Vedauwoo is crack climbing gem of a location, that's virtually unknown amongst Brits. It's situated in Wyoming, just North of Denver and 6 hours east of Salt Lake City. If people happen to have heard of it, they are usually then put off by the stories; granite crystals like Lego pieces which rip chunks out of your skin; cracks so wide and flaring you get gobbled up, munched alive then spat back out broken and bloody and wild west folk with big pickup trucks and guns.
Whilst there is a hint of underlying truth in all those stories, and you might hear the odd gunshot, it isn't half as bad as what people make it out to be, and stories mixed with rumours grow the big, gnarly tales way out of proportion.
The most important thing to remember when planning a trip is you don't go to Vedauwoo for the grade, you go for the width. If you're after a personal best in grades, forget it. But, if you go well equipped, prepared and can accept a kick in the teeth every now and again, you'll have an absolute blast.
The best comparison I can make between climbing in Vedauwoo and climbing in the UK is, the Gritstone; The pitches of climbing are relatively short, but they pack a punch. If you stick your hand in a crack and thrutch around without any tape, you will probably end up bloody. If you enjoy a crack battle on the gritstone edges, Vedauwoo would be a great place for an overseas visit.
The reason you would go to Vedauwoo is for the crack climbing. If you are not up for a crack climbing trip then don't bother. But why go here rather than the perfect soft sandstone splitters of Indian Creek? A couple of reasons:
- At the time of year you would want to go to Vedauwoo, the desert will be too hot. Locals might say you can climb in the desert all year round, but they are hardy. As Brits, we'd wilt and shrivel like spinach in a saag. Vedauwoo is at a higher elevation so temperatures are much more bearable. If you were on an extended trip, Vedauwoo would be the perfect warm up location before heading to the desert, as after climbing here, everything should feel like a doddle.
- The routes at Vedauwoo, in my opinion, are much more interesting than Indian Creek. Indian Creek is unique but there are only so many perfect hand splitters you can climb before it does actually become boring. In Vedauwoo subtle tricks and techniques can suddenly make what felt desperate become a walk in the park. Like I said, it's very similar to Gritstone; trust that flared jam like you would a gritstone smear and routes will crumble with ease. It's a great feeling when it works!
- As a Brit, the rack you have will suit Vedauwoo much better than Indian Creek. That single Friend 2 won't take you very far in Indian Creek, especially when you find out that a pitch takes seven of them. However, in Vedauwoo its much more varied and different protection can be placed throughout the route. So lucky for you if you're short on money, you might not have to spend anything on a rack before leaving.
Vedauwoo is unmissable on the drive in. It will either be on your left if coming from Salt Lake and on your right if coming from Denver. It's the granite domed boulders on top of the hill which seem to have formed in the middle of nowhere. You'll pull of the interstate highway and be greeted almost immediately by granite.
One thing you may notice when you first arrive is the altitude. It's at a reasonably high elevation of 8200+ feet. I'm not sure if it was jet lag, dehydration or altitude (probably a mixture of everything) but I certainly had a headache when I first arrived. initially, you may find yourself out of breath more than usual if you get mega psyched and start charging round from route to route at a high-speed pace. It tends to be what I do, then regret it immediately afterwards… In the first few days it's probably best to take your time a little and acclimatise to the elevation as well as the climbing.
The best way to recommend climbs in Vedauwoo is by size or style, so here goes, smallest to largest:
Finger crack climbing
The finger crack climbing in Vedauwoo is pretty knarly. There aren't many easy graded climbs and the finger cracks that are graded easily, can probably be passed by other means of climbing; face climbing round the edge; hand jams; or chimneying (as the finger cracks are just located at the back of them where you place protection). You really want to be climbing E2 and above to make the most of the pure finger cracks that are here.
The bottom pitch of Hesitation Blues goes nicely at around E2 and provides a good introduction.
Things start to get hard and flaring from here. Climbs of Passion is the step up, just be wary of rope length on this with a 60m rope! The Rookie, Call me Barney, Hypertension and Harder Than your Husband are all equally desperate, despite all having completely different grades. The two final exams are New Mutant and Home on the Range.
Hand crack climbing
Hand crack climbing in Vedauwoo is much more amenable than the finger crack climbing. You have everything from prefect splitters on friction rock, to flaring thin hand nightmares on polished seams. There will be something for everyone!
A great starting point is Ed's Crack. You can either climb it in two separate pitches, or one long mega pitch. It's fantastically smooth and comfortable for Vedauwoo and low angle, so it never feels stressful. A perfect introduction.
Friday the Thirteenth at Nautilus should be next on the list. Again, low angled, but much pumpy than Ed's. Also at Nautilus, below Friday the Thirteenth is Cupcake. This is real Vedauwoo; short but packs a mega punch. Just be careful getting off the top of this one, you have to scramble down some trees to the side.
If you want to feel like an absolute hero, head back to the car park and get on the impressive Flying Buttress. It crosses mega terrain for the grade and you'll find yourself looking up thinking 'no way is that 5.10b, however you'll be pleasantly surprised as you start climbing.
If you feel like you should have gone to Indian Creek, then Spectreman won't disappoint. It's a granite desert climb: perfect hands and thin hands splitter, good enough to be a classic anywhere in the world.
Fist cracks can be found all over Vedauwoo and on many short sections of longer routes. Quite often you may get a fist crack start, followed by an offwidth finish or vise-versa. When you're climbing them, just make sure you look for those constrictions!
If you've already completed the lower fingers section to Hesitation Blues, why not carry on and do one Irish mega pitch. The top pitch is brilliant steep fists! Although, the best fist crack of Vedauwoo has to be Horn's Mother. As you drive in on Vedauwoo road, look to your left, you can't miss it. A two-pitch beauty, splitting the end of a buttress in half.
This is why people travel far and wide to come to Vedauwoo: the wide cracks. It is these features that have lifted Vedauwoo's status in the climbing world. 5.12b offwidths were established here in the early 80s, and in 1988 Jay Anderson made the first ascent of Lucille which was the first 5.13 offwidth ever climbed.
In the easier grades, pure offwidth technique isn't as necessary, as other jams can be found and useful edges for hands and feet give plenty of respite. However, when you start to ramp up the grade, your crimp and bicep strength don't play much of a part, slick technique is what you need. If you have limited knowledge don't worry as you'll learn fast.
A fantastic starting point at 5.7 is Mother #1. Pure offwidth technique is not needed and if you are cunning, then edging up the outside with your feet will prove to be much easier. A fun little outing is to climb Mother #1, ramble the easy slab to the pinnacle of the buttress and make the airy abseil off the back.
At only a '+' grade harder Upper Slot Right is the next step up. However, you better have worked on your technique a little before this one, as tricking your way around the crack by edging won't work as well.
Penetration and October Light are Vedauwoo classics, but sandbags. Expect a fight!
If you are feeling adventurous then you will have fun on the inverts (climbing feet first). Kick those feet above you and get shuffling. You can dangle by your feet, so every move is a huge no hands rest, it should be easy, right? Squat will warm you up nicely for this.
The chimney climbing is generally easier here and you can find some great routes in the low grades. Piton Perch is great for 5.5 and Baldwins Chimney at 5.4 is brilliant, just very scary (it could be nice to set up a top rope on this one).
The pinnacle of chimney and offwidth climbing in Vedauwoo is Lucille. Even if its above your level, you can always meander across to it after climbing Ed's Crack. Soak up the history, feel intimidated and imagine trying to climb it on hexes in 1988. That thought will surely give you some inspiration for your own personal projects.
There is also plenty of bouldering in Vedauwoo, so much in fact that there is a whole separate guidebook for it. There are plenty of little gems which are easily accessible just off Vedauwoo Road and around Nautilus.
- When should I go?
The best time to go is in the late summer to early autumn. Any time before this and you could still have snow and cold weather and any time after this you could have cold weather and snow. The best time is usually from June through to the end of September. Obviously, June can still be pretty hot and you can also get some very cold nights going into September, but you'll be able to pick and choose where you want to climb depending on the type of day.
The great thing about Vedauwoo is that it has lots of granite domes, which means that when one thing is in the sun something else is in the shade. You never have to walk far to find the temperatures that you're after.
- How do I get there?
Getting to Vedauwoo is easy. There are two options
- Fly to Denver, hire a car, take the 25 North, then 80 West, come off at junction 329. Overall about 2 hours without stopping.
- Fly to Salt Lake City, hire a car, take the 80 East, come off at junction 329. Overall about 6 hours without stopping.
Both are very simple and require no more than about two turns of the steering wheel, you'd struggle to get lost. You'll find it hard to get to Vedauwoo without your own transport, so hiring a car is a must. If you somehow manage to get to Vedauwoo without a car you will then struggle to live, as popping out to buy food isn't just down the road, its 16 miles away.
If driving from Salt Lake, it's important that you stop at the service station 'Little America,' as they sell proper American whippy ice cream cones for $0.75. It gives you a real feel for the rural States and also helps break the journey up.
- Where do I stay?
The best way to stay in Vedauwoo would be to stay in a camper/RV, as it's obviously the most comfortable. However, for most people this will be too expensive to hire and camping is the only option. Whether you are camping or staying in a camper, there are two ways of doing it; the paying option and the non-paying option.
The paying option - There is a campground in Vedauwoo which is $10 per spot. If you're in a pair it can become quite expensive over a long trip. However, if there are 3 or 4 of you it quickly becomes nicely affordable. The campground is however very limited in facilities and consists of bins for your litter, water taps (which had actually been cut off from the water supply when I last visited), and a pit toilet (A stinky hole in the ground). It's basic.
The non-paying option - Seeing as though the campsite is so basic, I think the best option is to opt for the free camping. Free camping spots can be found off almost any dirt road in Vedauwoo. One of the most popular roads is 'Vedauwoo Road' itself (the 700), which has many pull outs, off shot roads and lay-bys which are all great for camping. You can easily go back to the campground to use the pit toilet and dispose of any litter, in the mornings and evenings.
- What else is there to do other than climbing?
If you're going to Vedauwoo, you're going to climb as there isn't really much else to do. You can pick out some nice walks, find quiet areas to relax, or do some exploring on rest days.
If you want to go somewhere and do something totally different, then you can always head to the cinema in Laramie, or to the Recreation centre for a swim. Nearby places to visit include Fort Collins, which apparently have good breweries and lakes to swim in (although I've not been, so only take an Americans' word for it and you may want to do some extra research on that).
If you feel like you really need a break, then the beauties of Yellowstone National Park and Devils Tower are in the same State, but either a 7-hour drive or 5-hour drive away.
- Shower and living
As the campsite doesn't have showers, the best place to go and get clean is the Laramie Recreation Centre. Here you can take showers (towel included) for $4. If you're feeling plush you can splash out a whole $6.50 and use the showers, swimming pool, hot tub, sauna and steam room.
- Where do I get water from?
Recently in Vedauwoo the water taps at the campground have been turned off. The best thing to do is buy a bunch of large water bottles from the supermarket and then fill them up from the water tap at the Abraham Lincoln statue and Information Centre, which is just down the road from Vedauwoo, off Highway 80 at junction 323. Be careful the water comes quickly out of that tap…I have warned you.
- Where do I get food from?
The cheapest place to get food and pretty much anything else you need is Walmart, which can be found in the local town of Laramie, just down the hill from Vedauwoo. Exit at junction 316 off Highway 80.
- What's the scoff like?
Laramie is quite a strange town in that sometimes you feel as though you're in the wild west passing numerous 'cowboy bars', then other times you feel as though you've walked into the student nightlife, due to the University of Wyoming being there. Whichever way you decide roll, there are loads of different styles of places where you can eat out. If you fee like a big American style meal, then head to a place called LoveJoys. If you're after a slightly softer touch, there is a great Vegetarian restaurant very close by called Sweet Melissa's. Both have their own style and both are great!
- Which guide book should I get
The Voo, by Z.Orenczak. I have always used this guidebook which has been sufficient enough, however be prepared to really use your imagination with the navigational maps, as they are very poor. If you use this book along with the Mountain Project website, you should be fine.
- Is there anywhere to get gear?
If you need to stock up on any climbing gear, Cross Country Connection in Laramie is the place to go. They also do a little deal on climbing tape there too. If you buy 9 rolls over any extended period you'll get the 10th free. Believe me, you'll be wanting tape in Vedauwoo.
- Clothing and skin protection
You will have much more fun in Vedauwoo if you come prepared with the correct clothing. Make sure you bring hard wearing long sleeved T-shirts and trousers. Bring old clothes as they may well end up with holes in.
Neoprene elbow pads and knee pads are also very useful to bring. Wear them under the clothing to help protect abrasion and bruising. Tape is also an absolute must.
A good rule of thumb is to apply the amount of care you take on moisturising and healing your finger tips on a sport climbing or bouldering trip, but to the whole of your body. If you wrap up well you will have a much better trip, so protect that skin as much as you can.
- Communication back home
You can easily get phone signal in Vedauwoo, but to get internet roaming you have to be in certain spots. A decent and easy location is Nautilus car park. If you need better internet, there are plenty of cafes in Laramie where you can grab a drink and use Wi-Fi. The best place I have found is called Coal Creek Coffee. There are two of them in Laramie, I prefer the one that is close to the Walmart on Grand Avenue as it tends to be slightly quieter and you can actually find a plug socket to charge your phone/headtorch/laptop/etc.