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Sunlit Summit

Mount Helen

Elevation: 13,625 ft.

Prominence: 861 ft.

Isolation: 0.9 miles

Technical Difficulty: Class 4

Mount Helen Guidebook


Mount Helen is one of the finest peaks in the Wind Rivers, and certainly the star of upper Titcomb Basin. Its complicated rock faces converge in a single tower leaning out over the abyss. From the west, the steep wall of Titcomb Basin sweeps upward in dramatic fashion, and two subsidiary summits, Tower 1 and Tower 2, contribute to Helen’s memorable profile as seen while hiking into Titcomb. The east side is gentler, with a broad but steep-walled ridge. If you need to convince your mountaineering friends why the Wind River Range is worth exploring, consider an ascent of Mount Helen. The Bonneys report that this peak was named for Helen Fisher in 1901, though no further information on its namesake is forthcoming.

General Considerations

While Helen is perhaps best known for its highly technical rock climbing routes (including the classic Tower Ridge) and alpine ice routes (including Tower 1 Gully), this guidebook only includes a variety of less-technical (but nevertheless, still serious) summit routes, as the more-technical climbs are well-documented by other sources. For summit-oriented peakbaggers, Helen is best approached from the east side of the Continental Divide, since the west face is so severe. Still, there are several ways to get from Titcomb to the east-side routes.

Route 1: East Ridge – Class 4, Moderate Snow

Approach A: North Fork of Bull Lake Creek

The most natural and aesthetic way of approaching Helen’s east side is to ascend the Helen Glacier from its outwash plain in the North Fork of Bull Lake Creek, which itself can be reached by backpacking over Blaurock Pass from the Dinwoody, North Indian Pass from Dry Creek, or Indian Pass from Indian Basin/Titcomb. The Helen Glacier is rapidly retreating, and is extensively crevassed in areas, but the glacier usually consists mostly of low-angled snow hiking.

Another approach is possible from the moraine below the Sacagawea Glacier, and the author has fond memories of a loop hike up the Sacagawea moraine, over the pass at the base of Helen’s east ridge, and down the Helen Glacier. However, the Sacagawea moraine is incredibly unstable and extreme caution should be exercised; car-sized talus blocks may spontaneously drop into bottomless pits or crush unsuspecting hikers. One way or another, find your way to the interesting col that separates Helen’s east ridge from the Three Brothers, a high 12er.

Approach B: Titcomb Gully

From upper Titcomb Basin, hike north below the imposing west face of Mount Helen, and look for a snow/scree gully leading west to a small col at 12,561 ft. on the Continental Divide. Cross this pass between Helen and Spearhead/Forked Tongue Pinnacles, descending the upper part of the Helen Glacier and turning south to gain the Helen-Three Brothers col.

Final Ascent, All Approaches

From the broad pass between the Sacagawea Glacier and Helen Glacier valleys, Helen’s east ridge begins as a broad bulwark of rock and snow. If enough snow remains, it is possible to climb directly up the center of this face on moderate snow. Alternatively, gain the ridge by scrambling the narrow rock buttress that forms the southern bulwark of the east ridge.

From the break in slope around 12,700 ft., continue up a snow or talus slope to the upper east ridge, which flattens out at 13,300 ft., forming an elegant sidewalk in the sky. Follow the ridge west to the summit. Most of the upper ridge is hiking terrain, but the last few hundred feet involves some class 4 climbing on blocky terrain to bypass gendarmes and surmount the summit pyramid.

Route 2: South Couloirs – Class 4, Moderate Snow

This is the most direct way to climb Mount Helen from Titcomb Basin at a moderate technical grade. From the bench that extends north from Mistake Lake above Lake 10598, climb a left-angling talus slope as described for Mount Sacagawea, obvious from Titcomb Basin when observing the wall between Sacagawea and Helen.

After topping out on the Continental Divide around 12,800 ft., descend north, crossing a snowfield that abuts the eastern edge of the Divide (melts down to ugly moraine in the late season). Head for Helen’s summit, climbing one of several short (200 ft.) couloirs to gain the east ridge just before the summit pyramid.

Mount Helen Map

Click title to show track
East Ridge Route
South Couloirs Route

Mount Helen Panorama

Mount Helen Photos

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