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Winter Bouldering in Ten Sleep

A Typical Bouldering Sesh in the Ten Sleep Gym 10 things you might not realize about Ten Sleep, Wyoming:

1. The official population is 304 people.

2. The town has two bars, a gas station, two restaurants, and no grocery stores.

3. The nearest grocery store is 25 miles away, in the big city of Worland (population 5,250).

4. If you forget something at the grocery store, you forget it.

5. If you forget toilet paper, you buy it at the gas station for four times as much.

6. More than once, I’ve had to abort a walk or run due to cattle being herded down my street.

7. I was also once harassed by three big goats that escaped under a barbed wire fence and decided I was their herd leader. Screaming obscenities and flinging snow at them didn’t help. They just got mad (the boy goat) and crowded closer to me (the girl goats). I had to call back to town for a ride to pick me up.

8. Ten Sleep Canyon starts about 7 miles from the town of Ten Sleep.

9. Ten Sleep Canyon ends about 20 miles from the town of Ten Sleep. You do the math.

10. Ten Sleep Canyon has more than 700 established sport climbing routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.14+.

Now you’re starting to get a real picture of this small town in Wyoming that I call home. Yes, it’s remote, yes, it’s unpopulated, and yes, it’s pure western country. It’s West with all that capital “W” brings with it. We got yer cowboys, we got yer coyotes, we got yer cricks, we got yer rodeos, and we got yer rattlesnakes. We also have a tremendous rock climbing resource—which is why I’m so excited that this winter has brought with it a building up of the local climbing community.

Sure, every summer brings in a good amount of the curious explorers from “out there,” that place in the great beyond, also known as the rest of the country. Not only does it bring our fellow compatriots, meaning other U.S. citizens from other states, but also, even true foreigners from around the globe, all who come to check out the climbing here. I think it’s wonderful; these outsiders bring in a great source of revenue to the local economy, and they tend to be polite and low key, and also, good stewards of the environment.

But what is more exciting for me right now is to see a little community growing up of local people who are bonding together over a shared passion for rock climbing during this winter season. (And in case you don’t realize it, I’m not a true “local,” because even though this next summer in Ten Sleep will mark a decade of summers spend here for me, a local is someone who was born here and has lived here, or at least in Wyoming, their whole life. Alas, I will never be a true local. Oh well.) But these are true locals, these folks, and they’ve been coming out and bouldering in my gym once or twice a week regularly like clockwork so far this winter, and it’s been awesome.

Considering how small this town is and how small the “big city” is, to have a little—but growing—group of climbers of all levels, both men and women, coming together to train for rock climbing during the winter, is quite a feat, really. For me, selfishly, it makes training that much more fun, knowing that I’m going to have the inspiration and good energy of a whole group of people surrounding me when I go out there to train.

As for the gym itself, it’s a home gym, but it’s pretty cool. It’s in a building that used to be in an oilfield, a heated and insulated metal building with a 12-foot ceiling. The door has a sign that says “Danger: Poisonous Gas” on it. The gym has three steep angles, one of which is super-steep, with a cool prow for compression problems. Most of the holds are homemade, either rocks or wooden holds, with a few donated plastic gym holds sprinkled here and there—along with my recent purchase of 100 “real” fake climbing holds. Almost every hold has a name, and that’s how we designate problems, by calling out the names of the holds in sequence. Lots of the names are ridiculous and intended to make us laugh like children.

It’s also a no-climbing-shoes-allowed gym. Before you say, “That’s gross,” just think about this: Think about all of the things and places a person touches with their hands every day, and then, consider what their feet touch in wintertime in Wyoming, when sandals aren’t an option. Hmm. Socks and sweat seem much more sanitary when you really think it through, don’t they? It’s a simpler way of climbing, and it’s good training, too, because it forces more weight onto the hands (without those sticky platforms to hold your weight up), and it strengthens the feet as well. Plus, it’s actually pretty fun.

I look forward to every session in the bouldering gym these days. Every morning before a session, I go out an hour or so in advance and get the heat going to heat the building up to a comfortable 45 or 50. I spend some time putting more holds up (since the gym was stripped this summer; the holds had been in the same places for two years) as I await the others’ arrival. And then, when they do arrive, bliss…that lovely escape into just bouldering, and falling with total abandon onto the well-padded mats, always laughing at ourselves and each other, like little children in a playground, only kinder…the two times each week when my training for climbing is pure fun, and nothing else.

Me, Photo by Jody Mayer