American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Wyoming—Wind River Range, Pingora, East Face

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1963

Pingora, East Face. Early on August 13 Harry Daley and I worked our way up the short stretch of talus below the east face of Pingora (11,884 feet). We walked up a series of broad, grassy ledges, bearing left and began climbing unroped up the easy low-angle rock, aiming for the base of a great dihedral or open book above us to our left. Finally we arrived on a small ledge that bore down to the left in a sickle curve and gave out at a short blank wall. There where the dihedral began, we roped up. Harry climbed down and traversed on delicate friction and then on tension into the open book, up which he worked for 100 feet. Now it was my turn to lead. Above me the dihedral curved sharply to the right for several feet, then resumed its upward journey. Direct aid and a difficult layback got me up on the second try to the long, unprotected open book, dotted with tiny, solid grass clumps. At its top we were just below an obstacle that had been in plain sight for most of the climb so far: a small but prominent roof whose left end cut across the dihedral. Harry did a delicate tension traverse above me and disappeared around a corner to the right. He placed a piton for protection below the roof, then climbed over it fifth class and moved rapidly upward. I led a long, hard, flaring crack, continued up a gully that kept growing steeper and more difficult. We continued upward for several pitches while the rock gradually steepened. We had expected pleasant face climbing on large knobs and roughnesses; instead, we were constantly doing awkward laybacks and hand and foot jams. Though rough, the rock was too steep to use friction for anything more than an occasional foothold. The nature of the cracks made the placement of pitons for protection a thorny problem at times. We faced what appeared to be the crucial pitch of the climb: a high-angle face with a wide flaring crack offering possibilities on the left and a smaller crack running up the middle. I started up the jam-crack on the left, found it tremendously hard and suddenly came flying out. It was Harry’s day for belay practice! An attempt at laybacking the smaller crack with buttery fingers had the same dangling outcome and so I came down and gave Harry a try. Above me he strained at the most difficult part of the lay- back. Slowly, painfully, he crept upward. Over the layback, a lean against rope tension, a breath-taking long step, and then he was climbing fast on easier going above. Two more pitches brought us around to the left of a huge yellow flake, the right side of which forms a deep chimney blocked by a wide roof. This was new high-angle climbing, but no longer so strenuous and with better holds. Clean-cut piton cracks were abundant. At the top of the pitch that skirted the yellow flake was a short, tricky, blank, unprotected face. Harry led on, placing several direct-aid pitons in a vertical crack that was terminated by a large roof. He laybacked to the right beneath the overhang and disappeared into a deep chimney. A few minutes later he was yodeling triumphantly from somewhere above me. I followed quickly, worked my way up the chimney and came out on a broad ledge below the summit block. I joined in Harry’s yodels, for there was an obvious and easy route leading to the top. I followed Harry up a long open book, and together we ran across the level top of the rock. We rappelled into a 50-foot notch which barred the way and scrambled up the other side. At last, surrounded by rock and sky, we stood on the top of Pingora. The sun was almost on the horizon. Eight o’clock—we had been climbing for fourteen hours. We began the descent but darkness soon overtook us. We completed the descent early the next morning. The climb was of about twelve pitches, approximately 1300 feet of roped climbing. Ten pitons were used for direct aid. Pitons ranged from a knife-blade to 1½ and 2-inch angles. Wide-angle pitons frequently came in handy.

James Yensan

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