Lander, Wyoming Climbing Destination Guide

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This story originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of our print edition.

Wild Iris Rock climbing Lander wyoming

Photo: Ben Herndon

With a warmer-than-you’d-think climate and three world-class areas within a couple hours drive, you might spend time looking for a place to rent while on a “short climbing trip.” Located within a sea of ranches in central Wyoming, the remote town of about 8,000 residents has a fresh and progressive climbing scene that includes a current boom in first ascents. Local badasses like Tom Rangitsch, B.J. Tilden, and Sam Lightner are bolting and re-bolting routes so fast that guidebooks and even online resources can barely keep up. The town has also hosted the International Climbers’ Festival every July for the last 20 years. At this year’s fest, you could casually chat with Conrad Anker, participate in a good ol’ fashioned pull-up competition, and see presentations by top climbers like Sasha DiGiulian, Lynn Hill, and Alex Honnold.

The area’s rock is mainly limestone and granite with some dolomite and sandstone on the side. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains at 6,500 feet, Sinks Canyon offers more than 320 trad and sport routes that can be climbed year-round. Most of them can be reached within minutes of getting your caffeine fix at Old Town Coffee in the middle of downtown. Wild Iris, perhaps the most famous of Lander’s crags, is about 30 minutes away and offers sport climbing on classically pocketed limestone cliffs that rise above a blanket of white aspens. This favorite spot was discovered and developed in the early 1990s by Todd and Amy Skinner. And don’t forget the nearby Wind River Range, where climbable peaks, bountiful alpine trad, and perfect granite boulders never cease to disappoint. Locals say the unsung area gem is Sweetwater Rocks, comprised of granite domes just west of town, where an estimated 1,000 routes await. “There’s everything from eight-pitch 5.7 to single-pitch 5.14,” local climber and author Steve Bechtel says. Plus, the globally renowned Tetons and Vedauwoo are each only a three-hour drive away.

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Where to Stay

Camp free for up to three days in Lander City Park at 4th and Fremont streets on the banks of the Popo Agie River. The park has 28 tent sites and seven RV sites (first come, first served). Tip: Bring a bike for runs into close-by downtown for groceries or beer. There are also two state park campgrounds as you drive up Sinks Canyon ($15/night, 307-332-3077). The Popo Agie Campground in the canyon also has three 16-foot yurts for $40/night; each has a twin and a queen bed. Or, keep driving about 20 miles up the canyon on Loop Road and you’ll hit the national forest boundary where camping is free.

Where to Eat/Drink

The Lander Bar (307-332-7009) is a mandatory stop for any climber. It’s owned and operated by local climbers, and every cold beer is served with a side of good beta. “Almost every grill cook is a climber. Our head bartender has been climbing in the area for 20 years, and both managers climb and were born and raised in Wyoming,” says owner Jill Hunter. “And there’s always someone interesting hanging around. Sasha DiGiulian was here recently watching the World Cup.” Grab a Jack Norman Pale Ale brewed right next door, order a Muy Bueno burger, and eavesdrop on stories about back in the day when Todd Skinner was putting up 5.13 first ascents at Wild Iris. 

Where to Buy Gear

Local legends Todd and Amy Skinner established Wild Iris Mountain Sports in 1990 to pay for their dirtbag lifestyle and provide employment for other climbers, and it’s still the go-to place for all things climbing. (307-332-4541)

Find a Guide

Both Exum Mountain Guides and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, each headquartered in nearby Jackson, Wyoming, offer instruction and guiding at Lander crags and in the Wind Rivers. ( Exum 307-733-2297; JHMG 307-733-4979)

Spend a Rest Day

Sling flies (and catch dinner) on the three different forks of the Popo Agie River. The Sweetwater River is also a hot spot for brown and rainbow trout in surprisingly large size and number. Pick up a fishing license at Wind River Outdoor Company or One Stop Market in town ($14/day for non-residents). More terrestrially inclined? Mountain bike in Sinks Canyon or at Johnny Behind the Rocks, a recently developed area with terrain for all skill levels about 15 miles south of Lander (mtbproject.com).

Sophia Kim works through the fingery crux of the technical testpiece Moe (5.12b), Main Wall, Sinks Canyon. Photo: Kyle Duba

Sophia Kim works through the fingery crux of the technical testpiece Moe (5.12b), Main Wall, Sinks Canyon. Photo: Kyle Duba

What to Climb: The 10 Best 4-Star Routes

As ranked by Mountain Project users

East Ridge of Wolfs Head (5.6)
Wind River Range, 10 pitches
“Unreal! One of the most interesting alpine routes I have done, especially at 5.6. Big exposure. Although if you are a 5.6 leader, some of the exposed traversing moves may feel a lot harder than 5.6.”

La Vaca Peligrosa (5.8)
Wild Iris, 1 pitch
“A very fun pocket climb—this is what super-fun limestone rock climbing is all about.”

More Funky Than Gunky (5.9)
Sinks Canyon, 1 pitch
“The roof on this one feels great. It’s well-protected but still big enough to make you feel like a rock star. Get your feet over the lip; flexibility is one of your best assets here.”

Take Your Hat Off (5.10b)
Wild Iris, 1 pitch
“Amazing route. A technical start leads to ridiculously fun and huge juggy pockets on vertical to slightly overhanging stone. The rock is completely bulletproof white limestone, and the beautiful scenery of wild flowers in the valley below is as good as you could hope for.”

Sandman (5.10b/c)
Sinks Canyon, 1 pitch
“Best 5.10 sport route in the universe. Great variety of climbing: a tricky layback flake down low to pockets on the upper section. Cruxy move up top felt hard for the grade. Climb in spring or early summer to avoid wasps.”

The Devil Wears Spurs (5.10d)
Wild Iris, 1 pitch
“The best 10d or even the best 10 period at Iris—perfect pocket pulling. This is as good as it gets for a moderate. Very big moves if you don’t get your feet in the right spots.”

Wine and Roses (5.11a)
Fremont Canyon, 1 pitch
“This is one of the single best pitches I’ve ever done, any time, any place. Mountain Project needs to add a fifth star just for this one.”

Tribal War (5.11b)
Wild Iris, 1 pitch
“One of the greatest routes at the Iris of any grade and the best 11b hands down. Love the two styles of climbing to be had on it, a technical crux and a pumpy finish. The highest quality! Get on it!”

Wind and Rattlesnakes (5.12a)
Wild Iris, 1 pitch
“I loved this route. It’s surprisingly pumpy pulling through the last pockets on the final headwall. Recently re-bolted with glue-ins, too.”

Killer (5.12c)
Sinks Canyon, 1 pitch
“Big, fun pocket moves. Start by aiding to the first bolt. Launch into the crux via technical and powerful enduro-pulls on the left-angling seam followed by edges and pockets. Crank the roof and hold on for a wild ride through the killer pump to the anchors. Classic hard moves on the biggest holds you’ll ever fall off.”

Photo: Davin Bagdonas

Photo: Davin Bagdonas

Lander Climbing Metrics

Quality
Nearly 2,000 routes at 3 stars or higher

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Style
Sport crags and alpine trad reign

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Difficulty
The harder you climb, the more you can climb

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Get route beta, photos, and topos for the area at Mountain Project.