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Hippies and hunters and cowboys and climbers—these strange bedfellows mingle in relative harmony in north-central Wyoming’s Ten Sleep, “a little western town with a big western heart.” Rich in history, this ranching town was the halfway point—or ten “sleeps”—between two major Sioux Indian camps. Surrounded by working sheep and cattle ranches, today’s Ten Sleep, population 260, is a stop-off for travelers en route to Wyoming’s biggest tourist attraction, Yellowstone National Park, and to the nearby Bighorn National Forest. Ten Sleep sits so close to the Bighorn Mountains that you can’t see them from most places in town—the striking reddish-hued foothills block the view. But you can’t help noticing Ten Sleep Canyon, which rises into the mountains starting about six miles east of town and has grown in the past couple of decades into one of America’s top summer climbing destinations, with more than 800 bolted routes. If you’ve been considering a trip to Ten Sleep Canyon, or if you’ve never heard of this place (where have you been these past few years?), here’s everything you need to know before you go.
No. 1: The Holds
What qualifies as a big hold in Ten Sleep might surprise you, but the area’s not-so-steep angle makes holds that would be laughably pathetic in other areas seem pretty good here—or at least usable. You’ll find pockets of all sizes, from quarter-pad monos to three- and four-finger sinkers, as well as the whole range of crimps. Generally, smaller fingers have an advantage here, providing more surface area and leverage on holds that fat-fingered folk might struggle to use at all. A good rule of thumb (or should I say, fingers?) is to think before you crank on tiny features—especially mono pockets—since one move is never worth a trip-ending tendon or pulley injury. Preserve your skin by filing off any loose bits between routes—and pack some climbing salve, too.
No. 2: Bolting
The bolting here tends to be very friendly, with closely spaced clips, no matter what grade you climb. In general, bolts are placed so the 5.8 leader and 5.12 leader alike can climb at his or her limit without risking gnarly, cheese-grater falls. It’s also more fun for most folks to clip off small, sketchy hand and foot holds when the last bolt is at their ankles, rather than 10 or 15 feet below them. Exceptions to this tight-bolting ethic are found on some of the canyon’s older routes, such as those at Home Alone and Dry Wall.
Also, bring a stick clip. Many routes in Ten Sleep are created with the idea that the first bolt will be preclipped. When in doubt, clip the first two bolts—it could save your ankles, and your belayer’s head, too.
No. 3: The Angle
With a few notable exceptions, even the steepest climbs in Ten Sleep would likely be called slabs in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge or Colorado’s Rifle Canyon. Some might argue that what Ten Sleep Canyon lacks in steepness, it more than makes up in rock quality and quantity—literally miles of dolomite (similar to limestone) line both sides of the broad canyon. But if you’re looking for severely overhanging, gymnastic sport climbs, Ten Sleep Canyon will disappoint. The “steep routes” tend to be about 15 degrees overhanging. Slightly overhanging, dead vert, and off-vert are the norm.
No. 4: Who’s Who: Aaron Huey
The Ten Sleep guidebook author is a self-avowed “liar” who grew up in Worland, a small town about 25 miles from Ten Sleep. He’s also a successful and highly regarded photographer who has lived with and documented the Taliban in Afghanistan and walked across the United States accompanied by his wolf hybrid, Cosmo. Aaron’s extremely unorthodox guidebook is Lies and Propaganda from Ten Sleep Canyon (2011, Extreme Angles Publishing, or order a book directly from Aaron at tensleepclimbing.com.) Though he doesn’t live here anymore, Aaron has been developing routes in Ten Sleep Canyon since 1996, and he returns for a few weeks every summer.
You never know when a quintessential “Aaron episode” might happen, but you’ll never forget it if you witness one. Among other things, I’ve seen Aaron: A) auction off a used poop tube at a climbing event; B) sing a freestyle song while playing a toy Hot Lixx guitar to an enthusiastic crowd of more than 70 climbers; and C) perform an impromptu Irish step dance in spray-painted golden cowboy boots on tongue-‘n’-groove boards fitted together by a campfire. After the dance floor was danced into pieces, the boards were summarily burned.
No. 5: Fishy Businesses
The Ten Sleep Fish Hatchery is located in the mouth of Ten Sleep Canyon, right by Leigh Creek Campground. It’s cool to check out the massive swarms of trout. If you want to actually catch fish, the Pony Express in Ten Sleep sells licenses. Popular fishing areas include Ten Sleep Creek and Meadowlark Lake.
No. 6: Shoes
For best results, choose shoes with superb edging capabilities. It’s safest to pack more than one pair: If your footwork is sub-par, Ten Sleep’s prickly rock can quickly make your climbing shoes look like they’ve barely survived an encounter with an angry porcupine. On the plus side, those same tiny points, bumps, and ridges will offer your feet purchase almost anywhere. This accounts for the generally non-reachy nature of the canyon’s routes (at least in the sub-5.13+ range). You’ll either think there are foot options everywhere or that they’re few and far between, depending on your comfort level with small footholds.
No. 7: The Weather
As my neighbor Jack likes to say, Ten Sleep lies in Wyoming’s banana belt. Our climate features relatively mild conditions compared to the rest of the state—particularly in the case of that legendary Wyoming wind. However, the weather forecast for the town of Ten Sleep isn’t the same as the canyon forecast. The town’s elevation is about 4,200 feet, while the canyon’s most popular climbing areas lie above 7,000 feet. So if you see a high around 90°F for Ten Sleep, the upper canyon crags will have a high around 75. During July and August, there’s a high probability that you’ll be able to climb whichever days you want, with little chance of getting rained or snowed out. But beware: It can also be very hot in the sun.
In the summer, patient climbers tend to do best here. The most popular and developed climbing areas—Downtown, World Domination, Mondo, Valhalla, Superratic, and French Cattle Ranch—go into full shade around 2 p.m., and many climbers wait until then before hiking up to the crag. Since the sun doesn’t set until 9 p.m., you’ll still enjoy plenty of daylight, with conditions getting better as the day goes on. Get-up- ‘n’-go kinds of climbers may struggle with Ten Sleep’s relaxed pace. If you want or need to climb earlier during the summer months, try the west side of Leigh Creek Canyon (shade from early morning), the Temple (all-day shade), Circus Wall (morning shade; filtered sun in the afternoon), the Wake-’n‘-Bake Boulder (morning shade), Muffin-Top (morning shade), and City of Gold (morning shade).
You might think the solution to this weather conundrum would be to plan a visit earlier or later than July and August. While this could work out, you could also get hosed by snow. Check the forecast before you drive, and definitely have a back-up plan. For warmer spots during early- or late-season visits, try the crags below the U.S. 16 switchbacks in the lower canyon. These include Dry Wall, Hound Dog Crag, Question Wall, Wall of Denial, Gang Bang, Pooh Corner, Home Alone, and the east side of Leigh Creek Canyon, among others. Most of these areas bake in the sun from about 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. yearround. The east side of Leigh Creek Canyon gets afternoon sun.
No. 8: Get Western, Get Funky
The Ten Sleep Rodeo Association (tensleeprodeo.com) kicks off the summer season with the Beauty and the Beast Rodeo, held on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. Ten Sleep also hosts an annual two-day rodeo and street dance over the Fourth of July. This happens to be the most popular time for out-of-town climbers to visit the canyon as well—often resulting in an informal gathering (or gatherings) of climbers at some of the bigger dispersed camping areas along the old road. During the second weekend in August, the Nowoodstock music festival features three days of live music in Ten Sleep’s Vista Park. You can also catch occasional live music at the Ten Sleep Saloon.
No. 9: Who’s Who: Charlie Kardaleff
“I bolt scared,” explains Denver schoolteacher and prolific route developer Charlie Kardaleff, aka Full-Charge Charlie, aka the Mayor of Ten Sleep Canyon, aka the Bolt Nazi. Charlie has spent the past 15 summers or so plying his trade in Ten Sleep Canyon. The president and CEO of Charlie’s Climbing Circus (the official business name of his bolt-bargain account), Charlie is responsible for the majority of the canyon’s friendliest (read: tightly bolted) moderate routes. It’s not at all uncommon to hear climbers seeking out “more Charlie routes.”
At the campfire, Charlie often leads sing-alongs of his favorite rock songs, accompanied by guitar and the variety of other instruments he always has on hand. (My favorite is the acoustic rendition of Snoop Dog’s “Gin and Juice.”) You’re guaranteed a side-splitting tale if you ask Charlie about the origins of the following route names: Asleep at the Wheel (5.12a), Crossbow Chaos Theory (5.11a), The Wagon Wheel of Death (5.11c), Racing Babies (5.10c), or Tutu Man (5.10d). The latter route (full name: Sequined Wind River Tutu Dancer) was named after an encounter during a rafting trip on the nearby Wind River. Upon arriving at the specified location for a lunch break, Charlie and a bevy of Colorado-based rafters encountered a large man clad in a sequined tutu spinning pirouettes on the banks of the river. The dancing man fled to his car, but unfortunately for him, the rafters’ lunch truck had parked him in, forcing him to sit there, mortified and still clad in his tutu, while the truck unloaded its provisions.
No. 10: Rest Day Views
Stretch your legs while taking in the amazing 360-degree view from the High Park Lookout tower, a quartermile stroll from the road. Access the trailhead by continuing up U.S. 16 above the canyon for several miles until you see a sign on the left for St. Christopher’s in the Bighorns. Turn right onto the St. Christopher’s road and drive to the parking area.
No. 11: Camping
Within Ten Sleep Canyon, you’ll find dispersed free camping just off the dirt road that parallels U.S. 16, on the opposite side of the canyon. It’s open to vehicular traffic from mid- June through mid-November. Above and below where these two roads meet lie more dispersed camping options. Be aware that bears have raided campsites in past years, so keep a clean camp—don’t leave food, cookware, lotions, or anything that might smell good to a bear out in the open or in tents. For more information, read Bighorn National Forest’s “Bear Awareness” publication (fs.usda.gov/bighorn). Human waste is also a growing issue for the land manager. At the very least, bury your poop eight inches deep at least 200 feet away from camp, and take your toilet paper with you, as stipulated by Leave No Trace guidelines (lnt.org).
There are several developed Forest Service campgrounds nearby. Firstcome, first-served Leigh Creek Campground, situated in the bottom of the canyon off Hwy. 435, is open June through August and costs $13 per site per night, with an $8 fee for a second vehicle. Above the canyon (colder at night) are Sitting Bull Campground ($15/night) and Lakeview Campground ($14/night), both located just off U.S. 16 (reservations at recreation.gov or 877-444-6777).
Additional camping can be found on the west side of Ten Sleep at the Ten Broek RV Park (307-366-2250), where you can also buy a shower (please don’t poach!), rent a cabin, and/or fill your propane tank. For more upscale accommodations, try the climber-friendly Log Cabin Motel (tensleepmotel.com), the Carter Inn (307-366-9911), or Deer Haven Lodge & Cabins (lodgesofthebighorns.com/ deerhavenlodge.html). Deer Haven also has tent camping ($10/person/ night) and RV campsites ($35/night).
No. 12: Cows Rule
You just might encounter a cattle drive along the old highway or a herd of the bovines on your hike to the crag. Please respect ranchers and follow their directions when navigating your auto through a cattle drive; don’t let your dog(s) chase cows, and definitely don’t encourage cows to move off the road by nosing them with your vehicle.
No. 13: The Big City
Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, Deer Haven offers the closest place to grab a bite before or after climbing in the canyon. It’s a few miles up U.S. 16 from the main upper climbing parking area. The 2nd Street Bakery and Coffee House (307-366-2133) on the west side of Ten Sleep serves up delicious coffee, baked goods, and panini sandwiches, along with a Wi-Fi connection. You can sit down for a meal across the street at the Crazy Woman Café (307-366-2700) or the Ten Sleep Saloon (307-366-2237); both feature standard American food options such as burgers, chicken, ribs, and steaks. The saloon also does Chicago-style pizza.
The town also has two bars: the Ten Sleep Saloon and the Bighorn Bar. The Ten Sleep Library (307-366-2348), north a couple blocks off the main drag on Fir Street, has short summer hours, but the Wi-Fi is usually on 24/7. If you need a tattoo to commemorate your awesome time here, you can schedule a consultation with the artist at Bighorn Tattoo (bighorntattoo. com), located on the upstairs floor of the Bighorn Mountain Stage Company. Ten Sleep Museum (307-366-2759), adjacent to Vista Park on the east side of town, displays artifacts and memorabilia from the town’s human history as well as its ancient past.
No. 14: The Bigger City
Worland, 25 miles west of the town of Ten Sleep, has the closest grocery stores: Blair’s Market and Jon’s IGA. If you’re in search of specialty health foods, try Bee Healthy (beehealthyllc.com) on Big Horn Avenue/U.S. 16 on the west end of town. The city of Worland is building a new pool (think: showers), scheduled for completion in October 2012. Stop in at the impressive Washakie Museum and Cultural Center (washakiemuseum.org) on the east side of town, or catch a movie at the Cottonwood Twin Cinemas (307-347- 8414) on the west side of town.
No. 15: Who’s Who: Mike Snyder
Practically a local—he lives a scant 115 miles away in Cody—Mike’s been on the scene since the 1990s, most recently spearheading the development of Downtown, an entirely new cragging area down-canyon from the main Mondo area. Mike’s responsible for many of the canyon’s most sought-after harder outings, including EKV (5.12c) and Esplanada (5.12d). He also wrote the bouldering guidebook for the sandstone playground just outside of Cody. Mike’s mind is a steel trap for climbing beta; I’ve suggested to him that he should record a downloadable walking tour of Cody bouldering, complete with size-specific beta for every problem. He could easily do the same for many routes in Ten Sleep. More than once, I’ve been stumped on a problem that I’d climbed long before, only to hear Mike recite my own move-for-move beta, unable to grasp how I couldn’t recall moves that I’d climbed eight years earlier.
No. 16: The Perfect Week
Get a feel for the canyon’s diverse climbing areas by checking out some of these muchloved Ten Sleep classics.
Monday: Mondo Beyondo. Tick List: Beer Bong (10b); Thor (10b); School’s Out (10d); B-1 Bomber Dude (11a); Great White Buffalo (11b); Wagon Wheel of Death (11c); Time Machine Yogi (11c); Captain Insano (11d); Evil Cheese Wiener (12a); Happiness in Slavery (12b); EKV (12c); Crown Prince Abdullah (12d).
Tuesday: Valhalla. Tick List: Mistaken Identity (10b); Positive Identification (10c); I Fought the Law (10d); Stop Talkin’ and Start Chalkin’ (10d); Bikini Girls with Machine Guns (11a/b); Wicked as an M-16 (11a); Architects on Acid (11a); Mr. Poopy Pants (11b); Hanoi Hilton (11d); Pump Me Like a Shotgun (11d); Killer Karma (11d); Cocaine Rodeo (12a).
Wednesday: Rest day in Ten Sleep.
Thursday: Superratic and French Cattle Ranch. Tick List (Superratic): Big Yellow Butterfly (10b/11a); Tricks for You (12a); Great White Behemoth (12b); Pick Pocket (12c). Cattle Ranch: Euro-Trash Girl (10b); The Eldorado Coral Club (10b/c); Werewolves in London (10d); Crossbow Chaos Theory (11a); I Just Do Eyes (11b); Wyoming Flower Child (11d/12a); Center El Shinto (12a); Esplanada (12d).
Friday: Rest day in Thermopolis, about 55 miles from Ten Sleep. Enjoy a free soak (and a free shower) at Hot Springs State Park and/or visit the Wyoming Dinosaur Museum.
Saturday: Redpoint time. Revisit those routes you didn’t onsight earlier in the week. Or, if you want to keep exploring, recommended newer or less-visited crags include Downtown, The Temple, The Ark, City of Gold, and Muffin-Top.
Sunday: Before driving home: Check out Circus Wall or Leigh Creek Canyon in the morning. Tick List (Circus Wall): Ice Station Zebra (5.9/10c); Step Right this Way (10b); Circus in the Wind (11a); Hunting Wolverines (11c); Circus in My Pants (12d). Leigh Creek Canyon: Godfather Boulder routes (10a, 10c, 11a); Gloom (11b/c); Go Back to Colorado (12b); Link That Sh@# Up (12c).
No. 17: 5.9 and Under
You’re likely to find a 5.8 or 5.9 at most crags in the canyon, but for more than one or two options, try Leigh Creek Canyon (including two 5.7-ish outings not in the guidebook, just uphill from the Godfather Boulder), Pooh Corner, Hound Dog Crag, Circus Wall, and Dreamland/Slavery (at the Mondo).
No. 18: Beer Bong
This 5.10b at the Mondo is a rite of passage for all who climb in Ten Sleep Canyon, and it doesn’t count unless you stem the top—a water-worn wide chimney—facing outward, looking down at the whole canyon sweeping away under your feet, as illustrated by canyon regular J.B. Haab in the photo on page 125 of the most recent guidebook. (No guarantees that a vision of super-hot, bikini-clad women will appear during your send, though.) The stemming is only about 5.6, but it’s an exposed and exciting trek to the anchors, regardless.
No. 19: The Wyoming Wave
Joey Kinder named a route here after this phenomenon. Everyone waves. If someone drives by you when you’re walking down the street, nine times out of 10, he or she will wave at you. Wave back. That’s what we do here. If they don’t wave first, it’s a good idea to wave anyway. Do it.
No. 20: Ice Cream
Forget your diet for a day and celebrate your send (or soothe your sore ego) with a generous helping of deliciously rich ice cream from Dirty Sally’s, served in a huge, homemade waffle cone. Browse this mainstreet Ten Sleep store for novelty souvenirs, and then sit on the bench outside to scarf down your treat in the heat.
No. 21: Climbing Vibe
Overall, the tenor of the climbing community in Ten Sleep is lighthearted, upbeat, welcoming, supportive, and relaxed. That’s why so many of the route names are goofy, irreverent, off-color, or all three. It’s hard to take climbing or yourself too seriously when you’re talking about how much you want to send Hell Yes I Want Cheesy Poofs, Aunt Jemima’s Bisquick Thunderdome, or Stereosonic Keyboard of Death.