Wild, Wild Iris

The past couple of weekends I’ve spent trying to get back into climbing for the all-too-short summer season up in Wyoming. And by short, I mean it snowed on us the weekend before last, and I had to come down from a climb because my fingers were too numb.

Aside from the snow and all that, little signs of summer are popping up everywhere. Big orange poppies around Laramie just bloomed and the roses are budding; my vegetables are moving beyond sprout-stage; the farmer’s market is in operation (though without much in the way of fresh produce); there are baby birds in my backyard.

Their little faces are all beak
Their little faces are all beak!

The weekend before last Matt and I drove up to Lander, WY, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and has a population of just over 7,500. NOLS (The National Outdoor Leadership School) is based in Lander. There are several extensive limestone sport climbing areas outside of town, including Wild Iris and Sinks Canyon, in addition to the Wind River Mountain Range, home to the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Since it was still pretty chilly up in the mountains outside of town, Matt and I camped in Lander City Park, which is a beautiful grassy piece of paradise among old cottonwoods, which resemble pin oaks, with little streams running through. The park has a great policy that allows anyone to camp for free for up to three nights, so it’s a great option for weekend travelers like us.

The Wild Iris climbing area is a little over a half hour’s drive outside of town, and several miles up dirt road switchbacks on Forest Service land.

Matt's Subaru in the "parking area" of Wild Iris. You can see the Wind River Range on the horizon.
Matt’s Subaru in the “parking area” of Wild Iris. You can see the Wind River Range on the horizon.

Prior to embarking on our weekend climbing adventure, Matt and I had been warned via the internet about Wild Iris’s resident grizzly bear, who has been affectionately named Waffles. This naturally led to Matt referring to the bear mace I procured as “syrup.”

Abe at the trailhead for Wild Iris's Main Wall climbing area
Abe at the trailhead for Wild Iris’s Main Wall climbing area

For our first weekend, we spent a lot of time at the Main Wall, where most of the climbing routes at Wild Iris are located. Since it was my first climbing trip of the season, I felt pretty out of shape. There was a lot of falling and me yelling things like, “It’s too cold!” and, “I suck at climbing!” and, “Auughhhrghhh!!!”

On the bright side of things, many of the wildflowers were blooming, which made for lovely hiking.

Matt at the base of the limestone cliff, and wildflowers
Matt at the base of the limestone cliff, and wildflowers

I wanted so badly to pick some! I also alternated between singing and humming Sting’s “Fields of Gold.”

As we walked in fields of gold [wildflowers]...
As we walked in fields of gold [wildflowers]…
One night my friend Larkin, whom I met during yoga teacher training in Laramie, had us over for some homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes, local salad greens, and rhubarb strawberry crisp with just-picked rhubarb. YUM. Having friends around Wyoming is pretty much the best. Larkin works for NOLS and lives in Lander. She also teaches yoga at their local studio.

The day it snowed was the day it got so cold and windy I had to bail on a 5.10d. People could see from the top of the cliff that a storm system was coming down from the Wind River Range. Sure enough, right as we arrived back at the car, it began snowing.

Bye bye, blue sky!
Bye bye, blue sky!

Then it was back to another week at work in Laramie before more rock climbing (isn’t that how life always is?). Last weekend we drove up to Wild Iris again after I got off work Friday afternoon. This time we met up with our friend Andrew, an undergraduate at the University of Wyoming, and camped up at Wild Iris instead of in the town of Lander, meaning I kept the syrup aka bear mace with me at all times.

Last weekend went much better. I redpointed (meaning climbed with no falls, but after having climbed it before with falls) a really fun 5.11a (Mountain Project gives it 5.11b) at the OK Corral area called Winchester Pump on Friday night. Saturday we went to the Aspen Glades area, which is part of Wild Iris but a 2-or-so-mile drive away from the main parking area and another 2 miles or so on foot.

We warmed up on a tricky 5.10b called Sweaty Bully and proceeded to get serious. The weather was glorious: warm, slight breeze, sunshine. It actually felt like summer!

Andrew on Sweaty Bully, 5.10b
Andrew on Sweaty Bully, 5.10b

There was a blank-looking face at the wall with three 11d’s that I wanted to work, but they looked… hard. After failing at a long move on Fist Full of Quickdraws (5.11d), we moved on to Butch Pocket and the Sundance Pump (5.12a). That route was particularly fun, but I was too tired to get to the top. Story of my life!

We had a campstove dinner and went to bed relatively early under cloudy skies. On Sunday we went back to OK Corral since it was close to our campsite. Matt had just finished putting up Tribal War, a really excellent and classic 5.11b, when it began thundering. I raced up the route on toprope and cleaned it before the storm blew in. We parted ways with Andrew and walked back to the car as the downpour began.

Matt on Sweaty Bully, 5.10b
Matt on Sweaty Bully, 5.10b

We threw everything in the car (including Abe, who was a little wet, but more terrified by the thunder) and drove down to Lander to refill on gas and for some burgers with guacamole at the Gannett Grill, which is adjoined to the Lander Bar. Abe was allowed on the porch.

Abe doesn't appear to be sad about not getting a burger
Abe doesn’t appear to be sad about not getting a burger

I picked up a chokecherry milkshake to make me feel better about the fact that there aren’t any CookOut (an amazing NC-based fast food restaurant) milkshakes available out here, which we used to get all the time after climbing at Pilot Mountain in North Carolina. Then we made it back to Laramie through some thunderstorms for another week in the office.

This weekend I’m headed to the beach back in North Carolina- can’t wait to see my family! I hope I can survive the heat.

Love to all.

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