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Wind Rivers 1997
Dickinson Park to Cirque of the Towers

The Cirque ... finally!

Tuesday, August 19   What a glorious day. It did not start out too promising. I had gotten up about 2:30 am to take a leak, and the moon was out, washing out all the stars. A lovely night. But an hour later, we were awakened by the crash of lightning, and wave after wave of thunder showers moved through. No threat, since we were in the trees, and the nearest bolt hit no closer than a mile. But I confess to borrowing down into my bag, just for the sheer delight of it all. But by 7:15 am, the front had moved through, and the weather looked vastly improved. I told Susie, still inside the tent, that if she were hoping for shitty weather today, she was going to be sorely disappointed, as the sky was solid blue. I heard Ray mumble in the background: "There ain't gonna be no shitty weather today!" And indeed, the day lived up to our expectations.

We decided that the most efficient thing to do, since our planned itinerary was undergoing nearly constant "in field revision," was to layover where we were camped, as it would be a lot of expenditure of energy to move camp the kilometer or so to Lizard Head Meadows. We could day hike up into the Cirque of the Towers, our primary objective for this trip, and spend plenty of time up there. Ray, BJ, and Barbara pulled out about 9 am, and we were 15 minutes behind. It did not take us long to get to Lizard Head Meadows. Susie and I lamented that we had not gone on, but that is easy to say when you are well rested and your lungs are not burning. There are good campsites at the east end of the Meadows are great, and even though you're still a mile and a half from the east end of Lonesome Lake, you have great views to the Cirque. Susie and I arrived at the east end of Lonesome Lake about 11:10 am, having somehow passed the remainder of the crew while they must have been thrashing about on one of the many lesser trails which cross the meadows. There were quite a few folks camping around the lake, even though the rules indicate no camping within a quarter mile. Maybe they are not too good at measuring distances.

The Cirque of the Towers represents a real "must see" on the lifetime list of most serious backpackers, ranking right up there with the view of Glacier Peak reflected in Image Lake. A spectacular wall of peaks wraps around Lonesome Lake, and Pingora Peak, more a huge truncated cone of granite than a mountain in the classical sense, stands apart from the main ridge, beckoning rock climbers to test their mettle. The Continental Divide approaches along the ridge line from the southeast, makes a turn to the southwest, and wraps nearly 3/4 of a full circle at the Cirque, before heading northwest on its way to Canada. Wildflowers abound in the basin, and it certainly one of the most photographed spots in Wyoming outside the two National Parks. It was great to be here on such a lovely day. We ate lunch, chatted with a woman who pointed out a couple of climbers on the face of Pingora Peak, and, as Susie suggested, I tried to imitate Pat O'Hara. (O'Hara is a famous nature photographer, (, who took the photo on the front of the Earthwalk Press map that we were using for an overview of our hike. The photo has lots of wildflowers blooming, with Lonesome Lake and part of the Cirque in the distance. My photos were poor imitations of his skills.) Barbara and Ray decided to head toward Jackass Pass, at the SE corner of the Cirque (the Earthwalk Press map refers to it as Big Sandy Pass, but I like the former name better), to get the big picture. I got real lazy, but Susie encouraged me to walk around, and let BJ hold down the side of the hill, as she seemed to be doing the best job in that department. We walked up a little ways toward the pass, and spent some time trying to photograph a curious marmot. As we would get closer to him, he would drop down like he was going to get into his den, but as soon as we would back away, he would pop up and watch us. We ran into a couple from Red Lodge, MT, hiking out over Jackass Pass, and she indicated she sewed for Crazy Creek ( I have always considered the MSR Whisperlight stove and the Crazy Creek Chair two of the best backpacking inventions of the last 20 years. The chair makes my time in camp vastly more enjoyable, even though it adds a pound and a half or so to my pack. I mentioned this to the woman, and indicated that all five of our party had their Chairs with them on this trip. She seemed pleased.

We pulled out of the Cirque area about 2:40 pm, and were back in camp at 3:30. Susie had left our water bag in the sun all day, and thus treated herself to a warm water bath. I opted for the colder water but unlimited supply on the edge of a nearby creek. Dinner was Penne Pasta with prosciutto ham and peas, with alfredo sauce. It was wonderful. After dinner, the remainder of the crew decided that their exercise quota was not filled for the day, and they headed on over to Papoose Lake. It was not too far back in the woods, and offered some nice views of a mini-Cirque. After they returned, we started discussing the itinerary. No reason not to change our plans, continually adjusting to the terrain, and our interest in exploring. Originally, the plan was to hike back down and camp for a couple of nights in Sanford Park. But since what we wanted to do on our layover day on Thursday was to hike up into Pinto Park and/or Deep Creek Lakes Basin, it seemed prudent to knock off a couple of hundred feet of climbing. We decided to hang a right at the junction of the North Fork Trail and the Pinto Park Trail, and climb a bit to an unnamed lake at an elevation of 9448 feet. It would be an easy day, which, for me, was not a bad thing.

For great trip report, approaching the Cirque from the Western side, you really need to take a look at Sarah Boomer's write up.

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Roger A. Jenkins, 2001