Loren Rausch - The Wolf's Head

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Wolf’s Head

By Loren Rausch

The void drops away beneath me for hundreds of feet, the wind teases my balance.  I shift my weight onto a rounded knob, look back at the giant arc of rope between Bridget and myself, and laugh.  This is no epic, if fact it’s the antithesis of epic.  This is just pure, unadulterated, hippy-holler fun.  We’re simul-climbing the east ridge of the mega classic Wolf’s Head and our situation could not be any better.

Sitting in the center of the stunning Cirque of the Towers, Wolf’s Head rises like a frozen wave of grey granite crashing down on Pingora, it may not be the biggest feature in the cirque, but it is by far the most peculiar. Wolf’s Head is featured in Steve Roper and Allen Stack’s masterpiece, Fifty Classic Climbs and with good reason.  Tucked away in the stunning Wind River Mountains of western Wyoming, the range sits dominant over the surrounding plains, scratching the sky like a giant hayfork.  The approach entails navigating the barrens of Wyoming, avoiding the rough necks in Pinedale, hiking 8 miles with a full pack, and climbing over Jackass Pass and into the heart of the Cirque.  Despite (or because of) these reasons the setting is unimaginably stunning and pristine.  A waterfall splashes in the center of the cirque echoing off walls of some of the cleanest alpine granite imaginable.  Chrysocolla colored ponds dot each of the hollows and basins, shimmering as they melt from the previous nights freeze.  Alpine boulders patiently sit waiting to be climbed on while wildflowers sprinkle the ground in a warm prism of color.  This is truly a climber’s paradise.

We climb together by instinct, leaving the guidebook buried in the pack, each twist and turn on the razor of granite becomes a mystery for us to solve. We continue climbing past improbable hand traverses, a squeeze chimney, and one hyper exposed slab as we navigate between, over, and around each unique and fascinatingly geometric tower.  Every section promises engaging and palm sweating fun; the climbing is always interesting but never the least bit desperate.  The exposure is intoxicating as it tugs at our combined psyche.  Ice chokes the cracks on the north facing sections and the wind blows cold from the west as low wispy clouds rake across the spine of the continent.  The eastern edge of the range is visible dropping into a vast expanse of grass and cattle country that ripples uninterrupted to the horizon and beyond.  The climbing ends dramatically on a sharp spine of rock that juts over the heart of the cirque.  Pingora rises above Lonesome Lake while Warbonnet and the Warriors keep an imposing watch over Jackass Pass.  We sit on the summit for a short time admiring the views and the solitude.  We can see our tent far down below in the valley, a spot of yellow in a sea of green rimmed by alpine fir and white bark pine.  We start the first rappel when the cold wind begins to chill our bodies.  Many rappels and some short sections of down climbing add to the flavor of the adventure.

We do the last rappel to the wolf’s jaw col as the sun finally begins to warm our numb fingers.  Cirque Lake winks at us from below; its turquoise waters a mirror of sky and stone.  A sudden cry restores me to my senses. I look down and see a furry little creature with a mouth full of grass dive into a dark recess between boulders.  It pokes its head out and for a moment we make eye contact.  It cries again and hurries deeper into its burrow. 

At the end of the day, we sit, leaning against a boulder by our camp, sipping on the margaritas we packed into the cirque.  The corners of our mouths curl in a thin smile after every sip - not because of the tangy sting on our wind-chapped lips, but because we still cannot stop smiling.  We stare at the Wolf’s Head, its features pointed, and stabbing skyward - reminiscent of sharp claws, sinister teeth, and triangular ears.  I close my eyes and think to myself; maybe this is an epic.  Everything about the climb and this place is beyond ordinary except for the grade. You don’t need to be an Odysseus or Hector of the climbing world to surmount this multi-pitch alpine climb.  This may very well be the best 5.6 route on the planet.






walt shupe, Saturday, July 14, 2012

Loren Rausch, I would like permisstion to use your Cirque of the Towers photo in a publication.
Please contact me at jcorathers@hotmail.com

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