Photo: Charlie Markusen on the summit of Pingora, Wind River Range, Wyoming, July 2019
Sitting on a comfortable ledge, 400 feet below the summit of Pingora, I watched with fatherly concern as Charlie climbed the thin 5.8+ crack splitting the vertical wall of granite rock. This crux pitch of the Southeast Buttress is called the K-Crack Pitch. He moved with fluidity and grace; no wasted effort, no false moves. Up the wall he climbed, placing protection and clipping the rope. One more move—then over the top and I breathed a sigh of relief. Now my turn: son leads, dad follows.
Photo: Charlie leading the K-Crack
I sat on this ledge before, 48 years ago. Pingora is a peak in the world famous Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River range of Wyoming. To paraphrase guidebook author Joe Kelsey, Pingora represents the beauty and remoteness of the Wind Rivers. In 1971, I hiked into the cirque with four other climbers. We had no route descriptions, no guidebook, only USGS topo maps and a vague description of an outstanding climb, on an exceptionally beautiful peak, in a pristine wilderness setting.
We set out to climb the South Buttress of Pingora. The two best climbers in our group climbed the now famous “K-Crack Pitch” and I led the other two climbers up an easier route around the corner. Ever since I watched my companions climb that crack I dreamed about coming back. In 2009, I climbed the classic Northeast Face of Pingora. The descent rappel takes you right down the K-Crack face. Another 10 years past and now I have finally climbed it.
Photo: Pingora from camp in the Cirque of the Towers
I am in awe of the new generation of climbers doing bold and committing routes like the Cirque of the Towers traverse. I have had a great 52 year career climbing difficult alpine routes. It is a wonderful feeling to pass the torch on to this new generation, including my son Charlie.