We arrived in Bozeman on February 7th. Bozeman is a cute university town of 30,000 habitants nestled in the mountains of Southwest Montana. The downtown area is small, but there is a good selection of shops, restaurants and bakeries. There is also a Bikram yoga studio and a nice dance studio in town (two of Lucie's requirements for a decent place to live).
Bozeman is also close to two ski resorts, Bridger Bowl and Big Sky. We were not particularly impressed with Bridger Bowl, but quite impressed by Big Sky. It is the nicest looking ski area we've seen in the US. They have very steep terrain; a lot of it ungroomed and in open bowls, and actually have a tram going all the way to the very impressive pointy summit of Lone Mountain (a proverbial pyramid at 11,000+ feet). From there, there are beautiful steep slopes on the South face (ungroomed of course), as well as outrageous looking extreme couloirs on the North face (probably well over 45 degrees).
The main theme for this season of ice climbing is: it is just bloody s#@cks! The Bozeman area was to be no exception. Although they apparently had a good early season, when we were there most climbs were not formed due to several weeks of unseasonably warm weather, or excessively exposed to avalanche danger due to recent snows. Also, to be honest, most of the climbs we saw were a bit disappointing: often quite short, not particularly impressive, and/or with long and difficult approaches. I guess you just get picky after years of climbing in Southwest Colorado which - I am more and more convinced - has just about the best collection of awesome ice climbs in the US.
The best place in Bozeman to get some ice climbing with relatively easy access is Hyalite Canyon. However, things get complicated real fast once the canyon road is completely snowed in, as it is not plowed. When we arrived in Bozeman, they had just received about 7ft in 7 days! To reach the vicinity of the ice flows, you have to drive about 8 to 10 miles into the canyon on deep-rutted snow-filled road. The going is pretty slow, and rough at times, particularly when you have to leave the one good track into deep snow to cross another vehicle.
Intending to climb "Palisade Falls" (WI4), we got to the East Hyalite fork at 11AM and spent nearly an hour packing and digging a parking area for the jeep on the side of the "road". We hiked up East Hyalite road for about a mile to the Palisade Falls parking area (no cars had made it up the east fork). Another 1/3 mile or so on snowshoes brought us to the base of the climb. The climb looked pretty decent: not very steep in average (75 degrees or so), but very featured with mushrooms and high steps. As often, it turned out much harder than it looked, mostly because of extremely difficult ice: brittle first, then snow-layered, then drenching wet near the top… a real battle. After getting back to the road, we went some ways post-holing in snow shoes in the direction of Alpha and Omega, but never got to them (cannot see anything from the forest) in declining daylight. We were able to see one of the two climbs (don't know which) from the road on the way back to the car: the ice seemed to barely touch down, if at all. All in all a nice outing but a long day. We drove back down the road (looong again), waited for snowmobilers with trailers to get unstuck, and got back to Bozeman quite tired.
After a rest day hanging out in Bozeman, we returned to Hyalite to climb the two Genesis (upper and lower), supposed to be Hyalite classics (WI4). We had bought another set of chains the day before, so we chained up all 4's, which made for a much easier time when getting off the tracks! This time we drove to the very end of the Hyalite road (the Hyalite trailhead). A very short but steep approach brought us to the base of the climb.
There are about 4 separate lines here, from WI2+/3 at the left end to what would be solid WI5 at the right end, where long free-hanging pillars are located. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) these were barely touching and dripping wet (a surprise considering the freezing cold temperatures this morning). We opted for the steepest line of good ice, a 70 ft WI4 pillar. The ice was pretty good, although a bit too fractured and pocketed for good screws. The pillar turned out to be quite sustained, particularly with frozen hands! Above that, we hiked up 300ft or so to the next flow, a WI3+ sheet finishing in a small pillar. Lucie led this nicely, although the ice was of poor quality in the mid-section. Two raps and some hiking got us down. By then the sun was heating our rope-up spot very nicely so we had a leisurely lunch and some GU (free publicity) for dessert and enjoy the magnificent weather and views (still nobody around although there was another vehicle at the trailhead earlier). We went back to Bozeman, and on to "The Garage" (no, not another mechanical problem, just the local student hang out for beer and cheap food) for that long awaited burger (as well as free beers, which they offer to anyone who comes in for dinner after a day of skiing and wearing ski clothes… ice climbing outfits are close enough).
Bozeman, MT and Hyalite Canyon ice
|Old hotel in Bozeman.|
|"Big Sky" ski resort; Lone Mountain.|
|Hiking deep into Middle Cottonwood Canyon, looking for ice.|
|Prepping a spot to leave the Jeep.|
|Eric on Palisades Falls (WI4, tricky ice).|
|Beautiful views (East Hyalite Canyon).|
|"Genesis I" (WI4-5) in Hyalite canyon.|
|Eric leading Genesis I (WI4 pillar).|
|Lucie at the base of Genesis II (WI3+).|
|Lucie leading Genesis II (WI3+).|
|Free publicity for the best climbing snack: chocolate GU!|
|Just for fun.|