Weathering Heights

I had a few days off from work last weekend and my buddy, Will, drove in from the Bay Area to spend some time in Bozeman. Will moved out west after law school and has enjoyed the Berkeley gym climbing scene, but a pending trip to Mt. Hood had him ready for some real action in the mountains. We spent a couple of his days here climbing in Hyalite and a couple more hiking laps at the “M” for a pretty decent training shakedown.

Will, puttin' out the vibe in Hyalite.

I was relieved to find Will all smiles after our second climbing day. This wasn’t his first ice climbing experience (that came on a trip we took to Mt. Baker with my dad and brother two summers ago), but it’s impossible to tell how accurately one will remember things like that. Kelly Cordes, American Alpine Journal senior editor and general mountain badass, calls it Type II Fun: “fun only in retrospect, hateful while it’s happening. Things like working out ‘till you puke and usually ice and alpine climbing.” In other words, ice climbing belongs in the same category as tequila shots and Brontë novels: you’re proud to [Read More]

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.

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 [Read More]

Rap Party

Hyalite in the morning.

Climbers spend a lot of time, energy, and money in the effort to keep themselves safe. A full rack of gear costs a small fortune, and the ability to use that gear efficiently and effectively takes years of experience. It’s no wonder there are literally volumes written on the subject.

A good belay anchor is a thing of beauty – equal parts gear, applied physics, and creative use of space – and, in this case, beauty often translates to safety. When you know those three large cams are equalized, backed-up, and bomber, it’s easy to relax and lean out over the five hundred feet of rock and air beneath you and focus on the task at hand.

Of course, the same things that make the belay so comfortable can make getting down a much more stressful situation. A pretty basic rock belay set-up will consist of three cams ($225), three wire-gate ‘biners ($25), two big lockers ($30), and twenty feet of 7mm cord ($8). That’s almost $300 worth of piece of mind at each belay. On the way up, it’s no big deal; the second climber just breaks it all down and hauls it [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]

After-School Special

Hyalite Canyon from the "Unnamed Wall"

I got off of work at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday and met Jason at Hyalite for some afternoon laps. The sun sets between 4:30 and 5:00 these days, and we had just enough time to hike in and hang the rope before the headlamps came out. We spent the next hour cruising up various lines of WI 3-3+ as a mostly-full moon painted an eerie glow on the mountains across the canyon.

It was completely dark by the time I put Jason on belay for his last turn. I doused my headlamp and took solace in the company of the winter constellations until my eyes adjusted to the dimness of the moonlit night.

As Jason picked his way up the climb, I privately enjoyed one of those priceless liminal moments – suspensions in time when self-awareness is at its most complete. With stars shining above me, the luminous moon hovering just above the canyon, and Jason’s headlamp turning the wall of crystallized water into a monochrome fireworks show, I gave profound and silent thanks for the perfection of the moment. This is precisely the type of experience I was hoping to have [Read More]

Lookin’ Strong, Man

While a rogue storm recently turned the homeland into a snow globe, I’ve been enjoying relatively mild weather up here in Montana. It’s been hovering right around the freezing point for a week now, and a lot of the ice that had been iron-hard prior to the festival is now soft and forgiving. We’ve taken advantage of the favorable conditions with several dawn patrol missions into the canyon. The hikes have been cleansing, the climbing has been classic, and I’m constantly reminded why I had daydreamed about this winter for months.

Just another December day in Bozeman…

When I say “we” in reference to my climbing outings, I’m almost always referring to my new friend, Jason. As I mentioned a while back, Jason responded to a post I put up on the Montana Ice website. He was interested in a weekday partner, and I had no real obligations at the time. Since then, we’ve tied in together no less than twice a week, and we are gradually turning into a pretty good team.

Jason tests the bottom of "Curtain" — Hyalite Canyon

It’s a rare and beautiful thing when you [Read More]