Despite learning how to ski here, my normal adventure map has strangely omitted time in Colorado. Abigail has cool friends- they celebrated their wedding in Crested Butte, and she managed to find cheap airfare for both of us. It was a good start to February. One photo per day:
Montana is a special place, and there is a reason that the autumn is one of my favorite seasons. I wasn’t expecting it, but taking the opportunities at hand landed me a triple header of my favorite adventure sports- all in the same week.
I was in Bozeman all week for work. I had hoped to find a ride on craigslist so I could stay the weekend while my co-worker Mark headed home on Friday afternoon. The rides didn’t work out, but I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. Wednesday night we picked up some awesome fried chicken and headed up to Genesis I for a night-time session getting back into ice climbing. With a full set of borrowed gear from Ari and Marko (thanks!), Mark came along to swing tools for his very first time. Getting my first leads, and sharing the experience with fine friends made for a perfect night despite some cold temps (6F when we left the car).
After 20+ meetings in Bozeman, I was ready to head home Friday night, but my new friend Molly was eager to ski on Saturday. I was pretty eager too, and Anna was from Bozeman and feeling behind on her season already. We headed for St. Mary’s at 830am, got the car stuck around 10, and topped out around 2pm. The snow was fun, but there still wasn’t very much of it so I was glad to be on my older telemark skis (the new dynafit setup is waiting for a few more storm cycles).
With another day of splitter weather in the forecast, there was no reason not to try for all three sports. Even with the cold temps, there were about a dozen people headed to Mill Creek and I was happy to join in the fun.
Molly and I ended up teaming up again, and I was psyched to nail my hardest on-sight yet: “No Drama Obama” (5.11b, 30m). Many thanks to Michael Moore for the photos, and Molly for the stellar belay. I raced the sun out of the canyon, and made it home in time for some non-profit work, laundry, and a solid meal.
I can’t think of many places to combine sports like this. With the long weekend coming up, I’m sure there is more trouble on the way. These are the kinds of adventures I want to make sure I have more often this winter.
This is a summary of current ice climbing conditions in the Finley Creek drainage. I didn’t expect to climb anything, but wanted to get a look around. Photos were taken with my iPhone around 1030am in the morning. I’ve uploaded them at max resolution so you can click and zoom.
Upon closer inspection…
I’m behind on posting, but not for lack of adventure. A week ago I was in Jackson, WY- fighting a nasty cold, loving some time with my lovely lady, and catching up with one of my Denali partners via a foot of Freshiez off of WYO 22.
This weekend I’m in Bozeman for much of the same. Despite not ice climbing much this year, this afternoon I was able to tick a line that has inspired me since my second ever trip to Hyalite in 2009. The Sceptre gets WI5 in the guidebook, but at this point in the season it climbs like a stiff grade 4. I felt really fortunate to share the beautiful weather yesterday with two wonderful climbers (one of whom I had known only by reputation)- thanks to Marko and Echo for being such strong and inspiring partners.
The Scepter is adjacent to The Mummy II, which makes for a nice warmup. The title though relates to one of the coolest parts of my Saturday. I’m warming up on top-rope in the foreground, but in the back you can see The Sceptre- with someone else climbing on it. I had noticed two older gentlemen and a younger guy approach the climb before I left the ground and I assumed the younger guy would lead it. I should have known better- there is an old guard in Hyalite, guys who have lived and climbed here for over 40 years. They are responsible for most of the established climbs, most of the mentorship, and most of the special energy and spirit that this place has.
I had only heard of Pat Callis from guidebook descriptions, but those guidebook descriptions credit him with first ascents as early as 1973. Pat was out climbing yesterday, I’m guessing he is in his mid-60s, and leading The Sceptre as confidently as most people his age discuss bond investments or board a flight to Paris. He was also mentoring the younger man in his party, as I’m sure Pat has done for countless other Montana climbers. I found the climbing challenging and wasn’t entirely sure I’d finish things cleanly. Climbing is a beautiful equalizer, and also equally accessible- if you want to do it, take care of your body, and are humble enough to learn- there are very few limits on what you can accomplish. The climbing community in Montana is riddled with the old guard, and I’m privileged to be around them.
(I’m behind on posting, welcome to catching up on the adventure)
A few weeks ago I met some people at the Bozeman Ice Festival that really know how to have fun. Despite going to Australia this week (oh yeah, didn’t see that coming did you?), a spontaneous visit to Salt Lake City was on order for Christmas weekend. A huge thank you to Sarah, Peter, and Brit for being amazing hosts. While Salt Lake is known for Mormons and the Wasatch front, elves are apparently a big deal too:
I rolled in on Saturday afternoon, and after a quick hike to check on ice climbing conditions, Sarah and I joined in the Santa pub-crawl mayhem.
Despite a great outfit, I bailed on the pub crawl relatively early with thoughts of ice climbing on my mind. The ice was surprisingly poorly formed and thin, and while Sarah and I ticked 3 of 4 pitches on “The Great White Icicle” (WI 3, 4p), eventually my judgement won over, and we headed for Brit’s hot tub and a fun little jam session with a few other folks.
Sarah isn’t as into backcountry skiing as I am, but fortunately she’s got some great friends. Matt C, Hasen, Tyler, and Matt X, thanks so much for letting me join the fun. It was dumping powder in the Wasatch, and while that pushed us on lower angle slopes, we still had an amazing day of skiing. Sarah had lunch on the table when we rolled home, and suddenly my cello was in hand while Matt C sang Talking Heads.
Christmas Eve finished cooking a stellar meal with Sarah, then a small gathering of friends hosted by one of her former professors.
My drive home featured dry roads, and clear skies, so the hours passed quickly. Even with all of the outdoor sports centered in Salt Lake, I’ve spent very little time there. With friends like these, I suspect I’ll be back soon.
“We seek festival community because our own communities are dead.” (Nizlopi)
It’s both true and false- Missoula is a vibrant mountain community with a fairly quiet crew of ice climbers. Fair to say, the Bozeman Ice Festival brings us to life, and I was excited to have friends from Missoula to share one of my favorite places with. While I missed the festival last year, it seemed like JoJo and the regular crew really stepped up to take the Bozeman Festival to the next level. The only problem was, with everyone wanting to join the fun, open climbs were a little illusive…
Full of stoke, Conor D. and I got after it Saturday morning, only to find 18 people in line for Champagne Sherbet and Champagne Slot (which are both forming nicely). So we hiked. A lot. Finally we gave up on finding some more elusive climbs and headed for the Genesis. Some top rope laps at G1 left us feeling like we had at least done something, and we followed the festival down the canyon as the light faded.
This years festival included a Saturday night party built around an outdoor mixed competition at the Emerson center. Credit to Marko P., Craig P., and many others for construction and route setting. Complete with outdoor firepits, live music, and beer vendors, Saturday night was a very good time.
Sunday Conor and I linked up with a few other Missoula boys (Cole, Josh, Mack, and Cory) and took over the amplitheater. I’m still a terrible mixed climber, and was just as happy for Conor to put up the rope on the mixed line just left of “Thin Chance” (which was in, but a little thin for my shaky lead head). We did both lines, then a lap on Climbs on the Left- by no means a banner day, but I really don’t mind easing back into ice season.
Sunday night I felt fortunate to be invited to dinner with a few new friends who work for Grivel North America. It might have been more prudent to head for Missoula on Sunday night, but these connections are one of the reasons it’s so fun to come to a festival. We enjoyed perfect conversation over perfect food, and my week has felt a little richer because my circle of connections in this strange frozen circle is just a little larger. The additional time was well worth the speedy drive back on Monday morning.
Despite a dismal forecast on Saturday, I coerced Ky into heading out to check on ice conditions in Finley Creek, just north of Missoula. Last year, this area provided an important training ground for getting regular time on my tools. It’s been really warm this fall and while I was hoping the north aspect would hold at least semi-formed climbs, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. The photos tell it all-
There was almost no trace of ice in Finley Creek on Sunday- a few wisps of ice hinted at the location of the climbs, but nothing that even resembled a “route”. It seems reasonable to say that we are 3-4 weeks behind last season in route growth. We spent most of our time hiking in a 40 degree rain storm. Ski conditions are marginal, and “unseasonably warm” almost seems like a misnomer because it’s hard to be sure what season we are actually in. It sure seems like the planet is telling us something.
Whether or not there is ice in the hills around Missoula in December isn’t alone an indicator of climate change- I won’t pretent that for a minute, but with plenty of other evidence around, it seems plausible there might be some connection to my little backyard ice playground. The lack of societal concern about climate change is thoroughly frightening to me.
Last night I saw a I saw a short piece from the Rachel Maddow show that aired just after the elections last month (really, click the link). I couldn’t agree with her more. For all the junk science, and political posturing we’ve been exposed to, and which I’ll try not to propagate here, I think she hits the nail on the head- “There are real problems in the world. There are real knowable facts in the world. Let’s accept those and talk about how we might approach our problems differently. Let’s move on from there.”
(Ed. note- This was not the post that I had aspirations of writing, but I wanted to get the photos up. More on this train of thought hopefully later this week)