“M” Possible

Maybe this time…

Nineteen minutes… It has become my four-minute mile, my El Dorado, my white whale. Every time I peek through my apartment’s solitary window, I see the trail up the “M” hill that presides over the town, unmoving and unmoved. Its serenity taunts me.

Someday soon, the stars will align. A light snow will cover all of the icy patches. A tailwind will hasten my every step. My footing will be sure and my gait strong. The trees will come and go just a little bit faster. The hill will feel just a little bit smaller. I’ll reach the last switchback where the wooden bench finally comes into view, and my watch will read 18:15…18:16…18:17. With renewed but restrained hope, I’ll charge ahead. Each second will remove another pound from my pack until I’m racing, weightless, against the clock, against myself. I’ll reach the bench at the top of the hill – the man-made reminder of failure after failure – and check my watch with the same innocent enthusiasm as each time before; only this time, I won’t be disappointed. “18:56,” it will read.

Lo, the City of Gold!

I’ll ditch my headphones, and Van Halen [Read More]

Big 10-4 on the Panorama

Enjoying puffy warmth at the top of pitch one.

There are few things in this world that make me happier than an intermediate belay. For the uninitiated, an intermediate belay is the stop-over between pitches – you ascend a rope-length or gain a nice ledge (whichever comes first), plug in some gear to build an anchor, affix yourself to the wall, and relax. It’s a perfect place to get some water, eat a snack, wrap yourself in your favorite puffy jacket, slip into some heavy gloves, and enjoy the view.

The intermediate belay is a payoff several times over: you get to rest and recharge from the often stressful and strenuous climbing, you get to check out the scene from a place that few people ever stand, you get to solve complex anchor-building puzzles, and there’s often no one there to see the tears in your eyes as the warm blood refills your frozen fingers.

Over the years, I’ve stockpiled memories of my favorite belays – some noteworthy for the scenery, some for the relief, and some for the shenanigans – and the top of the first pitch of Hyalite’s Silken Falls ranks right up there with the [Read More]

Lessons Earned

Adam and Jason rack up at the bottom of "Hangover" – Hyalite Canyon

The Bozeman Ice Festival was last weekend. The festival – like its counterparts in Ouray, Cody, Valdez, et al – is organized to celebrate the local ice climbing culture, bring climbers together, and introduce new people to the sport. On the schedule for the weekend were two competitions (a pro invitational on Thursday and an open on Saturday), several clinics, slideshows, movie premieres, gear expos, and, of course, beer specials.

On Thursday, the day of the pro comp, I drove into the canyon with Jason and his friend, Adam, to get in a few pitches before the weekend rush. The recent frigid temps left the ice hard and dry, and we wore ourselves out on four- and five-swing pick placements on brittle flows. The tough ice conditions and near-zero temperatures chased us after just a few hours, and we were hiking out with plenty of time to clean up and change for the movie later that night.

When we got back to the parking lot, though, we were met with a troubling scene. Several somber-looking climbers were milling about, surrounded by trucks and snowmobiles emblazoned [Read More]