American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

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

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1966

Wyoming—Wind River Range

Square Top, East Face. The east face of Square Top soars some 3800 feet above the Green River. On September 2 Jerry Fuller and I packed heavy loads along the valley trail and then up a game path climbing steeply on a bushy mountainside. Near timberline we came across a pretty meadow where a stream emerged from Granite Lake. The great walls of the face rose about 1800 feet above the highest grass slopes, and continued roughly one-half mile to the north. Binocular studies on this and previous trips contributed to the route choice: an elegant line beginning about center-face that climbed the immense slabs of the lower walls into a basin. Here there seemed to be four potential methods of finishing the climb to the summit rim. We eventually chose a spectacular, vertical rib to the right of a deep chasm that carved into the rim. The big question seemed to be: could one climb the vertical headwall above the slabs into the basin? Some 500 feet of initial scrambling to the base of the slabs went quickly on September 3, since we had explored this area the previous evening and left equipment high. This area was all third and fourth class, with one pitch only requiring protection. A narrow but spectacular ledge led left to the section of the slabs that seemed to offer the most hope. As I started up the first difficult move, right off the ledge, a few snowflakes drifted by, driven by a biting wind. Since patches of blue behind the clouds held out hope, I continued, placing pitons every ten or fifteen feet for protection. A short overhang needed slings for aid, and then came a difficult final series of moves to a ledge. As I moved left into an open-book, a downpour of rain and snow soaked both me and the rock. More aid climbing took me to a wall where I made a left pendulum, then free climbed to a tiny shelf against nothingness; here I had to place two bolts to cross a holdless slab to the only crack system continuing upward. The bad weather and difficulties had about exhausted me, but after Jerry came up to clean the pitch, the wind had driven the blackest clouds toward the Gannet Peak area. While the storm raged there Jerry worked up the cracks for about two hours, doing both difficult free and aid climbing on a single thin crack to the great black overhang above. The weather changed our plans to bivouac for the night, and so we left ropes hanging and hurried back to camp to see what tomorrow would bring. Even colder air moved in during the night, but the chill was accompanied by clear skies. We hurried to our high point, prusiking the ropes up the perpendicular route line. Two short pendulums and a twenty-foot section of direct aid, mixed with an equal amount of vertical free climbing took me to the head of an overhanging chimney. Unprotected, Fuller led the next pitch, a smooth-walled open-book that had a terribly awkward squeeze crack. We arrived at a “Y”: to our right rose a horrible-looking chimney, all iced and interspersed with overhanging chockstones; left, the granite wall rose sheer overhead, but a series of little flakes promised hope. I climbed quickly, finding hundreds of little knobs and “chickenheads”; although the lead was virtually vertical, it seemed only necessary to place three pitons for safety. Fuller now led up a 100-foot wall, a real crux that barred us from the upper basin. Parts of it looked like certain direct aid, but tiny holds always showed up; this was magnificent, exposed, free climbing — long stretches of 5.6 to 5.8. In fact, we felt the entire climb was worth doing just for this one pitch. We scrambled to the left and then belayed left again into the basin. After one fourth-class pitch we unroped and climbed several hundred feet up zigzag ledges and slabs to the chosen vertical rib that led to the summit rim. Feeling that the chasm on its left might offer a faster route at this late hour and in the threatening weather, I climbed solo up several hundred feet of verglased chimneys, and spotted a potential route up the final headwall, though with questionable portions and scarce bivouac spots. Jerry scouted the classic rib and shouted that it would be “beautiful climbing.” It was. The fourth and crux pitch took 15 pitons and two bolts; many of the cracks turned out to be seams, causing difficult piton placing. Rather than bivouac I decided to climb in the pitch darkness, feeling for cracks until one A.M. After this slow and tricky section Jerry led around a corner and found a good bivouac ledge. Fortunately the difficulties were ended since within an hour we looked out of our bivouac sack to see snow falling. After daybreak, two fourth-class pitches took us to the rim, where an icy wind greeted us as we ran across a strange boulder field to the summit. In all, we used 66 pitons and 4 bolts, far less than anticipated because of the superb nature of the rock. It was good that we had completed the ascent that morning, for excessive wind and fresh snow accompanied us on the hike to the road.

Fred Beckey

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.