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Construction Worker And Prolific FAer BJ Tilden Establishes Wyoming’s First 5.15

It's safe to safe that most 5.15 climbers are full-time and sponsored, but this Landerite pounds nails by day, and rock by night.

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Lander, Wyoming, local BJ Tilden, 41, isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. In June, Tilden made the first ascent of the most difficult sport climb in Wyoming. Hard Twisted, proposed 5.15a, meanders up the middle of a huge cliff formerly referred to as “Mirage,” now known as Wolf Point, in the Little Popo Agie Canyon area. The crag is about 12 miles from Lander as the crow flies, or as climbers get there, an hour-long drive in a 4WD followed by a 45 minute hike uphill.

“It was this distant, mythical thing that you would never actually walk out to,” Tilden said about the community’s feelings on the huge cliff before he and other climbers began bolting routes at the crag. Thanks to Tilden and others “The Point” now has 17 climbs graded 5.14. Getting to the crag, “certainly takes some extra effort, but ultimately that makes it a little more special,” Tilden says, “Any wins at Wolf Point are hard earned.”

Wyoming new router and full time construction worker BJ Tilden.

Hard Twisted is significant because Tilden, who has been putting up 5.14d FA’s in Wyoming for 10 years, as well as repeating a selection of Todd Skinner’s hardest routes, calls it 5.15a, making it the first of the grade in the state and one of the most difficult routes in the country. Hard Twisted combines two lines, Lionshare (5.14d) and Dire Wolf (5.14c) that Tilden put up in 2018, linking them with a new bit of climbing. Lionshare  has “the longest section of resistance climbing I think I’ve ever done,” said Tilden.  “Usually sections of hard resistance climbing are in the mid to high 20’s for number of moves and this one has 36 to get through the business ,and you still have to keep it rolling without getting a good rest until about move 50,” he says.

BJ Tilden Sends a Stunning New 5.14d in Tensleep

To link the Lionshare and Dire Wolf, Tilden had to work out a new section off Lionshare that traverses the wall up and to the right, leading to the bottom of Dire Wolf, at the upper most-overhanging section of the cliff, a section guarded by a 15-foot V11 boulder problem up a gray streak on the wall’s steepest section.

“It seemed really logical to try and link the hardest start with the hardest finish,” says Tilden, “When I did Dire Wolf the climbing was 5.14a up to the gray streak, so much easier and when you know it you can get up it every time. I probably fell off that 25 to 30 times, which is acceptable when you’re coming from the easier start. I eventually realized trying the new link up that the new start was hard enough to where I wasn’t going to get up it 30 times.”

Combining the long resistance style climbing of the bottom section with the short, but powerful bouldery section of the top proved to be a difficult puzzle to solve. Tilden quickly realized that he needed to get back to bouldering to level up his power if he was going to put it all together.

Tilden spent part of his winter seeking out his first V14 in Hueco Tanks. There, he climbed his first V14, Esperanza, and upon his return to Wyoming in the spring he ticked off another V14, Zef, at the Rockshop, a collection of granite boulders at 8,400 feet and south of Lander on the way to South Pass.

“I definitely made some gains in the bouldering department and it translated to the route nicely,” says Tilden.

The prominent cave feature at Wolf Point rises above the ground at over 120 feet tall. (Photo: Carl Cote)

To further polish Hard Twisted’s story, it’s safe to say most climbers who are climbing at the V14 and 5.15 levels are full-time climbers with at least a handful of sponsors supporting their sendeavors. Tilden, on the other hand, is hitting a world-class stride at age 41 while simultaneously running his full-time construction company, Tilden Construction, a carpentry and general construction business in the Lander area.

“I think overall working construction is a good thing,” Tilden says. “Construction is actually really great cross training for climbing. The trade-off is finding the time to rest.”

Climbing has been a priority for Tilden since he was 14 when he fell in love with the sport on a trip to visit his sister who was attending college in Bozeman, Montana.

“I knew there was a climbing gym there,” Tilden explained. “I had her take me and that was pretty much it. I went the first day and then I was there every day for the whole week.”

Flash forward through many of Wyoming’s hard first ascents over 27 years, to June 13th 2022, when Tilden topped the most difficult route in the state, Hard Twisted.

While grading a climb 5.15a has been a long time in the making for Tilden, the thought of his route being downgraded doesn’t bother the Landerite.

“If somebody comes in and doesn’t think it’s quite on that level I’m not going to be offended,” says Tilden. “For me it’s for sure the hardest thing I’ve done around Lander… If there were going to be a 5.15a here I think it’d be this one.”

As Tilden shifts his thoughts to the future he doesn’t see Hard Twisted as the end of his time at Wolf Point or progressing in his climbing: “This seems like the hardest thing possible at The Point, but there’s still lots to do and I’m still psyched to get out there,” he says.  “I don’t see myself slowing down. I see myself doing some prepping at home and traveling to investigate more 5.15.”