Joining the climbers’ festival party

A rock climber nears the top of a route at The Erratic cliffs at Wild Iris near Lander, Wyo., on Saturday. Hundreds of climbers participated in the International Climbers' Festival last week. (Jerry Painter photo)

A friend who was new to the International Climbers’ Festival wanted to know about the sleeping arrangements in Lander, Wyoming.

“It’s like pitching a tent at Tautphaus Park,” I said. “It’s free camping with flush toilets and water faucets.”

By Friday afternoon, Lander City Park was a tent city with hundreds of rock climbers camping out to join the party. Climbers of all varieties showed up from across the West, Canada, Europe and Australia. They came for the stellar climbing, clinics put on by pros, presentations, storytelling and goofy antics.

The goofiness includes crate stacking, when contestants stack milk crates one at a time as they stand on them. They wear a climbing harness and tie into a rope to catch them when the crates inevitably tumble, spitting off the person from the top. I’ve seen it get over 20 crates high. The prize is worth the effort: A new pair of climbing shoes worth more than $100. This year’s contest was won by Idaho Falls native Colby Kramer, now a student at University of Idaho. Word is he’d talked the UI climbing gym into letting him practice crate stacking before the festival.

My favorite thing about the festival is climbing at some of the best limestone crags I’ve ever touched: Sinks Canyon and Wild Iris. These world-class cliffs are easy to access. Wild Iris is a half-hour drive from Lander and Sinks Canyon is 10 minutes away with a 10-minute hike to the walls. The rock is mostly edges and pockets, and generally muscle-friendly and finger-intensive. Climbs range in difficulty from 5.6 (easy) to 5.14 (crazy hard).

An added bonus is there are usually places for climbers to hide from the summer sun. We also made use of the city pool to cool off and shower — at least a couple of times during our four-day stay. Some in our party washed off in the Popo Agie River next to the park. It was obvious not everyone made use of washing facilities during their stay because there was a noticeable funk in the air at the convention center during the closing keynote presentation.

Included in your ticket price is three breakfasts. My sweetheart came along to fix us taco soup and other dinner treats.

This year we tried out a few new walls at both climbing areas. Generally, we cracked open the guidebook and looked for routes with stars next to the names indicating quality climbs. Some of the climbs were so fun, I was giggling at the top.

Route names often lean toward Western themes in keeping with the town’s cowboy approach to life. You could climb at the Cowboy Poetry Wall, the OK Corral or the Aspen Glade on routes named Red Rider, Winchester Pump, Claim Jumper or Throwin’ the Houlihan. The guidebook lists hundreds of routes for the area.

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Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park on the west side of Jenny Lake has been closed because of dangerous rocks, according to park officials.

The park announced the closure July 12 after recently expanding cracks and fissures have been identified in a large rock buttress above the Hidden Falls viewing area, posing a possible safety hazard.

“The notable changes in the rock over the past 24 hours spurred park rangers to implement a temporary closure and initiate a risk assessment with subject-matter experts,” the park announcement said.

Exum Mountain Guides, who use the rock above the falls for client practice, have relocated their practice school services to another location. The shuttle boat and scenic cruises with Jenny Lake Boating continue to operate.

It is unknown how long the closure at Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point areas will be in place.