I was about 15 miles west of Bozeman and on the phone with my brother Friday afternoon when I noticed the road was solid ice. I ended the call just in time to see a 3-ton flatbed truck complete a 360 across two lanes of traffic about four cars ahead of me. I had been driving for 3 hours on my way to Bozeman to pick up Drew- we were supposed to head another 3 hours southeast for a big ice line in the Beartooth range, but somehow I was starting to have an icky feeling about the whole plan.
I picked up Drew, gear, and gas in Bozeman, and headed east into an increasing snowstorm. We had decided to drive to the highway cutoff, and make the call over dinner. Although both of us were stoked for the route we had picked, the thought of climbing a 3,500′ avalanche chute with a foot of fresh snow on it seemed plain stupid. We ate dinner, got back in the car, and drove back to Bozeman in the dark. While the turnaround was unsatisfying, we knew we had made the right call, and enjoyed a great conversation despite the hairy driving. Which left the question, what else were we going to do?
When Drew asked me what else I might want to climb, the first line that jumped to mind was Cleopatra’s Needle.
The line is usually done in 2 or 3 pitches, can vary in difficulty from WI4-WI5+, and is a Hyalite mega classic. It was also the first “harder” ice line that really inspired me to learn the craft. Drew said it was in WI4 shape, and in lieu of getting our big line in the Beartooths, it seemed like just the thing to test us on Saturday.
It’s a long hike to the base of the route, and we felt committed to the challenge by the time we got there. That said, the crux pillar (which Drew encouraged me to lead) was obviously steeper and harder than anything I’ve climbed to date. The thing about pushing yourself is, you never know what you’ll accomplish until you put yourself in the arena and make a go of it. In ice climbing, that has some real consequences, but I knew that I could make good decisions, and back off if I had to. It was time to step in the arena of leading steep ice.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Teddy Roosevelts “Man in the Arena” speech lately. Often with my climbing, I’ve backed off under the auspicies of good decision making, and experience, but I’ve been frustrated not to push myself.
Towards the top of the pitch, I ran out of gas. Just below easier terrain my hands started to cramp and fail, so I fired in a screw and sat on the rope. Certainly not my preferred style, but in the moment necessary. I’ve only sat on a screw on lead once before, and if I’m going to learn and progress, I need to fail more often, and that means pushing to the limit. After a long rest I topped out the column and built an anchor. Rather than climb easier terrain to the top, we decided to top rope the pillar, and spend more time on the steeps. It was a great day out, and strangely, there was almost more success in not climbing the pillar clean, the success was just in getting on something I knew would be really hard for me.
Sunday, still a bit sore, we went back to Genesis I, a wall of ice close to the car that offers a variety of terrain- low angle to super steep, and burned 3 top rope laps each on the steepest section we could find. It felt good to practice the craft.
The drive home was uneventful, except for an unbelievable sunset. I love this state.