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Hot Springs and Cold Belays

Jamie on top of the 5.7 first pitch.  Don't let the picture fool you -- he copied my jacket/helmet combo.

Jamie on top of the 5.7 first pitch. Don't let the picture fool you -- he copied my jacket/helmet combo.

Here’s a day-by-day synopsis of the past week:

Wednesday – By way of two morning trips to the airport, I said “fare thee well” to Michelle and “howdy” to Jamie Dial, my boss at Vanderbilt’s Outdoor Rec Program and my major climbing mentor.  Jamie is the type of climber whose stories often start with things like “the second time I soloed the Grand…” and “I’d probably been on El Cap for two days when…”  His climbing resume reads like a North American bucket list, and, lucky for me, his skills in the mountains are rivaled only by his ability to impart that knowledge and experience to others.  He was just a few days removed from a Vandy trip to J-Tree and Red Rocks when he hopped on a plane to Bozeman for a little ice climbing R&R.

Three hours after his plane touched down, we were racking up at the base of Mummy Cooler II (WI 3) in Hyalite.  I gladly accepted his offer for the first lead and soon found myself in a familiar situation – belaying Jamie up to the top of a pitch and hearing the always-enthusiastic “strong lead, brother!” as he clipped into the anchor.

We rapped off of Mummy II and walked just around the corner to the dripping ice of The Scepter (WI 5).  The thin chandeliers and mushroom-shaped stems looked, according to Jamie, “super cool,” and he tip-toed nimbly up the steep face on insecure hooks and dubious screws for his first ice lead in more than a year.

We got back to the ground just as the sun was setting on day one.

Topping out on the "Silken Slot" chockstone.

Topping out on the "Silken Slot" chockstone.

Thursday – Up early for a quick stop at the grocery store and then back into the Canyon.  In the mood for some longer routes, we braved the hour-and-a-half approach up toward The Dribbles (WI 4) where there are a few multi-pitch lines pretty close to one another.

We decided to link the two or three Dribbles pitches into one 70-meter simul-climbed rope-stretcher to save time.  Jamie led off from the bottom, and I started moving up as soon as the cord came taut – taking special care not to fall and pull both of us off the wall.  With only the one belay at the top, we knocked out the route in good time and good style and headed right across the cliff band toward the mixed Silken Slot (WI 3, 5.7).

Climbing up into the gully.  Scenes like this one are why I climb.

Climbing up into the gully. Scenes like this one are why I climb.

Silken Slot boasts a very cool ice-choked gully that offers a remote alpine feel – rare in the usually wide-open Hyalite; the route doesn’t see a lot of action because the gully is guarded by a huge chockstone just a few feet off the deck.  Fortunately for us, pulling awkward, poorly protected rock moves in crampons is exactly what Jamie had in mind for the afternoon.  He scraped up the face of the chockstone, and I took off from there on plastic ice up into the steep-sided gully.

Two raps got us to the ground, and we hiked out in the dark for the second time in two days.

Friday – After the long approach the day before, we were in the mood for something a little closer to the car.  We used this day to tour some of Hyalite’s closer classics – Genesis I (WI 4) to Genesis II (WI 3+) and then over to The Hangover (WI 3).  We knocked out all of those pretty quickly, so we decided to add Upper Green Sleeves on the back end.  The book mentions a back way over there that you can access by climbing past the usual belay on Hangover.  Why not, right?

I stretched the rope around an exposed, snow-covered outcropping and steadied myself by sinking my tools into the moss hummocks that were stuck to the rock.  A nerve-racking traverse put me on a little saddle where I thought I could see the path to the other climb.  No such luck.  I spent the next half-hour wading through waist-deep sugar until I found a tree that looked sturdy enough to support a rappel back to Jamie and the anchor.  Win some, lose some.

We made it back to the car without headlamps.

Saturday – Snowy rest day.  We kicked it around the house until lunch time.  After a quick stop at the Pita Pit, we headed southeast to Chico, MT for a soak in the hot springs.  Back in Bozeman by 4:00pm and up to the ski hill in town to check out my landlord’s band.  For the nightcap, we found some alpine inspiration at the second night of the Banff Film Festival – if it’s coming to your town soon, it’ll definitely be worth the price of admission.

Sunday – We hiked into Hyalite’s East Fork to find Palisade Falls (WI 4), a waterfall that makes for a popular hike when it cascades in the warmer months.  The guidebook calls the hike to Palisade “the easiest approach in Hyalite.”

Three hours and two unsuccessful trails later, we were back in the Palisade Falls parking lot and running out of options.  We had already tried the ski tour trail in the back and the smaller trail behind the “trailhead” sign – seemed reasonable at the time – and were pretty much ready to bail.  We finally found the right path and were at the base of the climb within fifteen minutes.  The one pitch we climbed in the falling snow was mostly worth all the trouble.  I think.

Jamie cruising up the second step on "Genesis II"

Jamie cruising up the second step of "Genesis II."

It was decision-making time when we got back to town.  We were planning to head into the Beartooths the next day to get on an area classic called California Ice, but a foot-and-a-half of fresh powder had made conditions less than ideal.  The Hyalite climbs that we had been eyeing were subject to the same avy danger that took Cali Ice off the list, and we didn’t want to go back in there and climb the trade routes again.

With choices dwindling, we looked outside the box a little bit.  We considered driving down to Cody, WY for one of the long routes out there, but the four-hour drive wasn’t all that attractive.  We considered heading up to Bridger for some powder day turns, but, well, skiin’ ain’t climbin’.  At 11:00 that night, I drove to the airport to pick up Michelle, and Jamie said he’d figure it out while I was gone.  We were asleep by midnight with a plan in place.

Monday – At 3:30 the next morning, I was behind the wheel in a Red Bull-induced fever.  With luck, we’d be in Cody at 7:30 and hiking away from the car at 8:00.  Our objective was Smooth Emerald Milkshake (WI 4, IV), an all-day route with several miles of trail on either side.  We estimated twelve hours car-to-car.

We hit the trail at 8:40 – not exactly an alpine start, but not bad considering we began the day more than two hundred miles away.  With some route-finding issues, we reached the bottom of the first pitch in just under three hours.  Game time.

I belayed Jamie up the first WI 4 curtain and climbed past him at the top of the pitch.  For the next four hours, we soloed and simul-climbed the easy sections and built anchors to pitch out the harder parts.  The route was fantastic – long, challenging, and way out in the mountains; perfect end to a big week.

We reached the top of the drainage just before sundown and knocked out most of the six rappels by headlamp.  A short section of rope-assisted 5.4 got us back to the trail, and we were in the warm truck at 8:15 – that’s less than twelve hours, for the record.

The remaining Red Bulls didn’t do much to shake our exhaustion, so we opted to stay the night in Cody.  Long day.  Good day.

My sentiments exactly, amigo.

My sentiments exactly, amigo.

Tuesday – The hotel wake-up call came at 4:00am, and, just like that, we were back on the road.  We stopped for breakfast at the McDonald’s in Columbus, MT where we met an old cowboy who asked if we were brothers.  “Brothers of the rope!” Jamie told him, although the cowboy’s confused eyes belied the smile and nod we got in return.  If you’re a climber – or a skier, runner, paddler, cyclist, etc. – I’m guessing you’ll understand.

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