Cirque of the Towers from Jackass Pass

Cirque of the Towers from Jackass Pass

Story and Photos By Chris Bangs

Read Part 1: The Bike Ride.

Aug. 14, Day 10. Mile 382

Justene and I arrived at the Big Sandy Trailhead in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. Cycling the last 20 miles, up a steep sandy road, with huge washouts and massive ruts, had us digging deep in our human-powered reserves. Tears were shed, mileage barely slipped by, but we were in the Winds and we were super-freaking-stoked to get off the bicycles for a couple weeks and do some rock climbing!

The trailhead scene was hilarious. We spread our gear out like a tornado-hit REI, and I started fist pumping the air every time someone would drive by staring. Cameras, bikes, trailers, ropes, food, snacks, enough Yerba Mate to kick-start a small village, and fuel for 14 days.

We counted no bugs. Not one. Yet we counted three people jumping out of fancy rigs and spraying themselves down head to toe with bug spray. Hilarious. We loved it.

A couple hours slipped by as we hiked an easy 6 miles to Clear Lake. Directly above Clear Lake sits Haystack Mountain, my new favorite peak. From the moment I first saw photos of Haystack, I knew I loved this mountain. Haystack stands as a tall, near-mile-long granite dome.  The west and east faces rise steeply for over a thousand feet, and feature some of the cleanest rock in the Wind Rivers.

We found a breathtaking campsite near the lake, picked berries, bathed and spent hours laying around on rock slabs down by the water, testing out my new Therm-a-Rest sleeping system. Ah, luxury.

Above Clear Lake, North Face Haystack Mountain

Above Clear Lake, North Face Haystack Mountain

Haystack Mountain; North Face Route (II 5.6). We chose this route for a good warm up climb. The approach from camp takes less than an hour up a slab to the base of the route. Following the guide book, the first pitch had me heading up a clean slab instead of 20 feet to the left in a corner system. I realized quickly this was five star granite and perfect holds started appearing everywhere.

I hit the top of the first pitch with a feeling of timeless perfection. Not even the relentless wind and cool shade of the northern exposure detracted from the enjoyment of the climb.

Our next route was Justene’s pick. We climbed Railroad Tracks (III 5.8) on the Central Wall of Haystack. We swapped leads for seven 60-meter pitches and sank in the best nut placements I’ve ever seen. My typical belay anchors would be two nuts and a cam, equalized. Next time I’m hiking in with more nuts and maybe a few less cams to lighten my load a little!

By this time, I’m thinking to myself that Wind River rock is sexier than hot chicks at a Nascar Rally. The movement of jamming my body in the perfect rock, seemingly made for climbing on, becomes so euphoric I find myself singing and giggling all the way to the belays. Did I mention how much I love granite?

Then rest days happened. Lots of them. Our rations were getting low, and our appetites were insatiable.  Fourteen days of food was consumed in about nine.

At this point I spent a couple days scrounging and buying food from other climbers in the area. Everyone was more than generous. We pressed on.

Aug. 18, Day 14.

Moved camp over Jackass Pass to the Cirque of the Towers. As we came around the corner of a huge boulder, we were greeted by a dozen sharp peaks, steep walls, and jagged ridgelines with names like Warrior, Warbonnet, Wolf’s Head, and Shark’s Tooth.

This mecca of perfect lines and remote rugged beauty has been on my tick list forever. Being here with my wife Justene, after having ridden nearly 400 miles on our bicycles and dreaming of this moment for so long…was it worth the wait and the struggle to get here?

Well, we were humbled. I felt small amongst these majestic peaks. Like a pilgrim in a Church Of Granite. Yeah. It was worth it alright. Super stoked.

Above Lonesome Lake, getting psyched to climb the East Face Route on Pingora.

Above Lonesome Lake, getting psyched to climb the East Face Route on Pingora.

Pingora; East Face (IV 5.7). This time I pick the route, and we fire off 10 rope-stretching pitches of granite perfection, mixed with loads of grunt- inducing off-widths. Off-widths are wide cracks, and they are synonymous with words like pain and blood!

Just beat the thunderstorm, summit victory on Pingora.

Just beat the thunderstorm, summit victory on Pingora.

The East Face rises above Lonesome Lake like a giant wave getting jacked up and ready to break. Almost 2,000 feet of continuous climbing. It was the perfect way to end our time here. We loved it.

polecat hot springs

Justene Sweet at Polecat Hot Springs near Yellowstone National Park on our return bicycle ride to Montana.

Justene Sweet at Polecat Hot Springs near Yellowstone National Park on our return bicycle ride to Montana.

We also managed to hit up the Tetons on the bicycle ride home, with a one day ascent of the Grand Teton.  Again; we experienced perfection in timing, weather, new friends on the summit, and good fresh food the whole way home!

Much gratitude to Therm-a-Rest who helped support our trip. Long live the two wheel, two legged adventures, and Therm-a-Rest’s peerless sleeping system. Follow us at humanpoweredmountaineers.blogspot.com.