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Mulkey Develops Ice-Climbing Area in Wyoming

Joel Anderson on the Wolf (WI3, 50m), one of the six new routes established this winter by Mulkey and various partners in Ishawooa Creek drainage, South Fork, near Cody, Wyoming. [Photo] Aaron Mulkey

This winter a collection of ice climbers–Joel Anderson, Kenny Gasch, Dan Miller and Sam Magro–joined me in the Cody, Wyoming area to climb several remote ice routes in the Ishawooa Creek drainage of the South Fork of the Shoshone. The South Fork Valley is located about 36 miles outside of Cody, and hosts some of the highest concentration of ice in the Lower 48–even better, the high desert has little snow but ultra-classic, long ice routes.

Despite the quality of the area, somehow I have been known for sandbagging my partners and often ending up with less climbing than hiking, so I had to rally different partners for each of my four trips into the South Fork: January 3, January 19, January 20 and February 9.

Occasionally hiking around the next corner or getting the pilot to fly over the next ridge pays off; if you play long enough, you just might hit the jackpot. In an area known for its long approaches and ice climbing with an alpine feel, the Ishawooa drainage is hidden when viewed from the road, deep in the cavernous valleys of northwestern Wyoming. A six-plus mile approach up and over a foothill and around a mountain earn the chance to see the impressive collection of ice. When Joel joined me on February 9th he was skeptical during the three-hour approach, but as soon as we entered the canyon, he realized why I had a crazy smirk on my face.

Mulkey on the first ascent of the Peaceful Warrior (WI6, 60m), established with Gasch. [Photo] Kenny Gasch

We established six new routes in addition to the two previously established icefalls (an unnamed WI4, 60m, and Milque Toast WI4+, 80m), climbed by Stan Price and Steve Massioli in 1996. The new lines include Liberator (WI5, 100m, Miller-Mulkey), Peaceful Warrior (WI6, 60m, Gasch-Mulkey), Ella Diablo (WI3, 60m, Magro-Mulkey), Unnamed (WI4, 70m, Magro-Mulkey), The Testament (WI6, 55m, Anderson-Mulkey) and The Wolf (WI3, 50m, Anderson-Mulkey), the latter named after a run-in with a pack of wolves on the approach.

Every pitch is classic. Climbing every route in Ishawooa would be like climbing the signature pitches on all the classic routes farther up the South Fork: Broken Hearts, Main Vein, High on Boulder, Mean Green, Ice Fest. The price of admission is a long walk, but worth it–The Testament, at the back of the canyon, is possibly the tallest pillar in the South Fork Valley.

Developing this area has become my obsession, and there is still more ice to be climbed as we continue to push the depths of the canyon. I have another pillar on my mind in a different area for the end of the season, and then it’s time to hang up the tools and grab the kayak to follow the melt!