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Shakedown Street

Gotta get up to get down.

Gotta get up to get down.

It’s 4:30 in the morning here in Bozeman.

It’ll be a while still before the sun starts to cast first light on the mountains outside my window.  By that time, I’ll be on the road.  With a little luck, today will mark the official opening of my Montana ice climbing season.  With a little luck, however, that would have happened three days ago.

That day started out auspiciously enough.  I woke up just before my 6:00 alarm went off – usually a good sign.  A quick glance out the window revealed unimpeded windshield and driveway – very helpful, as I remain without the tools or expertise to free either from fresh snow.  My English muffins toasted without incident, and no necessary items played hard to get.  I was fed, dressed, and geared up within half an hour, leaving me another half hour to reach my checkpoint at the Hyalite Canyon parking lot.

I’ll be spending a lot of time in – and, consequently, writing about – Hyalite Canyon this winter.  Hyalite is the epicenter of ice climbing in southern Montana and is, in no uncertain terms, the reason I’m here.  It is home to some of the best climbing south of the Canadian border, and the number of lines that freeze reliably in a relatively small area – coupled with its proximity to Bozeman – render it a destination venue.

Of course, all I know about it, I’ve read in magazines and guidebooks, and, as my intrepid NOLS instructor, Fabio, used to say, “there’s no substitute for reality.”  I’m ready to find out for myself, and it was in precisely such an expectant, exploratory mood that I left my apartment that morning.

No substitute for reality, folks.

"No substitute for reality." Fabio, in his element.

Unfortunately, Fabio’s wasn’t the only prophetic voice I should have heeded, and it was in precisely the opposite sort of mood that I spent the next two minutes shaking snow off my hat and jacket.  Evidently, in my excited state, I employed too much force to shut the door.  Newton warned that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and mine sent a shudder through the roof that dislodged an avalanche and buried both porch and person.  This is not something one learns to worry about in Georgia.  “Never mind,” say I – after all, if a little snow was to shut me down, I wouldn’t be going to do what I am going to do.  With a renewed spirit and a lesson learned, I descended the stairs.

Fifteen minutes down the road, all was well.  Robert Earl Keen and lemon-lime Gatorade had me in a fine frame of mind, and I was cruising down the road toward certain triumph.  Yet again, however, the snow was to get the better of me.  A fifty yard patch and fifty miles per hour later, my truck came to rest peacefully in a ditch.  Four wheel drive doesn’t do much in two feet of snow, and there I remained without the tools or expertise to free my stuck truck from fresh snow.

This is not something one learns to worry about in Georgia.

After a moment to settle, I pushed up on the heavy door and assessed my situation – no apparent damage to vehicle or driver; no apparent escape.  Could be worse.  I called Jason, the day’s eventual climbing partner, to inform him of the probable delay.  I called my girlfriend to see if a Pennsylvania upbringing had provided her with a standard operating procedure.  “AAA,” she said.  Oh.  Awesome.

It turned out all right in the end.  A stand-up guy in a 2500 Dodge happened by and offered to haul my emasculated Tacoma back onto the road.

Jason and I made it to Hyalite by 8:00.  We put up with a light rain for two hours before cutting our losses and heading back to the car.  I was plenty relieved once the decision was made; I consider myself to be a pretty logical dude, but I recognize a bad omen when I see one.  We didn’t swing a single tool, but we did plan today’s adventure to the Beartooth Range.

I’ll be back home in three days – hopefully with some completed pitches to recall.  There’s a lot of winter ahead of me, and there will be plenty of ice to climb before it’s all over.  I just hope the adventures start at the trailhead from now on.

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