Let me preface by saying that this trip has been in the back of my head for 2 long years. I read a small blip about an area called “Wild Iris” located about 25 miles south of Lander, WY and promptly bought the only guide book written for the area. Ever since then, I have been planning a trip. Unfortunately, I plan A LOT of trips and this one always took a back burner until this past weekend.
The evening before our planned early-morning departure, Jill was running some last-minute errands driving our ever-faithful Dodge Caravan when out of nowhere, it lost power. We just had it tuned up and put new wheels on it less than a week ago, so this was very much not expected. Thankfully the car re-started and she made it home to tell me the tale. I promptly tested the most likely suspect, the alternator, and the tester simply read, “ALTERNATOR BAD”. It was 12 hours before our scheduled departure.
I quickly called our Mechanic, explaining the situation and urgency in that we still planned to leave the next day. He say’s “No worries Mr Challis, bring it by tonight and I will look at if first thing in the morning to get you on your way.” We drop the car off, and continue on with packing gear, while thinking “NOTHING CAN STOP US NOW.” This lesson is brought to you by life: Never say such a thing.
Our 5AM departure was totally blown since we had to wait for the car, so we thought we’d enjoy the morning, clean up a bit and relax before we leave. But that night, Jill woke up with painful swelling of her hands and feet (she tried to wake up her husband i.e. me…but I was out cold). She figured it was an allergic reaction to something so she took some medicine and tried to sleep it off. But she was still having issues in the morning, so we called our doctor hoping to get an appointment to see what was up.
After many years of adventuring into the wilders, we have learned a few things. One of those is that you never venture off someplace far into the mountains, especially one you’ve never been to, in the dark. So, that meant we had a drop-dead time to leave our house at 2PM in order to get up to our campsite before darkness.
Jill did get a morning appointment with her doctor and figured out her issue, AND the car was finished by 1130AM, which gave us enough time to get home, finish packing, and FINALLY hit the road by 1:15PM. And our adventure begins…
WILD IRIS ADVENTURE
On the road again… hours after we planned, but still with plenty of time to get to our camp by the light of day. Driving was very pleasant, and quite beautiful for most of the journey. We hit a snag in the middle-of-nowhere, north of Rawlins, WY; one-way traffic for re-paving at several locations added about an hour to our 6-hour-time-frame.
FINALLY, we arrived in Wild Iris, Wyoming at 815PM. It was breathtakingly beautiful…seriously one of the prettiest campsites we’ve ever been to. It also felt like we were all alone in the woods, which makes it even better. The campground sat atop a “mountain” at about 9000 feet, and was surrounded by meadows of flowers and trees. The climbing crag was merely steps from our campgrounds, which is UNHEARD OF.
We quickly set up camp, started a fire and made a super tasty dinner, which consisted of beef, vegetables, potatoes and yummy spices wrapped in a tinfoil ball. We were pretty tired from the long day, but very content sitting in front of the fire with our food. It was MUCH colder than we had anticipated, so we weren’t necessarily in a hurry to be free of the warmth. But soon enough, we climbed into the tent for our first night of camping.
When we woke up the next morning (late at about 10AM) we decided to get the lay of the land and take it easy. If you know us at all, this is NOT normal. We generally go to places with a plan and that is to climb as much as possible until we have to leave. But in our old (or perhaps more mature) age, we have found that we don’t need to ONLY climb to be satisfied by the trip. So, our first morning we walked around stalking butterflies, deer, birds, nature (mostly for the perfect picture) and all the other things one does on borrowed time. It felt great to have no objective other than enjoying ourselves. But, we came here to climb, so we eventually grabbed our packs, and walked the several hundred feet to the climbing crag.
The short, steep and sharp (ouch) limestone routes climb more like boulder problems the routes. This means that they have only a few harder “more strenuous” movements to get to the top. Generally sport climbs can go two ways – they can be long and continuous or they can be short and SUPER hard. I think the longest route we climbed was around 50 feet, while the shortest was a mere 25. We quickly spent the afternoon knocking off climbs left and right, and with the abundance of quality routes close at hand, it didn’t take long to rack up a fair amount by days-end.
After hours of climbing, we were sore, tired and wind-burnt (since the winds were gusty in mid 30 – 40MPH range) so we headed back to camp to chill out. It was really sunny and warm down at camp, even though we were really cold up at the crag (which is only a few hundred feet away), so our bodies could never really adjust to the temperature. Plus, we did a pretty poor job planning for inclement weather. But, we were comfortable at camp, and decided that we should come up with something fun to do the rest of the day. I had the idea that we should shoot a time-lapse photo of the setting sun. We had a tripod (which we NEVER use) and figured that it was a really beautiful place to shoot such a thing.
We learned a few things about shooting one thing over a period of time, and that is that TIME MOVES SUPER SLOW. We decided to shoot on Friday evening, because it worked out better with our dinner plans (basically coordinating having a fire w/ food), but the weather didn’t necessarily agree with us. It was hopeful until nearing sunset (at about 8PM) when the clouds rolled in and basically covered our sun completely. It was also really windy which made it less than pleasant sitting exposed to those elements, with naught but a few measly thin layers of clothes. It was still a cool, fun experiment; suffering all for your viewing pleasure:
[swf src=”http://jakeandjillwentupthehill.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/sunset.swf” width=500 height=333]
We woke up Saturday morning like children on Christmas morning, full of hopes, dreams and bellies full of pancakes and sausage. But really, that’s not how it went at all! I woke up first and prepped our pancake breakfast, while Jilly took her time getting out of the tent. The sun was out early in the AM and it was looking like it would be a very pleasant day, until the sky turned an evil-dead sort of color within minutes (and out of nowhere). Did I mention that the weather in Wild Iris has bi-polar disorder, manic-depression and ADHD rolled into one? Well, it does.
Before we indulged, Jilly suggested that we put up our cooking-shelter before we start. After the first sounds of thunder, I knew we had very little time and agreed. We usually set this up right when we arrive at camp, but we were too tired on Night 1 and Day 2, it was not necessary. Just so you know, it generally takes us about 8 minutes to set this up from beginning-to-end, which is REALLY FAST. We’ve done it a lot and its pretty awesome piece of gear, which you can find at your local REI store. But I digress…
I did have minimal internet service so I slowly brought up the weather report, which called for thunderstorms until 2pm, heavy rain, and hail; tornado warnings were wide-spread across much of the south & east of the state. The shelter was barely up before the storm hit us…
The hard rain quickly soaked the dirt road, making it impossible to drive (and climb, at least in the AM) and then the hail came. And it came HARD. Never before had we seen hail so large—about the size of baseballs—pummeling down on our fabric tent; threatening to tear its feeble walls (which already had holes from use). I ran to the van (as Jill suggested) but the large hail was falling so fast, and she was too late to dare take the risk. So, instead, she ducked under our little folding table, just in case the shelter came crashing down. Oh! did I mention that it got cold, within MINUTES. You could see your breath when the storm came (35°). We had NO rain gear, and NO warm gear (since we were expecting temps between 55° and 75°).
The rest of the morning went something like this. After the big hail, the rain would come for a few minutes. Then the clouds would thin and the sun would come out warming everything by at least 30°. Then the clouds would cover the sun after a few minutes and it would drop 30° and be cold again. Then the sun would peek out until the clouds would cover it, then the thunder, rain and hail would come again. This was the entire morning until about 2PM. The temperature would shift about 60° throughout that time.
Meanwhile, Jill and I are trying to stay warm (or keep cool) and figure out what to do with ourselves besides freezing under our shelter. We thought we would hang in the van a bit, and watched a few episodes of Futurama on our i-pad which did pass the time and weather nicely for about an hour. The instant the last storm passed, and the sky looked clear and promising, 30+ MPH winds came in immediately. And they weren’t pleasant. They were cold, and harsh with gusts over 40 MPH. We already suffered wind burn from the day before, but those winds were way more bearable.
By mid-afternoon the weather started to get less crazy, other than wind, and we saw other climbers head out to the crag. But, I was exhausted (or my body was anyway) from the crazy temperature swings and elements, plus the fact that we believed the rock would still be wet from the storms that morning, so we held off. Instead, we hiked around a bit, saw a bunch of animals, deer, bear poop, etc, read our books, and just basically relaxed. Even though we really didn’t do anything major, we felt like we had had more adventure that day than the day before. Our bodies felt like it too.
Saturday night was our last night, so we decided to make a big fire and roast hot dogs (since that is classic-camp-food). We also knew that it would be the closest we would get to seeing the Super Moon (Even though we were a day early). It was a really beautiful evening (despite the crazy weather of the day) and so we enjoyed ourselves a lot. That night, both of us slept like babies and didn’t move again until early Sunday morning.
We woke up today, wishing we had ONE more full day there, since the weather was basically perfect for climbing. But we had to pack up and drive home to get back to real life. It was a really hard decision to make especially because it would be so easy for both of us to make the excuse to stay another day. But we really didn’t plan for it food-wise or clothing wise, and I think we were both eager for a hot shower and some real home-cooked food. The drive home was very uneventful, which is a good thing. It was beautiful driving through the WY / CO countryside but bittersweet as our trip was coming to an end.
With so many climbing areas on our horizon and other plans in general, we’re not sure if we will ever get back to Wild Iris. The sharp rock was less than ideal (although we could get used to it) and the psychotic weather left little to be desired. But the area….the area is spectacular. We have several more trips planned in Wyoming this summer as it has so much space, free camping, limited crowds (and people in general) and amazing rock.
Wild Iris is something special. Although I’m not sure we’ll ever make it back (as the guide book has already taken it’s place back on the book shelf), we won’t quickly forget our adventure. We may end up calling Wyoming our new home someday, so maybe Wild Iris will be our new backyard climbing area, just as Boulder is right now.
So what’s the next adventure you ask? Well, you’re just going to have to stay tuned for the continued tales of Jake and Jill Challis.
PS – don’t forget to scroll through the gallery of photos at the very top of the post!