Ice climber Evan Horn on an ephemeral route in Sinks Canyon that had only one known ascent. The route collapsed a few hours after the climb, despite bitter cold temperatures. (Rob Motley)

The Wind River Range holds only a handful of established ice-climbing routes, but a group of central Wyoming climbers has set out to change that. 

Rob Motley of Lander and a couple friends have spent the last two years trying to locate and climb ice routes in the Winds. The project has entailed hours on Google Earth scouring for steep cliffs with drainages, a new obsession over weather conditions and, Motley said, a whole lot of hiking.  

“I think we’ve walked something like 120-130 miles looking for ice,” Motley said. “This fall we did a lot of walking and not a lot of ice climbing. But we’re starting to put the pieces together.”

So far, they have discovered a few new routes and one that was barely climbed. Some are so ephemeral that the columns of ice only exist for a matter of days. The climbers have battled spindrift and high winds, and, in the case of one 450-foot-tall route, a brutal 14-hour hiking day. 

A very particular set of conditions has to come together to build good natural ice routes. The landscape has to be right — steep and where water flows. The weather must maintain a steady freeze-thaw cycle that doesn’t rise too high or dip too low — a window that typically only exists for a few weeks at the beginning and end of winter. The aspect has to be favorable. Even the rock matters — Motley said the slippery granite of much of the Winds tends to slough off ice more easily than other kinds. 

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Still, he said, the project has offered a good diversion that will likely keep them occupied for some time. 

“It’s probably going to take a lot of years,” he said. “We are kind of just scratching the surface.”

Katie Klingsporn reports on outdoor recreation, public lands, education and general news for WyoFile. She’s been a journalist and editor covering the American West for 20 years. Her freelance work has...

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