[This is part of my vanlife series. I've spent 7 months and 25kmiles on the road in 2 years, exploring and rock climbing around the US]
"There was a large Indian camp on the Platte River near the present site of Casper, Wyo., that was known to the early trappers as the old Sioux Camp. To the North, near the present site of Bridger, Mont., on Clark's Fork River, was another large and well known Indian camp. They were cross-roads of the nation and trails led in all directions. Halfway between was Ten Sleeps. The Indians measured distance by the number of sleeps. It was ten sleeps from here to each of the main camps."
Wyoming's best known for the iconic Tetons, Yellowstone, and Jackson, but most of the state is open, vast plains and badlands. You've got to drive East out of tourist towns to really see the state.
Push into the Bighorn National Forest and you drop down into Ten Sleep Canyon, a mecca of limestone sport climbing along its 10mi-long canyon walls.
Our short passage through Ten Sleep last year was so memorable for the climbing, town, beauty, and people that we made plans to stay for 2.5 weeks this year.
The climbing is unlike any limestone I've climbed on (most of which I don't like)--I've heard it's even better than what you find in Europe. It's well-known, but not terribly well-traveled, making for an awesome community and bomber routes that aren't glassy.
The climbing starts at 6,000ft and continues up the canyon for 10mi up to 9,400ft. If you're used to living at sea level, you can admire the views while calming your heartrate on the approaches.
The rock has a fair number of pockets, but is incredibly featured for limestone. The majority of the climbing is vertical to +/-10deg with crimps, sidepulls, shpraggles (def: pinching a whiffle ball), underclings, and pinches. You'll be very rewarded with good footwork. It's sewn up with bolt anchors at least every 5 feet; it's the only place I've found where it's actually possible to z-clip.
There's slab (Dry Wall area, Grand Parade wall, She's My Wife 5.11a slab arete),
techy vertical climbs (Wall of Denial area, Insane Hound Posse 5.10a; to the left of climber, Zombie Leprechauns 5.11d)
roofs (Mondo area, Slavery wall, School's Out 5.10d; to the right of climber out small horizontal roof, Mommas Mental Medication 5.12a),
cracks and laybacks (Ice Plant wall, Ice Station Zero 5.10c)
aretes (in center photo, Sidewalk Buttress area, 25-bolt Sheep Reaction 5.12a),
(FCR area, Sector Shinto wall, Euro Trash Girl 5.10b):
overhanging refrigerator features (Dry Wall area, Downtown wall, Da Illa Pilla, 5.13a),
and incredible views (Leigh Creek Area, Upper Psychoactive wall, Suck the Nipple, 5.11c/d). (more climbing photos)
You're in heaven if you're a 5.11 to 5.12 climber; you can have a blast climbing 5.10s and 5.11s all day, or jump on the ton of excellent climbs through 5.12. 5.13+ tend to get very thin, very mono-pockety, and a bit overhanging. There's so much climbing, you'd be hard pressed to visit the same crag twice. Get your onsight, flash, or quick redpoint in order instead of revisiting the same project!
This trip was just as memorable as last year. We met up with Rolf and David, the guys we met in Ten Sleep Brewery's tap room last year. They made the 7.5hr drive from Denver two weekends in a row to get their climb and bourbon on with us!
[above: reunited a year later in the same place!]
At the end of the climbing day, take the old grated highway back to town to catch sunset. There's free dispersed camping along the old highway. Sites are pretty darn level with fire rings, some exposed along the cliff, and others tucked back in trees.
Town and Amenities
We've been through some pretty remote small towns in our travels, and unlike others, Ten Sleep is quite a gem. Its town is about 1/2mi long. Crazy Woman Cafe has amazing huckleberry ice cream and tater tots (get a basket to go to heat up for breakfast the next day!). Aunt Sally's general store has amazing fresh veggies--we stocked up on sweet zucchini squash, crispy cucumbers, and fluffy kale.
[Update 2017] Ten Sleep Rock Ranch. Located at the bottom of the canyon, Ten Sleep Rock Ranch offers tent camping from $5/night, a few cabins, showers, and WiFi.
Ten Sleep Brewery.
1mi past town is the Ten Sleep Brewery, built in a family barn with a cozy taproom.
Here you can camp for $3/person, shower for $2, catch up on the world with free wifi, enjoy beer and great company. You'll find fellow climbers, hunters, locals, various 4-footed pets, and traveling passer-throughs. It's a family-run brewery where you'll find Cole and Justin Smith working and enjoying the company of their patrons, and JD, who runs The Smokewagon BBQ on the weekends. And they love meeting new folks and hearing where you're from. It's surprising how the brewery, in such a small town, is a hub for so many people. Some nights none of the patrons were even from Wyoming!
Where else can you get $9 growler fills to enjoy under the stars? The sky's dark enough here to see the milky way with the naked eye.
Our motto: Good beer for good sending! It was a better sending trip than I had expected--we didn't go back to the same wall twice in the whole 2.5 weeks. It's so much fun to climb different routes every day, but at some point this trip I'll buckle down and "project" something. I had my mental game in order to redpoint two 5.12a's on lead, plus make quick work of many 5.12+'s following Jeremy!
The brewery's Golden and Porter are really amazing, and the brewery is helping to build the local community with events like the hunters' and climbers' festivals. It was a bit sad to leave the brewery after saying our goodbyes to the regular faces.
If you're on a climbing trip, check out (somewhat nearby) climbing destinations:
Other Top North American Climbing Destinations
To top my list, climbing destinations need to:
- Have quantity of great rock quality and movement to justify a destination
- Have a beautiful crag setting. We climb in large part to escape the city and to enjoy the outdoors. There are definitely ugly crags.
- Have a comfy camping scene. 'Cuz we like glamping. Camping for days on end in harsh, exposed conditions, or where camping is scarce, isn't fun.
- Be close enough to essentials like showers and groceries.
- Bonus: Cool local town. You need rest days, and a place to chill and write blog posts is a big plus!
These locations fit the bill for everything. Check the these links for my climbing guides: