20141213: In Search of Ice in Bozeman

Because I didn’t get my act together quickly enough, I missed out on getting a spot in the climbing clinics that were running in conjunction with the UIAA World Cup & Bozeman Ice Festival. But this turned out to be one of those unfortunately-fortunately stories; Brian advised me to contact Montana Alpine Guides (MAG) and I signed up for a one-day outing with MAG instead of through the festival. Brian and Deb would be doing a two-day clinic with the festival and we would meet up after our respective climbs at the end of the day.


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s008After a pick up on the outskirts of Bozeman, Montana, I found myself in a utilitarian Toyota as clearly accustomed to bouncing up the icy roads of Gallatin National Forest as its driver. MAG owner Sam Magro turned around from the driver’s seat and started the day with “How about Killer Pillar?” Not to judge a book by its cover but, by its name alone, it did not sound promising to me.

Dave, the other MAG guest joining in on the day (also due to overflow from the festival clinics), is a tremendously experienced climber and mountaineer but he magnanimously suggested/agreed to a Plan B. Plan B – now Plan A – was called Champagne something-or-other. Sam had to say it a few times for it to register. Champagne Sherbert. Which evokes something sparkly and Mariah Carey-ish. Versus Killer Pillar, which brings to mind military hardware.

Snowline on the right
Snowline on the right
Snowline and Moonlight
Snowline and Moonlight
Rightmost line on Wedge Smear
Rightmost line on Wedge Smear
Wedge Smear
Wedge Smear

After Sam’s remarkable and practiced maneuvering of the dutiful Toyota we hopped out and started the hike in. I already felt fatigued for no apparent reason. Perhaps the wear of travel of the 8-hr drive from Calgary to Bozeman or trying to balance work with personal commitments. Perhaps my lethargic brain had been distributing its lassitude like an IV drip through my entire body infecting my heart all the way down to the tips of my fingers and toes.

ven the prospect of climbing in Gallatin, which is part of Greater Yellowstone (the legendary Yellowstone!), couldn’t rouse me or override the bodily ache. My breathing during the hike was uncomfortably labored. My balance was off. My mind was still anxious about difficulties encountered on Wedge Smear (WI3+) a couple weeks ago, even though Brian and I did Snowline (WI4) just fine the day after.

I’m usually able to reach into the toolbox of mental strategy stuff. Today I just wasn’t feeling the game. I felt that today I would either reacquaint myself with the zeal or ardor or flow (or whatever you want to call it) or develop a sort of irreparable abhorrence to ice climbing. If I had a coach this is where (s)he would either prove himself connected to his charge and attuned to the nuances of performance psychology, or blame the athlete and prove himself a vapid and uninspiring spouter of sports clichés. But I digress.


s025s027We arrived at Sherbert aka Mariah Carey. It was dripping wet on one side, luscious and rather aesthetic due to the re-directed curve of the falls. It’s always a bit of fun to take a shower… If there is room to move out of the way once you’ve had enough of it. We watched a group of Black Diamond reps/employees climb on a “cowtail” configuration – hm, learn something new every day – and then we were up. It was straightforward with some variety and offered, from the top, a partial view of Killer Pillar (WI5) and beyond.

Sports psychologists are always saying that confidence takes a long time to establish but only a moment to strip away. Thanks to Sherbert some resilience was building like elastic gluten toughening the kneaded dough of thoughts in my head. I felt a little better and looked forward to doing the Pillar next.  I guess I also have a fear of missed opportunity.

You went all the way to Bozeman, had a chance to try it, with a guide, on top rope, and didn’t?


s059s077The hike down, across and up revealed a thick cable of free-standing ice that didn’t look too bad overall; the start looked kind of pumpy but manageable. But looks can be deceiving… and then Sam did some reach-around thing with his tool to get up the base, which catalyzed a fresh wave of anxiety in me. Welcome back, self doubt!

Sam set up a top rope. Dave climbed next, comfortably, also doing that reach-around thing, I noted. Meanwhile a short bout of small sleety stuff came down and the fog rolled in, the start of the winter storm that had been forecast.




10364034_10152679321709652_5009286244825600007_nMy turn; I walked up to the base. My stomach clenched, my feet and hands had chilled, the dripping from up high was a rapid plop plop plopping on my helmet and shoulders, I looked up the looming ice to find a placement… There is no feeling in the world like staring straight up a frozen waterfall knowing you’re about to climb it. And then, just the focus of axes and feet.

So, yep, I did it (see proof in the MAG photo). Truthfully I’m not sure the ice was in WI5 shape. There were lots of places to rest but it was still a workout nonetheless. Dave expressed satisfaction about the day and Sam offered me a bit of rah-rah in thoughtful recognition. So I couldn’t help smiling and feeling a bit lighter.


The only time I watch TV (Netflix doesn’t count!) is at the gym or in hotels. Saturday night at Motel 6, Deb and Brian chose “Santa Sent Me to the ER” and some reality show about soccer moms hiring undercover cops posing as hit men. So that’s what I had playing through my subconscious right before bed.

s337When Deb and Brian left the next morning for their second day of climbing, I watched a bit of some show on penguin prosthetics made by Teva and the end of the Miss World 2014 pageant (tagline “Beauty with a Purpose”). Finalists: England, USA, Australia, Hungary, South Africa. Once I found a news channel that showed the local time, which is why I turned on the TV in the first place, and was satisfied that I had plenty of time before being kicked out by Motel 6 cleaning staff, I spent the rest of the snowy early morning reading. Whatever You do Don’t Run: True Tales of a Real Life Botswana Safari Guide by Peter Allison is rife with Australian humor despite its unchallenging title.

The venue of the ice festival and World Cup competition is the Emerson Center for Arts and Culture and I spent a nice morning and early afternoon walking to the Center via the downtown cafes and décor, antiques, sports and jewelry stores and galleries housing contemporary stuff and historic collections that exhibit Native American beaded and corn husk objects and American stuff such as war documents, sketches, paintings, and sculpture mostly from the 19th century. Also saw one mask I swear is West Coast. But most surprising was an Ansel Adams print of a wet forest floor (40,000USD), arresting in its simplicity of subject, that reminded me again how little skill & talent I have with a camera.

After a leisurely 5km I arrived at the Emerson, reminiscent of my Edwardian-era high school in its architecture of brick and limestone arches, which is about right since the Center was built at around the same time and was also originally a school (thanks Wikipedia). I strolled around and visited a couple of studios hidden upstairs, each of which housed a resident artist and elderly free-range dog harboring an unconcerned attitude. Bozeman is really fortunate to have this Center.

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I wandered outside to the climbing area, and soon an Icefest volunteer asked if I wanted to try the walls. At first I said no… But changed my mind and did the speed wall just to gain the literally heightened perspective. I did it far more tentatively and carefully than I needed to.

Friday night we had watched the top athletes in the world do it in under 6 seconds. It probably took me 3 minutes. I already know how sucky I am at drytooling so the overhanging lead walls were a definite no-go.

Instead I then plonked myself and my wet socks down in a cushy chair in the foyer of the Center where I met up with Brian and Deb again. We ate delicious fast and cheap rice noodle bowls with coconut curry to hold us for the long drive home. On the way down to Bozeman we’d driven the winding scenic route that hugs Glacier National Park; on the way back we were eager to get home – in any case I certainly was – and we headed directly up the I-15.

New places and new spaces, a good time.

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