A young but hackle-faced white guy wearing a sweat stained ball-cap glared at me from the cab of a white pick-up truck.
The words spun in my head and before I had a moment to respond, the truck rolled down the gravel road, leaving me in a plume of dust and confusion.
“Did he just call you a douchebag?” my friend, Julie, asked.
“Uh, yeah. I guess he did,” I responded in a daze, thinking: Where the hell am I?
This happened within five minutes of my arrival on August 17, to Ten Sleep Canyon, Wyoming. Standing in a vacant campsite outside my vehicle on the “Old Road,” surrounded by other climbers finishing breakfast and gearing up for a splitter day on the pocketed limestone cliff band, I wondered if I had done something wrong.
“Some people are just assholes,” Julie said, urging me to drop the issue.
I tried to let the strange event evaporate, but it stuck around, kind of like the sweat on a nervous man’s upper lip.
For the next 10 days, we climbed, camped and fished in Ten Sleep Canyon. We thrashed our fingers on the spiny limestone by day, ate speckled brown trout for dinner and enjoyed a great cragging venue. But the feeling that I was unwelcome—engendered by that one jackass—never left.
Fast forward one month to September 17. An e-mail from Tom Linder popped up in my inbox:
“As I know it (based on what the Sheriff told me),” wrote Tom, “sometime around 2:00 a.m., the morning of the 16th, two climbers from Ecuador, Ana and Jose, were sleeping in their tent. They supposedly heard a noise “like a branch break” and went outside to investigate. [Jose] was shot in the stomach by a small caliber weapon.”
I immediately checked other climbing news sources and forums, and the horrific story was already sending shockwaves through the climbing community. We posted the information Tom had shared on rockandice.com and dug for more. Was Jose going to make it? Who had done this? Why? These were the questions everyone seemed to be asking.
Two days later I received a voicemail and e-mail from Ana Deaconu. She wanted to share her story and set the record straight. So with a bit of phone-tag, we eventually connected last week and she told Rock and Ice
what happened in the early morning hours of September 16. This is her story.
Ana, 25 years old, and Jose, 33, were visiting the U.S. from their current home in Ecuador. They were to be climbing in the States for two months. Already they’d pilgrimaged to the granite of Yosemite and City of Rocks. Next they visited the dolomite of Wild Iris, Wyoming and traveled further north to the limestone canyon of Ten Sleep.
“Our next stop was Devil’s Tower, but we never made it there,” said Ana in perfect English. I later learned that although she is Romanian, she holds dual citizenship with the U.S., and has a Masters degree in Earth Sciences from Stanford.
“Ten Sleep was actually our favorite place so far,” she said. “We were feeling good there.”
Jose and Ana were camping on the Old Road, which parallels Highway 16. After a day climbing at the Mondo Beyondo, they were psyched.
“We had a great day sending some 5.12s, which is good for us,” she said. After dinner, they went to sleep in their tent set up by the nearby Ten Sleep Creek. At around 2 a.m., however, they were jolted awake by something striking the outside of their tent.
“Jose said, ‘Don’t move!’ It seemed like he had a premonition that something was not right,” Ana explained. “But I told him, ‘I want to know what this is,’ so I opened the door and poked my head out.”
Ana found a “sizeable” tree branch lying beside the tent. They tried to convince themselves that the branch had just fallen out the tree. “It still felt paranormal,” she said. After a few more minutes, another large object struck the tent, momentarily collapsing the sidewall.
“I screamed, but Jose said, ‘Don’t scream like that! You’re scaring me.’”
The two decided to seek shelter in their car, and they exited the tent. While moving towards the car, Ana told me she heard a gunshot.
“It was a quiet shot,” she said. “It sounded like it could have been silenced.”
Jose had fallen and was getting up. Ana said she noticed movement in the bushes, “No more than 30 feet away moving towards the road.” Then she said she saw a car drive off. “But I never saw a human.”
Realizing she had left the car keys in the tent, she went to grab them and that’s when she says she noticed what had landed on the tent that second time.
“By the tent I saw a large rock, something bigger than a grapefruit but smaller than a cantaloupe.”
After finding the car keys, Ana ran back to Jose and discovered that he had been shot in the chest but was fully conscious. He was saying, “What’s happening, something’s hit me.”
As she drove Jose toward the tiny town of Ten Sleep roughly six miles away, Ana realized she had left her cell phone in the tent, so their plan was to phone 911 from the Ten Sleep Saloon. Ana said that during the drive Jose never lost consciousness, hardly bled at all, and whenever he was quiet for a while she would ask him questions to make sure he could still talk.
The Saloon was empty when Ana and Jose pulled into town, so they continued driving toward the next slightly larger town of Worland 26 miles further down Highway 16. Jose was quickly admitted. His lung had begun to collapse and had filled with blood, which “came out like a red fountain when the doctors began to drain him,” Ana said. “It was unnervingly similar to a Quentin Tarantino movie.” Medical examiners determined that Jose had been shot in the chest near his heart by a .22 caliber gun.
Jose was airlifted to a hospital in Billings, Montana. Over the next few days, his condition stabilized but his medical bills soared to upwards of $50,000. Ana explained to me that in Ecuador, health insurance is provided free of charge, however, while visiting the States, he was uncovered.
Later in the conversation, I asked Ana if they were robbed during the shooting. “When the police went back to the scene, nothing was missing,” she said. I asked if they had any verbal altercations in the area and she said, “We hardly talked to anybody. I mean Jose doesn’t even speak English!”
The only plausible motive for the shooting that Ana suggested came from her mother’s own research. “My mom has been reading forums, and there seems to be some tension between climbers and the community.”
Was this “tension” perhaps the same underlying reason for my own startling introduction to the canyon? Could there be animosity harbored by the local Wyoming community toward the visiting climbers? I posed the question to Alli Rainey—a pro climber who lives near Ten Sleep and has spent summers developing a slew of climbing in the canyon since 2001. She offered her own insight to what she believes to be an “inexplicably weird and unsettling” incident.
“The only actual disputes here that I've heard about or have witnessed myself have happened either between motorcyclists and climbers, or between climbers and other climbers,” Rainey wrote in an e-mail. “Never between non-climbing locals and visiting climbers that I've personally heard of or experienced.”
Rainey also made the point that climbers have been visiting Ten Sleep for more than a decade. “And hunters, ATVers, motorcyclists and snow-sports enthusiasts, among other user groups, have a much longer history of moving through this town and having an impact during certain times of the year,” Rainey explains. “In other words, this is not a place that is as isolated from outside traffic as it may first appear; local people were providing seasonal services for ‘outsiders’ long before the national/global climbing community took notice of Ten Sleep Canyon climbing.”
As for a plausible explanation, Rainey had no idea. “There’s absolutely no feasible reason I can possibly think of,” she wrote. “It makes no sense.”
Rainey did state that the nature of the incident was scary and expressed that “unpredictable, unprovoked but seemingly premeditated violence is always more frightening than violence that is foreseeable or that results from a heated altercation.”
Despite the incident, Rainey mentioned that climbers have not vacated the area or even stopped camping in the same vicinity as the incident.
When I called the Washakie County Sheriff’s department and asked if it was still okay to camp in the area, Sandy, the receptionist told me “camping there is always at your own risk.” Rich Fernandez, a county police officer explained that this is the only incident involving climbers in the last year and that he doubted the perpetrator even knew the victims were rock climbers. As of now no bullet casings have been found at the crime scene, though searched with a metal detector, and there are currently no suspects in the case.
Fernandez did mention to Rainey during a recent visit to the Sheriff’s office that an “accidental shooting—someone firing into the dark night with no intended target” wasn’t being ruled out.
When I asked Tom Linder if he had any intentions of leaving Ten Sleep Canyon because of the incident, he laconically replied, “We’re here until Elke [Tom’s wife] gets her [project] or if it gets too cold.”
Digging into online forums with the intention of finding past incidents of violence or unrest between climbers and the local community of Ten Sleep proved futile. In fact, the more I prowled, the more evidence I found for the contrary. For example, the website bighornmountaincountry.com—a virtual tourist information center for the mountains that house Ten Sleep Canyon—clearly promotes rock climbing in the canyon on the front page.
The Ten Sleep Canyon shooting might never be solved. For now, very little evidence exists. But the fact remains: on September 16, Jose Mosquera—a climbing guide from Ecuador—was nearly killed when a bullet punctured his chest and lung just below his heart. His two-month climbing trip to the U.S. came to a shocking halt, and now he is 50,000 dollars in the hole. Wyoming’s victim services will only contribute up to $15,000 in medical-expense reimbursement to victims of violent crimes. Ana Deaconou, Jose’s girlfriend, has started a fund. You can contribute at joserecoveryfund.org.