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Ellingwood Peak, North Ridge/Arete, Wyoming
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By Zolen Boogaerts
Aug 29, 2013

I'm new to MP, so I guess I'll also use this as a way to introduce myself. My name is Zolen, and I've been backpacking for 18 years. I've been all over the place backpacking. However, climbing was calling me. Finally, I started working at an outdoor retailer, and went climbing with some friends. I was hooked. Unlike many, I only had one interest: traditional climbing and mountaineering. Sure, I love tope roping, bouldering, or sport climbing to get strong and train, but if I'm going somewhere, it's going to be traditional climbing all the way. I had a leg up on most new climbers, because I've always had a fascination with ropes, and already knew all the knots. I also had years of backcountry experience that will take most new climbers years to learn. However, I obviously still had lots to learn. Luckily, I had some awesome buddies/climbers/mentors to teach me the ropes. The last year and a half I changed my usual monthly backpacking trip into my monthly climbing trip. Every 30-45 days, I spend at least 4 days going somewhere in the Southeast to climb. Linville Gorge has become my go-to. Between those times, I get out at least once a week on real rock. I still have yet to go to a gym, which I know would only help me.

Anyway, I always go out west somewhere during the summer, and I had planned to go hike the John Muir Trail this summer. However, that quickly gave way to a climbing trip. While at work going through some books, I found this mountain: Ellingwood Peak (officially Harrower Peak), and the North Ridge (also known as North Arete) route. It's a Grade III 5.6 route that climbs a 1,500ft arete to the summit at 13,052ft. I had to go. So, for the last year, I've done nothing but prepare for this trip. I got the gear ready, climbed as much trad as I could, went on as many backpack-in-and-climb trips as I could. July 20-31, 2013 my buddy Ryan and I made this trip a reality.

We drove from Birmingham, AL to Pinedale, WY non-stop, which took about 27 hours. I knew our packs would be insanely heavy, since we were not only carrying a trad rack and two ropes for Ellingwood, but also planned to hit Gannett Peak while we were in there. So, we arranged for some mule porters to carry in some gear. We had 12 days off work, which should allow us 2 for driving, 4 for backpacking in/out, and 6 days to climb. That didn't work out. We got to Pinedale, WY to meet the porter, and he tells me he wants 100% of the cash up front. Plus a bag full of thousands of dollars in gear. That was sketchy, but he met us at a gas station, which was the final straw. I thought, "how the hell do I even LOOK for this guy if he screws us?" We decided to do it by ourselves. We got to the trailhead and started suiting up. Our packs were easily 95lbs, if not more. I probably could have whittled this down to 75 had I known we weren't using porters, but whatever. Ten days of food, two bear canisters each, a rope, half a rack, climbing shoes, approach shoes, ice axe, crampons, etc. It was heavy.


My pack
My pack



Regardless, we pushed on. Because of the weight, it took us 2.5 days to get to Indian Basin (about 18 miles in). Really, we could have made it in two, but decided to stop at Island Lake to fish. Day three, we woke up, packed up, and hit the trail for base camp below Ellingwood Peak. I had seen so many pictures of it, but they just don't do it justice. I've been to so many amazing places (Yosemite, Tetons, Grand Canyon, etc.) but Indian Basin in the Winds was unbelievable. We didn't see a person for three days. We set up camp by lake 10,813 (I think that's the elevation, but it might be slightly different) at the foot of Elephant Head and Ellingwood Peak. It was an amazing place.


My pack in front of Ellingwood Peak.  Base camp for Ellingwood climb.
My pack in front of Ellingwood Peak. Base camp for Ellingwood climb.


After setting up camp, we decided to go scout the route. We had heard the start was tricky, and that many people start too low and too far right. As you know, once you get near the mountain, you lose all perspective. So, we set off with our gear to climb a few pitches. By 11am, we were at the base of the route. For detailed route photos, see the route's page here on MP, I posted some edited pics there of the route. We roped up and started climbing. The climbing was excellent. Mild loose rock, but otherwise perfect. The second pitch had a nice crack that seemed maybe 5.7 to us Bama boys (we don't have much crack down here), but would likely be 5.6 to most. It had lots of stuck gear in it, so we figured we were on-route. We rapped off a big chickenhead, and hiked back to camp.


Hiking back to camp, far end of the lake.
Hiking back to camp, far end of the lake.



The next morning, we got to a later start than we had hoped, but this may have saved us. We started around 5am, though we had planned on 4am. We set out for the route with a beautiful sunrise to guide us.


Sunrise over Ellingwood
Sunrise over Ellingwood



The sky was looking pretty rough, but the barometer was holding pretty steady. Besides, we had lost a day to the weight of our packs, so we decided to push on. By the time we got on-route, the sun had come up and the clouds were breaking. By the end of the third pitch, it was sunny. Our biggest concern was speed (so as not to be trapped on/near the summit by an afternoon storm). We are solid climbers, but we don't have this kind of terrain in our backyards, so we had to be deliberate. Despite our concerns, we were making great time, and were on track to summit by noon.


Top of pitch one.
Top of pitch one.

Top of pitch one, Ryan is the little orange speck below.


Top of pitch 3 <br />
Top of pitch 3

Ryan coming up to the pitch 3 belay. The sun was out.

The next pitch we got onto the arete proper, and the climbing changed from good, with some loose rock, to perfect, bulletproof rock, with amazing cracks. I took the pitch five lead, and led the pitch of my life. I remember looking at the weather before starting that pitch, and there were more clouds, but nothing even remotely grey, and the barometer was holding. That pitch was magical. For 20-30 minutes, there was nothing be me, my gear, the amazing rock, and the most incredible setting I've ever seen. I didn't even look back. Then, about 160 feet up, Ryan called me on the radio to say that I only had about 30-40ft of rope left. About then, my storm alarm went off on my Suunto Core watch. I turned around, and realized we were in trouble. We were at 12,400ft (about 600ft short of the summit) and it was looking nasty. I set up a belay as fast as possible to bring Ryan up. By the time I got myself anchored, and off belay, it started sleeting. Shortly thereafter, with thunder rumbling in the distance, I gave Ryan the go-ahead to climb. He's a stronger climber than I am, but it took him forever. The mountain was icing up, so he had no traction, and he kept having to stop to warm his hands. Eventually, he got up to me, and took this shot:


High Point
High Point



By the time he got to me, it had calmed down a bit, but to the right (out of camera) it was absolutely nasty. We immediately knew we had no choice but bail. We rapped with both ropes off the anchor (leaving some nuts). We did our best to find chickenheads to sling, so as not to leave much on the mountain. The second stop, I found a block to sling, and we decided to only use one rope just in case it got stuck. At the bottom of the second rappel, I built the next anchor, having to leave two more nuts. Ryan came down. Ryan, while a stronger climber than me, had very little multi-pitch rappelling experience, and the weather had gotten REALLY bad. Sleet and hail were pounding us, the wind was howling, and as I was rappelling the previous pitch, he saw lightning hit Indian Pass and cause a rockslide. He must have been rattled, because he pulled the rope without untying the end knot. It got stuck, I'm assuming in the sling. While trying to free it, a bowling ball sized rock came loose and missed him by inches. He felt really bad, and started talking about going back up to get the rope. We were in trouble, so I cut it to end the debate. We pulled out his rope and continued down. About four more rappels and we were on the ground. Unfortunately, we didn't take any pictures during the rappels, but we did get it all on video.

Despite missing the summit, we were glad to have come down safely, and it was undoubtedly the coolest experience of my life. The next day we struggled with the choice of trying the mountain again (and maybe not having time for Gannett), or going on to Gannett. We chose to go to Gannett. We screwed it all up. We camped too far away from Bonney Pass (and underestimated the distance), we woke up too late, and the weather was crap. It rained, turning the snow to slush. We made it to Bonney Pass, but with the weather failing, we turned back.


Rain on Bonney Pass
Rain on Bonney Pass



Overall, the trip was a success despite the glaring lack of summits. We gained experience, had fun, and scouted the area for next year. Next summer, we will go back, spend more time, and try both again, along with Fremont and Helen. Below are some random pics of the trip.


Ellingwood Peak
Ellingwood Peak




Titcomb Basin
Titcomb Basin



Leaving Titcomb Basin
Leaving Titcomb Basin



Glissading down from Bonney Pass
Glissading down from Bonney Pass



Sorry for the book!


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By Ben Brotelho
From Albany, NY
Aug 29, 2013
Epic free solo with a pack on

Nice report! Now I really wanna go to Indian Basin! I could go for some real solitude, that looks like the place to find it.


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By Tommy Layback
From Sheridan, WY
Aug 29, 2013
Tom on Cloud Peak, Bighorn Mtns, WY.  Blacktooth and Mount Woolsey in the background.

Nice trip report and welcome to the club!


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By Zolen Boogaerts
Aug 29, 2013

Thanks, guys. Indian Basin is DEFINITELY the place to be for solitude. I'm sure there are times where you'll see people, but it is seriously remote. It's a minimum of 17 miles from any trailhead (of which I'm aware), maybe even 20 miles. Even better, it's the redheaded step-child to its next door neighbor, Titcomb Basin. Titcomb Basin is the southern gateway to Gannett Peak (which is the goal of most climbers in the Northern Winds, and it also holds classics like Tower I Ridge (Mt. Helen), and many routes up Fremont Peak. Also, most of the backpackers are attracted to Titcomb Basin.

Indian Basin just isn't that popular, it seems. It's odd, because it's equally beautiful. It's not the typical u-shaped glacial basin like Titcomb or North Cascade Canyon in the Tetons. It's a more complex basin with multiple lakes, surrounded by Ellingwood Peak, Elephant Head, Fremont Peak, Jackson Peak, and Knife Blade Peak. You don't really get a sense that you're in a basin like you do in Titcomb. Regardless, it's amazing. We saw three ladies day hiking to Indian Pass on the way in, and didn't see another person until 2.5 days later when we got back down to the junction with Titcomb.

I can't recommend Ellingwood's North Arete enough. I hadn't done anything more than 5 pitches before this, so I can't compare it to anything but East Coast stuff, but it was great. Great rock, great pro, great exposure once you get a few pitches up, and the surroundings are insane. You feel like you're 50 miles from any human. The only problem is the approach. I don't mind a long approach for such a payoff, and it definitely kills the crowds, but just realize it's a hike getting the gear in. However, the terrain hiking in is not that bad. You never climb more than about 500ft in one stretch until you start the ascent into Indian Basin, and it's only about 600-700ft.

When I started climbing, I had one goal: get out West, get into some big mountains, and climb 'em! Despite the failed summit bids, I couldn't have asked for more. We had more fun than I imagined, we learned a TON, and we returned safely. You can't ask for much more.

Go get out there!


Looking south into Indian Basin, with lake 10,813 center, Ellingwood Peak left, and Elephant Head right.
Looking south into Indian Basin, with lake 10,813 center, Ellingwood Peak left, and Elephant Head right.


Panorama of South Indian Basin, with Ellingwood Peak, Lake 10,813, and Elephant Head.
Panorama of South Indian Basin, with Ellingwood Peak, Lake 10,813, and Elephant Head.


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By Br'er Rabbit
From The Briar Patch
Aug 30, 2013
'Bred en bawn in a brier-patch, Brer Fox--bred en bawn in a brier-patch!'

BHM to WY, straight thru, seems the crux of the whole thing. Tough.


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By Zolen Boogaerts
Sep 1, 2013

Br'er Rabbit wrote:
BHM to WY, straight thru, seems the crux of the whole thing. Tough.


It wasn't easy. Especially across Nebraska. It was like 8 hours through the middle of the night, zero turns, and deer splatters everywhere. I just KNEW I was about to have a deer sitting in my lap.


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By CameronS
From Lander, WY
Sep 8, 2013

Hey man I have two of your nuts and beaners. Would love to get them back to you. Was on the peak this past weekend (sent on 9/1) and really appreciated the beta you guys put up. Lemme know if / how you want them back.

-Cameron


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By Zolen Boogaerts
Sep 8, 2013

CameronS wrote:
Hey man I have two of your nuts and beaners. Would love to get them back to you. Was on the peak this past weekend (sent on 9/1) and really appreciated the beta you guys put up. Lemme know if / how you want them back. -Cameron


That's awesome that you guys made the summit! I'm guessing the nuts were likely Metolius, (blue, black, or purple), and maybe one BD nut. We also left some silver BD Oz biners. I don't think the Metolius nuts were marked since they were new, but any of the BD stuff should have teal and orange tape if its mine. That's great of you to offer to send them back, but you can just keep them. I work at a gear shop, so I get the stuff cheap. I've already replaced it all. Shipping them to AL might be expensive. Thanks for taking the time to track me down, and I'm glad the beta helped. Just promise you will put them to good use.


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By CameronS
From Lander, WY
Sep 8, 2013

Ya that's exactly right. One metolius nut, one BD nut. A hoodwire, and a neutrino. I just glanced at the top picture of your pack and compared the color combo on the gear you use.

I have a bunch of pics and beta to add to the climb now as well. Two parties of friends have had major epics up there this summer and I was glad to had heavily researched the bad boy and found the walk off.

Thanks for the gear and happy climbing to you! =)

Zolen Boogaerts wrote:
That's awesome that you guys made the summit! I'm guessing the nuts were likely Metolius, (blue, black, or purple), and maybe one BD nut. We also left some silver BD Oz biners. I don't think the Metolius nuts were marked since they were new, but any of the BD stuff should have teal and orange tape if its mine. That's great of you to offer to send them back, but you can just keep them. I work at a gear shop, so I get the stuff cheap. I've already replaced it all. Shipping them to AL might be expensive. Thanks for taking the time to track me down, and I'm glad the beta helped. Just promise you will put them to good use.


FLAG


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