What is ‘buttery sickness’?” asks Guili, my friend from Brazil who is visiting Wyoming. His English is very good, but this
one’s stumped him.
“It says here, ‘Welcome to the buttery sickness,’” Guili says, pointing to the inside of Aaron Huey’s new guide, Heavenly Thunderstorm Opens New Universe: Ten Sleep Canyon 2009.
There’s a long pause as I struggle for a helpful answer. I look to the other climbers at this evening’s post-climbing powwow in the front room of my house.
Everyone else just chuckles.
“It means ‘super awesome,’” I say lamely. In truth, I’m not sure what it means. This is one of the many funny idiosyncrasies of Huey’s unusual guidebook.
I explain to Guili that the book in his hands is as much an artistic expression of Aaron Huey as it is a useful guide to our home area.
Huey was raised in nearby Worland, and since I’ve known him, he’s walked across the country with his dog (a half-wolf named Cosmo, who pulled a cart painted
to look like a flaming chariot), mud-wrestled lesbians on HBO wearing only duct tape (during the event he was overheard shouting, “You got nothin’
on me!”), built and owned an artists commune in middle-of-nowhere New Mexico (he christened it by burning a giant papier-mâché golden bull during a
sermon), and in a guise as a successful professional photographer, hung out with the Taliban in Afghanistan (where he also got married on a tank).
Not too surprisingly, then, his guidebook is an irreverent publication full of artwork, bizarre references and gut-busting asides (i.e. “Much of the guide
is propaganda meant only for the inflation of egos and the spreading of lies”), along with all of the ludicrous route names (contributed by most everyone
who bolts here) that make us laugh every time a serious rock climber reads them aloud at first blush. Names like Nowhere Man Puking Yarn, Aunt Jemima’s Bisquick Thunderdome and The Incredible Horsecock serve as humorous daily reminders that it’s just rock climbing—it’s supposed to be entertaining and fun.
Ten Sleep Canyon is a 15-mile rift that splits the Big Horn Mountain range in north-central Wyoming. The canyon is comprised of large swaths of unbroken—and
still mostly undeveloped—dolomitic limestone that averages 100 feet high. Most walls are vertical or gently overhanging, and their clean faces
are riddled with pockets, crimpers and even the occasional sloper and jug. While the climbing generally isn’t ultra steep, there are still plenty of
good, hard challenges here, especially after this summer, when the preternatural climber James Litz passed through and increased the canyon’s number
of established 5.14s from one to eight.
Most rock climbers, however, are drawn to Ten Sleep for its 600 to 700 high-quality, well-bolted sport routes evenly spread from 5.9 to 5.13. Whether you
want 80 continuous feet of vertical 5.13 crimping, an overhanging 50-foot 5.10 jug haul, or something in between, options abound on gorgeous rock in
a setting to match.
To add to this appeal, partners of different abilities can climb together at the same crags and both find plenty of appropriate warm-ups, onsights and
Many people visit with no notion of how much climbing to expect. The Wyoming-based couple Jeff and Laura Hamlin, for example, ended up changing their plans
and staying here for nearly the entire summer season (not the first folks this has happened to) after showing up to catch the town of Ten Sleep’s Fourth
of July Rodeo and Street Dance.
Ten Sleep’s year-round population of 304 nearly triples during this annual two-day hootenanny, its biggest celebration of the year, when the normally quiet
little western town hosts a rodeo, followed by a street dance with live music on the main drag. For two nights, US 16 is closed to traffic through
town, mobbed with drunken cowboys and other revelers. Since Ten Sleep has no cops, the town hires patrollers to help keep the rabble-rousers in check.
The Rodeo and Street Dance also happens to coincide with the informal Ten Sleep Climbing Festival. While a few climbers may trickle down one night to dance
in the streets after climbing, all are almost guaranteed to stay up-canyon on the night of the climbing festival, which always kicks off with a barbecued-chicken
dinner cooked over an open campfire and topped by Huey’s grandmother’s secret sauce. This year, the sauce was authentic, unlike the imposter sauce
that appeared last year when the festival, unfortunately, slipped Granny’s mind. Despite his dismay on that ill-fated night when his mother calmly
handed him coupons for Kraft barbecue sauce, Aaron spray-painted all of the bottles gold, dumped the sauce on the chicken breasts, and used his proven
powers of suggestion to elicit oohs and aahs from a convinced crowd of climbers.
After this year’s 50-some climbers gobbled up chicken smothered in the real deal, attention turned to the festival’s raucous campfire music jam led, as
always, by Charlie Kardaleff. Now in his mid-40s, Charlie is a respected Denver-area schoolteacher by day and a guitarist/vocalist for a rock band
called The Carnie Bums by night. This Renaissance man with wild blue eyes and a machine-gun laugh is also one of the canyon’s most prolific bolters,
author of scads of ultra-popular, well-equipped 5.9-5.11 outings (“I bolt scared,” explains Charlie).
Hanging with Charlie virtually guarantees some sidesplitting fun. At last year’s annual Jalan Crossland concert, Charlie’s riotous screams of “Get your
funk on!” echoed around the tiny venue, and by the end of the concert, he had the entire crowd chanting “Oh my god, oh my god!” for a good five minutes.
Jalan’s a wildly talented Ten Sleep local who absolutely tears it up on the banjo and gee-tar. His clever, humorous lyrics and incredible stage
presence are among the many reasons Charlie, and many others, are such big fans. As soon as Jalan starts in with his song to end all songs, “Bighorn
Mountain Blues,” the audience begins its thunderous stomping on the weathered hardwood floors. When Jalan reaches the end of the song, the crowd, having
anticipated this moment all along, shouts out its favorite lyric in a triumphant frenzy:
“There ain’t enough liquor in the county, to drink the ugly off of you!”
A couple of weeks after the Fourth, the number of climbers in the canyon dwindles back to its usual trickle. On Guili’s last day here, close to sunset,
he ekes out a consolation send (having been thwarted by his main project) of one of the canyon’s finest 2009 additions—Crown Prince Abdullah (5.12d). The position of this newly bolted Aaron Huey line, just beside the long-established canyon classic Happiness in Slavery (5.12b),
illustrates just how much more development potential Ten Sleep has. Ditto for another 5.12d next door, Poppa Knows Best, equipped by the longtime
canyon climber Mike Snyder, as well as for the canyon’s first established 5.14a, Goldmember, bolted and sent by the Canadian strongman Kevin
Wilkinson earlier in the summer.
“I understand why you were raving about Crown Prince Abdullah,” Guili says as I lower him to the ground. “If this route was food for climbers,
it would be made by a chef.” He unties slowly, almost reluctantly, looking out first over the verdant canyon below, and then up to the snowcapped peaks
above us. “I really think this place is paradise.”
Ten Sleep Canyon Logistics
Guidebook: Visit www.tensleepclimbing.com to purchase Huey’s
guidebook, and browse news and updates. Or grab a guidebook in town at the Bighorn Mountain Stage Company or Dirty Sally’s.
When: July and August are prime, though year-round climbing is possible. The weather ranges from intermittent to downright
inhospitable (minus 20 and snowbound for two weeks).
Accommodations: There are many free camping options, two motels and a fee campground in town as well. Groceries require
a 50-mile roundtrip from Ten Sleep to Worland, or you can just bring whatever you’re going to need. The Pony Express gas station has a typical convenience
Food and fun: Catch live music and wood-fired pizza at the Bighorn Mountain Stage Company (www.bighornmountainstage.com) or the adjacent Ten Sleep Saloon (serving Chicago-style pizza, burgers and margaritas). Ten Sleep’s
only breakfast place, the Crazy Woman Café, serves lunch and dinner, too. Get your ice cream fix, complete with homemade waffle cones, at Dirty Sally’s.
You’ll find wireless Internet plus $1 DVD rentals at the Ten Sleep Library on First Street
Rainey lives, bolts, climbs and trains at Ten Sleep when she is not on the road.