black tooth mountain - 13005' - East Ramp Class 4
Over the course of the past month or so (July 11th through August 3rd to be exact), I completed the Wyoming 13ers, which took a pretty big effort to climb 31 of the 35 total peaks on that list in such a short period of time. With my month vacation I took in the summer of 2020, due to Covid all my big international climbing trips had to be postponed to at least the next year, therefore I had to stay in the US for the summer. I had been milling the Wyoming 13ers for many years, but never put them high on the priority and for over 5 years had deferred the project in favor of bigger and better things. However, given the circumstances, 2020 seemed like an excellent year to finally finish these peaks off. I had completed 4 of the 35 Wyoming 13ers many years ago (Downs Mountain, Point 13,062, Grand Teton and Cloud Peak), and back in May, Eric Gilbertson who was also looking for something to do in the summer this year due to his international trips also having to be postponed, sent me an email and asked if I wanted to join him for a full Wyoming 13er slam. Since I had already been thinking about doing just that, the trip was spearheaded! He spent most of June and the first half of July in Colorado climbing all the Centennial peaks in a new FKT of 32ish days, so we agreed on a start date of July 21st to hike into the Wind Rivers. My vacation began on July 11th, so I drove up to Wyoming that morning and would take the 9 days before our scheduled start date for the Wind Rivers to climb the remaining 3 peaks I hadn't yet done outside of the core Wind River Range. These three peaks included Black Tooth, Wind River Peak, and Francs Peak, and this is the first of 5 trip reports I will write that depicts our big adventure in Wyoming.
First, I'll start with a little bit more background and historical information about the Wyoming 13ers. Before this year, only two people had publicly reported completing them (although I have no doubt others have quietly completed them, as I have heard stories of old timers climbing every visible peak in both the Winds and throughout the state back in the day). There are 35 peaks on this list using the 300 foot prominence cutoff rule (see the list here) and all but 5 of them are in the core northern Wind River Range. The remaining 5 peaks are scattered around the state, one of which is in the southern Wind River Range (making a total of 31 peaks in the Winds), one is in the Absaroka Mountains just southwest of Cody (Francs Peak), one is in the Tetons (Grand Teton), and the last two are in the Bighorn Range (Cloud Peak and Black Tooth Mountain), which is another fault block mountain range further east close to the city of Sheridan. Fun fact: the Bighorn Range has some of the best kept alpine climbing secrets in all of the lower 48, but you didn't hear that from me! As of this writing, there are now 5 reported finishers of the 35 Wyoming 13ers, as there was another young climber who coincidentelly was also climbing them this summer (who we actually ran into out there...pretty cool). The current list of finishers is described in the table below.
So withour further ado, below is the trip report for my climb of Black Tooth Mountain. See the following links for trip reports for the 4 WY 13ers I completed years ago:
Downs Mountain and Point 13,062 - August 2011
Grand Teton - August 2012
Cloud Peak - September 2015
Since I did not (and never will) care about FKTs, I did not repeat these 4 peaks on this trip to enable Eric to be able to achieve the FKT for all 35 of them without any competition between us.
Driving up from Denver, I stopped in Buffalo Wyoming for a quick rest, meal, and grocery store before driving up the Red Grade Road enroute to the Bighorn Reservoir Trailhead. From the tiny town of Bighorn, the Red Grade Road (FS 26) ascends very steeply up the east slopes of the Bighorn Range and eventually meets up with Highway 14 south of Burgess Junction. This well graded gravel road is passable to just about any car. I turned south onto FS 293 towards Park Reservior, and continued on this easy road. There were numerous people out fishing, camping and just enjoying the sunshine on this incredibly hot weekend (it was over 100 degrees in Buffalo, and my car actually almost overheated going up the Red Grade Road!). I drove around Park Reservior and near the south end of the lake, I veered left onto FS 289 which headed up to the Bighorn Reservoir, where the driveable road ended. This spur was passable for my 2WD stationwagon, but low riders would probably bottom out. I parked near the small dam on the north end of the reservoir, grabbed my pack and started walking up the ATV road along the left (east) side of the reservior shortly before 2pm. ATVs with a 50 inch width or less can actually continue along this "road" all the way to Cross Creek Reservoir. However at a point roughly halfway between the Bighorn and Cross Creek Reservoirs, there is a sign pointing left for the official start of the Solitude Trail, it's very important you turn left here, and if you stay on the ATV track along the east side of Bighorn Reservoir you can't miss it!
The Solitude Trail is actually in great condition and ascends gently in a SE direction slowly advancing into the alpine environment. The USGS topo maps indicate a trail junction at 10280 feet, however this junction doesn't really exist. The trail continues by turning east and crossing a small saddle immediately south of Point 10370, then gradually descends into the upper East Fork Little Goose Creek basin. The trail doesn't follow exactly where the map says it is, and its lowest point where it crosses the creek is actually only at 10,000 feet so the drop isn't too bad, there is also reliable water here to refill on hot days like I had. After the creek, the trail ascends again to a 10360 foot broad saddle and enters Highland Park. This massive meadowland is a spectacle to behold and is often filled with Elk and Moose, and during my walk across I indeed saw a couple moose. The only other people I saw on this climb I also passed by who were camped near a small grove of trees along the trail. They had just returned from some fishing at Highland Lake, which the trail continues to after descending 400 feet below the southwest corner of Highland Park. This is a quaint lake surrounded by thin pine forests, and offers quiet solitude. From here, it helps to know where to go, as you now have to get to Princess Falls, which is due south of Highland Lake and across Kearny Creek draining the Sawtooth Lakes.
The easiest way to get there is to hike the main trail to the outlet stream of Highland Lake and cross it. Immediately after crossing it, the main trail will take a sharp turn to the left and continue down and east towards the Kearny Lake Reservoir (which is not correctly shown on the USGS map). You don't want to go this way for Black Tooth. Right when the trail turns sharply left after crossing the outlet stream, look to the right, and spot a decent trail that takes off in a southward direction (this trail is also not on the map). Follow this trail as it weaves it's way through some unecessary ups and downs. It will seem like it's not going the right way at first, but then takes a turn due south and descended 150 feet or so, and traverses just above and west on the flat swampy area marked on the USGS quad with an elevation of 9570. Shortly after that this trail crosses the smaller northern tributary of Kearny Creek, then reaches Kearny Creek itself at a large beautiful meadow. Great camping can be had here, but it's worth continuing up Princess Falls and camping at any one of the first 4 Sawtooth Lakes, plus, I still had plenty of daylight left. An extra note: For those who have an ATV with a width of 50 inches or less, you can also reach this point by driving your ATV all the way to Kearny Lake Reservoir and walking the trail up to Highland Lake from there, making the overall approach exponentially shorter.
I found a way to cross Kearny Creek without having to take my shoes off by building a log bridge, and followed the boot path as it ascended up the steeper slopes to the right (west) side of Princess Falls. There is a 50 foot cliff band that must be negociated at the 9800 foot level, but cairns lead to a class 3 route up through slightly further right. Once atop this cliff band, the trail becomes harder to follow through scrub brush and denser trees. There is also a wet swamp that you'll have to walk around by cutting further right and to the west to get around it with dry feet. Shortly past this you will reach the west side of the first of 10 Sawtooth Lakes. The best route follows the west side of these lakes, which are all spectacular in their own ways. I camped between the 3rd and the 4th lake on a nice sheltered grassy depression at 10,250 feet elevation just moments away from the stream. It was a peaceful and calm night.
Shortly after sunrise the following morning, I started out, hiking around the right sides of the remaining Sawtooth Lakes in a southerly direction. The sun was glowing brightly on the steep cliffs on the west side of the valley. I still was not able to see Black Tooth, or nearby Mount Woosley (a much more impressive mountain despite being less than 30 feet lower, which, by the way is the second highest Wyoming 12er at 12,978 feet, and goes at about 5.7 by its easiest route). The curvature of the upper Sawtooth Lakes valley prevented me from seeing the summits until reaching the 9th lake. When Woosley and Black Tooth suddenly came into view though, I was in awe. The climbing potential is almost endless here, as few people have explored the technical walls on these remote peaks. Once I got to the 10th and final lake (which was still partially frozen), the east ramp and Black Tooth itself was now visible and despite what others have said on Summitpost, it is a straightforward 3rd and 4th class scramble (no 5th class).
I navigated a small moraine, and just as I was nearing the base of the east ramp, a gigantic rockfall came crashing down the snow couloir immediately left of the ramp, and near the bottom, the rocks were blasting well outside of the couloir and bouncing down the lower ramp, which I would have been scrambling on if I had started 15 minutes earlier. It's important to note that the ramp sits between a broad black scree slope to the right and a thin steep snow couloir to the left. The best route is to scramble the rocks at the top of the cliffs between these two features. I threw the microspikes on briefly to utilize some snow to avoid some of the super loose and unpleasant glacial moraine and mounted the base of the ramp at about 11,400 feet. The ramp rises for 1500 feet on mostly third class terrain, however at 12,400 feet, there is a brief section where it steepens, and a handful of 4th class options will get you through it without much exposure. Above that crux, the terrain opens and I quickly found myself equal in elevation with the saddle between Woosley and Black Tooth. As an aside, I noticed an easy scramble that would get me to the start of a circling and rising ledge that wrapped around the NE side of the 350 foot high summit tower on Woosley. From the end of that nice looking ledge (which looked low 5th class at the most) a single pitch of unknown difficulty appeared to get you to the summit, which is something I want to return to investigate whenever I can come back with both a partner, climbing gear and an ATV (so I can just drive to Kearny Reservoir!)
After I had my fill studying Woosley, I continued to the summit of Black Tooth, which was a simple class 2 talus romp to a tiny notch between the east and west summits. As you ascend the last part of the ramp, it's the east summit you see, with the higher west summit a short ridge walk beyond the notch between the two. I reached the summit at about 8:40am, and it was already almost 60 degrees on the summit with little wind. I was amazed how hot it was, and wasn't looking forward the the super hot hike back in the afternoon. On the summit, I could see the north side of Cloud Peak, and it was obvious where the route would go to connect the two (I was wondering that back in 2015 when I did Cloud). The summit register is a large ammo box with quite a few different notebooks and paper blocks. I signed my name and enjoyed the views for 30 minutes, since it was just so comfortably warm up there, and leisurly made my return trip back to my tent, which I reached around 11am.
I packed up my gear and started the long walk out. It was a brutally hot sunny hike with little breeze for relief. I took a little dip in Highland Lake before making the ascent back to Highland Park, and once I reached the East Fork of Goose Creek once again I drank over a liter of water. The hike back down the Solitude Trail wasn't as bad since more trees provided some shade, but the walk along the ATV track back around the Bighorn Reservoir was again painfully hot. When I got back to my car I was drenched in sweat, and to make matters worse, I was covered in Deet and sunscreen to keep the bugs and UV rays at bay...I was gross! I drove back down the Red Grade Road and drove to Riverton and grabbed a hotel for the night to clean up and prepare for Wind River Peak.