Into The Cirque

But before I tell you that story, let me tell you this one.

Exploring Wyoming's Outdoors

Four years ago, I was living a summer that ended with a month of Wyoming mountains. It was a month with no job, no school, and no responsibilities, and was my last chance to enjoy my home state before I left for Japan. I used the time to bike and camp in Curt Gowdy State Park, climb in Sinks Canyon, hike in Yellowstone and the Tetons. I wore the same shirt for far too long, showered far too little, and enjoyed the hell out of falling in love my with countryside one last time before I left it.

336402_10150361760377792_1823749006_o
Hiking through Lamar Valley, Yellowstone
Hiking up Cascade Canyon in the Tetons, with a greasehawk
Hiking up Cascade Canyon in the Tetons, with a greasehawk

Then, at the end of it all, I backpacked into the Winds for the first time.

We entered the Winds at Big Sandy Trailhead, which was overflowing with cars on Labor Day weekend. We made came six miles in at Big Sandy Lake, and in the morning, I made the decision that I would do no more hiking. The Tetons had taken it out of me (and my feet), and nothing sounded so nice as just doing nothing in the mountains for a change. So that's what I did.

IMG_1146
At Big Sandy Lake, in the Winds, doing nothing and feeling great about it four years ago.

My fellow backpackers dayhiked to the Cirque of Towers, and told me all about the mountains that were back in there, and how gorgeous it was, and, and.... But I was content with my month of Wyoming, and knew I'd have a chance to see the Cirque in person one day.

Four years later, on another Labor Day weekend, that day came.

Preparation

Dave and I made plans to leave Lander after he was off work Friday, hike in as far as we could that night, get into the Cirque of Towers on Saturday, and hopefully bag Pingora on Sunday morning, with an easy hike out on Monday.

I was more than excited for this. I dug out my tape gloves and made sure they were still useable, and packed up my backpacking pack for something other than car camping or air travel for the first time in I don't know how long -- two years, actually, which was the last time I had gone into the winds.

20140828_192929

20140829_131708
So much stoke to have a full backpack I selfied.  (tennis court... I'm so hardcore)

I was more than a little nervous as to how my knee and shoulder would hold up to their first bit of backpacking around since injury. A 70m rope is hardly light, and with everything else needed for the trip, I'd certainly be going through my paces. On the way through Lander, I stopped at Wild Iris and picked up a proper pair of hiking poles, something I can't recommend enough now that it's all over with. They saved me.

To the Cirque

Some time after ten in the evening, Dave and I set up camp on the West side of Big Sandy. I woke to a horse munching right outside my tent.

IMG_0765

We talked with the people who had packed in with their horses and had been camping for about a week. They'd been doing a better job of keeping up with weather than we were, and predicted snow up on the higher elevations on Sunday. That wasn't exactly what Dave and I wanted to hear. Still, we had come out for a reason. We made breakfast, put our packs on, and got hiking.

It wasn't long before we got our first view of a member of the Cirque: Warbonnet.

IMG_0769
Warbonnet to the left
IMG_0780
Dave building his stoke level, gazing up at Warrior, the guardian of the Cirque

Pingora and the Cirque

When Pingora rose into view, we had ourselves something of a celebration.

IMG_0796
Celebrating our arrival to the outskirts of the Cirque, with our goal (Pingora) in view behind us

From here, I don't think I need to say much more.

IMG_0831

IMG_0804

IMG_0850

IMG_0872

IMG_0843

IMG_0855-001

The Weather at 10,000 feet

In the evening, small rain storms started to roll through. Dave and I made an early night of it, and passed out soundly in our tent.

IMG_0881
Camp, with Mt. Mitchell behind

In the night, the light rain turned to thunder, and soon flashes of lightning penetrated my eyelids. Later, the raindrops turned to hail and their drumming woke me again.

At two in the morning, Dave yelled something and woke me up. The tent had nearly collapsed on us with the weight of the snow that had started to fall. Luckily, I had guyed it out against four heavy stones, and slapping the roof of the tent shook the snow off and it immediately pulled back into shape.

IMG_0887
Snow on September first in the Cirque of Towers

In the morning, it was obvious we weren't going to be able to make an ascent of Pingora. It wasn't even visible through the heavy clouds that had socked us in.

IMG_0897

IMG_0902

Leaving

And so, we hiked out and went home, dreams of climbing unfulfilled.

IMG_0911
Dave navigating the boulder fields above Arrowhead Lake
IMG_0919
Jordan and Carrie, two other climbers giving up on their goals, leaving the Cirque
IMG_0921
Snow disappears as elevation lowers

The hike out went quickly enough; by mid-afternoon our feet were out of our boots, and we were on our way back to Lander.

Conclusion

We may not have made our goal, but I got something more from this than bagging a peak would give me. I was alive again, and in motion, strong and fast. I'd lost what felt like a year of my life, but it was back now, and I remembered and felt how I want to live my life.

Time in the mountains is always time well spent.

Oh, and I got to enjoy the sun setting over the Tetons from Togwotee Pass on my drive home to Jackson.

IMG_0937

IMG_0939

IMG_0934

Also: Dave's Morning Dance

IMG_0894