Black Elk was the "hardest route in the Cirque" for over 20 years. While technically not in the Cirque (see location below), it is one of the best routes in this area of the Winds. (Please note that the pitch lengths are estimates from memory and if anyone has better estimates, please post them in comments.)
P1 Scramble up ledges from the left side of the northeast face. Stay low when you have the option. The route finding for the very beginning of the roped climbing was a bit difficult. I actually tried climbing up too early in the ledge traverse and got completely hosed on some unprotected 5.11 slab that I had to retreat from. Rope up just before an orange colored section of rock (make sure you go far enough to the climber's right) and climb this to a large ledge (5.8 and not well protected). Next go left up a slabby right facing corner/ramp. Belay at the base of a very long, vertical, right facing corner. 5.8, 200+ feet, depending on where you rope up on the slabs. We had to simulclimb a bit to set up a proper belay.
P2 Climb the pretty right facing corner passing some small overlaps on fingers and hands and lay backing. Belay at a small stance. 5.10-, 110 feet. We didn't find the most comfortable belay spot here, it was semi-hanging.
P3 Keep going up the right facing corner up an incredible hand crack, awesome pitch. Belay at the top on a pillar/ledge that has a bolt on its right side. It's actually better to belay on the left side of this ledge as the next pitch starts from there. 5.10, 100 feet. P2 and P3 can be combined with a 70 meter rope.
P4 Climb up a gorgeous splitter hand crack that eventually turns into a small right facing corner. Pass a roof on hands, then one on fists and lay backing to a stance just above. Then it's just some 5.11 off fists for about 15-20 feet. Belay above this wide section in a pod or just above in a finger crack, depending on what size of gear you have left. Either way it's not a very comfy belay. 5.11a and 165 feet.
P5 Another great pitch. Climb a splitter hand and finger crack, making a fun crack switch right at about 40 feet to gain a right angling hand crack. Belay at the right side of a ledge at a finger crack. 5.10 and 150 feet.
P6 Make a difficult move off the belay to a right facing wall with a discontinuous finger crack. Climb under a huge chockstone on its left side and belay just past it. 5.9, 160 feet.
P7 Two options here. Either climb a right facing dihedral with bad gear (I got 1 good piece in 70 feet) and lots of vegetation to another ledge. Alternately there is a chimney/offwidth to the right of this. We did not do this option but it is described in comments below. 5.10, 70 feet for option one.
P8 Climb to the right of largish chockstone and continue up a fun gully/chimney with lots of options. 5.8, 180 feet.
From here scramble up ledges about 300 feet with some easy 5th class moves to the top.
Northeast face of Warbonnet. Approach from Jack Ass Pass between Arrowhead and North Lakes. Descent is scrambling down gullies to the climbers' left.
Stoppers, double rack with maybe an extra hand piece, long runners. A sixty meter rope is nice, a 70 would probably even be better (we used a sixty). Also don't forget a 3.5 and 4 Camalot (old not new) or equivalent for the crux pitch unless you are comfortable running it out on 5.11 wide fists.
|By S. Stember|
From: St. Paul, MN
Dec 29, 2008
This route looks great! Someone said they only got in one cruddy cam on a vegetated pitch. Shouldn't this route be rated R or X in that case?
May 27, 2009
That pitch is game on. The seam takes alot of marginal small stuff. it goes at about 10- I thik there could be harder but better protected variations. Worth checking out.
|By Tom Rangitsch|
From: Lander, WY
Aug 4, 2009
Yeah, you may be right about the length. I don't think it's quite as long as you say it is, but 1000 feet of technical climbing and 3-400 feet of scrambling? I'll change the description. Where do you belay if you do it in 9 or 10 pitches?
Maybe if my pro placing skills were better on the 7th pitch I would have gotten more gear. As it was I was sketched out by most of the placements on that one until I was past the crux.
|By burlap submariner|
Dec 26, 2009
This route is excellent, climbed it in the summer of 2003 and had a blast. We got off route(created a "new" variation?)but connected back with the corner/crack system on pitch 4. Great route for a strong 10- leader wanting to plug away on trick fist 11-.
From: jackson, wy
Jul 13, 2010
The route can be done in 5 pitches w/ a 70m rope. Spectacular climb.
Doubles to #3 w/ rp's, 3 #4 camelots, and an extra hand size piece
|By Jim Howe|
From: Salt Lake city
Aug 3, 2010
P7 as described is easily avoided with a really nice pitch that starts on the right side of the huge chockstone. It is very obvious, It starts as a clean low angle corner right under the chockstone and steepens up. It is high quality in keeping with the rest of the route. It goes on for 70 meters and ends at the scramble to the summit. The topo that I have from the mid-80's shows it as the finishing pitch.
We did this route round trip from the parking lot in a 15-16 hours moving steady, but not trying to set any speed record.
I wouldn't use a 70M rope if I did it again, It didn't save us any time for the effort. But maybe I'm old fashion that way.
Aug 3, 2011
anyone have an opinion on new #4 camlot vs. old. "widefists" makes me think the new #4 might be tipped out, sure is light though.
|By Aaron Miller|
Aug 9, 2011
Overall, this is a fantastic route. The 4 pitches that make up the bulk of this climb are impeccable. Crux pitch: you can take 1 to 4 pieces of 4" gear, depends on your comfort at this size. Both new and old #4's will fit in places. I brought 1-3, 1-4, and 1-5, all new style. A little runout but "relatively" safe.
Beware the first 5.8 pitch! This is no joke, probably should be rated R/X as you are making exposed 5.8 face moves with no real protection to speak of as you wander around to get to the ramp. A party started up a few minutes behind us didn't take it seriously enough! The leader fell and hit a ledge, I think he fractured his tailbone. They were able to get down OK and I saw him spend some time with his butt in the snow. I'm glad he wasn't higher up when he came off.
As for the last pitch, I can't speak for the original finish but the "exit right" variation turned out beautifully. I also recommend it.
Descent was pretty obvious, cross one drainage heading west from the ridge, then bust down to the first col. Easy.
|By Jared Spaulding|
From: Central WY
Oct 25, 2011
Charlie Fowler and Jeff Lowe, 1979
|By matt j hartman|
From: lander, wy
Nov 23, 2011
go right at the chockstone. left is a little dirty, tricky pro and hard for the grade. seems like the OG finish is the way.
Jun 24, 2012
This route looks classic and am sad to say we didn't make it past the first pitch. It's previously mentioned that the first pitch deserves an RX rating. I can't actually speak to the dangers of that pitch but can say my partner didn't injure himself on it. He tried a moronic direct "variation" close to his on-sight ability and fell. Fortunately, only his ass and ego were bruised.
From: Stony Brook, NY
Jul 10, 2012
no sure what the fuss over the 1st pitch is, maybe people are starting too low?
Follow ramps doing a little move over a bulge to get to the left side of a horizontal white streak, seen from the meadows. Traverse right 15 feet into a short corner, place gear, and move right some more placing a nut and or small cam. It is easy 5.7 up and left into the corner. no sketch. If you are indeed going this way and bail, the rest of the route isn't for you (no offense).
The start of the corner is game on and dirty, but after 15 feet it eases and cleans up a lot. The belay is in a little chimney and sucks, but combining pitches is for the true hardman or someone with a giant rack.
The 5.11 pitch is 100% full on. Not for the beginning 5.11 leader, unless that person excels at 5.11 off fists. The crack turns into #3 and #4 camalot size after just 20 feet. You can get some smaller gear after quite a bit of climbing and back-cleaning big cams. I had 2 #3 camalots and 3 #4 sized camalots and found this to be very inadequate for a free ascent. I'm sure there are plenty of hardmen/women who excell at this crack, but most people suck at it. If you aren't running up 5.11 fists, I seriously reccomend as many #3 and #4 cams as you can find. But then, I can't reccomend hauling that crap up there, so don't feel bad when "TAKE!" comes bubbling out of your mouth and you handdog and back clean your way up. Last bit of advice - Wear your approach shoes on this pitch.
Things got severely windy at this point for us (including the 5.11 pitch) so that may have affected my memory of the difficulty. The next (5th) pitch is great, and longer than the guidebooks states. 5.10 for sure but not desperate. Belay at the grass below the chockstone.
The chockstone pitch starts out grass grabbing and placing cams in cleaned out pods, then is fun and easy up and right up a ramp under the chockstone. Climb up a bit past the chockstone and belay on a ledge.
The next two pitches (or one epic pitch) in my opinion, suck, and are heads up alpine lichen eating 5.10, but maybe we didn't take the path of least resistance. I can't comment on the left exit under the chockstone, but it sounds crappy too.
Lots of climbing packed into 1000 feet! It's not the Perch or the Hulk, but it is a full on alpine classic face.
|By Marq Diamond|
Jul 28, 2012
Hey guys, I just got back and I used this beta for the climb. I would like to note some useful stuff including the fact that most pitches are quite a bit shorter than noted by the OP. In addition, the last pitch has a lot of options. We did the right corner exit, which is a nice OW at 10. Check out my TR for detailed description and photos.
|By matt j hartman|
From: lander, wy
Aug 1, 2012
Originally rated 10d. It only has about 15 feet that could be rated harder than 10b. get on it. go right at the start to find good pro and easy climbing. Besides the cruddy p7 (which can be avoided) at 10a, this is great stone all the way on a sunny face in the mountains. Get the view of the cirque from the summit. Magnificent. 3 number 4 sizes will sew it up pretty well. For rating scales, this is Indian Creek 11a. At Vedauwoo, Fremont Canyon, South Platte, Valley, etc it would be 10c/d (which is hard). If you think this route is hard at 11a then go climb Weather or Not (III 5.10) to the left. The first ascent party (like Lowe and Fowler) kept it real. I would say this has a lot of hand jams and a couple of fist jams, so long as your hands are 2 camalots or larger. Smaller hand folks will find the crux harder for sure but that doesn't really change the rating. Have a fun adventure and enjoy the range. Check out the Sundance Pinnacle if you are in the area as well. Great day 2 routes! IS it alpine if you wear a t-shirt all day? Once below the chockstone go right up the good, pretty cracks. The left isn't fun, the right is!
|By Jim Donini|
Aug 22, 2012
What a fantastic climb....best I've done in the Winds, great rock and zero vegetation. Sustained and interesting climbing with great pro....put it on your short list!
Pitch 1 is not spicy, start far to the right and climb easily up to moderate ramps that take you up and left to the belay. The 5.8 move is just below the belay and takes good small gear.
Pitch 3 Great pitch...do not go all the way to the bolt, 20 ft. from top of corner exit on easy face climbing that takes you up and left to the belay ledge.
Pitch 4 Crux comes after the second roof. You wont be pumped because there are rests you can milk but the crux is pure 4 camalot crack and solid 5.11. Bring at least two new 4 camalots and maybe a 5.
Pitch 6 The moves off of the ledge are more like 5.10 and take small gear.
Last two pitches...I don't know where the OP went but the last two pitches from the ledge behind the HUGE chockstone are clean, enjoyable and not very difficult. Begin by doing the 5.8 right facing corner directly behind you that diagonals up and to the right 70 ft. to a ledge. From here there are two cracks....take the right one that takes you up a full rope length (5.9) to the end of the roped climbing.
Oct 29, 2012
Excellent route. Dont let Matt Hartman tell you "it is a handcrack with a couple of fist jams". This is from a man who climbed meat hooks in the creek bare handed with blood pouring down his forearms. If you are not comfortable with off-fists the crux will smack you in the mouth. Hurt me so good.
May 19, 2013
Is there a descent description for Warbonnet? Thanks.
|By matt j hartman|
From: lander, wy
May 30, 2013
Head to the summit, or just below via class 3. The head south and west to an obvious gully with cairns. Loose class 3 all the way down. May hold snow in June. When dry you can walk down in comfy climbing shoes no problem. It will save weight for the 27 number four and five camalots you need to "free climb" this route.
|By Nick Stayner|
From: Billings, MT
Jul 11, 2013
So just to clarify... are we talking OLD #4 camalots (new #5) for the crux pitch or NEW #4 camalots (old #3.5)?
Jul 19, 2013
We had one new and one old #4 cam and thought the combination worked well.
|By earl mcalister|
Aug 1, 2013
Climbed this route last week. I wanted to clarify that a new #5 is a total waste of time to bring up there. It will not fit. We carried the thing the whole day. If I were to climb it again I would bring a new #4 BD and an old 4. You can easily slide the cams up with you and make the crux very safe. Three #3's would also make the moves below the crux a bit safer if you aren't solid on that size (we had 2 and were fine). A 70 meter rope would allow you to link pitches 2 and 3, which I think would be amazing if you are conservative with your pro down low and it would give the person following the crux an amazing looong pitch to lead (if swapping leads). Excellent route, but I didn't feel it was as notorious as is suggested on this page or in some of the trip reports you read about it. Go climb it!
|By Kishen Joseph|
Jun 30, 2014
here is a picture of the first pitch. very straightforward.
| || the crux 5.8 section of the first pitch |