Rock Chipping Drama in Ten Sleep, Wyoming


Are ethics still holding on in the rocky world of climbing, or are they starting to lose their grip? The least populated state in the country is the current home of the most opinions on the matter.


The Issue

Unfortunately, rock chipping isn’t anything new in the world of rock climbing and if you’re familiar with the sport, you’re also likely to be familiar with what it is. Rock chipping is a technique that uses tools to create artificial handholds on natural rock.

This technique was widely practiced, and even accepted, for a long time. However, in the mid 90’s, climbers started to understand and agree that this practice seemed to defeat the purpose of climbing outdoors; manufacturing routes should be left to climbing gyms.

Any experienced climber knows that it’s impossible not to alter a rock with hardware before climbing it with a rope. They also know that even some of the holds need to be altered to an extent if they prove to be dangerous, but where is the ethical limit? How far is too far when setting a route? Ten Sleep Canyon might have the answer.


The Culprit

Louie Anderson moved to Ten Sleep Canyon, Wyoming from southern California to open a campground for climbers known as Rock Ranch. He owns several climbing gyms in California and is a well-known route setter in the climbing community.

While living in California, Louie created a climbing area that was found in an extracted quarry where he had drilled out all of the holds and pockets to make climbing the walls possible. This seemed to be somewhat accepted as the quarry was already a man-made structure and the area was considered an outdoor gym of sorts.

Louie’s rock chipping practices didn’t stop with the quarry and before long, he found an area that wasn’t heavily developed and still somewhat off the radar in a growing world of climbing. Ten Sleep Canyon was the perfect location for what Louie was trying to accomplish.

He set up his public campground and quickly got to work setting routes throughout the canyon. Many people believe that his routes are simply a money making scheme as he also created a very popular guidebook for the area complete with all the routes he had manufactured.

Every year this guidebook is updated and resold with his newly added routes. Between his campground and guidebooks, Louie is profiting off of his practices in Ten Sleep which muddies the ethical waters even more so.


The Routes

I think it’s safe to say that there wouldn’t be as much controversy if the routes weren’t so egregious. Louie proudly claims which routes are his but refuses to admit to any sort of rock chipping or heavy manufacturing on any of them. One of the most unfortunate aspects is that a lot of the holds he drilled aren’t even necessary. The route could still exist and be climbable without any manufacturing; he simply wanted it to be easier.

Hundreds of these routes are scattered throughout the entire canyon and there are even some areas with entire walls dedicated to routes that have been heavily manufactured. The chipping is blatantly obvious to even those who have no knowledge of rock climbing. In addition to the drilled out pockets are pieces of rock that have actually been glued on to the wall. A route that has been manufactured this heavily makes the rock completely unrecognizable and arguably unsafe.

The Vigilantes

On the other side of the controversy is a movement that sparked to life in the dark. Louie Anderson was confronted several times about removing these routes and trying to reach a compromise.

After numerous failed attempts, anything being done was proving to be a challenge. Every rock climber loves a challenge and in early July of 2019, a group of them came together and decided to take matters into their own hands.

Armed with headlamps, tools, and a purpose, 18 climbers spent several nights removing as many of these routes as they could. There were far too many routes for them to successfully strip all of them and settled for placing red padlocks on a number of routes they could not remove.

They released a statement on Reddit to explain the motivation behind their actions and to try and create yet another spark – one within the entire climbing community. The group has remained anonymous as they have received some backlash for their actions within Ten Sleep.

It isn’t that people don’t agree that rock chipping to this degree is uncalled for, the backlash comes from how to respond to it. Many climbers believe that removing these routes simply creates a war without a winner and merely destroys the rock even further.

The Verdict

There’s no mistaking that something needs to be done about rock chipping in Ten Sleep Canyon and places like it. Several publications and organizations have posted articles regarding the topic and there is definitely cause for concern on both sides. No one supports manufacturing to this degree but no organization seems to publicly condone the vigilante like actions of removal either.

How about you, where do you stand? Does severely chipping into a rock so that it can be climbed seem wrong to you? What about the idea of using the guise of night to go out and remove those routes?

Perhaps a more strict set of litigious guidelines needs to be set for what is and isn’t acceptable. The only thing that is certain is that the climbing community needs to do better so that places like Ten Sleep, Wyoming can stay wild.