Climbing in Wild Iris


Photo credit: Chris Hammock

Ow. Ow. Ow. Ouch. Why am I doing this? This hurts. Why?

My first time outdoor rock climbing, these were my thoughts. I was never told how much pain and blood there would be. How were my fingers supposed to fit into this tiny hole in the rock and how was my foot supposed to stay put on a minuscule divot in the wall? No one cared to warn me about the forearm and hand cramps that would come from this.

It’s a strange sport — finding the hardest way you can to climb up a rock. My 6’3” body didn’t feel natural perched high in the air on the rock (though, one of the other climbers there was 6’7,” so I really had no excuse). Supposedly, long limbs help reach distant holds that shorter climbers can’t reach, yet, regardless of height, grace and technique were far more beneficial skills.


We were at the Wild Iris climbing area outside of Lander, Wyoming, to climb their renowned (but sharp) limestone rock walls. Wyoming seemed like a lame place to take a road trip at first, but it turned out to be   a beautiful location for a first-time climb and a relaxing getaway from Salt Lake City. Our trip was set up through the U’s Outdoor Adventures, the massive adventure equipment rental and trip-planning operation on campus. We left Friday afternoon — right after everyone got out of class — six students, three student trip leaders, and four hours crammed into a van. I have to say, a great formula to get to know people quickly is to drive far away together, camp, and trust each other to belay correctly while suspended 100 feet in the air above sharp rock.

After fueling up on Wendy’s in stunning just-off-the-highway Evanston, a miscommunication leaving the van and truck separated by half an hour in the middle of nowhere, and missing the turn-off to the campground/climbing area, we rolled into the campsite on a rutted out muddy road around 8:30 p.m., well after dark. We threw up tents and instead of going to sleep like normal people, the climbers immediately located the nearest climbing objective: a 20 fooClimbing wild Iris, Wyomingt-high boulder directly next to our camp spot. Within 10 minutes an anchor and rope were set up and we climbed this gnarly rock until 2 a.m., none of us making it more than a third of the way up. This was a hint of the excitement and motivation everyone on the trip had as we all prepared to wake up at sunrise the next morning to get after it. Climbing was more important than sleep on this trip.

The next two days we wandered back and forth between different routes just above our campsite–ranging from 5.6 to a 5.10d that I didn’t touch. We took turns climbing, enjoying life in between and telling silly riddles for hours around campfires.

Climb Wild Iris, UtahRock climbing has always been talked up to me as a hip outdoor adventure sport, so I set a goal that I had to rock climb while I was in college. After all the pictures and videos I’d seen, I created an idea of how rock climbing would be. This idea was torn apart. I thought my biggest fear would be the height and fear of falling, but in reality, the challenge came from finding a way up the rock. It was scary not knowing where the next hold is. It was painful and the reward was not initially obvious. I can see how getting into a little flow and reaching the top of a route can be very rewarding, but as a first timer, I’ll need more skill and preparation before reaching that point. Just like not seeing the value of powder skiing my first day out, maybe it will grow on me. For now, I’ll be happy typing this story with cut -up, blistered fingertips with the hopes of climbing more in the future.

Photo Credit: Chris Hammock

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