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]

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]

Subjective Success

Justin enjoys moonlit walks in the mountains, margaritas on the rocks, and the occasional Peter Cetera love song. He wants you to know that he'll be the hero you're dreamin' of.

After a week or so of deliberation, we finally pulled the trigger on a trip back to the Sphinx. Several intervening factors led to the decision: Jason wanted to lead the first pitch, I wanted to find my crampons, and we were able to talk Ryan, one of Jason’s old climbing buddies, into coming along to further split up the weight and trail-breaking duties. Instead of sleeping in the parking lot and tagging the climb in one 17-hour push like last time, we decided to leave early on Monday afternoon and camp at the saddle; we’d succeed in shaving five miles off our climbing day, and we’d be able to sleep an extra three hours.

That’s what we like to call a “win-win situation.”

It didn’t make a difference in the end.

We hiked in by moonlight and set up shop in a protected grove just beneath the saddle. A storm blew in during the night. By the time we woke up, the snowfall was so [Read More]

Loved and Lost

We left Bozeman just after sunset on Tuesday night and slept on a tarp at the trailhead. My phone alarm woke us up at 2:30, and I enjoyed a hero’s breakfast of crackers, Craisins, and a double-sized Red Bull in the chilly morning darkness. Half an hour later, we were traveling down the trail under a canopy of blazing stars. [Read More]

Access Point

Took us twice the time we thought it would, but the view was nice…

There’s been a lot of action in Montana this week.

Last time I checked in, I was about to embark on a three-day trip with Jason, a local climber who answered my online personal ad. Jason has been climbing ice around the country for more than a decade and moved to Montana five years ago for the same reasons that I have come now.

On his suggestion, we loaded up my truck and drove three hours southeast to the Beartooths – a range Jason reveres as “very white, very tall, and very infinite.” The range occupies the area just northeast of Yellowstone and, as part of the greater Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, boasts some 900,000 acres in northern Wyoming and southern Montana.

The plan was as follows: get up early on Monday morning and drive into the mountains; knock out one route that afternoon; drive to another part of the wilderness that night; catch a few hours of sleep in the truck; get up around 3:00 am on Tuesday for the 5-mile approach to that day’s route; finish the climb and get back to the car [Read More]