Category Archives: Ice Climbing

Colorado

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:

lowa mountain expert, altras, outlaws, cobras

Day 0: Packing for adventure schizophrenia.

grand canyon, alaska air, ski crested butte

Day 1: Fly from LAX to Gunnison- Grand Canyon scenic flight for free. #AlaskaAir

crested butte, ski bunnies, ski bosses

Day 2: Meet friends and make new ones. SKI.

snow walkway, shovel, western

Day 3: Vacation. Cute houses, deep snow.

Staircase, crested butte, steep skiing

Day 4: Steep. The Staircase. Amazing.

crested butte, deep throat, bluebird, colorado skiing

Day 5: This place keeps on giving. Deep Throat. Bluebird

ouray ice park, ice climbing, top rope tough guy

Day 6: Switch gears. Every ice climber has to go to Ouray once. Thanks Drew and Lindz

newbie ice climber, grit, never say never

Day 7: Never say never. Abigail swings tools. The girl has grit.

alaska air, crested butte, steep and deep, Big Chute

Day 8: Abigail comes to terms with Big Chute. Steep AND deep. Free lift tix from Ak Air.

sunset, BoiseState plane

My version of vacation might not work for everyone, but it sure does for me.

Triple Header

night ice climbing

Marko shows us how it’s done in the dark.

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).

ice climbing preparation

Getting ready for my first sticks of the season.

Beginner stoke.  Props to Mark for braving the cold to come check it out.

Beginner stoke. Props to Mark for braving the cold to come check it out.

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).

Molly and Izzie making short work of the skinning.

Molly and Izzie making short work of the skinning.

Anna on top of her first Bitterroot winter summit.

Anna on top of her first Bitterroot winter summit.

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.

hoarfrost

Just “a little” hoarfrost on the hike in. Chilly mornings in the Bitterroot.

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.

No Drama Obama, Mill Creek, Montana

Somehow, I was firing hot in the chilly temps.

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.

November 2013 Finley Creek Missoula Ice Conditions

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.

Cheers!

The first good look. Graineater should be center right. Not much there yet.

The first good look. Graineater should be center right. Not much there yet.

Looking from the main overlook towards Weedeater.

Looking from the main overlook towards Weedeater. Also not much there.

Upon closer inspection…

Weedeater, from the belay.  Good drips and starts, but no climbing.

Weedeater, from the belay. Good drips and starts, but no climbing.

Looking up Foxes Corner. Suppose it is a mixed climb, so... drytooling? Pretty slimy though.

Looking up Foxes Corner. Suppose it is a mixed climb, so… drytooling? Pretty slimy though.

Looking up the main flow of Graineater.  Starts, but nothing to climb on (and please don't knock it down).

Looking up the main flow of Graineater. Starts, but nothing to climb on (and please don’t knock it down).

 

From the belay at The Thing In Between/MuleSkinner. Forming, but not there yet.

From the belay at The Thing In Between/MuleSkinner. Forming, but not there yet.

Up the gully at the Fang. I'd do well to get on this if it forms this year.

Up the gully at the Fang. I’d do well to get on this if it forms this year.

 

 

 

 

 

Old Guard

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.

Getting our fix at the Teton Ice Park.

Getting our fix at the Teton Ice Park.

Top of Glory, reasonable name...

Bryan @ Top of Glory, reasonable name…

"No officer, we are not hitch-hiking."

“No officer, we are not hitch-hiking.”

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.

Sceptre is in fat...

Sceptre is in fat. (Photo: Echo Oak)

Top out stoke.

Top out stoke. (Photo Echo Oak)

Burning laps.

Echo, burning laps.

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.

In good company.

In good company.

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.

Elves

(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:

Cousins Peter and Brit show off the latest fashions.

Cousins Peter and Brit show off the latest fashions (exterior door shown for scale).

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.

Well... someone needed to step up and be Pimp Santa.

Well… someone needed to step up and be Pimp Santa.

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.

Thinner than it looked.

Thinner than it looked.

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.

Doing due diligence in the avy pit.

Doing due diligence in the avy pit.

Sweetness.

Sweetness.

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.

Somewhere south of Dillon, MT.

Somewhere south of Dillon, MT.

Festival

“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…

Saturday.

Saturday.

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.

crushing

Stephanie Maureau- climbs harder than almost all the boys- crushing it.

mixedcomp

Bozeman hardman Whit Magro straddling a free handing log 50′ up and 20′ across the overhanging traverse.

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.

Conor, getting pumped.

Conor, getting pumped.

Lots to remember.

Lots for me to remember.

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.

This place is always spectacular.

This place is always spectacular.

 

 

 

 

Telling

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-

IMG_6280

The black streak is where the GrainEater is supposed to be- taken yesterday December 2, 2012.

This is the GrainEater in early season, but fully climbable conditions- taken Nov. 27, 2011.

This was taken from the same vantage point (approximately), on Nov. 27, 2011.  While this is thin compared to what the climb would be, it was fully climbable at this point in the season last year.

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.

IMG_6286

Several hundred vertical feet and a two miles up the canyon we finally found some semblence of winter, but only barely. I made it to the lake in trail running shoes.

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)