Hot Springs County High Point Trip Report

Washakie Needles (12,518 ft)

Dates: August 7-8, 2002
Author: Dave Covill

This peak was 1st climbed in the 1950s, has an original summit register with about 50 entries, was described 2nd hand by Orin & Lorraine Bonney's guide to WY peaks as being 4th class, and had only been summited by 2 persons whom anyone knew, Bob Packard and Parnell Taylor, the only known completers of the 23 WY counties. Bob said he had given himself a little self-belay a few times with a short rope. Parnell is the Reinhard Messner of the mountain, having done it about 7 times, including in winter and up the harder sides. He told me it was fairly hard but do-able. We chose to bring along a 200 feet of 8.8 mm rope, a 50-foot 7 mm rope, some slings & carabiners, our helmets, and no hardware for placing protection.

We obtained permission from the Robbins family, Frank, Karen, & son Hank, who are the ranchers who own the access to the national Forest boundary on the east side. It is an Indian Reservation on the south side, and many, many miles to a road on the west and north sides. The key to the gate, available from them, allowed us to drive in 8 extra miles, not the 2 - 3 in the existing trip report. The total distance driven from Thermopolis to the trailhead (their ranch guest lodge) was about 50 miles, 30+ on gravel or dirt. Call them at 307-867-2374 for permission. Nice folks.

We drove in, parked, and hiked in about 3 miles up Rock Creek on the east side of Washakie Needles, then up about 800 feet more into a basin. It was very dry, so we couldn't camp too far up it, as we needed to be by the last trickle of water.

We started for the summit on a morning with somewhat questionable weather at about 6:30 AM, but the weather held fine all day long. We found a trail to take us up to the top of our basin, at approximately 11,200 feet, where we could see due west about 1 mile to Washakie Needles and Dome Mountain beyond it, about 200 feet lower and much easier looking. We hiked north then west then south in a huge semi-circle on the ridge to get close to the base of the cliffs. Kevin and Mike turned back short of the base of the peak, having been done in by the tough Granite climb the 4 prior days. Jobe arrived here first and noticed to his astonishment a mother and baby grizzly bear walking a few hundred feet above him, at about 11,800 feet, right below the edge of the talus field, across our route! Mike stayed and photographed the events to follow. The remaining 4 scrambled up very steep scree & talus to the ledge on the north face at the edge of the chock stone, where a few table sized boulders had lodged in a gap between the north and south peaks that was perhaps 100 feet deep, with the ledge being mid-way up it.

Here we roped up around 10:00 AM, and Greg led across the gap, up a vertical face, around a blind corner, and up more vertical to a single spot where he could rest. We were all surprised at the firmness of the rock from here up to the top, as it was very loose and cruddy below. He placed 2 slings on flakes of the good rock, thought by John to be dacite or rhyolite of volcanic origin, and continued to the summit across a knife edge at about a 50-degree angle, with perhaps 1,000 feet of exposure on the south side, and 3-400 feet on the north side. He reached the summit around 11:30 AM, John & I prussiked up the rope, and we belayed Jobe last at the end of the rope. The summit area is about 5 feet by 15 feet, with amazing exposure, and the modest winds were enough that none of us really stood up for more than a few moments, and we mostly stayed clipped in. Superstar Greg couldn't find a place to secure an anchor on top amidst loose talus rock, and actually sat in an anchor belay position for well over an hour until we all were up.

We found the register, original from the 1950s, with about 50 names in it, including Parnell Taylor about 7 times from the 1970s to the late 1990s, and Bob Packard in 1997. Last entry was in 2001. None in 2000. While sitting on the summit, Greg noticed another grizzly bear, possibly the same one, meandering towards where Mike was sitting at the saddle. We had no way to warn Mike, but it turned down-slope and walked into the basin on the southwest side of the peak, perhaps getting a whiff or hearing us.

We belayed Jobe all the way down, John & I down-climbed on a prussik half-way, then again to the bottom, then we top-belayed Greg from the mid-point of the route. It was difficult to pull the rope out of the carabiner and slings we had sacrificed to the mountain, but it finally came down. It was about 3PM. We spent an hour descending the talus to the saddle, where we had stashed water and trekking poles.

We ate a snack for the first time since breakfast, and headed back around the ridge to the top of our basin, this time contouring to miss the little peaklets on it. We joined up with Mike & Kevin, packed up, and walked out in 1+ hour.

It was most gratifying to reach the cars. Kevin was almost out of gas, and he coaxed his truck the 50 miles to town, running out 2 miles shy of Thermopolis. He coasted to the red light, and Jobe towed him a block to the gas station. We had dinner at a steak joint on the south side of town, and returned to the same motel as 2 nights prior, the El Rancho Motel, south side, reasonable rates. 1-800-283-2777. Steak & prime rib again - just as with after Granite Peak two days earlier!