7. Wolf's Head

Wind River Range, Wyoming

Jun 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

   Photo: Illustration by Olivier Kugler

* SUMMIT ELEVATION: 12,165 feet
* DURATION: Three days
* SNAPSHOT: A remote rock climb featuring a gutsy knife ridge

DEEP INSIDE Wyoming's Wind River Range is a soaring granite fin that climbers everywhere consider a litmus test for raw nerve. Step up to Wolf's Head, a razor-thin traverse so adrenaline-firing and aesthetically blessed that grizzled alpine gurus Allen Steck and Steve Roper showcased it in their seminal book 50 Classic Climbs of North America. Located in the remote Cirque of the Towers, an arena of 18 rock spires reaching above 12,000 feet, Wolf's Head will challenge your rock skills, multipitch endurance, and—when staring at precipitous drops from the 12,165-foot summit—spinal fortitude. The long approach, tricky climbing, and unpredictable weather that blitzes the Cirque of the Towers will enforce efficient movement if you want to avoid an epic on this trip. In other words, by the time you hike back to the car, you'll understand the full meaning of grace under pressure.

** The Route
OK, so it's rated a deceptively modest 5.7, but ascend the EAST RIDGE of Wolf's Head and you'll feel like you've climbed 5.10. From Big Sandy Opening, southwest of Pinedale, Wyoming, hoof a day to base camp inside the Cirque of the Towers. Set out at dawn and scramble up a gully on the east ridge to a notch below the ridgeline. Break out the chalk—"white courage"—and up you go on mellow rock filled with pleasant surprises: a pocket here, a crack there. Pray it's not windy, because you're about to tightrope toward the true summit on a 1,000-foot ridge that narrows to a mere 18 inches, framed by empty plunges. Ascend Knobby Face to the real crux, a 5.7 contour around a tower lacking anything remotely resembling a handhold. ("Edging skills or hospital bills," vets of the Wolf like to say.) Once you reach the safety of the summit block, feel free to prostrate yourself and plaster it with kisses.

GUIDE Jackson Hole Mountain Guides leads five-day trips into the Cirque of the Towers to attempt Wolf's Head and other objectives, time permitting. This includes a day to make the eight-mile hike to base camp, three days of climbing on some of the best granite in the Rockies, and a day to hike back out. Guides review belaying and setting and removing rock-climbing protection like cams, nuts, and stoppers. You'll also review and practice techniques to help you move fast on long multipitch routes, the key to avoiding stormy nights and sketchy bivouacs. ($950 per person; 800-239-7642, www.jhmg.com)

Prevent abrasions from the coarse granite of Wolf's Head with PRANA's cotton STRETCH ZION climbing pants. ($60; 800-557-7262, www.prana.com) Nothing boosts confidence on a runout lead like the MAMMUT DUODESS SUPERDRY 50-METER INFINITY 9.5mm rope. A moisture-proof coating prevents waterlogging, and its reduced weight keeps you fast and light. ($226; 800-451-5127, www.climbhigh.com) A locking carabiner becomes your best friend on a peak like the Wolf. HUGH BANNER's HMS 'biners are strong, reliable, and low-maintenance, just like a good climbing partner. ($18; 800-451-5127, www.climbhigh.com)

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