Cirque of the Towers, solo traverse. Squinting into the sun, I stood on the top of War Bonnet gazing across at what I had just traversed, the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Mountains. Above me cumulus clouds benignly drifted by, resisting the afternoon weather pattern that usually transforms them into angry thunderheads. Two weeks before, after climbing the classic War Bonnet route Black Elk, I was zapped by lightning. Today I was suffering from another environmental hazard, severe dehydration.
From a climber’s perspective the Cirque of the Towers is the most impressive feature in the Winds. In a three-mile semicircle that rises above picturesque Lonesome Lake to elevations as high as 12,406 feet, the 11 granite spires contain a perfect blend of cracks, edges, and friction.
Much of what has been climbed in the Winds has been loosely recorded and often underrated. For all I knew Fritz Wiessner had done the Traverse in the 1930s wearing hob-nailed boots. I decided to add the modern car-to-car element, which added 16 miles to the adventure.
On August 14 I left the Big Sandy trailhead at 2:00 a.m. I arrived at the base of Pingora as it was getting light and followed the South Buttress to the summit. I rappelled to the notch to the west of Pingora and climbed the classic East Ridge of Wolf’s Head. I continued to Overhanging Tower, Shark’s Nose, Block Tower, and WatchTower. I chose the path of least resistance, soloing some established routes and improvising other routes. I descended by both down climbing and rappelling. The rest of the traverse is a scramble over the summits of South Watch Tower, Pylon Peak, Warrior II, Warrior I, and War Bonnet.
I remember downclimbing from War Bonnet’s summit by liebacking a minivan-size boulder. I remember it suddenly starting to roll. The next thing I remember is coming-to 30 feet lower and scrambling down the ridge. Regaining control over my runaway body I realized I must have blacked out due to my severely dehydrated state. Having watched too many Hollywood movies, I thought, “Am I alive or did that boulder roll over me, and now I am just an invisible spirit like Bruce Willis in ‘The Sixth Sense’?”
Finally, I got down to the trail and a stream. With a belly full of power gel and water I started jogging back to my car. Coming out of my stupor I laughed at myself for thinking I was dead. As
I turned a corner I saw a hiker walking towards me. Anxious to prove my connection with the living, I stared at the man, waiting for him to notice me. But within 20 feet he still had not looked in my direction. I felt a twinge of panic as he drew within a few feet of me; still giving no indication of my presence. Suddenly, he glanced up. “Hey, how’s it going?” he questioned.
“Great, just great,” I yelled, not thinking about the Traverse, but ecstatic to be on this dusty trail in the middle of Wyoming.
Statistics: 19 miles, 11 peaks, 7,500 feet of elevation gain, 5.8 difficulty, 12 rappels, 16.5 hours.
Dave Anderson, AAC