Road trippin: Four days ice climbing in Cody, Wyoming
February 20, 2008 — Editor’s Note: Jens Werner writes about ice climbing for realvail.com. He recently returned to Vail from Cody, Wyo., where some of the nation’s best ice climbs form each winter.
The Wyoming wind slammed the car door shut as Mac got back in.
“If my co-worker called me at 11:30 at night to tell me I had to cover his next shift, I sure as s**t would not be listening to James Taylor,” he said with a smirk.
That was the first monumental quote of the trip. It wasn’t to be the last.
As he explained the phone conversation and course of events he just witnessed I did have to marvel at the Zen it took for the teenage girl to turn on a mellow, forgiving James Taylor CD despite knowing she was headed for a 16 hour shift at the “Pump-n-Pack” in Casper, Wyo.
Almost as punishing as her 16 hour shift were the burritos she sold us, but we choked them down with smiles on our faces. After all, we were on the road, half way to Cody and miles from our day-to-day lives. We were road trippin’!
The next morning we pulled into Albertson’s in Cody at 10 a.m. to grab quick snacks before heading out to the South Fork of the Shoshone. The South Fork is about a two beer drive from Cody (at least that’s what someone told me) and is where all of Cody’s ice routes are located. The long, dirt road is lined with mule deer, sage brush and the lower 48’s best ice climbing.
On Day 1 we did a great WI3 warm up called Stringer. It was one great pitch in a constricted rock chimney. Stringer quickly reminded us that WI3 in Cody is not like WI3 in East Vail. The climbs here are sand-bagged, if not on purpose, because they were put up by some of the country’s best old-school climbers. Few of them, with the exception of
Alex Lowe, are known outside Wyoming and Montana. I can’t help but think that they want it that way. Heroic ice climbing tales are best told over cans of beer on a tail-gate or around a fire; not in Climbing Magazine or by a news reporter who continues to refer to the sport as X-treme.
The next day was to be the day that I did Mean Green with may partner Ian, who lives in Truckee now. We did the hour-long hike to the base of it only to find another party heading up the first of its 5 long pitches. Opting not to follow another party and being showered with their ice fall all day we moved on to High On Boulder, located up a nearby drainage. It’s a classic and Ian had never done it. 2 hours of hiking, 4 roped pitches of Cody WI4, 7 rappels and a 1 hour hike out we arrived back at the car and met Brendan and Mac.
I told Brendan – my partner for the next day – that I was pretty smoked and wanted to do a more chill climb the next day. Ian piped up and told me that he had done Cabin Fever to Wyoming Wave the year before and really liked it.
“It’s a casual WI3,” he reassured me. “Totally chill!”
That night we had spaghetti and washed it down with plenty of Carlo & Rossi jug wine. It would be cool; tomorrow’s climb was a cruiser.
It seemed the alarm went off minutes after we went to bed. I rolled out and made coffee while Mac worked on making breakfast, my head still throbbing from the Rossi.
“It’ll be alright,” I told myself. I had an hour drive to the South Fork, probably and hour hike and then a nice rest-day climb.
“Sand-bagging son-of-a-bitch,” I muttered as we turned the corner in the creek bed and Cabin Fever gave me the evil eye. Ian had played the classic trick of sand-bagging your buddy to make him squirm, and I fell for it.
Cabin Fever was no “cruiser”. It looked like the Designator in East Vail but 25 feet longer, with more overhanging ice and water running down much of its 150 feet.
I figured that if we didn’t do it we wouldn’t be climbing that day. I couldn’t ask Brendan to lead it. He had just started leading ice. Pride wouldn’t let me grovel back to Ian and tell him that I couldn’t climb his “WI3” recommendation. I scoped it out, chose my line and racked my screws.
Fifty feet into it I had hacked my way through a funky traverse with ice breaking off in sheets on each swing and was positioned under the 70 feet of vertical ice with the crux 2/3rds of the way up that section. I was feeling good and climbing well, especially given the hurdles that the Carlo & Rossi threw at me.
I climbed to the crux, rifled in a screw and charged the next 15 feet of overhanging, bulgy ice. Once through it, I knew that not only had I lead the hardest route of my last 3 seasons, but probably my hardest route of the trip. I topped out and put Brendan on belay.
In a twisted way I’ve always laughed and taken pride in the sounds of my second struggling up something that I just led. It means that it was hard and that you weren’t being a Nancy when you pondered coming down before the crux. Brendan’s expletives and grunts validated my lead. I laughed to myself like a kid who just put a tack on a substitute teacher’s chair.
The rest of that climb was great, though nothing there is a gimme. Our last day we climbed another Cody classic, Broken Hearts. That night, with an urgency to get home to my family coupled with sadness at leaving the beautiful South Fork, I packed my bags to go home.
After all, that’s the sign of a spectacular road trip; feeling tired and ready to go home, but knowing that you’ll miss where you are. It was a good trip.
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