Peaks To Plains

Lander’s good ‘problems’ are growing

To the untrained eye a rock is a rock and a boulder is simply a big rock. But to the eyes of David Lloyd and Jesse Brown a rock has potential, and a boulder is a puzzle.

Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton

They scrutinize the texture. “Good rock,” is solid, pieces won’t break off when a toe balances precariously on it. They evaluate the features, hoping for variety, crimps, or holds big enough just for finger tips, bigger holds or jugs and an angle of rock demanding more gymnastic moves.

Past the famous crags of Wild Iris and far from the popular climbs in Sinks Canyon, Lloyd and Brown and a small contingent of other climbers are developing the Rock Shop, a bouldering area outside Lander.

Bouldering, an un-roped style of climbing, usually with short routes that don’t reach heights where a fall will kill you, is growing slowly and quietly in popularity in Lander, but explosively in the number of routes and development.

Last week hundreds of climbers gathered in Lander for the International Climbers’ Festival, drawn to the area’s limestone, sandstone and granite that makes the small town a renowned climbing destination. When people think of Lander’s climbing most think first of sport climbing where bolts are fixed into the rock to help protect climbers from a fall. There is also trad, or traditional climbing, where climbers place and remove their own gear to help catch them on a fall. People usually don’t think bouldering when they think Lander.

“There’s so much amazing climbing here, bouldering is overlooked,” Lloyd said.

But maybe not for long.

International Climbers’ Festival

David Lloyd tests his problem solving skills at The Rock Shop climbing area near Lander. (WyoFile/Kelsey Dayton — click to enlarge)

In the past year bouldering near Lander has doubled, according to Brian Fabel, director of the International Climbers’ Festival. Jesse Brown spoke about the area’s development at this year’s festival.

A good bouldering area has a lot of routes of varying levels in one spot, Brown said recently while at the Rock Shop. The Rock Shop’s potential is only beginning to unfold. It’s in the infant stages of development and discovery. Those dedicated to bouldering have put up more than 150 new routes in the last two years, according to Lloyd, who is working on a bouldering guidebook for the area to be published next spring.

Lloyd and his wife got into bouldering years ago in Fort Collins, Colo., where they lived before they moved to Lander about three years ago. The sport was easy to bring their children along. While bouldering has risks, they aren’t the same as other forms of climbing.

“There isn’t the ‘I have to do this thing right or my life is in danger,’ feeling,” he said.

But unlike other forms of climbing, a mistake always means a fall, Brown said. It might not mean death, but there is that moment when you feel your body separate from the rock and the quick snatch of gravity taking you back down.

When Lloyd moved to Lander, he’d been assured there was good bouldering in the area and there was; it was just that much of it hadn’t been maintained or discovered. With new problems (bouldering routes are referred to as problems) or when resurrecting old ones, holds sometimes have to be cleaned with a brush, taking away the dirt and lichen that might cause fingers to slip or prohibit toes from balancing. Sometimes they need ropes to clean the top holds. It can be time consuming, another reason many climbers prefer other forms of climbing, already established and ready, around Lander.

On arecent evening Lloyd and Brown headed to the Rock Shop. They started warming up on a moderate route, feeling the rock, loosening their muscles, taking turns spotting, or preparing to help each other land on the crash pads laid out below the boulder. Brown paused to stare at the rock.

“You see something?” Lloyd asked.

“Yep.”

He pointed to features on the rock, dotting an invisible map to the top. Then he stepped up, grabbed onto the rock and began to stretch and coil his way upward.

“It’s just too far away,” he said jumping onto the ground, unable to quite make a grab.

That’s why bouldering routes are referred to as problems. They are short physical puzzles that must be solved. Where does the foot go? How do you reach the next hand hold?

Brown studied the rock, seeing an easier way and finally deciding to give it a try. So much of bouldering is about style and this new path doesn’t have as much difficulty as his last attempt.

“I thought I had a gem,” he said.

“You still have a gem, it’s just an easier gem,” Lloyd said. “It’s still a cool problem with cool features.”

Brown looked at it again and stepped forward. He wanted to get it even if it was an easier ascent then he’d planned. He’d already thought of a name for the unclimbed route – “Past Paralysis,” since it sat near “Total Paralysis,” a route they’d been warming up on earlier.

But before he could name it, he had to complete it.

He tried again and came off the wall.

“Power,” Lloyd said. “Come on.”

And again. One more time. Ok, now this really is the last time. Ok, just one more.

And then he lunged, caught the rock and moments later stood on top.

“With a first ascent, so much is about the process, solving the problem,” Brown said.  “It didn’t work. It didn’t work. Then boom, you are at the top and you feel like a champion.”

Then, he added, you want to move onto the next problem. He gestured to the terrain around him. There are plenty more just waiting to be solved.

— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at kelsey.dayton@gmail.com.

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Published on July 17, 2012

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