American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Wyoming—Wind Rivers, Lizard Head, East Face

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1964

Lizard Head, East Face. Highest peak in the Cirque of the Towers region, 12,842-foot Lizard Head is a long scramble from Lonesome Lake, but the “east face, overlooking Bear Lake, is a series of overhanging upside-down ledges, impossible to contemplate”. (Bonney’s Guide to the Wyoming Mountains and Wilderness Areas, p. 145.) In past years I had studied the face but was still undecided whether to “contemplate’’ it seriously this season until after other successes in the area. The major crack system on the face ended in a horrible ceiling, and alternate routes seemed to be mainly intermittent cracks. Steve Marts and I, on July 22, thought we detected a new possibility of climbing directly up the very exposed nose of the face and of turning the immense overhanging nose-cap just on its north side. From an exposed ledge perhaps 150 feet beneath the summit an inhospitable flaring chimney seemed to provide an escape around the nose-cap, and if this failed, we thought we saw in our binoculars a thin line of cracks on the overhanging wall left of the chimney. In the afternoon we first did some steep unroped climbing along the eastern spur to the face, just above the glacier, and then we ascended a steepening slab, where we spent an hour attempting various routes upward. Finally Steve tackled a chimney system with some direct aid, using bong-bongs, and made a clever traverse right, where a short overhanging section took him to the orange-colored nose of the face. After some rope maneuvering, I was able to traverse into a dihedral that splits into the nose, and after two hours of hard direct-aid work, mostly overhanging, I was able to reach a belay ledge at rope’s end. Leaving everything, we retreated to camp before darkness. In the morning we prusiked up fixed ropes and were surprised to discover more broken rock in the next two pitches. The key here was a hidden tunnel inside great blocks, exhaustingly narrow. When we came to grips with the final pitch and it became evident that the escape chimney would be a wet horror, we tackled a direct route that was overhanging for 90 feet and then sloped back to free climbing for the remainder of the pitch. I had to place a line of knife-blade chrome-alloys in a hairline crack and finally four bolts to traverse the edge of the overhang into a chimney. A long reach saved the day, with a solid piton above the lip of the overhang. Climbing now became free, though very exposed. We reached the top just in time to descend ahead of a severe rainstorm.

Fred Beckey

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