When Paul Petzoldt started the National Outdoor Leadership School 50 years ago, he couldn’t have picked a better place to headquarter a program that featured courses in climbing. Lander is still the headquarters for the school that expanded worldwide and is home to the Rocky Mountain Branch where courses leave right out the door and onto the nearby faces in Sinks Canyon or launch expeditions into the Cirque of the Towers in the Wyoming Range.
Wyoming offers the perfect classroom for climbing, said Andy Blair, course instructor and assistant director of NOLS Rocky Mountain. There is every type of climbing in the state, sandstone, dolomite and granite- and that’s just in Sinks Canyon, he said.
There is climbing across Wyoming from Vedauwoo near Laramie in Southern Wyoming up to Devil’s Tower in Eastern Wyoming to Ten Sleep in Northern Wyoming, in Sinks Canyon and Wild Iris near Lander in the center of the state and in the Tetons on the Western border of Wyoming.
That passion is shared by many climbers who visit Wyoming for the rocks. Wyoming is home to the International Climber’s Festival, the longest running climbing festival in the world, held for more than 20 years in Lander.
Climbers come from around the world each summer, drawn to the clinics, but also the famous rock in Wild Iris and Sinks Canyon.
It’s not just for seasoned veterans. Each year the festival offers clinics for beginners which fill fast.
While the festival is the biggest and best known in Wyoming, there is another festival held in Ten Sleep. The Ten Sleep Climbing Festival, organized by the Bighorn Climbers’ Coalition, is free and runs for one evening.
Those loving to climb in the winter, can head to the Cody Ice Climbing Festival. The Southfork of the Shoshone National forest near Cody is famous for its frozen waterfalls.
“Ice climbing on the Southfork out of Cody is particularly cleansing in that it demands that you show up physically, mentally and emotionally in this beautiful part of the planet that just kinds of puts thins all in perspective,” said Cody climber Kenny Gasch, who also guides with Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.
Cody is like many Wyoming communities with quality and diverse climbs easily accessible from town. And one of the best part is the setting, Gasch said. The scenery is stunning and there are usually few crowds. You don’t have to wait long to get on a route in most of Wyoming, he said.
“Climbing to me is somewhat of an escape from the everyday humdrum of life,” he said. “Once on the rock or ice, your mind focuses on the task at hand and all else is forgotten. It’s a mental cleansing if you would.”
The guide service offers ice climbing trips and clinics for the most skilled as well as novices. They also offer climbing lessons and guided trips in Jackson, the Wind River Mountains and in the Lander-area.
For people not quite ready to climb a frozen waterfall, or for those interested in training and honing their ice climbing skills, there is an ice climbing wall in Jackson at Snow King Mountain.
There’s also an outdoor bouldering park at the foot of Snow King where in the summer people can work on their skills for free.
For those wanting more instruction, Exum Mountain Guides in Jackson also offer climbing classes and guided trips. Most of the trips leave from the guide service’s office in Grand Teton National Park, said Exum’s Jennie Graz.
“The Tetons kind of sell themselves with the beauty and the views,” she said.
The most popular is of course the Grand Teton, the highest peak in the park.
“It’s a gorgeous hike followed by a very attainable multi-pitch climb,” Graz said.
Other trips include climbing in nearby Teton Village as well as the Wind River Mountains and Devils Tower. There is climbing on every type of rock and for every level.
“Within a very small area you can have something for everyone’s ability and age,” Graz said.
The company’s guided young kids as well as people into their 70s up the Grand, or just spent a day teaching them to climb.
“It’s enough to just get out and get a taste of rock climbing,” she said.