The South Fork of the Shoshone River: Wyoming’s premier ice climbing destination
The South Fork of the Shoshone River Valley near Cody Wyoming is home to one of the largest concentrations of waterfall ice climbing in the lower 48. The demanding nature of ice climbing in the South Fork – steep and rugged approaches, stiff grades, fluctuating conditions, and complicated descents – makes this a challenging but incredibly rewarding place to climb. Our primary objective is to make ice climbing in the South Fork safer and more sustainable by teaching modern safety systems, mitigating undue risk on approaches, climbs, and descents, and encouraging sustainable best practices for ice climbing in this pristine wilderness area.
As special use permittees operating in a wilderness area, it is also our responsibility to provide a model for sustainable use of this pristine natural resource. We integrate Leave No Trace (LNT) in addition to Beyond Leave No Trace best practices into our guiding curriculum. In particular, we stress the application of LNT principles in ice climbing-specific and place-based contexts. For example, we:
- Provide a detailed model for trip and contingency planning (LNT Principle 1),
- Avoid trampling vegetation and hike on frozen/snowy terrain as much as possible to minimize erosion (Principle 2),
- Provide WAG bags and teaching climbers how to descend ice climbs safely without leaving any anchor material (Principle 3),
- Discourage climbers from taking anything they find such as artifacts or animal remains (Principle 4),
- Remind climbers to bring their own firewood if they choose to camp in established campgrounds and making sure they do not create any fires in wilderness (Principle 5),
- Stay clear of Bighorn sheep herds so as to not put them under stress (Principle 6),
- Avoid crowding popular routes (Principle 7).
We consider sustainability strategies such as these as part of our responsibility as a business operating on public land and part of our mission of teaching about the ethics of low-impact climbing.
The South Fork at a glance:
Multipitch alpine ice climbing
November through March
Weekend – weeklong
Winter car camping, hostel, and hotels
Classic ice climbing routes in the South Fork:
- The Main Vein (WI3+, 900’) – Main Vein features 5-6 excellent pitches of beautiful WI3-4 in a massive gully overlooking the upper South Fork Valley. The often rotten first pitch (WI4) can be bypassed on the right via a third class scramble to a short rappel back into the main gully. Several steps of ice, boulders, and low angle snow lead to 2-3 pitches of WI3, depending where you place your anchors. The last rope stretching pitch (it will take all of an 80m rope) is an all time classic for the grade, featuring a massive swath of hero ice of varying difficulties positioned next to a vertical dike of lightly colored igneous rock. Rappel via no-threads, one boulder anchor, and the bolted anchor above pitch 1. Avoid climbing this route in high winds due to major rockfall potential. Also note that avalanches are possible in the South Fork, so be sure to check the weather history, look for signs of unstable snowpack, avoid routes that have historically slid after heavy snowfall, and consider carrying a beacon and rescue gear.
- Stringer (WI3, 400’) – Stringer is an excellent moderate with a short approach, varied climbing, and incredible positioning in a narrow slot canyon. Several thin steps lead to the start of the classic first pitch of WI3, which is often wet and may involve a few mixed moves. The second and third pitches are shorter and more relaxed WI2 with plenty of snow slogging in between. Continue hiking up the gully to the enjoyable fourth pitch of fat WI3. Rappel via a no-thread, one tree anchor, and two bolted anchors. Again, avoid climbing this route in high winds due to rockfall potential.
- Smoked Turkey (WI3-5, 300’) – Smoked Turkey is a great three pitch moderate ice climb with a mild approach, sunny aspect, and bonus hard pillar as an alternative third pitch. The first pitch of fun WI3 leads to a screw belay beneath a bushy gully. Continue on lower angle terrain past rolling WI2 and a short but steep final step before the magnificent third pitch amphitheater. The Left Wing goes at steep and engaging WI3 and the Drumstick to the right at (perhaps slightly soft for Cody standards) WI5. Be sure to climb this route when cloudy if temps are warm; otherwise this sunny route is an enjoyable cold weather climb. Rappel via tree anchors or no-threads.
- Too Cold to Fire (WI4, 250’) – Too Cold to Fire not only has one of the shortest approaches in the South Fork; it also has one of the most distinctive pitches of WI4 in the Valley. Hike up Deer Creek past the Cathedral dry tooling crag, cross the creek and locate a slot canyon with ice on the right side. One long but easy pitch of WI2 leads to a bolted rap station. Either move the belay or use long ropes and fire up the beautiful cascade on the right wall. The translucent ice tube to the left is slightly steeper while the curtains to the right offer more rests. Beware of thin and delaminating ice on the top out. Belay and rappel off a tree anchor to the bolted rappel anchor below.
- Broken Hearts (WI5-6, 800’) – Broken Hearts is undoubtedly one of the finest multipitch ice climbs in North America. The approach is mild, the climbing stiff but spectacular, and the walk off a huge time saver. After the first four pitches of stellar WI3 (aka the “Alpine Simulator”), each pitch gets progressively harder (WI5, WI6, and WI6 respectively). Many alternative pitches abound, making up a vast ‘cardiovascular system’ of challenging ice climbs located throughout this complex gully system. Most parties only climb up to the fourth or fifth pitch, then descend via the ridge line to the climber’s left of the gully to avoid rappelling on top of upcoming climbers.
Programs available in the South Fork:
Resources for planning your ice climbing trip to the South Fork:
- Guidebooks: Winter Dance and the South Fork Ice Climbing Map
- Gear shop and meeting location: For all of our ice climbing courses in Cody, we prefer to meet the night before the course for equipment rentals and safety orientation at Sunlight Sports in Cody WY.
- Forecast: Climbing Weather Forecast for the South Fork
- Conditions report: Coldfear.com
- Food and drink: The Juniper Bar and Bistro, The Irma, Our Place, Beta Coffeehouse
- Rest day attractions: Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Heart Mountain Interpretive Center
Interested in climbing with us in the South Fork? Send us an email with your name, email address, and brief description of what you’re looking for.