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)
10 years ago I went to the Wind River range with two high school friends in search of “adventure”- suffice to say we found it. We spent 12 days on our own in the range, and walked over 85 miles. I drove back to Chicago in love with mountains, and determined to learn how to climb them.
A few days ago I made a new friend at the climbing gym, and we realized that we shared common dreams of that place in Wyoming. I haven’t been back since that first trip, but the Winds have been in the back of my head for every climb and every trip since. If you had told me then of all the places I would climb in the following 10 years, and how those early determinations would shape my life, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.
I’m missing a few photos in digital format from some other early experiences (Granite Peak, Montana and the Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado), but it was fun to dig up more of the early inspiration.
Sometimes I wonder why burn all the gas, why suffer all the training, but when I think of the friendships built, the photos taken, and the experience shared, there’s no doubt it’s worth it.
The weather looks rough again this weekend and I’m fighting to keep my stoke up. Tonight I got looking through a bunch of old photos- it’s fun to see where this journey has taken me, so I thought I’d share a quick history.
I think I’m finally ready to say it- I’m ready to go back to the Winds. Hopefully my new friend can join me, but if nothing else, I can thank her for pushing the idea back to the front of my mind.
I haven’t been able to get out and climb much in the last 3 weeks. For sure, I haven’t been wasting my time, I’ve been learning, getting inspired, working hard, and getting humbled, and while that is all very good and very important, it isn’t climbing and being outside as I’d like.
It helps though, when life sneaks up on you like that- helps you notice that when the clutter of everything else dies down for just a minute, that the coals are still burning. Under whatever piles on top of your life, there are some of those things that are still burning. By Thursday last week, I knew I needed to stoke the coals. Work eased up just enough for me to take an afternoon off for another solo trip into Finley and swing my tools a bit.
I spent Friday banging my head around in the crawlspace, but I knew the weather on Saturday was not to be missed. Grateful to have my friend Jamie to call, he and I made solid plans to head back to Mill Creek. As promised, the weather was unbelievable, and the climbing was ready to fire. T-shirts were only required to prevent sunburn. I don’t remember the last time I had looked forward to rock climbing quite that much, or as much as I do as I writing this. Jamie is another solid climber who loves to “get on it”- pushing me to be the stronger, braver climber that is still learning to explode upwards. We climbed much hard than I expected, and I’m pleased to say I was able to redpoint a number of quality sport routes.
Fitting that Jamie and I finished Saturday with other new friends enjoying the warmth of a bonfire and the light of the full moon at a party just north of town. The coals are hot, and further climbing adventures are in the works. Life is good.
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.