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Wyoming Outlaw: WI5 M-Thought Provoking

Early this season, climbers Shawn Gregory, Chris Guyer and the intrepid Aaron Mulkey sniffed around cowboy country for climbable ice smears. Along the way, an ice pillar gives these desperadoes more than they bargained for.

[Photo] Aaron Mulkey

Climbers Shawn Gregory, Chris Guyer and Aaron Mulkey started early-season ice scouting along the Wyoming-Montana border in September. The team had their eyes on a potential line of pillars through mixed bands of rock and thin ice. Mulkey wrote on his blog of his plan to get an early first ascent, “A large cold front with precipitation was going to be settling in over the next week, which I figured would prime the route for an ascent.” The cold front did promote ice formation, but not without consequence. “Apparently winter was not going to give us a warm-up,” Mulkey wrote.

[Photo] Aaron Mulkey

The climbers awoke to frost on their car windows. “For the normal population of people this would make their day even worse, but for me it was the first sign of winter. I immediately began looking at the highs and lows in the high peaks,” Mulkey wrote. The team traveled into the Beartooth Mountains to scout the climb in hopes that the ice on their cars would translate to ice in the mountains. Alas, despite some amount of ice on the climb, the line was too thin for an ascent. The team retreated, planning to wait a week for colder temperatures.

[Photo] Aaron Mulkey

“Unfortunately for us, the weather had a different plan,” Mulkey said. “With 30- to 40-mph winds and a three-mile hike above tree line, we were gonna have to earn our first ice of the season.” Despite the conditions, the climbers continued to the base of the climb, finding the line decently filled in from the week prior. The three stepped into their crampons, using a boulder at the base for shelter against the wind. “You definitely had to want to be there,” Mulkey said. “The summer honeymoon was over.”

[Photo] Shawn Gregory

As Guyer belayed, Mulkey lead the pitch. “The ice was in super good shape and the feeling of throwing tools quickly became a calming rhythm,” Mulkey wrote. “The weather continued to get worse and we truly started to think it was January not September.” Mulkey traversed onto a hanging pillar, “hanging from one tool reaching way out to try and get a placement above the attachment point…when I swung the pillar fractured anyways,” Mulkey wrote. “Already committed into the traverse I was able to tip toe my way up safely without taking a ride.”

[Photo] Aaron Mulkey

Guyer, then Gregory followed Mulkey’s lead. Partway up, the hanging pillar collapsed under Gregory’s weight, stripping him of his tools. Luckily, no one was beneath the climb and Mulkey and Guyer were able to lower a tool down to Gregory. Because of the climb’s location and its dastardly nature, the team decided upon the name Wyoming Outlaw. When asked to comment on the grade of the first ascent, Mulkey responded, “I hate giving things grades, but it was something like WI5 M-thought provoking.”

Sources: Aaron Mulkey,