Climb: Go where the crowds are thinner than the air. Michael Lanza
When you crest the steep trail to Jackass Pass and see Pingora Peak for the first time, you feel like, well, a jackass. The granite pillar is one of the most stunning sights in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, but the sheer, clean walls look unclimbable. Pingora’s neighbors are equally intimidating: Warbonnet, Sharks Nose, Overhanging Tower, and Wolf’s Head are just a few of the 12,000-foot peaks that form the giant arc of walls known as Cirque of the Towers.
But stay a moment. You’ll soon see the scramble through boulders and billiard balls to the foot of Pingora’s South Buttress, then the easy, roped climb to a comfortable ledge just below the summit. From this perch, the Cirque makes sense; its vertical topography gels into a less foreboding symmetry. And you’ll love the exposure: 2,000 feet straight down, Lonesome Lake looks like a puddle, one you might hit with a well-aimed rock.
Tonight you’ll camp back in the valley, but your tent can wait. Linger in the sun, which shines brighter at this altitude, and feel the slow ebb of adrenaline as the excitement of scaling a big wall gives way to a mellower appreciation of high, hard-to-reach places. Out here, in the remote ranges where backpackers climb, the world is different–wild, unhurried, never crowded. It’ll take more than a rappel to get back to the parking lot, and that’s worth braying about.
Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range, WY
This premier backcountry area offers routes of all difficulties, including several classics on 11,884-foot Pingora (the South Buttress is rated 5.6). Hike about 9 miles from the Big Sandy Campground trailhead, roughly 40 partly gravel road miles southeast of Boulder, WY. Black bears and marmots are notorious thieves here; hang food well.
Guide: Climbing and Hiking in the Wind River Mountains, by Joe Kelsey ($25).
Contact: Pinedale Ranger District, Bridger-Teton National Forest, (307) 367-4326; www.fs.fed.us/btnf/about/ed_center.shtml. Washakie Ranger District, Shoshone National Forest, (307)
Wallface, Adirondack Mountains, NY
While many northeast cliffs lie a short walk from pavement, New York’s tallest wall rises an imposing 800 feet above Indian Pass, 6 miles into the mountains. And getting to its base requires a struggle through dense forest and around huge boulders-all part of the adventure of climbing Wallface. Several six- to seven-pitch routes ascend the broad cliff, including Mental Blocks (5.7), The Diagonal (5.8), and Pleasure Victim (5.11). The best camping is near Indian Pass.
Guide: Climbing in the Adirondacks-A Guide to Rock and Ice Routes, by Don Mellor ($25).
Contact: Adirondack Mountain Club, (518) 668-4447; www.adk.org.
Prusik Peak, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA
Even in the roof-of-the-world landscape of the Enchantment Lakes Basin-an alpine paradise of sweeping granite slabs, wildflower-strewn meadows, waterfalls, glaciers, and lakes strung together like pearls on a necklace–Prusik Peak steals your eye, its razor-sharp ridgelines culminating in a pointed summit. The six-pitch South Face (5.9+) and easier West Ridge (5.7) offer superb rock in an incomparable setting. Reserve a backcountry permit months in advance for this popular area.
Guide: Selected Climbs in the Cascades, vol. 1, 2nd edition, by Jim Nelson and Peter Potterfield ($27).
Contact: Leavenworth Ranger District, Wenatchee National Forest, (509) 548-6977; www.fs.fed.us/r6/wenatchee/.