"Good night, Chuck. We'll shoot the gun and throw the hatchet after coffee tomorrow morning," BJ Tilden speaks these last words as everyone around the campfire nods, and retires to tents and sleeping bags. Lander, Wyoming, is cowboy country, where people still varnish holsters, chew tobacco and use horses as transportation, and where unsung climbing talents like BJ Tilden are hard at work sending the climbing projects of the last decade.
In November, Tilden achieved the first ascent of one of the area's best-looking and hardest lines. Orange for Anguish (5.14c) is at the remote Baldwin Creek, accessed by a gnarly four-wheel-drive road that is only open from June through November. The crag is also south-facing, making it too hot for climbing until November, so projecting hard routes is rather difficult. The Canadian strongman Scott Milton bolted the route in the mid-1990s, but was unable to send. Tilden began working the open project in 2007, spending 10 days on it last year, and eight days in 2008.
Gracious and understated, he says only, "This is for sure the hardest route I have done or tried."
Over the last six years, Tilden has been ticking first ascents around Lander, but one of his more significant contributions is Down in Flames (V12), an unrelenting 30-plus-move problem that climbs the underbelly of the Aircraft Carrier boulder at Hueco Tanks.
Growing up in Cody, BJ spent his youth horse packing and hunting with his father in the rugged Wind River Mountains. In 1995, at age 15, he put on his first pair of climbing shoes after Bobby Model, a family friend and climber, sparked his interest. "After that," he says, "it was all over.
"I quit playing baseball and have been climbing ever since."
When Tilden moved to Lander, he began climbing with Todd Skinner, Steve Bechtel and, his biggest influence, Andy Skiba, one of the first Americans to boulder V12.
"The Lander climbing community is strong, but small," says Tilden. "Everybody knows everybody. You might watch a friend's kid while the mom gets in a pitch, or bring a dog back to its owner. On a sunny Saturday in January, the Killer Cave at Sinks Canyon is like a family reunion."
Tilden, 28 and recently married, works six months a year as a carpenter for Skiba, and climbs the other half of the year.
"Being a Wyoming cowboy' is something that is deeply rooted inside," he says. "It's a kind of ethic and tenacity, and something I haven't seen many places other than here. It's a love for the outdoors, and a genuine pride in being from Wyoming."