From August 28 through September 3, 2016, former Alpinist Editor-in-Chief Michael Kennedy shared some photos and stories for the #alpinistcommunityproject about his time in Wyoming’s Wind River Range during the 1970s and 1980s. The series appeared in conjunction with the release of Alpinist 55, which featured the Winds in a Mountain Profile by Paula Wright titled “Silences on the Map.”–Ed.
I was a young and not-so-experienced climber who was nevertheless enamored with the idea of technical climbing in the mountains. And living in the wilderness. The Winds were relatively close to home, accessible and beautiful, yet obscure enough to offer the sort of romance and mystery I sought.
[The image above is] a contact sheet from my first trip to the Cirque of the Towers in 1974 with Chris Landry. We spent about ten days in the area and climbed a number of popular peaks: Wolf’s Head, Pingora, Warrior 1, Mount Mitchell. One of my favorite routes was the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head, an exposed and demanding climb that belies its modest 5.6 rating. It was a worthy challenge for us and a classic even today. In true old-school style, I even carried my 2.25-inch square Mamiya camera up the route.
While in 1974 we climbed established routes, in 1975 and 1976 we found our own lines. Each climb had its particular character and feeling, although none of our new routes was particularly difficult or significant in terms of “progressing the sport.” One of my favorites was Cutthroat Spire, a wonderful mountaineering adventure for Lou Dawson and me (in 1975), with a snow gully approach, steep rock (including some aid), and a virgin summit–as far as we know.
The Winds are uncrowded, serene, off the radar. Even the best-known climbs are only vaguely described in Joe Kelsey’s guidebook, and as he and others have noted, it is still common to find old pitons or other detritus on a “new route.” We didn’t find anything on the routes we climbed in 1975 and 1976 but you can never be sure.
Those trips in the 1970s were magical–and a lot of work. We’d blast out of town, make the long drive up to Wyoming, and trudge in for a day or two before getting to the climbing. We were too cheap to hire horses so we humped in all our own food and gear. But we were usually lucky with the weather and always managed a few good routes before having to head back home.
Many people who climb in the Winds figure if you’re going to hike a few days to get to the climbs, you shouldn’t need a lot of information. Or even no information at all, so you can discover the climb anew. The “culture of mystery” is alive and well in the Winds and definitely contributes to the range’s appeal. I’d imagine the future in the Winds will be much the same as the past: a slow and steady exploration by a few adventurous souls.