The “Oh My God Hill” into the Bighorn National Forest

Here I'm about half way up the "Oh My God Hill", it's name is totally deserved! It's a bad combination of very steep, and very long. In this shot we are looking due west and if it weren't so far away Cody is right over there.

Here I’m about half way up the “Oh My God Hill“, it’s name is totally deserved! It’s a bad combination of very steep, and very long. In this shot we are looking due west and if it weren’t so far away you could see Cody, Wyoming is right over there.

Up till now all my travels in Wyoming have been on the far western part of the state, mainly revolving around Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons NPs. But I got done with it and now it was time to move on to the central and eastern part of the state. One of the things that makes Cody, WY a very good basecamp is its location in-between Yellowstone on the west and the Bighorn Mountains in the central part of the state. No trip to Wyoming would be complete without a trip to the Bighorns, so they were next on my agenda. Below is a map of my travels through the central part of the state which are coming up so you can see the big picture.

This is a map of my travels through Central Wyoming. From Cody Wyoming to the "Oh My God Hill", to Camp one in in the Bighorn NF, to Camp two in the Bighorn NF; to the Wind River Canyon and up to my camp in the Shoshone NF in the Wind River Valley.

This is a map of my travels through Central Wyoming. From Cody Wyoming to the “Oh My God Hill”; to Camp one in in the Bighorn NF; to Camp two in the Bighorn NF; to the Wind River Canyon and up to my camp in the Shoshone NF in the Wind River Valley. I completed the loop by camping in the Grand Tetons again and then back to Cody.

The Bighorn Range and its National Forest is on a very high plateau that rises sharply out of the plains below them. Because the climb up into the National Forest is so sharp and steep, there are only three roads that cross over it. To the north is Highway 14A Which is the Medicine Wheel Scenic Byway, in the middle is Highway 14 which starts on the west side and climbs up to meet and merge with Highway 14A, becoming one road. In the south side is US 16 the Cloud Peak Skyway. In this post I’ll tell you about my climb up the “Oh my god hill,” in my next travel post we’ll talk about my trip and camp along the Medicine Wheel Scenic Byway in the Bighorn National Forest; then in the post after that I’ll tell you about my drive and camp on Highway US 16 on Cloud Peak Skyway.

Here is where Cody and I stopped for lunch. The picture doesn't give a true perspective of how high and steep the Plateau with Big Horn National Forest is.

Here is where Cody and I stopped for lunch. The picture doesn’t give a true perspective of how high and steep the Plateau with the Big Horn National Forest is.

I took Highway 14A from Cody to the Medicine Wheel Scenic Byway and it was hot! As I drove through the little towns along the way the banks had time-and-temperature readings and it was always over 95 degrees which is just much too hot for me. My only goal was to pass through as fast as I could and climb back up into my beloved, cool mountains.

That’s a shame because it meant I had to pass right by two things I really wanted to visit. The first was the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range and the second was the Bighorn River National Recreation Area. I would have loved to spend some time in each camping and taking pictures, but there was no way I would do it in that heat, so I just drove right past them both.

This is the first pull-over along the way up. You can see how extremely steep it is at this point

This is the first pull-over along the way up. You can see how extremely steep it is at this point

Soon I came to the “Oh My God Hill” on Highway 14A. I’m going to have to say this is the single worst hill I’ve ever climbed. I know that sounds like hyperbole but even the approach to it has a 4 mile stretch of 8% climbs and the actual climb up the mountain was 10% nearly the whole way. In a post coming up I’m going to explain what those numbers mean so I won’t go into it now, but the bottom line is that most signs you see along heavily used roads are warnings about 6% or 7% grades, 8% is rare and 10% is extremely rare. This pass had them both for a very long way, at one point it’s 10% for 10 miles which is truly exceptional. I’ve climbed steeper hills, but never for that long. For example, if you’ve done Beartooth Scenic Byway, its steepest point is 8% and that is very brief; for the most part it is 6-7% which is typical of mountain passes. It’s never 10% and certainly not for 10 miles.

Here I've walked about 100 yard sown he rod and I'm looking up the hill toward where the van is parked. You can see that the drop pff just 5 feet from the pavement is literally straight up and down and they've driven pilings to reinforce the road with metal to hold it in place..

Here I’ve walked about 100 yard down the road and I’m looking up the hill toward where the van is parked. You can see that the drop off just 5 feet from the pavement is literally straight up and down and they’ve driven pilings to reinforce the road with metal to hold it in place.

We had driven from Cody, WY to the base of the hill in the heat so I wanted to get out and stretch before Cody-dog and I started up the long hill so I kept my eye open for a place. In just about the middle of the 8% climb to the bottom of the hill, I found a little road that led off down to the right to what must have been a stream because of all the trees along it. I wanted the van to cool off before we hit the hill and Cody-dog needed a break from the drive so I pulled in. It turned out to have a great little creek running in it and Cody got a swim and the chance to run around while I went ahead and made us lunch and took pictures. I’m really glad I found that spot for Cody and I, but mainly for the van because I was able to climb a really bad hill with a cool engine.

The creek where Cody and I had lunch.

The creek where Cody and I had lunch.

What I’m telling you is if you have a heavy or long vehicle you should try to avoid the “Oh My God Hill” if it’s at all possible. The Bighorns are well worth visiting but any of the other roads into it are far easier.

Having said that, the drive and view are so spectacularly beautiful that if you have a vehicle that can handle the extremely difficult hill, you should seek it out—you’ll be glad you did! At one point, it was simply impossible to build a road so they blasted it out of the side of the mountain. It’s straight up above you and it’s straight down below you. I don’t mean it’s steep, I mean it is straight up and down! So straight that they’ve driven pilings and metal into it to hold it together. I wanted to get some pictures, so I stepped over the guard-rail and about 4 feet away it’s straight down. I’m not all that afraid of heights, but it was too much for me to stay there for very long!

Here is where I parked the van and it's looking through a gap on the mountains where we had to go. In the picture right below this one, I've climbed up higher and I'm looking back down at this gap.

Here is where I parked the van and it’s looking through a gap on the mountains where we had to go. In the picture directly below this one, I’ve climbed up higher and I’m looking back down at this gap.

Looking down from half way up the "Oh My God Hill"

Looking down at the gap the van was parked in. I hope this gives you some idea of how steep, long and wild this road is. The first stop was about a third of the way up, this is about two-thirds of the way up, and there another third still to climb. Can you can see the road going uphill along a ridge away from me and toward the plain? That’s not a road, that’s a runaway truck escape ramp. There are three of them along the hill.

That’s the steepest and most scary part but it remains very steep for a long time until you get on top of the plateau and then it becomes flat, rolling hills that has very few actual mountains. There are actually quite a few turnouts along the way, more than you would expect for such a steep hill, and I’d encourage you to stop at all of them and enjoy the awesome views looking down at the plains extending off into the distance. You’ll love being able to see so far over the plains below and it’ll give your engine or brakes a breather and a chance to cool down.

There were some really pretty flowers on the hillside below the pullover where I took the above picture, so here is a shot looking up the hill with some pretty wildflowers in the foreground. The side of this hill was very steep and the ground was very soft, I had a hard time getting these shots!

There were some really pretty flowers on the hillside below the pullover where I took the above picture, so here is a shot looking up the hill with some pretty wildflowers in the foreground. The side of this hill was very steep and the ground was very soft, I had a hard time getting these shots!

In this shot you can see the road climbing steeply above me still higher up into the mountains.

In this shot you can see the road climbing steeply above me still higher up into the mountains.

In future posts I’ll describe the Bighorn NF and my camps in it, but first I’ll have a post explaining how you can understand the terminology of climbing these big hills and give you some tips on how to go up and down them safely.

I’m also going to do a post on a e-Book directory of every steep climb in the country that I found called “Mountain Directory West” (yes, there is also an East version)  but that’s coming up.  I’ve got to tell you, I used this every time I moved camp on the entire trip! Highly, highly recommended! Here is a snip from the Wyoming page of it. If you are interested in more information on it, Click Here! In the interest of full-disclosure I need to tell you that I’ll make a little money if you buy it, but that’s not why I’m recommending it–I’m recommending it because it is an absolutely essential tool for every traveler!!

This is a page out of the Mountain Directory West e-Book. On the map you can click on the number of the pass and it will take you to the information on it. The Bear Tooth Pass is number 1, and the Oh My god Hill is number 2. If it were me I'd reverse that.

This is a page out of the Mountain Directory West e-Book. On the map you can click on the number of the pass and it will take you to the information on it. The Bear Tooth Pass is number 1, and the Oh My god Hill is number 2. If it were me I’d reverse that.

While I was struggling mightily to keep from rolling down the hill while taking the flower pictures, Cody was running around like it was nothing! He stopped above me and I got these shots of him.

While I was struggling mightily to keep from rolling down the hill while taking the flower pictures, Cody was running around like it was nothing! He stopped above me and I got these shots of him.

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Bob
About

I’ve been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

25 comments on “The “Oh My God Hill” into the Bighorn National Forest
  1. Calvin R (Ohio) says:

    It’s good that you got those pictures, because I doubt I’ll ever do that in person. The steepest grade I remember driving was 7% and downhill; that was quite enough for me and my minivan. I had to stop at the bottom so the brakes could quit smoking. Even on a motorcycle, 10% for 10 miles would be too much for me, whether uphill or down.

    The big landscape pictures show the “bones” (structure) of the mountains. That’s the kind of majestic scenery where the West excels.

    I wasn’t sure if I thought the risk was worth the product for the flower pictures, but the ones with Cody are great. Some dog-food company will envy those.

    • Bob Bob says:

      It would be a workout even on a motorcycle because it’s very curvy as well as steep.

      Hey, you’ve got to be willing to suffer for your art!
      Bob

      • Douglas says:

        Very beautiful. Some are very steep. Wyoming is a very beatiful state.

        If you are familiar with Interstate 17 north of phoenix up through sunset point, I have taken a truck and trailer up that hill loaded to over 15,000 pounds. It took quite some time and fuel to do it. I was glad I had trailer brakes going down the hills around sunset point, especially with people cutting me off.

  2. Sheryl says:

    Hey Steel Range Rider
    Hard to keep track of range riders and I’m glad to see you made it to the Bighorns and Medicine Wheel before heading south. You still might want to read “Bendigo Shafter”. You were in wonderful country to explore and grow up in and think how those roads and vehicles would have been 55 years ago when I was 14. It sounds the thrill is still there and nice some things don’t change much. The valleys are for towns, people and growing hay and always hot in the summer so just like the range rider of yesteryear, stop for a cold beer then head back into the mountains. Your post brings back fond memories and a desire to spend time in that country. Thanks Bob.
    Sheryl

  3. At the beginning of my vandwelling life, I set up residency and all that in Rapid City SD. The next day I took I-90 through the northeast corner of Wyoming to Billings MT. I passed the Bighorns in the distance and told myself I’d need to check them out someday. I remember a big sign somewhere on I-90, pointing west, that said, “SHORTEST ROUTE TO YELLOWSTONE.” I don’t imagine that route included Oh My God Hill — unless it was put up my mechanics hoping to make money from blown engines.
    Al Christensen recently posted…All because of Yogi and Boo-BooMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      You know I think I’ve seen those signs at different places, I think the one I saw was south from Billings through Cody, Wy. But from 90 the easiest would be through Gardiner, Mt. It has a pretty easy climb up to Mammoth Springs.
      Bob

  4. hotrod says:

    Hi bob,

    Those cliffs look mighty steep! This might be a good place to ask while your still in Wyoming. Are you familiar with the books of David Paulides? Missing 411?

    Well Researching N.F. & N.P. as I do I came across his books that documents real stories of people of all ages that basically disappear into thin air without a trace in our N.F. Yellowstone has the most vanishings. I don’t think you go for extended hikes on established trails but as a heads up to all that venture out into the wild stay safe.
    I don’t think UFOs or some other bizarre thing is responsible for these disappearances, even though reading the stories and radio interviews on youtube has creeped me out. sometime they find them …sometimes they are lost out there….forever.
    He says two things that has never happened together during a vanishing at a N.F. is someone who carries a Satellite emergency transponder & a firearm. Also hike with other people.
    While going it solo is the preferred way for me, you can bet I will have a transponder and a firearm with me all the time.
    This is just a call for all to stay alert and a prayer to stay safe to everyone.
    Going on to New Mexico (alliens _) has got me also thinking you could shed great insight into the realm of phenomenon out in nature.
    So besides the mountain lion incidents, that was very intense, has there been any other times when you felt , seen or Heard things that could not be explained easily. Please do not hold back. Surly you must have seen many wondrous things in the night sky?
    Thanks
    hotrod

    • Bob Bob says:

      Hotrod, I had never heard of him before so I looked him up in google and he’s interesting. I’m open to Bigfoot and the paranormal but I have never had any experiences with it myself. Like most people, I’d like to, it’s just never happened.

      From what I’ve read, most of the disappearances he investigates are in the National Parks, and my first thought is that’s no big surprise. For example, Yellowstone NP is the largest true wild area in the Lower 48 and because it has no hunting, it is full of predators. People disappearing there doesn’t seem too unusual to me.

      By the way, I’m a huge Art Bell fan, and he is the main reason I am a Pahrump, NV resident.
      Bob

  5. Ming says:

    wow, that’s steep, 10% for miles! Nice views, though. I must pay more attention to see what I drive out here in BC, we get a lot of steep grades too. Nice Cody-dog pics!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Ming, yes, the best way to learn mountain passes is just to pay attention to the signs and how your vehicle responds to different grades. It’s very important in the Rockies, Sierras and Cascades.
      Bob

  6. JimS says:

    How’s the road quality? Is it paved all the way from the base to where it meets 14?
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Jim, yes, it’s good quality and paved all the way to the top. The only major highway with a really steep hill in the country that I know of that is unpaved is the Mogi Dugway in Utah. I’ve never understood why it’s unpaved, probably because in areas it’s less than two lanes wide. Although I don’t know why that should matter or how being unpaved helps.
      Bob

      • JimS says:

        We have a few scenic byways which have non-paved sections. Good to know. But I do think the Moki would lose some of its charm if paved. Have you ever done a post on that?

  7. hotrod says:

    Excellent point BOb. I did not make that connection between non-hunting areas and areas that allow hunting.The animals at “Parks” have no fear of man as well. Thanks for the insight and note to all who visit national Parks to be on extra alert of their surroundings.

    Peace all
    hotrod

    • Bob Bob says:

      hotrod, hunting seasons make a huge difference in how bears act. I was a campground host in the Sierras which are full of bears but because I was at a lower elevation that was swamped with hunters every fall, the bears were almost no problem. As soon as they saw people they turned and ran because humans shot at them!

      But at the high elevation campgrounds where there were much fewer hunters, they were fearless and would come right into the campgrounds and go through your things.

      I’ve always thought the policy of the Park Service to NEVER allow hunting is very misguided. Sometimes the population needs to be thinned and the predators taught to fear humans.
      Bob

  8. Bill says:

    Hey Bob, been on 14A. Horror story, supposed to be the most scenic wildlife viewing hiway ever built. Saw on dead raccoon, nothing else. I did it opposite from your direction. No wildlife, did smell everybody else’s brakes. I went slow and hand braked the trailer to help me on the way down. A forest ranger lady reccomended we take it, I hope she is infested with the fleas of a thousand camels! She knew we were towing a camper!

    Enjoy,
    Bill n Sadie plus Mic
    Bill recently posted…Its Mic, The Hangin Tree StockdogMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      That might be a little severe Bill, but I understand how you feel! I’d suggest every RV avoid it, especially since there are two other much easier options. Glad you made it safely down!
      Bob

  9. I was driving up ten miles of 8% grade yesterday when I noticed the temperature gauge was starting to creep up. So I pulled over to let the engine cool and enjoy the view. I wondered whether it was better to shut the engine off or to let it idle so that coolant is still flowing through the engine, drawing off heat. Maybe one of the mechanics out there has the answer.
    Al Christensen recently posted…Great Basin National Park, Wheeler Peak CampgroundMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Al I researched it for my next post and the consensus was to let it run, and if it’s really hot to step on the gas to put it in a high idle. You can even pour water over the radiator to cool it off. But it sounds like you were just slightly warm so no need for all that.

      Of course you had the air conditioning off, and if you can stand it, turning the heater on with the fan blowing on high will cool the engine too.
      Bob

  10. Douglas says:

    When going up long, steep grades, I turn off the ac and sometimes turn on the heater if the temperature starts going up too high for my liking. I do that when towing heavy loads up to northern az.

    I had a friend years ago that also added electric fans to his radiator and transmission cooling system to help avoid overheating.

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