Friday, January 4, 2013

Hyalite: My Post-Christmas Break



Hyalite is a special place. It feels like home away from home, even for a total outsider. A place with rich history, and variety of ice for all tastes. Positioned just outside of Bozeman and contains over 215 routes. Although popular for a reason, it is not hard to escape the crowds. Climbers can make it as alpine as it gets in this canyon- if they dare to. On my first trip to Hyalite (just under a year ago) I stepped out of my comfort zone and did some of my first leads on ice- it was my second season of climbing. This trip was no different, Hyalite taught me that alpine ice-cragging could be as satisfying as climbing a long route on a mountain. In addition, I took another step forward by onsighting a climb that seemed like an impossible LIFE goal, just a year ago!
Cleopatra's Needle (wi5)

Alpinist magazine # 36 has a beautiful article by Joe Josephson (whose guidebook “Winter Dance” is a great collection of data for Hyalite Canyon, and also for Cody, Wyoming). This article possessed me with a crazy idea- to climb Cleopatra’s Needle (a three pitch WI5). With only a few seasons on ice and even less experience on the ‘sharp end’ I knew it was not going to be easy. But I packed my bags and departed to Montana for several days of climbing during my post-Christmas vacation.
Our first victim- GII
Leading G2 (on the left side of the wall)

My partner and I drove through the night from Portland and were able to get on a few climbs in G1 area on day one. I led a steeper, left side of G2 while Anastasia got on Hang Over. After we got back to the hotel we were happy to finally get sleep.
Anastasia looks graceful on Hang Over, after a 13 hour drive

On our second day in the canyon we got on the super classic climb- The Dribbles (450 ft WI4). During our last year’s trip we bailed from this route due to hollow ice on pitch three. I took the first pitch, and Anastasia made quick work of the second. On the third pitch I took the steepest and most sustained possible line on the left side of the wall. It was VERY pumpy and I had a good challenge overcoming something difficult (wi4+ maybe?). Regular variation which is to the right of this line looked much easier than wi4. With enough traffic it will probably form steps later in the season and be easily accessible for Wi3 leaders. Anastasia lost a battle to an ice chunk that managed to cut her skin. However, she did not surrender her next lead on pitch four. Just before topping out we were rewarded with ten minutes of sun and view of Cleopatra’s Needle- which looked horrifying. I exclaimed “Look, Cleo's! It looks Great!” After which we descended to the base of The Dribbles to pick up our packs.  Since we had a bit of time left I led ‘Thin Chance’ (wi4) on our way out. It was definitely thin, but not wi5 which was the report from someone who did it a day prior.
The Dribbles- 450 ft WI4 
Crux pitch of the dribbles- I took the steepest line on the left (just right of the hole)

Looking at the ice above
self on the crux
Ice climbing is a bloody sport
Anastasia finishing the climb
Thin Chance

Doing a few steep leads in the last few days gave me just enough confidence to attempt Cleo’s on day three. We started our trek from the parking lot around 8am and managed to get to our destination just as it was bathing in the sun. The approach took us about an hour and a half. To my surprise, there were no lines at the base. Even a trail to the base of the climb was absent! After literary breaking a waist deep track I got on the first pitch. Taking the left variation was bold- just like the guide book advertises. Layers of snice and protection that I could not even fool myself with kept me on my toes. At least the climbing was not difficult and I reached the base of the ‘main event.’
Cleopatra's Needle from the approach
weapons of choice
Cleo's is the ice column on the left
Me leading Cleopatra's Needle

To our surprise the crux pillar for which the climb is named (Cleopatra’s Needle WI5), did not touch down all the way. It looked a bit thinner than in other photos I saw on the internet, but doable. I went up it’s back side on another detached pillar, placed a screw, and made a traverse to the pillar’s face. This traverse was the crux of the route- purely vertical, brittle wet icicles hanging off it in your face making it an overhanging delicate set of moves. As I shouldered one of my tools and committed to the traverse my feet blew, but I was able to regain my balance and sink the other tool. There was no adrenaline rush, there was no panic, I focused my attention on climbing, protecting, and doing things efficiently to save energy. In addition to the technical challenge, I was hosed with water from above. It was a full on fight from there to the top of the formation- but I managed to resist taking a whipper (which would probably break off the thin looking pillar that would lead to me decking and pillar killing everything in it’s path- at least that’s the scenario my imagination was playing!). I got to my belay stance with the biggest smile I obtained while ice climbing. Overcoming challenges that seemed impossible for mere mortals is the reason why I fell in love with climbing in the first place.
No I do not want to answer "What if it falls?!"
wi3ish final step to the belay
3rd pitch

3rd pitch 

Even though we were done with the technical crux, the last pitch presented us with another challenge- shitty ice covering the goods. Labor of clearing was no easy task, especially while you get blasted by the run off. After a delicate traverse left and a few more steps we were bathing in the sun. Both of our ropes were covered with ice, Anastasia had a deep cut next to her eye from another ice chunk, my fingers were freezing in my wet/frozen gloves, but as soon as we finished rappels to terra firma our smiles were not to be erased. Our reward came a bit later in form of burgers and beer.

View across (Dribbles and Silken falls are flows on the right side of the photo)
The Dribbles (wi4) is the flow on the left and Silken Falls (wi3) is the blue waterfall to the right.

All smiles on top

Another happy camper
In the parking lot after climbing Cleopatra's Needle!
ummmmm NO!
YUUUUMMM YEA!
We tried to come up with some good excuses for co-workers
Next day I wanted to take it easy and volunteered to be Anastasia’s belay slave for the day. She made a terrible choice of picking Mummy II area. After I saw the Scepter (30M WI 5), I had a flashback of Jack Tackle’s bad-ass photo in the Alpinist. “Do you mind if I try leading it?” I asked with a face-expression of an angel. For some reason Anastasia also got excited about the idea and we ended up climbing the Scepter! It did not look tough from the ground, but ended up being heady. The climb was not beaten out, and did not take screws well due to it’s chandeliery structure of the ice. I trusted only 1.5 screws I placed on the pillar. Fortunately these chandeliers created nice stances for feet, and climbing was not pumpy. That day I was happy to get a burrito instead of hospital food. 
Can you spot Cleopatra's Needle across the canyon
How about now?

Scepter (wi5) on the left and Mummy II (wi3+) on the right

Anastasia on Mummy II
Me leading Scepter (30M WI5)
Me on Scepter again. Photo by Nate Mullen. 

Next day was the drive back to Portland, but we managed to squeeze in another Hyalite must do- Thrill is Gone (M4 WI4). It was my first mixed climb, but I enjoyed every meter of it. The ice was absent from the middle part and it was the most enjoyable climbing of the route. Placing crampon points on small edges and making slow balanced moves was fun. Ability to use both hands and ice tools as needed was also a bliss. First you hook your tool into a laser thin crack, next you get a bomber hand jam between rock and ice. Alpinist wanna-be’s wet dream!
Thrill is Gone in nice mixed conditions

Starting up Thrill is Gone wi4 m4
Stream in Hyalite Canyon
After fish tacos treatment we hit the road for the dreaded drive. Some drives are long, but this one felt shorter. We spend it talking about other routes that MIGHT be possible for us on the next trip.
Cool looking mixed variation near Hang Over

View across the canyon from The Dribbles

Winter Dance

Responsible Family Men WI5-

Awesome fish tacos
Climbers on Scepter wi5 (on the left) and Mummy II wi3+ (on the right)  view from Unnamed Wall area

Bingo World WI6


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