Everybody knows that Cody/Yellowstone Country is about rodeo (every night in June, July and August), history (Buffalo Bill Cody founded our town, for gosh sakes) and handsome cowboy musicians (you know to whom I refer). It’s the things that catch people by surprise, however, that truly make my day.
Let’s talk about ice climbing.
That’s right, we do not have to go far to find the largest concentration of frozen waterfalls in the continental United States. The region surrounding the South Fork of the Shoshone River holds that distinction.
Plenty of people here in northwest Wyoming do not even realize just how good our ice climbing is. Sure, they have seen their share of people pulling into town in their Subarus and bumper stickers showing off various national parks and adrenaline-inducing activities. They usually know more about the various frozen ascents than I do.
This brings up some questions.
Why do we have so many frozen waterfalls?
When you think about that giant caldera to the west of us, it starts to make sense. Our region is comprised of porous volcanic soil that allows for easy water seepage. The mountains receive large amounts of snow that melts into a high number of drainages. These factors result in spring-fed waterfalls that are constantly regenerating themselves and freezing into high-quality ice climbs.
Climbers are still discovering new waterfalls in the region, and some have made “first ascents” over the past few years.
Why haven’t more people gone climbing?
My theory is that more of us have not gone climbing because until a few years ago you pretty much needed to know an ice climber who was willing to take you. Fortunately, in 2011 the U.S. Forest Service began issuing the first permits in the Shoshone National Forest allowing commercial climbing companies to bring in clients and teach them how to climb the falls. From the beginning of November through the end of March, these outfitters are ready to climb when conditions permit.
Are there any events devoted to ice climbing?
You bet there are. Registration opened Nov. 1 for the 20th-annual Cody Ice Festival scheduled for Feb. 8-11, 2018. Our popular festival promotes safety, stewardship, education and camaraderie and includes ice climbing clinics by day and nightly speakers and presentations developed to inspire and encourage festival participants. In the evenings, there are nightly raffles for ice climbing gear and bottomless beer pours with the purchase of a pint glass.
I asked Ari Novak, director of the Cody Ice Festival, who should consider attending. While the event always attracts experienced climbers, it truly endeavors to spread the word and attract new climbers.
“Whether you are an experienced ice climber or new to the sport, the Cody Ice Fest will help you take your climbing to the next level, and you’ll have fun in the process,” he said. “With climbing routes that are five and six pitches long, this is some of the biggest ice some climbers ever attempt, and our instructors will help ensure that the experience is fun and memorable.”
Established in 1998, the festival offers world-class instruction through on-ice clinics in one of the most exciting ice climbing venues in the world. Nightly speakers include some of the most accomplished and inspiriting alpinists and ice climbers in the world. Each clinic is led by a top professional mountain guide and a professional athlete.
Now, I won’t be leading any of these clinics, but I will be there participating.
Until next week, I am lovin’ life – and thinking about first ascents – in Cody, Wyo.