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Sunlit Summit

Mount Woodrow Wilson

Elevation: 13,512 ft.

Prominence: 547 ft.

Isolation: 1.2 miles

Technical Difficulty: Class 5.1

Mount Woodrow Wilson Guidebook


Mount Woodrow Wilson is one of the true monarchs of the Wind River Range despite being lower than many of its neighbors. Situated at the triple-divide between Titcomb Basin, Dinwoody Valley, and the Mammoth Glacier cirque, no other peak commands such a central position in the northern Winds. The peak was named in honor of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points for post-WWI diplomacy, but its pinnacles seem more warlike than peaceable, and it is one of the hardest 13ers.

General Considerations

While a number of serious technical routes have been climbed on this peak, the only routes with sufficient beta to write a description are three distinctive couloirs. The reclusive and shady north couloir, which rises from the Mammoth Glacier with a mixture of ice, snow, and rock, is the author’s preferred route and usually the easiest way to gain the summit. Mount Woodrow Wilson is best reserved for those who are most familiar with the Wind Rivers’ fickle alpine conditions and willing to adjust to unpredictable risks. The difficulty of each route varies so wildly depending on conditions and is sufficiently subjective that determining an exact rating is challenging; traditionally the peak has been rated class 5.1, and I use that rating generically to indicate that this is a serious peak where roped climbing is the norm.

Route 1: North Couloir – Class 5.1, Serious Snow

Despite its position at the head of the Mammoth Lake cirque, the author is only aware of this couloir being climbed from the Dinwoody. From the Gannett Glacier, it is first necessary to gain the high glacier arm (around 13,000 ft.) just north of the main peak (obvious from Gannett). From the Dinwoody moraine, the most direct route is to climb the arm of the Dinwoody Glacier just south of Gannett (see Pinnacle Ridge Route 1), then traverse below Pinnacle Ridge and negotiate the massive bergschrund separating the lower glacier from the upper plateau (see image below). Another option is to climb the southeast-facing couloirs which drop from the glacier plateau into the valley below the Sphinx. No matter your route, be prepared for serious glacier travel and crevasse crossings.

From the high glacier plateau just north of Woodrow Wilson, cross the Continental Divide on talus just south of a snow-covered bump and locate a rocky chute. Downclimb this gully until it is possible to escape south on rubble slopes, at which point you can enter the proper north couloir. It also might be possible to gain the north couloir and climb directly to this point from the Mammoth Glacier, though the author is unaware of any ascents via this route variation.

Depending on the conditions, you may encounter steep snow and/or rock and/or ice in the north couloir. The route ascends the narrow north couloir to a miniscule col on Woodrow Wilson’s summit ridge, where you can peer down the south couloir. Head climber’s right (west) along the ridge, where a short rock pitch delivers you to the hard-won summit. Most parties will rappel on the descent—bring anchor materials.

Route 2: West Couloir – Class 5, Serious Snow

When snow-free in the late summer, this route has been used by some climbers to traverse Woodrow Wilson from Titcomb to the Dinwoody Glacier without having to climb the south couloir. In the early season, others have been turned around by intimidating and exposed snow slopes.

From the Sphinx Glacier (note that crevasses are reemerging) at the head of Titcomb Basin, climb to the ridge which connects Mount Woodrow Wilson with the (distant) Twin Peaks. Traverse north across the ridge to reach the base of the inset west couloir. Depending on the season, the couloir varies between steep snow, mixed ice and rock, and loose rubble. It is very steep and sustained, becoming narrow and deeply inset near the top. The last pitch at the top of the couloir is class 5, and a rappel station is established at the miniscule col where the couloir tops out (as always, bring your own rappel materials to make secure anchors).

From the top of the couloir, you can look through a notch into the intimidating south couloir. To finish climbing this route, ascend a steep slab/face (class 5, likely crux) just below the ridge crest on climber’s left (west). One pitch on this face leads back to the ridge crest just below the summit, where another rappel station is established. A short scramble leads to the top.

Route 3: South Couloir – Class 5.1, Very Serious Snow

Viewed from Titcomb Basin, the south couloir is perhaps the most obvious, aesthetic, and enticing snowclimb in the whole range, as it evenly splits the mountain’s dark rock with a straight, steep white line. However, the author has never heard a favorable report of climbing this route: due to its aspect, the snow is usually rotten, thin, and icy, even early in the season. The “sweet spot” of post-winter consolidation and pre-summer melt never seems to occur for the snow in the south couloir. Some would consider this route a Wind River rite of passage, and others would consider it a death trap. Venture into the postcard at your own peril.

For those who truly desire to climb this route, little description will be necessary. The south couloir starts from the Sphinx Glacier (crevassed) and ends at the little col with the north couloir. It is very steep. The aesthetics and position are superb; the climbing may well be horrifying depending on the snow conditions. Even in June, the author encountered mixed conditions including a crux consisting of an ice-covered chockstone where the couloir narrows to only a few feet wide. The route is likely unclimbable (at least by any sane mountaineer) once melted out.

Mount Woodrow Wilson Map

Click title to show track
North Couloir Route
South Couloir Route

Mount Woodrow Wilson Panorama

Mount Woodrow Wilson Photos

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