“There’s ash in the air,” my friend Jen noted, looking up at the sky to the canyon starting to fill in with a haze of smoke. We were climbing at the Project Wall in Rifle, CO. I had just come down from a new project, a wicked line up the left side of the crag called Present Tense. I had figured out most of the moves and had that giddy, I want to send this route, it’s so fun kind of feeling. Looking up, I could see Jen was right, that smoke and ash hadn’t been there a half hour before.
Minutes later, a fire warden in an old beater station wagon rolled up to the cliff. “You need to leave the canyon as soon as possible, there is a large forest fire heading in.” Jeepers! Tom ran to grab the truck and we high-tailed it back to camp, threw everything into the camper, and drove out of the canyon. Jen looked forlornly at her project, The Eighth Day, where the majority of her quick draws hung. Hopefully they don’t melt I thought.
We drove towards New Castle, stopping on the side of the road where a large crew of evacuated climbers had stopped to watch the fire spread. It was an intense sight.
There was nothing to be done. The fire was spreading quickly and it didn’t look like it would die out anytime soon. Tom, Jen and I had a group pow-wow. Jen was heading home to Calgary, and wanted to head to Ten Sleep for a few days to break up the drive. Tom and I had originally planned to go to Ten Sleep within a week anyways. With the fire looking to potentially sweep through the canyon, the decision was clear. Yet I was stalling, sticking my heels in the mud. “Can’t we just wait and see? Maybe it will open soon!” I desperately wanted to get back on that route. It was the first route of that grade I had tried this trip and it felt so doable. How could we leave? I had a project to send!
However, as my dear mother pointed out after I sent her a rather pouty text, “Majority rules darling”. So off to Wyoming we went.
Ten Sleep is gorgeous. Within a few hours of laying eyes on the lush green canyon, my grumpy, bitter mood evaporated. A new area to explore and discover! Wild flowers literally lined the green hills leading up to the rock walls on either side of the canyon. It was stunning, for the eyes and the nostrils. We quickly jumped out of the car and hiked the ten minutes to the Mondo Beyondo area, one of the most popular areas in Ten Sleep. “Ouch!” Jen and I cried, as we warmed up, “It’s sharp!” Coming from the polished limestone in Rifle, this prickly, dolomite limestone in Ten Sleep felt like it was piercing my fingers.
Over the next few days, Tom (who was nursing a sore shoulder) and I explored Ten Sleep, taking ‘er easy and climbing the classic moderate routes.
The following is a quick hit list of some of my favourite routes that we enjoyed in Ten Sleep:
Beer Bong 5.10b (it doesn’t count unless you stem facing out at the top)
Eldorado Coral Club 5.10b/c
Big Yellow Butterfly 5.11a
Circus in the Wind 5.11a
Burning Grandma Bones 5.11b (with an awesome 12a extension!)
Center El Shinto 5.12a
Cocaine Rodeo 5.12a
Great White Behemoth 5.12b
Happiness in Slavery 5.12b
Gravy Train 5.12b
Crown Prince Abdullah 5.12d (ouch!)
I found Ten Sleep to be a wonderful climbing area for people of all abilities. It’s a perfect destination for the 5.10-5.12 sport climber, with the majority of routes in the area residing within this grade range. It holds nowhere near the amount of difficult lines as the RRG or Rifle, but Tom and I did find a few gems to enjoy and test our mettle on. The one route that I was incredibly eager to try is called Hellion. Graded at 5.13c/8a+, Hellion is just to the left of Great White Behemoth (see photo above). One of the steeper lines in Ten Sleep, Hellion is a powerful, stamina testpiece. The pump hits your right off the bat, when you enter into the crux at the third bolt with a huge drive by move to a small crimp, and builds with hard moves through to the sixth bolt. Once you hit the ‘thank-god’ jug, it’s over. I found the style suited me well and I finished it off in 4 goes, with Tom right behind me.
Tom and I loved the easy going, slow-paced life style in Ten Sleep. The camping is all along the ‘old road’, where you can sit every morning surrounded by wildflowers with your coffee and a good book. The majority of the climbing in Ten Sleep sits in the sun until 2pm, so most mornings were full of stretching, extravagant pancake breakfasts, and sun tanning. We enjoyed the little town of Ten Sleep, where the coffee shop is so darn cute, and the people watching is a real sport.
Ten Sleep truly is a unique place, and Tom and I felt it would be fun to put together a top ten list of essentials for those interested in checking out the area.
1. A good book (for those relaxing mornings)
2. Backcountry poo kit (shovel, teepee, lighter) [don’t forget to mark your spot and dig those holes deep!]
3. Skin salve (for those heinous crimps)
4. Collapsable table (don’t expect any picnic benches! Shop-Ko in Worland sells them for $30)
5. A big water jug (you have to go into town to get drinking water and it’s HOT!)
6. Ice (Check out the Ten Broek RV park in town for the longest lasting block of ice: $2.50!)
7. Stiff-soled shoes (Edging is the name of the game in Ten Sleep)
8. Ten Sleep Guidebook (an essential for any climbing area..this one is wacky)
9. Cowboy hat (to blend in with the locals in town)
10. Climbing tape (tape up those tendons for the proj!)
Check out a fun article by Alli Rainey for Climbing Magazine here
After two weeks of pocket pulling and painful skin, I was ready to leave. I loved the life style, but my fingers just couldn’t hold up to the tweaky nature of the harder routes. With Tom’s US Visa readily running out (Brits only get 3 months!), we packed up the rig and pointed north. Thanks to all the beautiful gals from Quebec and B.C. for sharing your campsite with us! It was a blast.
Despite totally nailing a deer on the highway, we made it home in one piece. My parents have been spoiling us with good food, good beer and all the comforts of home. I feel rejuvenated and ready to get back on the road!
Note: Rifle is now open, fire free!