“The rock climbing community in Fremont County is seriously one of the best in the country. The tight knit community can be mostly attributed to Todd Skinner who started developing Wild Iris in the early ‘90s. Ever since then, there has been a small group of people developing traditional climbs in the Winds, sport climbs on the limestone cliffs, and boulders around the county,” says Lander resident Charlie Manganiello.
The Central Wyoming Climbers Alliance (CWCA), based in Lander, is responsible for the International Climbers Festival, held in Lander every July. The CWCA also has a Bolt Anchor Replacement Fund to keep the local crags safely equipped, as well as youth climbing programs. Scaling rock faces is not only a popular pursuit amongst locals, but also a large part of why Lander is a vacation destination. No matter your skill level or age, you’ll find the sport of rock climbing to be very accessible in Wind River Country.
When Kelly Roseberry and her family moved to Lander from California, she immediately recognized the opportunity to get her young girls into the life sport of climbing. Her daughters started with kids climbing classes at Elemental Performance + Fitness and moved outside to take on sport climbing shortly thereafter.
“I am actually jealous that they are learning so young! Paisley’s (6) first outdoor climbing was at Wild Iris and she had a great time! Her next time was on the Shady Side, which is in Sinks Canyon. She really enjoyed herself and can’t wait to go again!”
As a parent, Roseberry is a particular fan of Shady Side, the north-facing side of Sinks Canyon, which is a five-minute stroll from the Sinks Canyon Campground, across the swinging bridge, and directly south along the trail to the wall.
“There are lots of big holds for climbers learning to climb! Also, it is shady most of the day! Bonus!” she exclaims.
Paisley enjoys the wall for perhaps a more pure reason: “I like getting higher and higher!”
Anne Peick has a few more years of climbing under her belt than Paisley but speaks with the same enthusiasm about climbing in Fremont County.
“It is possible to access world class rock climbs year round in the Lander area,” she declares. “Most people who come to Lander to climb are coming for the limestone sport climbing. This is because it is awesome! Don’t be intimidated if you are a newer climber—there are lots of high quality, moderate climbs for you to cut your teeth on. Sinks Canyon is generally known for friendly spacing between bolts and good hardware.”
Sinks Canyon alone offers over 800 routes for climbers of all abilities and interests, all with a short approach of under 10 minutes. In the heat of summer, head to the Main Wall in Sinks Canyon (the south-facing side) in the late afternoon and evening for more comfortable temperatures, or hit the Shady Side. In the winter, watch the thermometer on your backpack climb as you leave frigid Lander in your car, then on foot, to the wall. Before you know it, you’ll be climbing in Wyoming in a tee-shirt in February.
Many options lie beyond the climbing hotspot of Sinks Canyon, one of the favorites being the white dolomite cliffs of Wild Iris (take Highway 28 about 25 miles south of Lander, turn right on Limestone Mountain Road, then take the right at the fork in the road to the parking lot).
“It is shady and cool and a nice respite from the heat of downtown Lander,” Peick says, adding, “Please practice excellent bear camping up there.”
The opportunities abound beyond Sinks and Wild Iris, and new crags are being developed with each season.
The most thorough, up-to-date information on all the climbing options—and finding those best suited to your skills and interests— is Lander Rock Climbs by longtime climber Steve Bechtel. The latest version came out this year and is available at Wild Iris Mountain Sports. While you’re shopping, “consider contributing to the Lander B.A.R.F. (Bolt Anchor Replacement Fund) to help keep the hardware shiny and safe for other climbers,” Peick recommended.
Peick had a few final thoughts to welcome visitors to the area:
“Watch out for rattlesnakes, particularly in Sinks Canyon when it’s really hot out. Take a hike up to the Popo Agie falls on a hot day and check out the natural water slide, and enjoy a beer and burger at the Lander Bar after a long day of climbing. Those of us who live and climb here love our climbing community and the wider community in general. Welcome to town and please treat this place as you would treat your own home crag.”
Fremont County’s bouldering scene is “relatively small, but the people involved are extremely passionate. The amount of work that has been put into developing new and existing areas in the last three to four years has been immense,” says local Charlie Manganiello.
Manganiello has been heavily involved in that work, something that came as a bit of a surprise to him.
“It’s really been an interesting time of exploration that I thought I would never see in my lifetime. I always figured I was too young to be part of developing new climbing areas!”
The fact that bouldering is flourishing in Wind River Country may surprise visitors, as well, but Manganiello and the passionate people he plays with have found “a lifetime of climbing that will keep boulders busy for a very long time.”
If you’d like to join the trend in Wind River Country, your first resource should be David Lloyd’s bouldering guide, which covers all the bouldering areas within a day’s trip from Lander. Bouldering in the Wind River Range can be purchased at Wild Iris Mountain Sports. The guide covers roadside bouldering in Sinks Canyon, remote backcountry bouldering in the Eastern Wind River Mountains, and a plethora of projects in between.
Manganiello pointed out that the current momentum means areas in the new guidebook have been developed since it went to print in 2013, so keep an eye out for chalked boulders that aren’t in the book. Lloyd’s blog does provide more up-to-date beta:
“I think that’s the beauty of bouldering around here. You get to channel your inner western explorer and dive into something unknown,” Manganiello said.
When you’re ready to “saddle up,” he first recommends the Rock Shop.
“The Rock Shop is granite with cool features and solid holds,” he explains. “Once you see the UFO boulder you’ll understand why pro climbers from around the country have been traveling to Wyoming.”
Bouldering in the Wind River Range directions to The Rock Shop:
The Rock Shop area is found nine miles south of the Wild Iris area (33 miles from Lander) on Highway 28. You’ll pass a large mine/lake dug into the side of Iron Mountain and four miles later see a large parking lot and the closed Rock Shop Inn on the right. As soon as you see the Inn slow down and take the first gravel road seen on the right. Go through the cattle gate and close it after you pass. Follow the road up the steep hill to a flat meadow. Take a left, go a short distance across the meadow and then a right on a two track that leads into the forest. Park at the first spot you see on the left.
“The best day I had this past year was with a few friends at the Rock Shop. It was a beautiful day, everyone was climbing on newly developed boulders. We were laughing, trying hard, and just generally enjoying what we all love, climbing. There was the occasional frustrating sound of someone’s feet hitting the bouldering pads, but words of encouragement close to follow. I know every day isn’t the best day, but most days it feels like it when you’re are outside enjoying the inevitable passage of time,” Manganiello reflected.
“Lander is a sport climbing town primarily, but if you are willing to hike a bit and go to some of the lesser known areas, you will find some world class trad climbing.” —Resident climber Cameron Sumpter
Even if you’re not willing to get off the beaten path, he notes, you can get on some great trad climbing routes, particularly on the Granite Buttress, which climbers access from Bruce’s Parking Lot at the top of Sinks Canyon Road. “The Granite Buttress is the huge rounded dome that sits a half mile further up the trail,” Lander Rock Climbs directs.
This dome “offers some nice single pitch climbs that often get overlooked,” Sumpter notes. “Great for new trad leaders and lots of future route potential!
As for the climbs worth hiking to, the Circ of the Towers, a breathtaking panorama of views and classic climbing routes, is a hub of camping and climbing activity in the summers. Guidebooks and maps to set you up for your adventure of some of the world’s best climbing are available at Wild Iris Mountain Sports. In the meantime, you might get some Circ ideas from Lander’s climbing power couple:
For in-depth details about trad climbing pursuits in the Winds, stop by Wild Iris for recommendations and check out Steve Bechtel’s book Cirque of the Towers & Deep Lake: A Select Guide to the Wind Rivers’ Best Rock Climbing.
Dubois is gaining a reputation for ice climbing with mixed and multi-pitch routes, says longtime Lander climber and author of Lander Rock Climbs Steve Bechtel.
Lake Louise, just outside of town, boasts a multi-pitch climbing area that has been growing in popularity. A handful of routes lie about an hour to 90 minutes of walking from the Glacier Trail trailhead south of Dubois. Learn more on Jackson’s All Trips site.