Trip Report- Climbing in the Wild West
BY: Nick Votto
You can pretty much sum up Wyoming with: yee haw!
Characterized by cowboys, bar fights, guns, and endless amounts of amazing rock, the state has an interesting dymanic to it. What originally started as a 12 day trip for two bachelor parties and a wedding quickly became an opportunity for my friend Parker and I to try our hand at some of Americas best rock climbing. We decided to visit two completely different areas separated by 350 miles, as first we’d be in the north for our dual bachelor party with 10 friends, then in the south for a mountain wedding one week later.
Ten Sleep Canyon
If you ever get a chance to visit the old west town of Sheridan Wyoming, take the time to drive over the Bighorn Mountains and visit Ten Sleep Canyon. It is, at the very least, impressive. At around 8,000 ft elevation this massive limestone canyon has large rock walls on each side, high prairies, aspen groves, and the rushing Ten Sleep Creek winding its course throughout.
The entire area is sport climbing, which means it’s bolted every meter or two for protection. The style is very dynamic on overhanging and pocketed limestone walls. Parker and I quickly found a campsite near a nice stretch of river, as this would be our home for 3 days, and then we took off to climb! First up was a 5.9 climb called Water Into Wine, oddly enough it contains the only red colored rock in the canyon, and is also bordered by a waterfall. We raced up the canyon in our mini-van and then hiked up to the area, quickly feeling the effects of elevation on our legs and lungs.
After dispatching a couple things here the sun hit us, and at this elevation it’s just too darn hot to climb in, as you’ll fry like bacon. Thus we made our way to a massive 60 ft boulder in the woods and did a few 5.10’s and 11’s before retreating to our camp. The next couple days we chased the shade throughout Ten Sleep, always climbing on the south side, being less popular part of the canyon. The highlight was going to The Ark, a climbing area at 8,500 ft which required an hour long approach through cow pastures, dense forest, and aspen groves.
The payoff was a 100 foot overhanging and detached limestone wall, filled with small pockets. We climbed four routes there before succumbing to the elevation. After three days in Ten Sleep Canyon our time was up, and our friends were eager to get moving on the 6 hour drive through central Wyoming to Laramie, which was our destination for the groom to be. Parker and I said goodbye to the beautiful scenery of the canyon, promising to return soon. I should mention, although there’s thousands of routes there, we did not see a single climber in our three day stay.
Laramie and Vedauwoo
After seven days on the road we pulled back into the more “modern” town of Laramie, in the southeast corner of Wyoming. At 7,300 ft, Laramie is a perfect town for the summer, mild in the day and cool at night. We happened to be staying there during a weeklong celebration called Jubilee Days, in which the town explodes with tourists, rodeos, music, and, in true Wyoming fashion, bar fights. We quickly chose the seediest motel in town, The Ranger, and settled in.
After one night, Parker and I had enough and high-tailed it for the climbing mecca of Vedauwoo. At just 20 minutes outside of Laramie, Vedauwoo is a more conveniently located climbing area with plenty of campsites and pleasant trails to walk around the crags on. Don’t let the convenience fool you though…..Vedauwoo is probably one of the most physically demanding climbing areas in the US. The area has a strict traditional ethic, so bolts are few and far between. The climbing here is primarily traditional, meaning you place and remove your own protection gear. Vedauwoo is known for its wide “offwidth” cracks, called this because they’re too big for your fingers and hands to fit in, and primarily have to be climbed with your elbows, knees, body, or anything that will keep you from falling. The rock type is granite, with extremely sharp crystals throughout, making it pretty taxing on the skin, but fun!
The first day we headed out to meet our friend Dave who came up from Golden, CO to climb and visit with us. Parker quickly began dispatching hard crack routes as this was more his style of climbing, the rock was beautiful and the scenery amazing as again there wasn’t a climber in sight, and we were at the most popular area. That night we drove out to one of the convenient campsites and cooked an elaborate meal using our two Coleman stoves, but were hassled throughout the process by numerous mice and ground squirrels. Dave’s dog Chloe tried to eat a number of them, but was unsuccessful in her pursuit.
The next morning we awoke drained, four days of climbing at 8,000+ ft had taken its toll…. Dave departed back to Colorado and Parker and I decided to do one easier route before heading back to do chores for the wedding. So, we hopped on an easier 2 pitch route, Parker led the beginning easily enough and belayed me up from a ledge. The next pitch looked suspect, a wide, body-sized groove. Parker took off, almost immediately getting stuck in the crack, then groveling his way through to the upper parts of the pitch.
After sometime he put me on belay and I followed, as I came up the pitch I noticed he got no protection in during the entire 50 ft rope length! “Woooo” I exclaimed as I climbed up to him, “that was spicy!” We then went back to Laramie to enjoy a few days of partying and the wedding. Monday before we left we arrived at Vedauwoo again around 9am, and quickly dispatched 5.8 and 5.10 crack routes before 11, headed back to Laramie and made a mad dash for the airport.
Wyoming is an amazing place if you like lots of open space, again we never had any company in six days of climbing, which is preferable to mine and Parkers style. The settings are beautiful and the towns rough but quaint. The single commitment I made to myself was to come back to the state, as soon as possible.