29 May 2012

Wind River Bouldering

The Wind River Mountains hold an immense amount of rock. Boulders fill the valleys everywhere and the temperatures are generally near perfect for the good times. Many days of my bouldering life have gone by in the cradle of Wind River boulder fields. With spring off to a hot beginning in the Laramie area my motivation and that of others focused on the Wind Rivers sooner than normal. Last week the first and second commutes of the season began. First to Lander, Wyoming a quick ~3 hours away, then to Dubois, Wyoming, farther north by an hour or so and tucked into the edge of the big northern Wind Rivers.
The heat of southeastern Wyoming quickly gave way to a cold front that stuck to the side Winds for nearly a week. Cold rain and snow cooled the high mountains with the gift of amazing conditions, but only when rock was dry. My journey began at the Rock Shop. An area walked many years ago by Dave Nash and myself, but never developed. Lately, Chris Marley took the abandoned, made it his own, aptly naming it the Rock Shop, and started developing it into one of Lander's best bouldering destinations. Other locals have caught on as well including David Lloyd and Jesse Brown. The place is now in full development mode. You can read about David's trips to the Rock Shop here.

The Gem Thief roof. The Gem Thief V11 is on the right side, while a Chris Marley project is on the left.
The single day I spent at the place with Chris Marley and others it rained and snowed until we were soaked to the bone. It was a great tour from Chris and was very motivating to see all the new lines he had done. Even better was re-walking an area from so many years ago and seeing that it indeed had lots of good rock. One of the absolute classics is a steep line of thin crimps Chris Marley named The Gem Thief V11. There were plenty of other classics and soon to be classics all over the place.
A project of Chris' that looks to be V14/15 and is on perfect rock.
A real beauty with a Jesse Brown problem out the right side and a crazy dyno project out the left.
Feeling highly motivated from Chris' great tour I returned to Laramie to regroup and wait for the weather. Things looked good in the near future, and after a night in Laramie, it was back to the Winds. Brian Horlick road with me this time to the old familiar Torrey Valley. Dr. Thunder and his lady were already there on our arrival. Brian and I set up our camp and got ready for an afternoon of bouldering. Upon unpacking the jeep, Brian found that his tent was not with us for the trip. Dr. Thunder provided a tarp and some cord all with a quick lesson on how to survive the night in Grizzly Bear country in a make shift lean-to. While looking for building supplies in the dark forest, Brian found a mini sledge hammer that really boosted his confidence in fighting a bear. I have to say Brian's dedication to climbing is remarkable. He lived three freezing nights in his little shelter, the last of which was an absolutely frigid and snowy night. No doubt the Organic Briefcase Pad he used as a door helped immensely, his resolve even more.

 The first evening in Torrey Valley was spent in the relative shelter of the Elemental Wall. Two old problems on the far left end are all that had been done on this fantastic wall. The old problems were good warm ups, but new lines were the focus and snow was beginning. We cleaned a few lines and finished none, as the top outs proved to be a challenge in the wet falling snow of the evening. Despite the failure to finish any of the lines, three classics now stand ready for a dry day.

Brian Horlick on Hydrogen V3/4
The rhythm of the weather of the first day proved to be both the challenge and the benefit of the three days spent in Torrey Valley. Conditions were ideal when the snow did not fall. Sun would flash for a few minutes to warm you, then a grey dry cold would cover everything and sending temperatures would be perfect. Snow would follow and wet holds on top outs, but things had usually been climbed by then. Problems late in the day were the ones that got away as the cold grew too deep and snow stuck to boulders.
Day two of the northern Winds trip was spent in Bomber Basin, one of the two large valleys above Torrey Valley. Over the past years I've spent a large amount of time in the basin. First to alpine climb and ice climb, but later to visit the boulder seen on earlier trips. This day was the first of what will be many that was devoted completely to bouldering in the large valley. Being overly excited about the day that had finally arrived I woke early and waited for a couple hours for the others to wake. It was still early in the morning when Bryan woke and not wanting to waste any more time I quickly told him were I would be and went up the trail. It was a delight to wander the few miles of trail in the morning light alone. The valley was still with only the sound of West Torrey Creek crossing the valley floor. I stopped at several good boulder piles from walks in years past, finally deciding on one farther up the trail. I marked the cut off with my half pad and proceeded the few hundred yards into the forest. I had only cleaned a few problems when the rest of the group arrived and we proceeded to waist most of the day on the great problems at hand.
Bomber Basin trail

Bryan cleaning the top out of one the best in Bomber Basin. Not sure of the name, but it is a very tricky problem with strange beta in a good way. A classic! The line to the left was unfinished and also tricky while being a classic.

A difficult project I cleaned and briefly tried. It was much harder than expected, maybe V12 or so.
With only a few hours remaining in the day and the weather going toward a colder and snowier feeling we packed our bags and headed up the valley to some boulders I had been raving about all day. We arrived in a snow storm and cleaned a few lines in time for a large storm and more on the horizon. My goal for the entire trip was to attempt a line on a large and perfect gneiss bloc that I had first wanted to boulder on many years ago. On an alpine climbing trip into the Spider Peak cirque a major storm had stooped our approach. Myself and a friend sat under this particular boulder for a few hours. It was in that storm, under that boulder, that I had first felt bouldering was the true passion of my climbing life. It was a deep satisfaction to finally put chalk on that line. I quickly figured out all the moves but a single hard crux move to the lip of the line. In the process of figuring that move a very small crimp broke. the line is still possible, but most likely went from V10/11 to something like V13/14, all based on that single crux move. It will be great to complete, but being able to first chalk the line of such quality is enough for me should it not go. Many other boulders in the same area are just as good!

The short but significant one that started it all for me.
The snow became too much and we walked out with smiles from a good day and hope of returning soon.

Day three of the trip dawned cold and grey. Relief was that we had not stashed out pads up in the basin as we had planned. Snow blanketed the high country and no chance of a good day was up there. We opted for the low lands of Torrey Valley itself and went to work both repeating old problems and adding a few new ones. Starting at the Beck Boulders we warmed up on some unnamed short lines before moving around into the limited sun on Vladimir's Puttin' V4 and the still unrepeated Bad Animals V8ish.

Vladimir's Puttin' V4
After the warm ups with enough pads to do almost anything, we headed to a boulder found years ago but never climbed on. The large square bloc now has three tall lines of good quality. Both Brian and Bryan put lines up on the left and right sides respectfully while I took the tall middle line. I named mine Days Gone By V3.

Bryan on his tall and very classic prow. The line Days Gone By V3 is just left of his.
As the day grew long we made our way across the valley forest and into the more developed areas of the valley. We stopped at the Mead Boulder, one of the Wyoming classics to show Brian Horlick around. Bryan wanted to give Poho Kanhi V10 a good try while next door is an older prow project brought to light by Chris Marley's latest visit to the valley. Bryan was very close to the fourth ascent of Poho Kanhi nearing the top of the series of poor slopers and slimpers to a crux upper move. I made good progress on the prow project doing all the moves quickly but the hard slapping crux. I was able to slow the move down and feel the line would go with another day or two of effort. It is one of those things that needs subsequent efforts in a row, over several sessions rather than random days over a season. Hopefully things shape up to give it hell later this summer. Brian repeated Buckets of Rain V5 a line that has been suggested everywhere between V4 and V7.
Snow came in thicker waves and the cold grey grew even deeper as the 3pm mark came and went. We tried to stay warm, but eventually lost the battle to the frigid wind. We moved onto some Torrey Valley classics from back in the day, Good Yoga V1, Bad Yoga V4, and Gold's Gym V5-V7ish depending on the start (the classic of which is the V5 start).

Poho Kanhi V10

Bad Yoga V4
We escaped into Dubois to the Cowboy Cafe for dinner and only returned to our tents and tarp when we were ready to face the night of cold. The high country above was blanketed in storm. We woke to snow cover on everything and no hope of bouldering. Packing up without breakfast we made our way back to Dubois for coffee at Kathy's Coffee, then to Lander where rain and snow chased us all the way back to Laramie.
In the quest for great bouldering the conditions are often more temperamental than the rock. We have so much fine stone, but it is all in a place famous for weather.


  1. And i'm not sure if I've ever been more ready to go back. All of these pictures of that perfect stone out in cowboy country never fails to make me jealous and nostalgic. On the bright side, It's rainy and 3000 degrees here, so the underabundance of rock isn't even an issue.
    Tell that Brian kid he's too tough to be climbing with old guys like y'all.

  2. One of my favorite posts Davin! I'm excited to see the new lines in Torrey Valley. Will you be coming up to the Falcon's Lair this season, or do you have other plans in the Winds? I'm excited to get back to the Lair, but I'm really psyched on the Rock Shop too, and will probably focus there until the weather gets too hot. I'm getting a bad case of Wyoming Syndrome!!!

  3. The Lair is a summer objective for sure. Hopefully with you and the Lander crew and any one else who wants to go. We need pads up there to finish the best lines. The northern Winds will be my main focus should the conditions be good through the summer season. As the great bouldering at the Rock Shop gets too warm, we should embrace Wyoming Syndrome in the depths of higher and cooler Winds! Looking forward to it!

    And for that Brian kid, it's too late for him. Dr. Thunder has already taken him under his wing. They are like Jedi, linked forever by an unseen force. Teacher and student scrubbing rock, building lean-to forts, and such.