Today marks one week since my arrival to the friendly, bantam town of Lander, WY. Thinking back on all that has happened this past week each day seems jam-packed, and yet life in Lander has been laid-back and fun. I was relieved and even overwhelmed by the number of people, vehicles, and businesses I found when I first rolled into town last Friday evening. Lander is a small town, but it seemed a metropolitan imbroglio after the six distinctive buildings of Ten Sleep. I had to bug a grocery checker for a map of the place before I was able to make my way to City Park to set up camp. Livin’ is pretty darn easy here in Lander. Between the free camping, facilities, and water access provided by City Park, two grocery stores, innumerable sources of wifi, and the abundantly hospitable residents, this town is a climbing bum’s dream. I’ve been here a week and already three separate people have opened their door to me offering a free shower and a place to cook. These country-folk are great!
On Saturday morning I woke up early and made my way to the Elemantal Training Center for the ‘2012 Lander Training Camp’. Steve Bechtel is a performance coach and the owner of Elemental, and is passionate about applying the knowledge gained in his study of physiology and training to the sport of climbing. My friend Emma Myers recommended his blog, ‘Climb Strong‘, which features articles on planned training for climbing. Steve has a very realistic and honest approach and rejects the big claims or generalized ‘keys to success’ of most training articles. I found a great deal of wisdom in his writing and was soon hungrily pouring through all his material. The decision to sign up for the training camp was one of the most spontaneous decisions I have ever made, but I longed for the opportunity to meet with Steve in person and explore some of my burning questions. It turned out to be an excellent decision. The class was very small, just a handful of us, allowing each of us to ask abundant questions and learn valuable tools for training and the utilization of time spent training and climbing. We spent Saturday and Sunday morning in the gym lecturing and exploring training techniques, and were joined by BJ Tilden for some cragging both afternoons. BJ is a good friend of Steve, and has done a great deal to push the limits of Lander climbing in the past decade, expanding the area’s climbing into the 5.14+ range. I had the chance to climb several pitches and chat with the guy over the weekend and have really come to respect him. He’s just a normal guy. He has a job, a lady, a house, and has still managed to push himself to establish and repeat some of America’s hardest sport-routes. He seems disinterested in the attention gained through his achievements, and continues to work hard at rock climbing simply because he loves it. I am very inspired by guys like that.
We spent Saturday afternoon cooking in the sun at Fossil Hill; a spot that is much more enjoyable when the shade finds it around 4 pm. I climbed a couple fun moderates to warm up to the style, and then tried two neighboring lines, Casual Entertainment 5.11c, and Hang Fire 5.12a. I fell on both, and felt as though the sun was sucking a bit of the life out of me. After a long rest I decided to move on and try a rather long (80 feet) and technical 12a that Steve bolted called Big In Japan. By this time the line was in the shade, and I was eager for a solid onsight attempt. The line begins with thin and tenuous face climbing, and I was shocked and humored to finally find relief in a mono ‘jug’ pocket around the third bolt. That’s limestone for you. After gathering myself I resumed the charge and ended up clipping the chains! Big thanks to Steve for hanging the draws, ticking a few key holds, and for putting up such a great route!
On Sunday, after a grueling training circuit, the group decided to check out some of the climbing in Sinks Canyon. I was impressed and after climbing a few fun routes in the 5.10+/11- range I threw myself at Killer 5.12c, the namesake route of Killer Cave. I felt worthless and struggled up the climb hanging at nearly every bolt. It is inarguably an incredible route despite being polished from excessive traffic, and that, along with a look at several other inspiring lines left me eager to return after a rest day.
I enjoyed a slow morning Monday and decided to spend the rest day exploring and hiking around the Wild Iris. The Iris features beautiful bone-white limestone and is the area that first put Lander on the map as a climbing destination decades ago. The approach was very enjoyable with an incredible view, and after snapping a few pictures I dove into the guide book, scouting the climbs that I wanted to try, and marveling at some of the area test-pieces. I soon bumped into Lindsay, a girl I had met camping at City Park, and was introduced to her friends Marc and Chris. I chatted them up for a while and made plans to return to Fossil Hill with Lindsay and Marc the following day. I rode up in the afternoon with Lindsay and her friend Ana, and we were joined by Marc and his buddy Tim just as the wall entered the shade; much better planning than the scorching session on Saturday. I managed to finish Hang Fire and was thrilled to see Tim give a couple efforts on a bad-ass line named The Righteous and the Wicked. The line looks stunning and totally my style. I’m itchin’ to try it.
Wednesday was a two-session day, and my most successful day here in Lander. I went back to the Wild Iris in the morning with my friend Sylvia from Elemental, and warmed up on two great routes, Red Ryder 5.10a and Winchester Pump 5.11a, before tackling a short bouldery .12a named The Saddle Tramp. I managed it on my second effort and then nearly got my ass kicked by an .11d a few routes over. This route, called Diamonds and Rain, had me growling as I cranked down on terrible pockets with tenuous foot smears. It felt harder than the previous route, and I was relieved and thrilled when I put it together on my third attempt. Thank you Sylvia for the encouragement! After the first try I was pretty hesitant to pull on those pockets again.
Later that evening I returned to Killer Cave and met up with my friend Kyle Duba along with Sophia who I met at training camp. I had been climbing all day, but decided to warm back up on a great technical 5.11c called After the Gold Rush. I belayed Kyle on a couple laps, and after chatting and catching up a bit decided to get back to business. A beautiful, gently overhanging line had caught my eye on my first visit, and I was eager to give it a run. The route, Blue Moon 5.12a, turned out to be my favorite of Lander so far, and provided one of the most enjoyable climbing moments I have ever had. Everything clicked and I felt like I was climbing a well rehearsed project as I relaxed at appropriate rests, and correctly read and pushed through crux sequences. In the end I managed to onsight the rig hanging draws and all! I was very satisfied by this point and decided Killer and its fellow classics could wait for another day. With the sun setting Kyle and I decided to do one last cool down and climbed a rad little 5.9 called Duck Soup. Perfect end to a great day.
On Thursday BJ invited me to check out an area that he and some buddies have been developing. This new area, Wolf Point, is already equipped with a handful of incredible routes from 5.9 to 5.14, and still has a shocking amount of potential. We got out early accompanied by Marc and BJ’s friends Tom and Micah, and arrived at the parking area shortly before mid-day. The approach to Wolf Point is not for the faint of heart, and found us bushwhack-trail running for half an hour down to the canyon floor before trudging slowly up the other side. Up hill both ways, literally.
Seeing the area alone was well worth the hike. After a couple fun warm-ups I had the pleasure of trying a fantastic line that BJ put up called Twice As Loud As Reason. The line follows a steep concave roof through perfect holds into near horizontal terrain before pulling the lip to the anchors. It was well beyond me, and I had to skip a couple moves as I climbed it bolt-to-bolt to the top. I am very glad to have tried it and plant the seed for a future return visit! Micah and Marc both tried it as well and called it a contestant for Lander’s best 5.13 pitch. Nice work BJ!
Despite being third-day-on and feeling fatigued I decided to give a go on a 5.12b named Eat What You Kill. The route is just over vertical, long at roughly 100 feet, and delightfully run-out with only nine or ten bolts. I had a good burn up to the seventh bolt or so before thwarted by a tricky sequence. I felt pretty tired as I made my way bolt-to-bolt to the chains. I can’t wait to go back! Marc wanted one last go on BJ’s rig and the two of us ended up getting back to the truck just as it got dark making for a full and exhausting day.
Today is another rest day, and I began it with breakfast at the Middle Fork: a delightful breakfast spot in downtown Lander. Marc waits tables there and convinced me to drop in for coffee and a biscuit. I ended up adding a half order of the Eggs Benedict on Marc’s recommendation and didn’t regret a single bite. Possibly the best Bene I’ve had! Delicious.
And with that, I will end things for now. So much to tell from just one week of adventure! I’ll be sure to post another update before I head to Utah at the end of the month. Thank you for all the kind words and encouraging messages. I’m glad to have you following along! Oh and lastly, feel free to check out my latest dirtbag tip on camping posted on Monday. Enjoy!