Recommended ice climbs in the Bighorn Mountains

We are permitted by the USFS and BLM to guide ice climbing in the following areas located on the western slope of the Bighorn Mountains:

  • Ten Sleep Canyon and vicinity
  • Shell Canyon
  • Cottonwood Canyon
  • Five Springs Falls

Bighorn ice climbing map:

Ten Sleep area ice climbs

Locals started ice climbing in Ten Sleep Canyon long before any bolted routes were established in what is now a world famous sport climbing area. Ten Sleep’s classic ice climbs offer relatively easy access, dependable winter conditions, and aesthetic lines for a wide range of climbing abilities. And if you’re up for it, the sunny walls on the north side of Ten Sleep Canyon make for a great day of climbing both rock and ice.

1) Leigh Creek Falls WI3-4

Leigh Creek Falls (WI3-4, 45m, 2 pitches) is Ten Sleep Canyon’s most dependable and easily accessible ice climb.  A classic two pitch climb in a beautiful location on the shady side of the canyon.

Season: Leigh Creek Falls consistently sets up by mid November and stays in through mid March. 

Approach: Park past the old fish hatchery near the old Highway 16 gate. Walk up the closed road for a mile, taking care not to ruin the nordic ski tracks. Once you see the falls, follow a climbers’ trail on the west side of the small creek below the falls.

Route:

  • Pitch 1 (WI3-): Enjoyable climbing follows the runnel up and right of the curtain above to 2 bolt anchors. 60m rope will get you down.
  • Pitch 2 (WI4): Best linked with pitch 1. 15m steep curtain leads to a bulge and a tree anchor.  Double rope rappel.

Access issues: DO NOT DRY TOOL on the bolted climbs to the right of the falls.  These are classic moderate sport climbs known for their beautiful rock, please don’t scratch them up!

2) Ten Sleep Falls WI4

Discover the wonders of Wyoming in the winter with a custom ice climbing trip with Wyoming Mountain Guides. Photo of @wildkait climbing Ten Sleep Falls
Ten Sleep Falls WI4 in February conditions

Ten Sleep Falls (WI 4, 60m, 2 pitches) is the most aesthetic yet ephemeral climb in Ten Sleep Canyon. The climb tends to set up in extended periods of cold and cloudy conditions due to its south facing aspect. 

Season: January – February

Approach: Park at the turnoff for the old highway, walk up the road 1/4 mile past the Forest Service sign, then hike up the steep slope toward the climb.  Microspikes and crampons recommended for the approach.

Route:

  • Pitch 1 (WI4): The money pitch! 20m of perfect WI4 to slightly easier terrain and rolling steps.  Belay off juniper.  Gets full sun – climb in early morning or late afternoon.
  • Pitch 2 (WI4): Short but fun pillar.  Two double rope rappels to the base of the climb.

3) Tapout WI6

Tapout W6 in Canyon Creek near Ten Sleep Wyoming
Tapout WI6 in March conditions

Tapout (WI6 25m) is the most challenging ice climb in the Bighorn Mountains to date.  Can be tricky to get in right conditions – be careful on this one.

FA: Aaron Mulkey 2014

Season: January – March

Approach: Park at the Canyon Creek BLM trailhead off Rome Hill Rd.  Follow trail through BLM easement into the canyon, then cross Canyon Creek on makeshift bridge, and follow climbers’ trail up the hillside, crossing over into the side canyon.

Route: Climb a free-standing pillar atop a large limestone cave with wild exposure over cliffs below.  Tree anchor above.

Access issues: Dubious development tactics went into creating the many sport routes you’ll see on the steep caves across from the ice climb.  Don’t put our access to climbing in Ten Sleep at risk by manufacturing (drilling, chipping, glueing etc.) rock climbs!

4) Lower Canyon Creek Ice WI2-3
Climbing Lower Canyon Creek ice in January 2019
Left side of Lower Canyon Creek Ice WI2-3

The cliff bands below Tapout offer several shorter pitches of low angle ice.  You’ll need to do some bushwhacking to get to these climbs; nonetheless this is a good area for warming up for the pillar above or getting in some easier laps.

Season: January – March

Approach: Park at the Canyon Creek BLM trailhead.  Follow trail through BLM easement and into the canyon, cross the makeshift bridge, then walk up the creek into the side canyon.  Less than a half mile past the bridge but lots of thick brush slows you down.

Route: Steeper ice on the left, lower angle ice on the right.  You can follow the right-hand flow for a couple pitches to the base of the pillar.

Shell Canyon ice climbs

Shell Canyon is home to the largest concentration of ice climbs on the western slope of the Bighorn Mountains. The most dependable waterfall ice climbs in Shell Canyon are located on the upper limestone cliff bands in the Post Creek Falls area. In addition several spring-fed flows are located in the central granite gorge below Highway 14.

1) Fat Sister WI3+
Shell Canyon near Greybull Wyoming offers several dozen high quality ice climbs that set up dependably throughout the winter season. Shown here is the climb Fat Sister (WI3+ a classic for the grade) near Post Creek Falls in Shell Canyon Wyoming
Fat Sister WI3+ in characteristic January conditions

Fat Sister (WI3+ 40m) is a classic climb for the grade located in the Post Falls area of Shell Canyon.

Season: December – March

Approach: Park at the Post Creek Falls trailhead. Hike up the hillside through thick sumac toward the obvious ice flow in a large right facing corner.

Route: Climb a steeper section of ice to easier terrain above, belaying off suspect willows or v-thread.  Double rope rappel.

2) Skinny Sister WI3+
Skinny Sister WI3+ in thin conditions
Skinny Sister WI3+ in slightly anemic conditions

Skinny Sister (WI3+ 25m) is a shorter, steeper, and often thinner climb than its thicker neighbor. A fun addition to other Post Creek Falls area ice climbs when it’s in good condition.

Season: December – March

Approach: Park at the Post Creek Falls trailhead. Hike up the hillside through thick sumac toward the obvious ice flow in a large right facing corner (Fat Sister WI3+). Maintain elevation and traverse east along the cliffband for 200m to the base of the climb.

Route: Climb up easy ice to a short but steep headwall. The topout is often too thin to take good screws – hold off on this one if it looks too skinny. Rap off small trees or v-thread.

3) Ugly Sister WI2+
Ugly Sister WI3 is an enjoyable moderate ice climb located in the Post Creek Falls area in Shell Canyon
Ugly Sister in January conditions

Ugly Sister (WI3 40m) is the easiest and rightmost of the three sisters in the Post Creek Falls area. A fun moderate flow when it’s in good condition.

Season: December – March

Approach: Park at the Post Creek Falls trailhead. Hike up the hillside through thick sumac one drainage to the right of the obvious ice flow in a large right facing corner (Fat Sister WI3+). If moving in between Ugly and Fat Sister, it’s better to drop down 50m to the upper bench rather than trying to maintain elevation on the steep hillside.

Route: Climb up easy rambling ice to a slightly steeper right-leaning ramp. A second pitch is possible, climbing two short pillars above. Rap off trees.

4) Wildfire Slabs WI3+
Wyoming Mountain Guides' ice climbing guide Zach Lentsch leads a pitch of WI3+ ice in the central gorge of Shell Canyon in January 2019
Right side of Wildfire Slabs WI3+

Wildfire Slabs (WI3+ 30m) is one of the most easily accessible flows in Shell Canyon’s central granite gorge.  The right side of the slabs is steeper and shorter while the left side is longer and more mellow.

Season: Mid December – February

Approach:  Park at the pullout with the sign titled “Wildfires”.  Walk up the highway 50m then follow the faint drainage through the sagebrush opening down to the river, bypassing a small cliffbands to your left.  There’s a secret stairway on the left but it’s hard to find.  Cross the river on ice.  In cold conditions you can work your way down the river on the icy banks or you can hike up the hillside, traverse west, and rappel down to the slabs.

Route: Climb a steep curtain for 10m to a long and enjoyable slab.  Belay off trees or medium sized rock gear.  Walk off by moving up left to the top of the ridge, then walk east and drop down back to the river crossing. 

5) Smug Doug WI3 M4
Smug Doug is a fun moderate mixed climb in Shell Canyon Wyoming
Smug Doug WI3 M4 in early season conditions

Smug Doug (WI3 M4) is one of several moderate mixed climbs located in Shell Canyon’s central granite gorge. A bit difficult to protect, but this fun and varied route involves lots of stemming in a beautiful corner system and good sticks in plastic early or late season ice. Thin and unappealing in later season.

Season: Early December – January & late February -March

Approach:  Park at the pullout with the sign titled “Wildfires”.  Walk up the highway 50m then follow the faint drainage through the sagebrush opening down to a highpoint where you can see Wildfire Slabs. Locate a large spring flow atop a big west facing corner system.  Rappel off trees to a platform at the base of the route and climb out.

Route: Bring a small rock rack and pitons plus short screws. Climb a series of low angle but difficult to protect slabs and ledges to a gradually thickening runnel of ice.  Climb a short pillar to a low angle snow gully to the left or fun slabs to the right. 

6) The Danglers WI4-5 M5-6
The Danglers ice climbs in Shell Canyon's central granite gorge
The three Danglers in January conditions

The Danglers (WI4-5 60m 2-3 pitches) area offers a trifecta of challenging climbs located in the lower granite gorge of Shell Canyon: the Lower Dangler (WI4), Right Dangler (WI5), and Left Dangler (WI5 M5-6). These climbs are south facing and visible from Highway 14 – if they’re in get on them because they won’t stay in for long.

Season: Late December – February

Approach:  Park at the pullout with the sign titled “Wildfires”.  Walk up the highway 50m then follow the faint drainage through the sagebrush opening down to the river, bypassing a small cliffbands to your left.  There’s a secret stairway on the left but it’s hard to find.  Cross the river on ice.  Hike up the hillside to a large bench, traverse west for a mile, and rappel off trees down the route.

Route:

  • Lower Dangler (WI4): The most consistent climb of the three Danglers. Climb a fun ice filled chimney to a steep curtain on your left. Belay off trees – beware of rockfall in low snow conditions.
  • Right Dangler (WI5): Steep pillar with thin topout – be careful on this one. Belay off trees.
  • Left Dangler (WI5 M5-6): Rarely touches down. Difficult trad mixed climbing to a sun-baked hanging dagger. Belay off trees.

Cottonwood Canyon ice climbs

Cottonwood Canyon is a magnificent gash through the limestone escarpment to the southeast of Bighorn National Recreation Area near Lovell Wyoming. Though Cottonwood Canyon has long been considered a gem for ice climbers and mule deer hunters alike, a land deal brokered by the late Senator Craig Thomas ensures public access to this miniature Grand Canyon. The north-facing aspects of Cottonwood Canyon feature two major ice flows that reliably form between December and March and two south-facing ice climbs that occasionally form during cold snaps.

1) Lower Cottonwood Canyon Falls WI4

Lower Cottonwood Canyon Falls consists of a vertical pillar (WI4 30m) leading to a large amphitheater of moderate ice climbs (WI3-4 30m) separated by a 20m of low angle ice.

Season: December – March

Season: December – March

Approach:  Park at the Cottonwood Canyon BLM trailhead. Walk up the dirt road for 1.5 miles past several quarries. Lower Cottonwood Canyon Falls is the first ice you’ll see on your right. At the creek crossing put on your microspikes or crampons and hike up the low angle ice to the base of the pillar. If the first pitch is in bad condition, there is a very exposed walkaround to the right of the pillar – we suggest roping up for the traverse along the headwall.

Route:

Season: December – March

Approach:  Park at the Cottonwood Canyon BLM trailhead. Walk up the dirt road for 1.5 miles past several quarries. Lower Cottonwood Canyon Falls is the first ice you’ll see on your right. At the creek crossing put on your microspikes or crampons and hike up the low angle ice to the base of the pillar. If the first pitch is in bad condition, there is a very exposed walkaround to the right of the pillar – we suggest roping up for the traverse along the headwall.

Route:

  • Lower pillar (WI4 25m): A fun moderate pillar in a beautiful setting! Best in late season conditions. Belay off trees to the left or continue up low angle ice to the base of the upper headwall.
  • Upper left side (WI3-4 30m): The best ice on the upper headwall. Belay off trees at the top.
  • Upper right side (WI3-4 25m): Follow low angle rambling ice to a series of ramps or climb straight up a sustained pillar to the right of the main headwall. Belay off trees.
2) Melody Falls (WI2-5)
Climbing a hard pillar on Melody Falls in Cottonwood Canyon, near Lovell Wyoming
Melody Falls’ right side features a fun steep pillar

Melody Falls’ interwoven ice flows offer a variety of distinct climbs with a nice range of difficulties (WI2-5). The different flows also allow for putting up multiple ropes at the same time, reducing the hazard of falling debris.

Season: December – March

Approach:  Park at the Cottonwood Canyon BLM trailhead. Walk up the dirt road for 1.5 miles past several quarries. Melody Falls is the second major ice flow you’ll see on your right, with Lower Cottonwood Canyon Falls being the first. Cross the frozen creek and continue up the jeep trail for a quarter mile, then turn up the steep ridge angling to the right of Melody Falls. The last quarter mile of the approach is quite steep and slippery – we recommend wearing microspikes.

Routes:

  • Middle flow (WI2 20m): An easy rolling slab of ice and the easiest line in the canyon to set up a toprope. To set up a TR, walk behind the steep pillar to the right, then walk up the low angle ice above the slab to set up an anchor on the large tree to the left.
  • Left flow (WI3-4 60m 2 pitches): A fun two to three pitch route with multiple variations, including a unique ice chimney on the bottom right. Belay off trees at the top.
  • Right pillar (WI4-5 25m): Climb the steep pillar to a thin topout. Belay off pine trees above – do not use the rotten willows near the top of the ice.

Five Springs Falls ice climbs

Lower Five Springs Falls in early season conditions

Five Springs Falls offers two well-shaded ice climbs a short distance from the Five Springs campground. The BLM has designated Five Springs Falls an Area of Critical Environmental Concern for three rare plant species that grow on the canyon walls near the waterfalls, and so we suggest using the following resource protection strategies: hike on the established trail on the north side of the canyon, avoid mixed climbing on the surrounding walls, and avoid placing any fixed protection.

Season: December – March

Approach:  Drive east on Highway 14A from Lovell to the Five Springs Falls BLM sign (just before the road closure). Take the paved road as far as you can toward th Five Springs campground. The road is steep and switchbacked, so chains may be necessary in snowy conditions. Walk through the campground and follow a short trail on the north side of the creek until you get to a short step of ice. Put on your crampons, climb the step, and hike up the creek to the base of the falls.

Routes:

  • Lower Five Springs Falls (WI3+ 50m 2 pitches): A wide flow with multiple options. The most enjoyable line is to climb on the right side up an easy slab to a fun chimney with a few bulges, then finish on a snowy slab to a tree anchor above. There’s another short pitch of easy WI3 100′ above the first pitch.
  • Upper Five Springs Falls (WI5 75m 1-2 pitches): A more challenging climb that starts off with a wide flow of short steps and narrows to a steep and sustained right-leaning pillar. An 80m rope will get you to the trees above, but we recommend breaking the climb into two pitches.
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