The Wind River Range, spanning 100 miles, is located in western Wyoming and contains more than 40 named peaks over 13,000 feet. Situated on the south end of the range is a climber’s paradise called the Cirque of the Towers. As the name suggests, the Cirque is formed by a string of soaring granite towers towers in close proximity, each boasting world-class alpine climbing on mostly impeccable granite. The camping in the basin below is a real treat, as it’s far enough out of the way to never really be crowded. You’ll wake up every day surrounded by jagged mountains shooting toward the sky, though if you’re getting the proper alpine starts needed for some of the big adventures here, you may not get to see them until sunrise on the approach.
In addition to the Cirque, there are other parts well worth checking out such as the Deep Lake / Haystack Area and East Fork Valley.
If you can manage it, six days is about the perfect amount of time to spend in the Cirque of the Towers. It keeps the climbing to hiking ratio high, while maintaining a manageable number of climbing days to ensure you have enough energy to crawl the 9 miles back to real life.
After picking up all necessary supplies from nearby Pinedale, WY or wherever you’re coming from, head to Big Sandy Trailhead to start the journey into the Cirque. Fortunately, no permits or fees are required to camp or climb in the Wind River Range.
The first 5.2 miles to Big Sandy Lake only gains 600 feet in elevation so you can make good time, even while hauling a big pack filled with food and climbing/backpacking gear. The next 4 miles gets steeper and culminates in Jackass Pass, but by this point your enthusiasm to behold the cirque is so high that it’ll carry you these last few miles into the basin. Unless, that is, you’re coming from sea level and you brought too much stuff, in which case your spirit will probably break around mile 7 and it’ll be a tearful slog the rest of the way in. Around Jackass Pass, there is an option to stay left and traverse boulders around Arrowhead Lake (recommended), or go right and up and over the last bulge and then drop down into the Cirque. All in all, the approach is quite reasonable, especially if you get an early start and have a full day to get there. You should make it in before nightfall without issue.
In the Cirque of the Towers, the rock is granite and the setting is alpine. Be ready for big adventure, which comes with big commitments. Starting before the sun rises and moving quickly and efficiently through technical terrain will help you avoid storms and getting benighted. Help is quite far away here, so be responsible for yourself and your party, and be willing to help out others in dire straits.
- East Ridge (5.6) of Wolf’s Head
- South Buttress (5.8) of Pingora
- Northeast Face (5.9) of Pingora
- Black Elk (5.11) on Warbonnet
June through mid September. Early season (June-July) can have a lot of mosquitoes at camp. A bug net, hat, and bug spray might be a good idea.
No permits are required. In the Cirque, camping south or southwest of Pingora by the Warrior peaks is recommended due to fresh water and proximity to most climbs (approximate location of where we camped is pinned on the map above). Generally speaking, bears are not a problem within this part of the Winds, though one may meander into the Cirque every one in a while to watch you climb Pingora while eating your food, so hanging your food and/or using a canister is recommended. There’s plenty of space for everyone to camp within the basin, and you’ll be surrounded by beautiful granite peaks when you wake up every day. Incredible.
There are several sources in the basin, with one main stream cutting right down the middle. Bring a filter, UV pen, or tablets to treat.
For some reason, I was convinced the average human male requires 1200 calories per day and so that was how much I allocated. For most normal humans (read: non-idiots), you’ll will want to bring at least twice that. I remember going to sleep early every night to mitigate the starving sensation. On the plus side, I did not have any uneaten food to bring on the hike out.
Try to keep the calories high and food dehydrated. If you are in there for a better part of a week, the weight of food really starts to add up. Every day in there is going to be a big one, extra calories you bring in will surely be eaten.
The Pinedale Aquatic Center, located in the center of town, is a great place to relax and take a shower. Also, once you’ve made the hike out, pretty much any steakhouse in Wyoming will seem like the best one in the world after a week of Mountain House meals (to be fair, Wyoming does have some great beef to begin with…).
By James Huang, Tyler Wellman