WIND RIVER MOUNTAINS, WYOMING: NEW ROUTE ON MT. HOOKER

above: Steve Quinlan on an A3 pitch on Hooker

Location: Wind Rivers Range, West central Wyoming, southeast of Yellowstone National Park.

Difficulty: 5.10, A4, 3 days were required for the final ascent (with 4 pitches fixed).

Mt. Hooker is the premier big wall monolith in the Wind River range, with a 1800 foot just off vertical North Face. The granite in the Winds is often well featured, allowing for classic long free routes, but the North Face proper of Mt. Hooker is largely steep and split only be a few cracks. The wall now has 4 big wall routes on the main part of the North Face. (The Robbin's Route--now all free--takes a line on the Northwest edge of the monolith, and a shorter free route takes a line up the far left side of the North Face).

Steve Quinlan is the expert of the North Face of Mt. Hooker, with a new solo route, a repeat of one of the other lines, and countless other attempts of the wall spread out over a period of 12 years. He and I had climbed some routes in Yosemite, and as he is a summertime guide in the nearby Tetons, he suggested that I come up to climb a new route he had picked out on the face. In 1991 we attempted the line, only to be beaten off by a wicked snowstorm. The Wind Rivers has a short season in July and August, the other months being uninhabitable, let alone climbable. We were banking on having a short period of nice weather in early September, between the summer rains and winter, which begins in early to mid-September in the Wind Rivers. Our second attempt was the next year, 1992, but we were foiled again by the onset of winter, with 3 feet of fresh snow dropped on us after weathering out a 2 day storm on the wall.

Each year we got our ropes a little higher: 2 pitches the first year, and to the top of pitch 4 the second year. Each 2 week expedition to the relatively remote Mt. Hooker required extensive planning, a 20 mile hike in with horses, establishing ourselves on the wall only to be forced to retreat, followed by a tedious hike out with 90 pound loads. Our third attempt was this past summer, and we wisened up a bit and went in a little earlier (mid-August), despite the continual rains which pour this time of year.

We hiked in with our horsepacking guide and 3 horses which we hired for $150 at Big Sandy Lodge, humped our 200+ pounds of equipment over Haley Pass to our basecamp, and got organized in poor weather. Our timing was perfect this time: as soon as we had established our basecamp, the weather cleared, and except for a few slight showerings, we had perfect weather for the next 5 days. The weather crapped out again just as we were hiking out.

Our ropes had been trashed over the year we had left them there, and we debated heavily over reclimbing the hard earned and difficult (A4) initial pitches of the route. We decided to jumar the tatered ropes, though we could see that the sheaths were fully cut in many spots. We had left two lines fixed on the lowest section. One of these was cut, and the other was shredded and hooked on a flake off to the side. Steve jumared up to the flake, placed a belay, and while untangling the mess of shredded ropes above (whereupon one just fell free), discovered that he had be jumaring on a rope anchored solely by being jammed in a flake. The next jumar was mine, and required ascending a completely shredded core--the sheath had long been reduced to nothing--for 200 core squeaking feet.

The climbing above our fixed ropes was generally moderate, the crux being a roof which Steve led through a huge eye-shaped feature which we named the route after. Above the roof, which is at about 2/3 height, the route went mostly free on excellent rock. The route is named the Third Eye is a fine alpine big wall in a remote location.

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