Yesterday, I climbed Ramshorn Peak after nearly 10 years since my first time up in it September of 1997. The description of the ascent of Ramshorn Peak in Select Peaks is based on my experience on the mountain in 1997, along with info from friends who climbed it in the early 2000s. I am amazed by how much my perspective has changed in 10 years. Ramshorn Peak in 1997 was my first major Absarokan summit and I really was clueless about Absaroka routefinding. I think I was terrified of Absaroka ridgelines believing them to be splintered, shattered, dangerously loose, and unclimbable. Hence, on that 1997 ascent, Wes and I kept to the east face as much as possible and the description in Select Peaks reflects that ascent. My experience was so different yesterday. It was so obvious this time that the best route is to stay as close to the north ridge as possible both for the ascent and descent. I felt compelled to rewrite the Ramshorn Peak section as follows:
This spectacular emblem of Dubois, Wyoming gives the lay beholder on Highway 287 a sample of hundreds of similar volcanic spires and walls hidden throughout the Absaroka Mountains. Yet, one might expect a peak such as Ramshorn, which resides at the southern terminus of the Absaroka, to be ordinary or even inferior when compared to similar sharp peaks in the core of the range. However, Ramshorn Peak is among the highest rocky spires in the entire Absaroka Range. Only Pilot, Washakie Needles, Cougar, Battlement, and Dead Indian are higher. Ramshorn Peak was named after the Ramshorn Ranch and Camp Yellowstone, which were founded by C. C. Moore at the mouth of DuNoir Creek in 1907. The ranch was named for a ram horn found there.
From Ramshorn’s summit, the vastness of the Wind River basin becomes apparent as the crests of its encompassing ranges—the Wind Rivers and Absaroka—sit a horizon apart. Sharing the southern and western horizons are the graceful north slopes of the Gros Ventre Mountains and the Tetons protruding upward beyond the continental divide. One also is introduced rather suddenly to the extensiveness of the Absaroka Range to the north. Countless peaks and ridgelines as far as the eye can see occupy over 230 degrees of the view and reveal to the explorer of how little of Greater Yellowstone he or she has actually seen. A climb of Ramshorn Peak is, in a way, an introduction to peak exploration in Greater Yellowstone.
However, Ramshorn Peak is by no means an introductory climb. The route is not easy to find and consists of steep exposed scrambling and unprotected easy-Class-5 climbing on crumbly volcanic conglomerate, ash, and mud. Moreover, just when the summit appears to be in the bag, the south summit stands one foot higher a mere twenty feet away, but across a deep gap approximately eight feet wide (out of jumping distance). Additional risky climbing is required to safely negotiate the gap and reach the true summit. Evidence from previous ascents shows that few parties continue across the gap. Moreover, during the descent of the mountain, exposed downclimbing or at least two rappels from bizarre and questionable anchors are in order.
Indeed, rock horns festooned with slings and a dilapidated cairn on the south summit are the only evidence that climbers have braved the loose rock to reach the summit. In 1904, R. B. Robertson sighted on Ramshorn Peak during the 1904 horizontal control of the Younts Peak 30-minute quadrangle, but did not climb it. He did however climb the highest point on the large cliff-rimmed plateau north of Ramshorn Peak known as The Ramshorn. Measuring 11,845 feet, Robertson named it “Round” and included it as a triangulation station in his survey. Thomas Bannon repeated the ascent the following year. In Robertson’s report, Ramshorn Peak is described as “A very prominent, well-known jagged peak….” The name first appeared on the Younts Peak quadrangle in 1907. The Bonney guidebook recounts that a Mr. and Mrs. H. Kellogg made the first ascent on July 13, 1960. For skiers, wonderful touring potential abounds along The Ramshorn accessed from Burroughs Creek, and extreme glisse routes may be feasible on the east face and in couloirs on the west side in the right conditions.
Ascent: Next to the old mine in downtown Dubois, Wyoming, turn north on Horse Creek Road (Forest Road #285). Stay on this road passing several junctions for approximately 10 miles. The road turns right through an inconspicuous drainage divide, passes several ponds and marshes, and drops into a pretty meadow with a campground and corrals. Bear left on Forest Road #510, and then left again at the sign for Horse Creek Ranger Station. Follow this very rough dirt road as it switchbacks vigorously up the morainal ridge adjacent to lower Burroughs Creek, which was named for the cow foreman Jimmy Burroughs, who after roping a steer was pulled from his horse and dragged to death in 1895. After about 5 miles, continue through the Fisher Tie Camp on a muddy rough road for medium- or high-clearance vehicles until the road drops and crosses Burroughs Creek. Park your vehicle near this crossing.
Hike along the southwest side of Burroughs Creek on an old roadbed. Stay on the road as it crosses the creek and continues up the hill along the other side. The Forest Service recently spent considerable time digging trenches, and dragging boulders and logs across this road for at least the first half mile to thwart ATV users from poaching the pristine meadows of Burroughs Creek and the Washakie Wilderness beyond.
Forest Service ATV abatement program.
The 1956 Ramshorn Peak 7.5-minute quadrangle shows this road curling eastward away from the peak after about one half mile. At that point, a single-track trail continues north through the forest, and then drops slightly to Amoretti Park in Burroughs Creek. Although the trail appears to end here, cross the meadow and pick up the trail again in the forest on the other side. Continue up the valley, connecting several trail-less meadows with trails through intervening forest. Downed trees and debris from flash floods in July 2007 obscure the trail in several places, but it can be easily rediscovered.
After about 2.5 miles from the trailhead, the Burroughs Creek valley seems to end at the imposing east wall of Ramshorn Peak. The forest thickens and the trail turns right, climbing steeply northward through a gorgeous white-bark pine forest. The trail occasionally fades, but generally follows a broad spur to the east of the creek. It then traverses northwest across several deep gullies and after another 1.5 miles, gains the magnificent tree-less basin of upper Burroughs Creek, where rolling grassy moraines, volcanic talus, and deep-cut tributary creeks abound.
The trail soon fades into the meadows of the basin. Cross the creek where several rivulets converge at the bottom of the basin, and follow a narrow rocky spine southwestward toward Ramshorn Peak, which is now visible as an impressive rocky battleship. Gain a grassy bench and ascend grassy slopes of a broad ramp toward the bow of the battleship. Climb steep scree through an obvious break in a set of short cliff bands, and then traverse west onto a broad sloping area of scree, talus, and ledges on the starboard bow.
Carefully work up through the loose rock and gain the north ridge of Ramshorn Peak at a shallow saddle between the bow and the bridge of the battleship. Walk south a short distance along the ridge top until the ridge steepens and narrows, then contour across the east side of the ridge. At the next notch in the ridge, continue contouring across the ledge for a hundred feet or so. Regain the ridge crest through a break in the cliff band where the first holds are protruding white rectangular blocks of hard ash. This 40-foot chimney ascent gains the ridge in three short steps of about 5.2 in difficulty. During the descent, this cliff is best descended with a short rappel off a good anchor about 50 feet north of this chimney.
Continue southward along the ridge top, stepping briefly onto the west side of the ridge to avoid a steep rise, and then balancing across a narrow exposed neck or catwalk (5.1). Beyond the catwalk, ascend and traverse about 50 feet to the base of the crux cliff band. Several breaks in the cliff band rise above. Climb the chimney with a large boulder protruding at its base. A belay may be setup with good anchors under an overhang below and right of the boulder. This 50-foot ascent is loose, unprotectable, and 5.4 in difficulty. It regains the ridge at a 5-foot tall conglomerate pinnacle, which makes a good rappel anchor during the descent.
Crux cliff band
Turn left and continue south along the east side of the north ridge, ascending a short awkward chimney to gain another sloping scree ledge below the north summit. To reach the main south summit, traverse 150 feet south on an exposed, sloping, and narrow ledge of dirt and scree. This ledge begins on a ridge, crosses a shallow cove, and then comes out to another ridge. Sixty feet of exposed and insecure climbing up gritty ash and conglomerate lead to the main summit.
Ramshorn Peak Ascent
Burroughs Creek parking elevation: 8,970 feet
Elevation gain: 2,665 feet
Distance: 5 miles
Overall grade by north ridge: III Class 5.4
Estimated ascent time: 4 to 8 hours
Maps: Ramshorn Peak
Corrections and additions for Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone.
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