What was supposed to be a shorter weekend trip to Lilooet British Columbia for the Mountaineers Water Ice Climbing class somehow ended up as three of us road tripping to Bozeman, Montana! Close enough for me!
This weekend kicked off what will be a massive 2 week stretch of ice climbing for me. Part of the Intermediate Mountaineers Course I’m a student in entails a weekend field trip to learn/practice waterfall ice climbing. Now if you remember, this is not something that’s totally new to me as just last winter I went to Vail, CO with Justin to do some ice climbing as a personal trip. Ice climbing is such an incredible and intriguing discipline. The precision and risk involved are not to be scoffed at, and just the sheer feeling of climbing a vertical sheet of ice is like nothing else I’ve experienced.
Because of a very dismal ice “season” in the North Cascades this year we were left with a serious lack of ice for our water ice class. With it looking like the class wasn’t gonna to happen Justin and I made plans for a quick trip to Hyalite Canyon in Bozeman, MT. There is world class ice here, a yearly ice festival, and very short approach times to the ice walls so it was a no brainer that for the best ice this is where we needed to go. As a luck would have it, James (our friend and the instructor for the ice course) asked if he could hop in and join us. Heck yeah! He also did us a huge solid and registered the trip at the last minute so we’d get credit for the ice course. Woot!
We managed to snag an incredible little AirBNB apartment on the south side of Bozeman that gave us a whopping 25min drive to the parking lot in Hyalite. This little place was such an incredible gem to find. Warm, cozy, and with everything a handful of climbers could need to round out a great trip.
Day one we rallied at the parking lot with Parker and Alicia who decided to make a last minute trip to Bozeman for ice too. It was great seeing them as it had been a long time since we’ve climbed together. We set our sights the Genesis wall where got warmed up on G1. Sticks were solid, and I was feeling great so this also happened to be the route where Justin and I got our first leads on ice! I suppose it’s a really monumental occasion, but honestly it was something I knew I was ready for so it never really felt all that “wow” for me. With G1 starting to fill up with people we decided to head up the trial farther to G2. James threw up a top ropes on lead, and for the rest of that day we did some mock leading and ran laps on G2. The ice was great, company was better, and I couldn’t have asked for a better day 1.
After a beyond amazing burger at Montana Ale House that night we rallied and came up with the plan of hitting the Un-named wall for day two. It’s got a longer approach, but has some really nice climbs on it. The approach to Un-named got the blood flowing, and the views across the canyon were breathtaking seeing the valley from that side. With the sun just cresting the walls of the canyon, the crisp in the air, and the beautiful blue sky it was a spectacular experience. How can you not feel blessed to be there?
After a very reasonable approach we came upon two routes. The Fat One, and the Skinny One which form relatively close to each other looked prime for the climbing. We opted to take a go at the Fat One, and after James threw up a couple ropes we were running laps in no time. This route turned out to be not too bad, but definitely not quite as challenging as I would have liked it to be. We got our laps, in and after a little scouting mission by James we got the report that ELevator Shaft was looking good. I cleaned our anchor, built my A-Thread, and rappelled down just in time for another party to show up at Fat Man. Perfect!
ELevator shaft was only about 5min down the trail and with tons of time left in the day things were really looking. I did notice, however, that the upper cloud layer was moving at an extremely impressive speed. Combine that with the fact that we’re already at 7,000ft and it was definitely worth keeping our eyes on. Elevator shaft is one of those routes that’s pretty much a text book looking ice route. It’s not a detached pillar, but the way it wraps around the edge it sure gives the initial illusion that it is. We set up a belay station at the bottom and after a short snack James immediately got to work on lead. This time we did things a little different. He brought us up all the way to the chains at the very top each on our own rope. It was fun doing it that way, because it gave the route a bit more of an “alpine” feel to it. We rappelled back down after topping out, and setup a top rope anchor on the way down.
After touching down it was time to really start pushing ourselves running laps on this thing. The ice colum formed what appeared to me to be three distinct climbable lines. The left side, which was quite fresh. It had no previous crampon or axe marks, which would make for a really nice and challenging climb. The center, which we climbed the first time, was definitely hooked out with lots of previous climbing and provided quite the cruiser route up it. Then there was the right side. This one caught Justin’s and my attention right off the bat. Fresh ice. Not a single mark on it. Now what made this side unique was at the top was a two foot wide created by a large piece of ice sheering off. Directly farther right of that was access to the rock. Oh yeah, you betcha I wanted a piece of that one!
Justin went into attack mode first. Ironically, it might have been a bit too much of an “attack”. He let his ambitiousness overshadow his technique just this one time (he’d been climbing flawless all weekend) and after really pumping his arms out he lowered off the route. At that point I was second guessing myself just a tad, but I couldn’t help shake the vision in my head of how I would go at the route differently. Hey, we’re here to climb so why not right?! I tied in, took 5 seconds to remind myself to focus, and started up. One third of the way up I came to a separate pillar deep in the back. Bingo! I could drop my right foot back and get some fresh feet on it. This really gave my arms a much needed break. I kept methodically working my way up while focusing on my breathing, and trying to climb as efficiently as possible. When I hit the roof I felt a lot better than I thought, but I still had the crux of the route to go. I looked back and it looked like my “guess” from earlier would work. I sunk a good solid left pick in, and was able to stem my right foot all the way across the gap to the rock. I found a nice little crack in the rock, set my mono front point in it, rolled my knee down, and weight it. Woot! The drop knee was a success! This took a TON of weight off my arms. Once I found out that plan was luckily working well it was just a matter of working my way up via repeating this set of maneuvers over and over. I did it! Holy crap it felt amazing! It wasn’t making it to the top that I was so excited about. It was that I was finally able to visualize the set of moves needed to climb that route from the ground. I remained calm, and climbed very methodically and efficiently all the way. I’ve had these moments in rock climbing before so I knew they were relatively short lived milestones and you’ll soon get your ass handed back to you, but I was more than happy to cherish the moment while it lasted. I love this stuff!
We ran a couple more laps on Elevator Shaft, but by that time the sun was low in the sky and the whisps of snow that had been flying around all day were really adding up. We packed up, said our farewells to such an incredible route, and started the trek back to the truck.
This trip to Hyalite Canyon was a huge success. Two solid days of climbing with wonderful friends, great weather, and killer ice. I can’t say thanks enough to James for tagging along with us. Having him there allowed us to run some laps on routes that we likely wouldn’t have been able to do. As always, a weekend climbing with Justin is always a win in my book. It’s nice to be able to step back from life’s day to day struggles, and get outside with friends. It heals the soul and mends the mind. Until next time Hyalite!