July 28, 2019

By Kathryn Perkinson

When summer in Lander rolls around, rock climbers get fired up. As the snow melts and roads begin to open, we gain access to spectacular, world-class rock climbing. Climbers enjoy year-round south-facing walls on the striking dolomite limestone of Sinks Canyon (sometimes in tank tops in the middle of winter!), but once it turns to spring, we can reach areas like Wild Iris and Fossil Hill.

Rock Climbing at Wild Iris. Photo: Jared Steinman
Rock Climbing at Wild Iris. Photo: Jared Steinman

Wild Iris is home to the most striking sport climbing in the U.S.—powerful routes on pocketed white limestone in the aspen-covered foothills of the Wind River Range.

Fossil Hill also feels like you’re in the mountains but has distinctive longer, technical climbs.

But the excitement builds for another reason– the International Climbers’ Festival (ICF). Each July in Lander, the town buzzes with anticipation as hundreds of people visit for the five day celebration. The longest-running grassroots climbers festival, the ICF stokes the enthusiasm and passion of rock climbers from all over the world, providing education, fun and community. Local artists set up booths to showcase their work, professional rock climbers and coaches host clinics and give talks, live music plays nightly and climbers make connections and forge new friendships.

The festival takes place over five days. Each morning, climbers gather in Lander’s City Park to drink coffee and eat breakfast provided by different local vendors. From there, participants can choose to go to a clinic to build their technical or mental skills, demo new gear, volunteer to help maintain the local crags or meet new climbing partners to enjoy the variety of sport climbing areas. Clinics meet a host of different goals. In 2019, they ranged from “Climbing Outside Your Comfort Zone,” to “Adaptive Techniques” for differently-abled climbers and their partners, to “Climbing Self Rescue,” and “Nutrition for Climbers.” From the complete novice to the seasoned veteran, everyone has something to learn. 

Climbing at Wild Iris. Photo credit: Matt Wendling

Participants enjoy a different party each night. The ICF begins with a Boulder Bash in Sinks Canyon, where attendees boulder (climb low to the ground without ropes, using pads and spotters as protection) by headlamp with music bumping. The official opening party kicks off on Thursday evening with a pull-up competition at the Lander Bar. This past festival, the hosts added a little twist to keep the contest engaging: a spinning pull up bar! Strong women, men, and children showcased their “try-hard,” and spectators enjoyed a raffle and prizes over their burgers and beers. Friday is marked by creative contests—crate stacking, tug of war, and speed rope coiling—as well as an evening “dyno comp” (a competition of big, dynamic climbing moves in City Park).

The capstone event of the ICF is undoubtedly the Limestone Rodeo, an all-day partner competition that spans all of Lander rock climbing. Competitors have eight hours to climb as many pitches as possible to get the most points (mostly based on difficulty but with some added rodeo twists), vying for a cash purse and other sponsor prizes. 

woman rock climbing in Wild Iris, Lander WY

World class keynote speakers present on Saturday evening. This past festival, speakers included Volker Schoffl, a senior physician with a focus on biomechanics of the hand and climbing and skiing injuries, Kitty Calhoun, one of the top female mountaineers in the world, Craig Demartino, perhaps the most accomplished adaptive climber in the world, and James Edward Mills, a freelance journalist and professor who works in diversity, equity and inclusion. 

The ICF is a welcoming, fun, and educational event for anyone with even a spark of interest in rock climbing. Come enjoy the beautiful country Lander has to offer, learn new skills, meet new friends and give back to the incredible Wyoming climbing community. You can find more about the festival here

KATHRYN MONTANA PERKINSON is a writer living in Lander. Find more at kathrynmontana.com and @kathrynmontana

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