Area Spotlight: Wild Iris Climbing
This article was written by Orbital Athlete Emily Harris. Follow her adventures on Instagram @embuttharris
Imagine waking up on Saturday morning nestled in a forest, with the sound of quivering aspen leaves as the wind blows in from the Wind River Mountain Range. You get out of your tent/truck/van, throw on your puffy (in the middle of June), and inhale the fresh, pine air while your coffee brews. As you’re sipping your coffee, friendly climbers wave to you, toilet paper in hand, as they head down the road to the pit toilet with their happy pup running alongside them. You turn your head to the other side, and between the trees you can see the white, pocketed face of a dolomite cliff approximately 100 yards away. You don’t bother looking at your watch, and you don’t feel the need to make a detailed climbing plan for the day. Why? Because within a 20 minute walk from your campsite there are more routes than one weekend warrior could climb in a decade. Welcome to Wild Iris.
Wild Iris is located 25 miles south of a town called Lander in central Wyoming (approx. 4.5 hours from SLC). The cliffs and camping are on a hill that sits at a higher elevation (around 9,000 feet) than the town, giving it an alpine feel and great summer climbing conditions. The road to get to Wild Iris often doesn’t become accessible until late May or early June unless you feel like post-holing/skiing/snowshoeing your way to the crag, and usually stays in season until mid-October. This makes it a great summer climbing destination when it gets crazy hot in Utah and the surrounding areas.
The climbing at Wild Iris is often described as short and powerful, with the majority of the holds being pockets with an occasional sharp edge. The harder the climb, the smaller the pockets, and the steeper the wall. There is a wide grade range, so whether you climb 5.7 or 5.14, there is something for everyone. The rock type is a creamy colored Dolomite, a sedimentary type of rock similar to Limestone (and often incorrectly called Limestone).
My experience with the climbing is that there are two main kinds of routes: a steep, white headwall with pockets and very small edges (if any), or a route that combines both a steep headwall with a large roof or bulge(s). The climbing is an awesome blend of technical and powerful, and finger strength is a MUST. Warm-up your digits and listen to your body, or your fingers will pay a steep price.
Please note that Wild Iris is not the only climbing around Lander. It is just a fraction. Sinks Canyon is another world-class limestone destination just outside of Lander that sits at a lower elevation, and is known for being a year-round crag. These two areas make up the majority of the climbing in Lander, but there are other little crags scattered around, along with the Wind River Range which offers superb alpine climbing just an hour away from Lander, and bouldering that has been kept a local secret.
A Brief History
The late Todd Skinner was the driving force in developing the Wild Iris areas, but was often accompanied by a solid crew of others who also bolted many of the routes there in the formative years: Amy Whisler (Todd’s Wife), Heidi Badaracco, Steve Bechtel, and Paul Piana, to name a few. Check out Wind and Rattlesnakes for a great documentary on the history and development of the Lander area. You won’t be disappointed!
Lander is a great little town. The NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) headquarters are in Lander, which creates a curious mix of small town Wyoming residents and young, outdoor enthusiasts. The town is very small, but has a nice mix of local flavor and outside influence that the tourist population brings in the summer months. There are a few coffee shops, bars, and restaurants that are owned by climbers and cater to our demographic (the Lander Bar is definitely the climber watering hole); and then there are small town gems that ooze local authenticity.
In my eyes, the crown jewel of Lander is the Wild Iris Mountain Sports gear shop. It was started by Todd and Amy Skinner (she still owns it), and provides great local beta, wide-ranging outdoor gear, products promoting the Wyoming lifestyle, and free water fill ups! Check them out if you are ever in town.
Basically what I’m trying to tell you is that Wild Iris is by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever climbed. The proximity of climbing to camping, the relief from the summer heat, the wildflower meadows, and the amazing rock quality are only a few reasons (out of so many) why you should visit. If sport-climbing is your jam (or even if it isn’t), Wild Iris should definitely be on your list of places to go.