Tuesday, 18 August 1998.
Climber's Ranch, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
Back in December I went ice climbing in New Hampshire with Ian Springsteel. Over dinner, Ian started talking up a trip to the Wind River range in August. When he mentioned pack horses to take in our gear, I became considerably more interested. So I penciled in the Winds trip as part of my itinerary.
The crew was supposed to be: Ian Springsteel (trip organizer), Hilary Collidge, Mike DiChicco, Mark Gallagher, Erik Hall, Dave Oka, Simon Carr and myself. But a week and a half before we were to meet in the Winds, Erik sprained his ankle while attempting to climb a peak in the Cascades in Washington. He was three days in and he managed to limp out with assistance from his team members.
The plan was for the team to assemble at the American Alpine Club's Climbers Ranch located in Grand Teton National Park. I picked up Simon Carr in Idaho Falls and we drove to the climber's ranch. The group was supposed to meet on Friday, August 7, between 3-4. It took a while for our group to straggle in from their day's activities. Rick Buirkle and Nancy Zizza were at the Climbers Ranch, wrapping up two successful weeks in the Tetons. Ian had spent several hours at the grocery store getting provisions for our trip. We then spread gear all over the parking lot sorting out things. Things were running late, but we all went out for dinner before making the three hour drive to the Winds. The last 30 miles of the drive are on dirt roads, which get progressively worse, but still passable by passenger cars. We arrived at the Big Sandy trail head at nearly 2 AM and crashed. Its times like these that I'm glad I can sleep in the back of my truck.
The next morning we got up a little after six, so we could head over to the Big Sandy Lodge, our outfitters for the trip. We dropped off our gear for the wranglers to load onto our four pack horses. Each pack horse is supposed to carry 150 pounds, but we were a little over that. Hey, climbing gear is heavy! Dave, Mark and Ian had elected to ride horses coming in. The rest of us hiked the 14 miles in. Mike didn't get his backpack into the to be horse packed pile and had to carry it with him.
The hike in was long, but pretty mellow. We took our time, enjoying the scenery. Not having much sleep, the primary topic of conversation between Simon, Hilary and I was taking a nap. After lunch, we decided to do just that. We napped for a half hour or so, until the pack horses caught up with us. We let the horses continue ahead to select our campsite. We arrived in our choosen campsite near Shadow Lake. Shadow Lake is on the west side of the Cirque of the Towers, at approximately 10,400 feet. As we were unloading the horses it started to rain. We scrambled to set up our tents and our cooking tarp.
After the rain cleared we spent part of the afternoon orienting ourselves to the terrain. We were able to identify major land mark peaks such as Overhanging Tower and Shark's Nose. That evening over dinner we started formulating the next day's plans. Simon, Dave and I decided to get aggressive and hike up over the pass into the Cirque of the Towers, climb a 50 classic, Wolf's Head, then return in one day.
When the alarm clock went off on Sunday morning at 4 AM, Simon was feeling the affects of altitude. I was a little short changed on sleep and it didn't take much to convince Dave to get a more shut eye. Sunday was an auspicious day, fully described in V1.9 - The Power of Teamwork.
Monday morning after the helicopter had ferried Mark and the rescue team out, we sat around in a daze. Over a big breakfast of pancakes we discused the events of the previous 24 hours. Mike and I returned to the accident scene to reclaim the climbing gear we had left behind. Later we spent the afternoon reading, hiking, and fishing. Dave Oka returned unexpectedly a little after lunch. This created a small problem since we had sent his personal gear out on the helicopter, including his contact stuff. And Dave was the only contact wearer amongst our group, so he hiked to another campsite to see if he could borrow some contact solution. While procuring contact solution, he got some good beta a climb we were considering.
That evening we made plans to go climbing. Simon was still feeling pretty rotten, and Mike was wasted from the rescue efforts so they elected to not go climbing. Ian and Hilary decided to climb Overhanging Tower. Dave was enamored with the direct Southwest Face (5.8) of Shark's Nose. Our plans set, we turned in early.
Those climbing awoke at 5 AM to get an early start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. Dave and I started the approach about 6 AM. Reaching the east end of the lake, we spotted another pair of climbers headed into the same gulley we were. We really didn't want to have a race to the base of the climb, but luckily they were going to attempt a different route on the same formation. Nearing the end of the approach, I looked behind to see how Dave was doing, but a climber of the other party was right behind me, not Dave. The climber, Jean-Claude, asked if I would mind a third joining our party. I was a little skeptical, but since Jean-Claude wasn't winding from catching up to me, I figured he wouldn't hold us back. Jean-Claude's climbing partner, his dad Claude, wasn't feeling up to another climb today. We scoped out the climbing route and prepared to climb. Dave and I rack our gear differently, so at Dave's suggestion we decided to lead in blocks of three pitches each.
Dave started off leading the first pitch of fourth class climbing (steep scrambling). There was a lot of loose rock in the first pitch, that I was very careful to not kick loose. The next two pitches were better, but nothing special. We then switched over the lead. My second pitch was an excellent right leaning flake system, but I think I carried the pitch too far and put us partially off route. So the next pitch I traversed back left and got us back where we belonged.
When Dave started reading the route description for the next pitch, he said this doesn't match at all! But the more he looked and read he changed his mind. Finally stating this matches perfectly! Pitches 5 and 6 were two excellent pitches of climbing. Pitch five had a great section of thin face moves linking two crack systems. Switching over the leads again for the last two pitches, I headed up what was supposed to be a 5.6 pitch. Eyeing a nice finger crack in a corner I climbed it. In the middle of the finger crack I decided that this was definatley not 5.6, more like 5.8. Approaching the end of the crack I could see blue sky through the crack. Pulling over the lip I could see over the top of the ridge, down several thousand feet into the Cirque of the Towers. What a view! The last pitch was short romp along the ridge to the summit of Shark's Nose. A small summit block provided a great spot for pictures.
In my sleep deprived state that morning I had forgotten to pack our day's food (energy bars of various brands). Luckily, Jean-Claude bailed us out. A few days earlier Jean-Claude had been hungry and ate the last of their energy bars, so the only things left for lunch were a can of tuna and a can of sardines. The AMC has a tradition of summit cookies for hiking, perhaps summit fish is a new tradition for climbers? I remember not liking sardines before, but after 10 pitches of climbing I thought they were pretty tasty. Dave showed the way, eating tuna fish from a can with his nut tool. After our snack, we started the rappels down. We got a few sprinkles during the rappel, but the storm clounds just missed us. Four rappels placed us at the top of the snow gully we had to descend. Jean-Claude's dad had very generously carried our hiking boots to the top of the gully. Jean-Claude kicked steps down the final snow field in his mountaineering boots, Dave and I rappelled an additional pitch since we were wearing approach shoes. Once out of the gully we still had to pick our way down a steep rock filled slope before reaching the lake.
Back in camp, I wolfed down a couple of candy bars before starting dinner. Tired, but happy with having climbed a great route.
Wednesday morning, Dave and Hilary hiked out. Dave needed his contact supplies and Hilary was interested in trying to climb the Grand Teton. Plus we wanted someone to check on how Mark was doing. Simon debated hiking out with them, since he wasn't feeling well, but not having climbed made him decide to stay.
The plan was for the remaining four of us, Mike, Ian, Simon and myself to hike over Texas Pass into the Cirque of the Towers, camp, then attempt to climb Pingora the following day. Simon and I were to attempt a 50 classic's route, the Northeast face. Ian and Mike were considering the East Face Cracks route. When I reached the top of Texas Pass (11,400), I looked west and saw approaching storm clouds. I pulled on my pants and hunkered down for the rest of our group. I didn't have long to wait for Mike and Ian. We spent the next half hour waiting for Simon. We passed the time laughing and joking. When Simon arrived he wasn't looking too good. We talked about our options, eventually Simon decided to return back to our camp. Mike went with him and carried his pack down. Mike would return later that evening or in the morning to rejoin us.
Ian and I headed down the otherside of the pass. We pitched my tent in a pretty valley above Lonesome Lake, facing the North side of Pingora. Ian and I expected to get stormed on, but the storm passed us by. Not sure when or if Mike would show up, we got went to bed pretty early for our alpine start. We woke up at 4:45 to a very chilly morning. Not wanting to stand around in the cold, I started the stove leaning out from my sleeping bag. The moon was so bright, I never turned on my headlamp. Having breakfast in your sleeping bag doesn't cause you motivate, so we didn't leave camp till a little after 6 AM. We hiked over to the start of the route and we decided that Ian would lead the first half of the route and I would lead the second half. Ian started climbing at 7 AM and the sun was soon warming us nicely. Ian carried the climb past the first belay and as a result ended up struggling up an offwidth crack. When I came up, Ian had realized his mistake so I skipped the offwidth and lead the second pitch carrying the pack. The pack was filled with cloths we had shead as it got warm, plus Ian's mountaineering boots and my approach shoes. The next few pitches were nice, then we were supposed to reach four pitches of fourth class climbing where we expected to make up time by simul-climbing. But the terrain never backed off that much, so we continued belayed climbing for all of the fourth class pitches. Ian lead through pitch 7, where I started leading.
Pitch 9 contained some pretty interesting steep slab climbing. Pitch 10 was the best pitch of the climb. A long, sustained crack climb while technically not harder than the rated 5.7, felt more like 5.8 by the end. I'm not sure if I was off route or not for the next pitch, but the runout face climbing moves were pretty exciting. I finally reached a corner system which seemed like it was more on route. The first part of the next pitch was very easy, until I went up a 35' layback section. When Ian arrived at the base of this section, he asked what the hell was I thinking? The route contined easily to the left. But this looked so inviting! So I rapped off and we continued where we belonged at the summit.
Since it was late, 5 PM, we snapped a few summit photos and started down. The rappel station is located 300 feet down a gully, with some pretty exposed moves at the end. The rappels were straight forward, as was the first part of the descent trail. Then the trail makes a U-turn and heads down a narrow catwalk. Three hundred feet up, with a sheer cliff to your left, walking across narrow ledges definately gets your attention. Down off the peak, we still had to scramble around the base of the cliff across a talus field before reaching our tent. I reached the tent first, at 7:30 PM and started the stove for a cup of soup. Ian arrived soon after and we downed the soup, packed up and headed out. We both managed to descend the steep trail of Texas Pass before it was totally dark. Hiking by head lamp, we followed the trail as best we could. Even in the daylight, the trail is hard to follow. The crux of the route finding was at the end. We had to go cross country from our trail to our campsite. I had memorized the land marks coming in, and we turned at the right spot and hit our campsite dead on. At 10:25 PM, we were both wasted from a long hard day. Mike took care of us, heating up dinner as we sat around a campfire.
The wranglers were to arrive between 12 and 1 PM to pick up our gear. Simon expected he would be hiking slowly, so he left camp at about 9:30 AM. I had breakfast and packed up my stuff before leaving at 11:30 AM. I fully expected to pass Simon early in the hike out, and brought a book to pass the time. But I hiked steadily, only stopping for five minutes each hour and didn't catch Simon until within a half mile of the lodge.
The plan was for us to unload some of gear from Ian's truck into my truck. But the spare keys had been locked inside his truck. I hoped everything would fit into Ian's truck. Simon and I headed back to Jackson with the hope he could see a doctor that evening. Back in the Climber's Ranch in Jackson, we saw a note that Dave and Hilary were up on the Grand.
Ian did manage to fit all the gear into his truck, which was a very good thing, since I didn't want to drive back to Big Sandy Lodge. The four of us went out for breakfast before heading over to the hospital.
Mark was extremely glad to see us. He was good spirits and recounted his tale. Simon had a contact with a member of the hospital and managed to see a doctor that afternoon. Seeing that Mark was growing tired of his hospital room, we asked his nurse if we could take him out for lunch. He signed a waver (hall pass) and off to lunch we went. A great lunch at Mile High Pizza Pie did a lot for Mark. His curfew was 6 PM for another IV drip. So after pizza we went over to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Mark couldn't drink or play pool, but it still beat a hospital room. We hung out for a while, but Ian, Simon and I had mundanelaundry to do.