Cody Rock Climbing by Mike Snyder
Cowboys, Buffalo Bill, Museum of the Rockies, tourism and Yellowstone – Cody, Wyoming is home to Western tradition and beautiful yet rugged scenery. Minutes West of town is the Shoshone Canyon hosting nearly all of the rock climbing. The diversity of geologic formations in many of the canyons found in Wyoming features Sandstone, limestone/dolomite and granite and the Shoshone Canyon is no different. Bouldering, sport climbing and traditional gear routes offer climbers a variety of challenges and mild weather with over 300 sunny days per year assure you can climb almost any day year round. With a population under 10,000, Cody has a small but dedicated local climbing scene and with so few visitors, you’ll never wait in line or have to share a route. Oh and did I mention the ice… Yes, cody is a little slice of climbing heaven.
The Island is Cody’s most accessible crag and attracts the most visitors. This alcove of multibillion year old granite has more than 50 modern well protected sport routes and a few gear climbs all of which are very high quality. A five minute completely flat approach makes this a favorite for locals and visitors alike. This area is stacked with memorable moderates such as Feeling All Right (5.8), Search (5.8), Bitch With A Broomstick (5.8) and many others. There are also classic 5.10’s such as Community Service (5.10b), Pea Green Limousine (5.10c), Illegal Dihedral (5.10d) and Big Ben (5.10d). Try Light Tension (5.11a), Balls (5.11b) or Black Wall (5.11c) and for something a little harder, The Horn of Plenty (5.12a), Certain Damage (5.12b) or Redhead (5.12d) will test your crimp strength. The nearly 200 foot high walls currently offer only single pitch climbs however, Spider Pig (5.12b) is a 3 pitch bolt protected multi-pitch that tackles the tallest part of the Tunnel Wall.
The limestone/dolomite bands run nearly the entire length of the canyon. While the quality varies based on the geologic sedimentary layer, there are certain bands that offer the pocketed greatness that makes Wyoming dolomite world famous. All of the ‘Bands’ are South facing and ideal in the Spring and Fall months and on Sunny Winter days. The East Bridge Bands offers a concentrated collection of climbs featuring crimps and pockets. Most are well protected sport climbs although there are also several easier gear protected trad climbs. Don’t miss Tidy Bowl Lid (5.8), Pocket Full of Pigeons (5.9), Tall Boy (5.10c), Chocolate Malt (5.11b) or Orange Whip (5.12a).
The Bridge Bands are one of the areas older crags and has a variety of routes done in different styles from traditional, to bolder lower angle slabs to more modern and steeper pockety sport routes. The crag has two tiers and offers single and two pitch climbs, although the second tier has a generous sized ledge extending over half the length of the cliff. Long moderates like Feels Like Summer (5.9) and Stilts (5.10a) contradict the puzzling, mind bending low angle climbs of the Mud Wall like Seam Dream (5.11a) and Chess (5.11d). Meanwhile the second tier Cowboy Wall offers pockety steeper gems such as Space Wrangler (5.10b), Blood Drive (5.10d) and Chief of Scouts (5.12a).
Directly above the Bridge Bands is band of bullet hard dolomite with some of the best and hardest pocket routes in Cody. The soaring 1500 foot tall cliff has many layers of unclimbable rock though the Upper Bridge Bands is an anomaly of streaked brilliance in the middle of the cliff, featuring two dozen short and powerful routes spread between The Hideout and Bandit Walls. The hike is significant in comparison with Cody’s other short approaches but the views are breathtaking with the North Fork of the Shoshone and the Buffalo Bill Reservoir visible to the West and the town of Cody visible to the East, the price of admission is worth the effort. Perfect pockets abound on routes like In The Middle (5.11a), On The Run (5.12a/b), Butch (5.12c) and The Kid (5.12d) at the Hideout Wall. Just around the corner try Showdown (5.11a), Lone Bandit (5.11c) or Skoal Bandit (5.11b/c) to satisfy your pocket tugging jones.
The Bands extend to the West as well and other lesser developed gems exist for those willing to go for an adventure walk. Just For Kix, Popeye and Woodrow Walls have older routes and some spirited trad outings, although motivated locals have realized the potential for new routing and are installing fun new clip ups. Look for updates in these areas in the future. Meanwhile try Kickin It (5.10b), Psycho Holiday (5.11c) and Strong to the Finish (5.12c) to sample current crop.
No climbing trip to the Shoshone Canyon of Cody would be complete without a visit to the Lower Canyon. With another ridiculously simple approach, the (closed to public vehicle traffic) paved road leading down into the canyon deposits you at the base of a nearly 1000 foot deep gorge with granite walls soaring up on either side. The river cutting the through this canyon provides moisture and a juxtaposition to the grandiose rock monoliths, offering great fishing, kayaking and even the rare river otter spotting if your lucky. Although the number of amazing sport climbs has grown exponentially in the past 5 years, traditional gear protected routes with an adventurous feel were the norm for many years. The rock climbs are spread out on both sides of the canyon with both splitter cracks and shiny bolts grabbing your attention as you explore. The Single Malt Wall holds the highest concentration of routes and perhaps the easiest access with many pitches beginning on or near the road. Crowd pleasers include Glen Morangie (5.10a), Single Track (5.10d), Bowmore (5.11a) and Oban (5.12b). Elsewhere in the canyon seek out the 3 pitch trad route Dee’s Freeze (5.8), a seven pitch sport route called Lemme Tell Ya Whats Cool (5.8), In Stitches (5.11a), Phoenix (5.12a/b), Goliath (5.13a) and Any Color You Like (5.13b).