Thursday, July 30, 2015

Golden Hour in the Wind River Range

Sometimes, the balm of the day is Happy Hour, when we can leave the stress and bustle of work and bike over to a friendly watering hole to enjoy a cold tasty brew. This is the time to relax and banter with friends, and enjoy a slower pace.

I enjoy the libations of Happy Hour sometimes, but the real balm to my soul is the Golden Hour, that magic time just before dusk when the sun does something ridiculous and paints the whole world in rich velvet rays. It's as if the sun realizes that it's about to leave and throws a final burst of its purest light over the world, a parting gift.

The Golden Hour is a special time. It's the time of my best efforts, but not my's a brief relaxation of the day when gravity and fatigue lose their potency. These are the times when I float down the trail on renewed legs and climb with renewed vigor, buoyed upward by a new lightness before the close of the day. In winter, when I see that golden hue out the office window before I leave, I see the chocolate walls of Indian Creek in my mind's eye and recall days upon days of floating up splitters in the light of the fading day, scaling the improbable cliffs with no more effort than breathing.

As JD and I hiked over Jackass Pass into the Cirque of the Towers this weekend I couldn't help continuing to look behind at the splendid silhouette of Lost Temple Spire jutting into the horizon behind us, bathed in the light of sunset. "Man, wouldn't it be sweet to be up there right now", I kept saying. He said something about the annoyances of rappelling in the dark and I had to agree, but maybe it's worth the cost... 

We enjoyed a fun mellow day scrambling to summits in the Cirque and enjoying spacious views of the range, then returned to camp for a meal in the early evening. We'd been talking about the Lost Temple Spire too much to let it lie in the unknown future anymore. Satisfied with some Raman noodles and spicy peanut sauce, we broke camp, packed our bags and hiked south over the pass with the Spire floating before us like a sentinel in the sunset. Golden Hour. "Man, I'd like to be up there at this time tomorrow."

JD scopes the chiseled south face of Wolf's Head, some of the cleanest cracks in the Cirque.

Usually, I hit the Golden Hour at the end of day-long climbs, massive efforts that drain me to the core, and the rich thick sunlight comes as a blessing at the end of the day when I need a final boost of energy. The spire in our view is only six pitches tall, totally feasible to climb and descend in half a day. To be up there near sunset, we’d have to start late…

We were a little haggard from poor rest before the trip so we luxuriated in ten hours of beauty sleep at Big Sandy Lake and enjoyed a casual morning stretching and drinking coffee in the meadow. Buzzing mosquitos were annoying but hey, you forget all the annoyances easily. We set off for our destination with a super-alpine start of 9:30 AM and enjoyed the lovely walk to Black Joe lake (wrong way…oops), crossed the shoulder of Haystack to correct our error, and took an exhilarating dip in the cold clear waters of Deep Lake underneath the majestic prow of Lost Temple Spire.

Lost Temple Spire beckons from Jackass Pass

After a long scramble up from the lake we enjoyed great climbing on the Wind River granite as we inched our way up the Spire via Separation Anxiety. A sparse description in the guidebook kept things exciting, as a 5.6 pitch held a surprise no-fall-zone 5.9 mantle and a “5.0 traverse” involved inching out on sloping blocks over the sheer north face that drops off a thousand feet to the glacier below. The proud skyline of the tower was accordingly strenuous, with a burly “5.9” fist crack followed by the route’s signature pitch, a 65 meter hand crack. As in a 65 meter pitch with 63 meters of hand jams. With four red and three gold camalots on my harness, I gazed up at the immaculate splitter that cut the white granite above us beyond view, and felt my hands tingle with anticipation. The pitch was pure joy, perfect jams with a gulf of air beneath, so little gear it wasn’t even worth thinking about it. At the rope’s end I was huffing and puffing and couldn’t help the huge grin on my face.

We climbed back onto the sunlit west face as the day grew old and the light grew thick with the molten sun. We forgot the fatigue of the day and the bustling wind and worked our way through the final problems to the top of the Spire in a golden world of sky and stone. On the summit, the Wind River Range extended before us in unending waves of peaks and valleys, ridges and cliffs and dizzying vertical walls, each one holding the promise of unwritten trials and discoveries. At these times, in the dying sunlight, the future spreads as far as the mellowing horizon, in all directions, tantalizingly close.

We’d earned our time in the Golden Hour, and had to pay up too. Rapping the south ridge on-sight in the dark involved some uncertain rope-stretching rappels, some manky anchors, and an entertaining half-hour while I crouched in an alcove tied to a small block while JD finagled an anchor somewhere above me. The mountain’s geometry forced us down narrow ledges away from our packs and we had to descend a long way down and scramble the whole way back up, our feet swollen in climbing shoes. It’s easy to get dejected on a long slog back to camp, but the beauty of the place kept our spirits high. We sated our raging thirst with the cold waters of Deep Lake and ambled down the slabs of the valley, glittering in moonlight. We only got four hours sleep before waking to the buzz of mosquitos and a threatening sky but jammed some coffee and oats down the hatch and made the trek back to the car, tired and sore but happy with the memory of the Golden Hour still fresh on our minds and worn into the creases of our hands. 

Inspiring terrain for days

Great exposure and some steep "5.9" jamming

The money pitch: 2.5 inch splitter for days.

The sheer north face of the Spire has fueled my dreams the past few nights. There still be glaciers in these parts!

JD finishes 65 meters of hand jamming

dreamy terrain

alpine mariachi

They don't call them the Wind River mountains for nothing...chilly breezes on the north prow of Lost Temple Spire. Can't wait to get back for more!

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