Shell Canyon: The center of ice climbing in the Bighorns

Wildfire Slabs (WI3) in Shell Canyon

Shell Canyon is home to the largest concentration of ice climbing 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.

Classic ice climbing routes in Shell Canyon:

  • The Shroud (WI2)
The Shroud (WI2)

The Shroud (WI2 60m) is a perfect place to learn and teach the fundamentals of ice climbing. A natural classroom if there ever was one, the Shroud offers several 180′ tall moderate lines on a 200′ wide slab with lots of options for setting up top ropes.

Season: December – March

Approach: Drive 1.4 miles east of the Shell Falls Interpretive Site on Highway 14 and park at a pullout on the south side of the road. Follow a climber’s trail down into the gorge toward the obvious big slab of ice. Cross the river on a frozen ice bridge or slippery logs to the base of the slab.

Route: The middle-right of the slab is the most sustained and consistently well formed. Steeper ice on the left, lower angle ice on the right.

  • Fat Sister (WI3+)
Fat Sister (WI3+)

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.

  • Smug Doug (WI3 M4)
Smug Doug (WI3 M4)

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 mid 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. 

  • The Danglers (WI4-5 M5-6)
The Right Dangler in mixed 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.

Ice climbing courses available in Shell Canyon:

Resources for planning your ice climbing trip to Shell Canyon:

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