late in the morning and potential rain clouds were looming. We spent the day further exploring our gorgeous surroundings and relaxing, and practicing setting anchors and gear in the rocks around camp.
The highlight of the day was hiking to Hidden Lake and rummaging through the piles for “cool rocks.” We struck gold, or fools gold more likely, inside many of the rocks. This propelled the rock smashing and searching. Before long there was a pile of rocks we HAD to keep, and Alex begrudgingly filled her pockets to overflowing levels before heading back to camp for the night. Along the way back, Dave struck REAL gold… a package of coffee buried under a pile of rocks. Despite a few nibble marks on the package, it was an AWESOME find, since we did not bring any coffee along.
Wednesday, July 31st
We awoke at 4:15am to climb the South Buttress (5.8) of Pingora. This climb began from a ledge more than halfway up the mountain, and followed 3 pitches of climbing and 300ft of scrambling to the summit. After some cowboy coffee, and one scant Larabar each, we began the approach to the climb over talus fields, switchbacks and slabs.
As we neared the start of the climb, we geared up and stashed our packs under some rocks in case it rained while we were on the route. We took pictures as we watched the looming clouds move away, then scrambled to the start of our climb.
The first two pitches went smoothly, though a few sprinkles of rain and flurries of snow did fly. On pitch three, known as the K-Cracks, hail began to fall and pelt Dave as he lead this awesome pitch.
We joyously scrambled up the last 300ft to the summit, where the winds died down, the skies cleared, and we had beautiful views of The Cirque.
Three rappels brought us back to the flattish ground a few hundred feet from our packs. We gathered up our gear and made our way back towards camp, passing many groups who were on their way up to the start of the climbs.
The remainder of the day was spent eating (notice a trend here?), sunbathing on rocks (perhaps to the dismay of a passersby or two…), and finally breaking into the celebratory wine. Something in the evening’s meals did not sit well in the stomachs of Dave and Doug…. much to Alex’s dismay. A three-person tent, and the effects of chili, make for a really stinky situation!
Thursday, August 1st
The 4:15am alarm went off, but we stayed in our sleeping bags after realizing the tent was quite wet, and the climb on our schedule was one that would not go smoothly with wet conditions. After sleeping for a few more hours, Doug talked us into hiking to the top of Warrior II, which involved going through the scary looking Wisconsin Couloir.
We decided that we would hike out of The Cirque after this, since supplies were beginning to run low, and the crazy weather was beginning to wear on us. We packed up camp, stashed our packs and ourselves under a large overhanging boulder just in time to avoid a storm.
Once the storm cleared, we made our way across the talus, through the pass/couloir, and up more talus to the summit. We dined on salami and cheese near the summit before heading back to our packs.
Once back at our gear, we began our 9 mile trek back to the car. Once through Jackass Pass, the going would be easy flat to slightly downhill for the remaining 6 miles. After the days hike up Warrior II, dehydration, fatigue, and a heavy pack had Alex stumbling up the last of the uphill. Doug did what Dougs do (definition of Dougs: human or not quite, with unbelievable strength at opportune times, useful in a pinch, causes extreme destruction, both positive and negative, cooks well, breaks things and makes many messes)… he made her take off her pack (she thought he just wanted her to rest for a bit), strapped it to his front, a took off the remaining section of uphill. At the top, we stopped to chat with a couple who were scouting out climbs. Feeling revived and rehydrated, Alex made a huge turn around and the three of us made spectacular time crushing the remaining mileage with her in the lead. Actually, Doug was so excited to be back at the car he ran the last half mile despite the heavy load on his back.
We managed to make it to the car before rain began to fall again, tossed in the gear, and mauled Doritos and PowerAde as we made our way back to Pinedale in search of real food. That night we dined on pizza, burgers and wings at the Coral Bar before heading to a dispersed camping area to spend the night.