Easily one of the most recognizable and most spectacular of the major formations at Vedauwoo, the Nautilus is also packed with excellent climbing. And because it is very close to the road and not in the fee area, it is very popular as well. On a nice weekend, expect to wait if you want to do one of the classics.
The name comes from the submarine in the Jules Verne classic Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. From some angles, some claim, the formation looks like a submarine, and there are some routes whose names allude to the novel as well.
The most distinctive feature of the Nautilus is the Parabolic Slab, also called the Potato Chip (easy to see why from certain positions), a low-angle slab that is the highpoint of the formation. One of the rites of passage at Vedauwoo is to climb one of the routes topping out on the slab and then do the free-hanging rappel back down.
Me Rapping off the Parabolic Slab
I'd be willing to bet that the parking-lot view of the Nautilus is the most-photographed sight at Vedauwoo. From that position, it looks great, and it looks even better at sunset. However, for those looking for other nice perspectives, dawn from the southeast side is really nice as well.
Nautilus at Sunrise
Vedauwoo is famed for its off-width cracks (and larger than that) and its rough granite. Just about any source on the area that you find will warn you to use tape or be prepared to bleed if you are doing technical climbs. Quite often, people recommend kneepads and/or long pants and sleeves as well.
If you're going to climb at Vedauwoo, you should get Heel and Toe: The Climbs of Greater Vedauwoo, by Skip Harper and Rob Kelman. It has a nice section on the Nautilus complete with route photos and subdivisions by sections of the crag. Another excellent source of information is the Nautilus page at Vedauwoo.org. Like the guidebook, it is nicely organized and has lots of photos and diagrams.
The Mountain Project page for Nautilus is free to use and has a lot of information, but unless you already know your way around this crag or know exactly what you're looking for, it can be hard to navigate.
Also, try the Forest Service site. Though it's not good for climbing information, it's decent for general information.
Parabolic Slab from atop Easy Jam and Cornelius
From I-80 between Laramie and Cheyenne, leave the highway at Exit 329, marked for Vedauwoo. This is about 16 miles from Laramie. Take Vedauwoo Road east and drive 1.2 miles to where you can turn left onto a well-signed road for the Vedauwoo Recreation Area. Instead of turning, though, continue straight as the road turns to dirt. Very soon, turn into an obvious parking area on the left. The Nautilus is almost close enough to touch.
Vedauwoo Road is usually clear of snow by May and sometimes as early as April.
Parabolic Slab at sunset from the parking area
There are well over 100 routes on the Nautilus. About 80% of them are trad routes ranging from 5.4 to 5.12c, and there are a relative handful each of sport, toprope, and bouldering routes. The vast majority of the trad routes are just one pitch, but there are some 2-pitch routes and even two 3-pitch ones. (The MP page is very helpful for sorting these).
Climbers on Finally (5.9)
Because of the huge number of routes and because I am not a local well-versed in the crag, I am not going to list the routes or attempt to speak with some kind of authority on what the classics here are. Please use the other sources mentioned for specifics about locating routes.
Instead, I will limit the scope of this page to my experiences at the crag.
Easy Jam (5.4) and Cornelius (5.5)
Easy Jam (5.4)-- I did a solo lead of this my first time, slinging a good boulder as my anchor, and have led it with a partner a couple times since. This is said to be maybe the easiest off-width at Vedauwoo and thus a perfect introduction. This is a short route, about 40', and it is recommended to have several pieces the equivalent of a #4 BD C4. (My actual rack for this climb consisted of a #4 BD C4, a #9 Trango Flex Cam, a #1 and #2 Big Bro, a #10 and #11 BD Hexentric, and a #10 and #11 CAMP Dyneema Carvex. I think I used 5 or 6 of the pieces.) Beta I'd read suggesting racking everything on the right side and using the left-side limbs to jam the crack turned out to be accurate. The beta I read also suggested placing pro below the climber so as not to collide with it while climbing through the crack, but I did not do that because it was going to be too much of a pain when using a Silent Partner. In any event, I found the climb pretty easy, much easier than a notoriously scary 5.4 off-width in North Carolina I'd led earlier in the year. Easy Jam is on the northwest side of the Nautilus and is very easy to find and get to. There are good bolts above it for belaying a second or rappelling, but there is also a walkoff to the climber's right; it involves crossing over to the south side and negotiating some exposed ground before scrambling down back to the north side.
Pretty (5.8)-- This is a sport route between Easy Jam and Cornelius, and it goes directly to the anchors. It was my first 5.8 slab lead, and I was scared, but I learned to use and trust the little crystals here.
Cornelius (5.5)-- This one I solo-led my first time as well as well and have led with partners a couple times since. Not an off-width, this is a fun climb with an interesting crux move for 5.5 (well, I guess it's more confidently protecting the move that made it interesting for me), and because it has a diagonal aspect to it, it makes you think about rope management as well. It is the next "natural" line right of Easy Jam (there is a bolted face route between them), and the climbs share the same set of anchors. Follow a diagonal finger crack up and right and finish up a vertical crack. My rack for this one was a set of Master Cams sizes 1-6 and two sets of stoppers. I placed six pieces (see photo), maybe seven (I might have placed one more above the crux but not in view in the picture).
Easy Jam (5.4)
Cornelius Sewn Up
Baldwin's Chimney (5.4)-- As the name says, it's a chimney, and there really isn't any Class 5 climbing until you're well up into it. Then there are some interesting moves and protection options. The only big gear I used on this route was for building an anchor up top.
Mother 1 (5.7+)-- To get to the Parabolic Slab, I wanted to solo-lead Baldwin's Chimney but wasn't seeing a good ground anchor. At the same time, an 18-year-old embarking on a year or two of dirtbagging asked me if I wanted to follow him up Mother since his partner (present) had some kind of foot injury and wasn't up to it. I accepted. Mother is considered an area classic, and it is an off-width, which made both of us feel it was a real grunt for the grade, but we got up. His pro consisted solely of #4 and #5 BD C4s, though I have read that after the horizontal crack about halfway up, #3 work better. This climb is on the northwest side of the crag and is easy to see but not easy to get to. The way to its base is not obvious and requires dropping into a slot and then following the slot until you can scramble up to the base. I'd call the approach Class 4 or maybe even easy 5.
Baldwin's Chimney (5.4) and Mother 1 (5.7+)
Straight 4 Ward (5.5)-- This crack is at the far right end of the west side, close to the parking lot. Some feel it's harder than its grade, but at what I thought was the crux, I found a not-so-obvious awesome hold that made the moves pretty easy.
Slat (5.7)-- Crack route in an alcove with a few other routes from moderate to hard. I found use for a #4 and #5 C4 higher up.
Etude for the Left Hand and Etude for the Right Hand (5.5)-- Side-by-side sport routes on a prominent slab almost directly below the Parabolic Slab.
Petite Tarsalation (5.2)-- Easy, short crack in a shady alcove. Right next to it is 5.6 Tarsalation, which is an off-width not using the Petite holds, but no one else in my group wanted to climb it.
There are four routes that put one in position to reach the top of the Parabolic Slab.
Three are on the northwest side and are next to each other: Baldwin's Chimney (5.4), Mother 1 (5.7+), and Father 1 (5.11a). Baldwin's Chimney goes up a wide chimney (too wide for gear, a tight squeeze, but easy going) to a chockstone. Once there, getting past the chockstone and finishing the climb is where the 5.4 comes in, and it is said that you don't need big pro for this. For beta about Mother 1, please see above. I have not climbed Father 1, but it is supposed to get sketchy on the pro up high and then runout after the crux, so you should be solid at the grade for this.
Top of the Parabolic Slab
Top of the Parabolic Slab
The fourth is on the southeast side and is the 5.6 Piton Perch route. I have not climbed this, but it is reputed to be tough and scary for the grade.
These climbs do not actually top out on the Parabolic Slab. The three on the northwest side all end about 30 vertical feet from the top. This final pitch is a 5.2 friction climb on a slab. There is no pro available (apparently, someone once put a bolt or two in, and someone else did some chopping). When I climbed it after following Mother 1, we just scrambled to the top after puckering up a little, but one could belay off the Mother 1 anchor and then the leader could belay off the rap anchor up top. However, a leader fall would place a Factor 2 impact on the anchor. A better idea, and it seems from comments on other sites that some do this, might be to clip the Mother 1 anchor (or continue from above Baldwin's Chimney) and treat it as a piece of pro while continuing to the top to belay off the rap anchors. This could create significant rope drag, but the extra security may be worth it to some.
From Near the Top of the Parabolic Slab
After enjoying the view and the exposure, rig your rappel, take a deep breath, and take the leap. There's actually a little bit of feet before you hit the empty space, so stepping off isn't as scary as you might expect.
View from the Top of the Parabolic Slab
A 50m rope will work for the rappel. I think 50m is sufficient as well for going to the top in one pitch via Mother 1, but 60 will definitely do it.
Parabolic Slab from near the bottom of the rappel-- you drop over the lip and then hang freely until your feet touch down on the shelf; then the rest is a "normal" rappel to the end.
When to Climb
May through October typically.
There is a 28-site campground in the recreation area. It is first-come, first-served and fills quickly on weekends in good weather. Vault toilets and drinking water are available, though in July 2014 the water wasn't flowing or I was just at the wrong pump. The camping fee was $10 per night in July 2014. Closed during the winter, the campground is usually open by the beginning of June.
There is a lot of dispersed camping available nearby, with some restrictions (for example, postings prohibit camping too close to the turnoff for the recreation area).