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North America, United States, Wyoming, Wind River Range, Orion's Reflection

Orion’s Reflection. The great canyon walls of the Wind River Range contain many spectacular features seldom seen by the climber, but perhaps nowhere are there more surprises than in the southeastern portion. Glimpses from the Bears Ears Trail in past years tempted me to investigate the valley of Smith Lakes. My first peek at the walls here, some years ago, proved inconclusive; the tight contours of the map suggested a return. In 1978 Jim Kanzler and I hiked from Dickinson Park to Cathedral Lake, to focus on a prow of grey granite fully 1200 feet above the talus footings. The prow looked vertical, and in that light impossible. Only after we had done a climb on a crag farther into the valley did we study the face of the prow again, this time with better lighting. The binoculars told us we had a classic at our disposal. After Labor Day we returned, heavily laden for the apparently considerable aid. The companionship of Margo Erjavec was appreciated, for she helped carry loads and photographed our progress from various vantages, then later met us near the summit. We made a carry to the big ledge that enters the face low on the right, stockpiling food, bivouac gear, ropes, a wall rack, and water. The next morning, Jim did a difficult and taxing stem behind a gigantic block, from where a slanting layback crack continued to a spacious ledge; the ledge proved so inviting that we finally made it our bivouac site for the first night. The next pitch was my turn: a right-facing corner that became aid, then a long section of nailing on a vertical wall beneath a horizontal arch. It was a slow, difficult, and most spectacular pitch. Chocks and friends took over again as Jim continued a difficult pitch, both free and aid, much of it a right-facing dihedral. It was after dark when the lead was complete to a tie-off station. The night was warm. The route continued up a series of vertical, difficult cracks, usually with only one solution. The second pitch of the morning proved to be full of dirt and grass, with exasperating slow aid. Progress here was slow, and the bypass of a giant detached block was delayed by the placing of a protection bolt. From a ledge beneath a great concave wall the crack systems now looked discontinuous and poor; this was a surprise, for here we thought progress would improve. Jim made a very difficult traverse, using aid and underclings, to make a leftward bypass of the bottom of a great orange-colored pillar. Steep climbing, but with good holds, led to a belay recess on the exposed outer edge of the pillar. Darkness was nearly upon us, a poor position for the night here. Continuing, Jim found a left-facing corner, one with several short overhanging sections; placements were so awkward that we later lost several valuable items. Cleaning on Jümars was illuminated by first the starlight, then a magnificent full moon. There was a bivouac ledge of sorts; an uncomfortable slope was long enough, but the dryness and position made sleep difficult. But the situation was splendid, with the reflection of the constellation Orion in Cathedral Lake. In the morning a route left of a blind corner, awkward at first, proved the key to success. Always one crack system—just one—kept continuing, usually on a rightward slant. A deep crack we had noted from below made a baffling overhanging slot, but just when we needed a bypass, a thin aid crack appeared on its right. A deep squeeze chimney (F9 or 10) solved the problem on the orange wall, a final barrier to where the face provided some route latitude for the first time. After some complex rope management, a flaring squeeze proved to be the last problem. Above were blocks and ledges, and we were close to the gigantic leaning summit block. The dryness and unusual warm weather had added to the exertion of the climb, but now we could relax, finish our last water, and pack the haul bag for the ceremonial throw-down. Together with most of the rack, the 1200-foot free fall proved most successful: everything was recovered that evening. (NCCS V, F9, A3; 10 pitches.) September 5 to 7.

Fred Beckey