Cottonwood Canyon: Ice Climbing in Wyoming’s high desert
Try your hand at ice climbing in Cottonwood Canyon, a magnificent gash through the limestone escarpment 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.
Classic ice climbing routes in Cottonwood Canyon:
- 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
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.
- 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.
- Melody Falls (WI2-5)
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.
- 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 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.
Programs available in Cottonwood Canyon:
Resources for planning your ice climbing trip to Cottonwood Canyon:
- Nearby accommodations: Cottonwood Canyon Campground, Cattleman Hotel
- Food and drink: Brandin’ Iron, Pizza on the Run
- Groceries and supplies: Red Apple
- Rest day attractions: Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Rainbow Canyon
Interested in ice climbing with us in Ten Sleep Canyon? Send us an email with your name, email address, and brief description of what you’re looking for.