Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Short Bouldering Expedition into the Wind Rivers

During previous summers in Colorado, I've grown accustomed to going bouldering in alpine environments. The dramatic mountains, cool breezes, wildflowers, and fresh rock come together to form fantastic bouldering experiences. I knew Wyoming's Wind River Mountains contained alpine bouldering areas on par with Chaos Canyon and Mt. Evans, but they are all totally undeveloped and many miles from the nearest road. Despite many hurdles, I committed myself to going bouldering in the Winds this summer. As planning began, things fell into place pretty well. Davin, Bryan, and Ashley were all interested. Hiring a horse to carry in gear was expensive, but doable. My parents were flying out to Lander for a week long visit, and agreed to watch our daughters while we were gone. We did an exploratory hike, and found an incredible bouldering area that we planned to return to.

About a week before the trip, life interfered with Bryan and Davin's plans. They weren't able to make it, and without them Ashley and I didn't have enough gear to justify hiring a horse. We cancelled the horse reservation, but decided to try the trip anyway.

We began the bouldering day at a boulder we'd found on the exploratory hike. It has an obvious lip traverse that I knew Ashley would enjoy. A perfect warm up I named "Out of the Web."

Ashley added a sit start that ups the difficulty to V3 or 4 which she called "Out of Balance."

There has been online debate recently about whether or not sit down starts should be given new names. My opinion is that it's fine for a sit down start to be given a different name than the original stand start, but the original problem isn't erased by a lower start. Climb whichever problem you want and then refer to it by the name given it by the first ascentionist. Contrived problems can be given new names too, though one shouldn't be surprised if contrived problems and their names are eventually forgotten.

The owner of a web. Spiders like these were in webs all over the talus field. They sometimes live in groups and shake wildly when disturbed.

The Winds were as beautiful and empty as one could ever wish for. We saw a few people and llamas on the trail, but had the whole cirque to ourselves for the entire trip. This is the view outside our tent, that we woke up to each morning.

And this is what I saw each evening as I went to collect water.

The walls and boulders continue up the canyon, and I saw deer in the meadows.

Wildflowers fill every suitable spot.

It wasn't all beautiful scenery and classic problems though. The hike in is nine miles long with four deep stream crossings. We each had to carry thirty pounds of gear which is doable in a pack, but pretty uncomfortable packed into a pad. I have a feeling that expedition bouldering will be growing in popularity in the next few years. A market will develop for a pad that is designed to carry large amounts of gear, with fully adjustable padded shoulder straps, and a padded waist belt. Josh, if you're reading this, and you can make a pad like this, I'm interested.

At our second hiking break, Ashley couldn't believe how much farther we still had to go.

The area we camped and bouldered at isn't named on any map. But I think "The Cirque of the Boulders" would be a good name. We hiked all day Wednesday, bouldered all day Thursday, and I gave one problem a few attempts on Friday morning before we hiked out. We barely scratched the surface of what's out there. With so little time, we stuck to the naturally clean lines with flat landings. We didn't want to spend our only climbing day there brushing lichen or moving rocks. We also avoided any problems that were tall or even slightly dangerous. Many beautiful problems I wouldn't have thought twice about attempting five minutes from the car weren't an option this far from civilization. Something as simple as a sprained ankle could have awful consequences out there.

Luckily we had plenty of problems to choose from that weren't too tall.

Ashley climbing the first ascent of "Spelunker."

We both climbed a unique double arete corner problem I named "Spectrum," after the full rainbow of wildflowers in the area. A classic I'd rate V5.

Other than a small stone fire ring, there was nothing to suggest that people had visited the area. It's obvious that people have been following the "Leave No Trace" ethic within the area. We did our best to follow it as well. Here Ashley washes her face with biodegradable soap far from any lake or stream.

To some extent the Wind River wilderness protects itself. The mosquitoes being one of the area's most effective guardians against crowds. By day three I began to feel that they were driving me insane.

Here is an Inspirational Mosquito Story that I'd like to tell.

As Ashley and I ate our dinner slathered in Deet and wearing head nets, mosquitoes swarmed around us, unable to bite due to our doubled defenses. Despite this fact, I was still taking the time to swat as many as I could. Then Ashley asked "What's the point of swatting them? You'll never get rid of them all. It's a waste of time and effort. The swatting doesn't matter."

I held out my hands and clapped, crushing two mosquitoes and said, "Well, it mattered to them."

One of the joys of the trip was Starbucks Instant coffee packets. Not as good as my coffee at home, but absolutely essential to my bouldering.

A few times the wind picked up, and we were happy to have it. Only a stiff breeze would take away the mosquitoes and deer flies completely, so we could truly relax outside of the tent.

Later in the afternoon I found an area at the edge of the talus field with great landings, angles, and features. I was a little disappointed that I didn't find the spot earlier in the day. I climbed a great line called "Granite Pockets" that goes at about V3.

Then we began working on a perfect roof just to the left. Only enough features to make it possible. Here are photos of Ashley doing various moves on what we dubbed the "Moonset Roof Project."

We were each able to do every move except for the first one. I came back Friday morning hoping I would be fresh enough to send it after a night of rest. Close, but I didn't quite complete the line. It's three star, and probably goes at V8. Ashley isn't interested in packing back in for it, but I feel like I need to finish this project someday.

It takes a lot of effort to boulder in the Winds. You don't need a pack animal to do it, but it is probably worth it to use one if you are going in for longer than a few days. The longer the trip, the more satisfying it will be. The mosquitoes are annoying enough to make it worth planning around them. A trip in late August or September might be ideal, or when a 10-15mph wind is in the weather forecast. It will be a while before I can head back in, but I'm now planning to take some sort of bouldering trip into the Wind Rivers every summer.


scott said...

Great trip report David! You understated the difficulties immensely, hiking in with that much of a load is a killer. And the mosquitoes are beyond hideous!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful adventure! Rock looks amazing... and area beautiful.

Michael Malakian said...

RE: hiking with gear and pads: i've made several trips into the winds to boulder, mostly in the hailey pass/mt hooker area, and have found it much easier to carry my gear in a standard backpacking pack and then strap the crash pad(s) to the outside of the pack. it takes a little bit of experimentation but works pretty well once you get the hang of it - the important thing is to make sure the pad won't swing around.