Hyalite Canyon, Montana

Ice Climbing

November 29-December 2, 2002

4 days

Ben, Jens, Loren, Dave


Jens caught me a little off guard when he asked if I'd like to go to Montana the following weekend. I had climbed a couple pitches of ice with him the previous year but to be honest, I'm more comfortable skiing the stuff than climbing it. For better or worse, Troy and the Hummels had to work all but the weekend and the snowpack in the Cascades was less than inviting. My skiing options were limited. Ice climbing? "Sure, count me in."

We met at Loren's house in Issaquah not so bright that Friday morning. Jen's car had trouble starting and Dave's girlfriend dropped him off so they were a little behind. I had never met Loren or Dave but knew within the first few minutes that I was in good company. We made good time despite a full load and headwind. Reaching Missoula shortly after dark, we stopped for gas and dinner. A curious local asked what the skis were for and after hearing of our destination, explained that we wouldn't need them. Better safe than sorry.

We reached Bozeman around 10pm and spent the next few hours arranging our gear for an early start the next morning. I gave silent support to Jen's enthusiasm and we were on the road by 4:30am. Breakfast at Perkins and my blurry directions led us to the parking lot well before daylight. I had done some hiking and climbing in the Hyalite area while visiting relatives in Bozeman so my background was somewhat useful.

Despite a blind start, our first day was a success. Jens and I teamed up to climb 6 pitches ranging from solo WI2 to WI5 top-rope. We expected more people but saw no other climbers outside of our group.


Jens leading Genesis, WI3+, the first pitch of the trip.


Ben leading Greensleeves Left, WI2.

Photographer: Jens


Jens leading Greensleeves Right, WI3.


Jens at the base of Greensleeves Center, WI2+.


That night we turned our hotel into a hanger, had a good dinner and caught up on some sleep. We didn't bother changing the alarm clock figuring that having to pack in the morning would slow us down a bit. We found ourselves at Perkins around 5am and the parking lot around 7am. A group of two climbers pulled in just ahead of us but we beat them to the punch, with just enough light to make our way up the main trail for first dibs.

Our plan was to tag team a multipitch route called Dribbles. We stopped a few times to remind ourselves of the way and a well beaten path found us at it's base in just over an hour. The ice wasn't quite as fat as we had expected but it was certainly doable. Dave and I set off up the first pitch which involved two short but steep steps. I belayed Loren from a tree and he continued up the second pitch via a thin, wet, gusher. Jens neglected to bring a shell so he and Dave climbed a drier mixed route on climbers left. Upon reaching the base of the third and most difficult pitch, Loren and I were both having second thoughts. The ice looked soft and the protection looked sloppy. I had no desire to lead this pitch (ok maybe some) but what the heck, we're from Washington so it's not like we haven't seen this type of ice before. Loren, far and away more experienced than myself, decided to give it a go. Fortunately, the sticks were solid and he made quick work of it. There was another group behind us so I followed and left the pro. Jens made a pinkpoint lead and Dave cleaned it. The fourth and final pitch contained several short pillars. I led the most obvious up the center while Jens led a more challenging sickle on the right. The views from the top were admirable although the hike down looked to be anything but so we decided to rappel. The group behind us was faltering with the crux pitch so they allowed us to pass while swapping leads. Our final rappel sent us over a spectacular cave that reminded me of my days on the rock.


Jens leading a more difficult line up the fourth pitch of Dribbles.


Dave rappeling near the base of Dribbles.


We still had several hours of daylight left so we gathered our gear and headed around the corner to a climb that we spotted from the top of Dribbles. The base was a slushy WI2 that Jens and I led. We belayed from a gully while enjoying the last bits of sun. It was warm but by now means hot. Oddly enough, Loren followed the first pitch shirtless. He showed some more skin while leading the second pitch but nearly froze his nipples off at the belay. The rappel took some time because the few slings that we found were worn along with some of the trees. We figured this route was too easy for the sponsored climbers to leave behind gear. We reached the base with just enough light to pack and be on our way. It was dark by the time we got back to the car and once again, we found ourselves alone.

The routine that night was much the same as the previous. Dave wasn't sure that he would climb the final day, fearing that he needed to study. I knew Jens and Loren would most likely climb together so I figured I would either ski Mt Blackmore or scout some distant ice on my own. Dave made it an easy decision, unable to resist another day of ice, we agreed to make a voyage to Twin Falls.

Jens and Loren opted for some closer climbs at an area called the Mummies. Dave and I set off for Twin Falls, reaching its base in a mere hour and a half, despite getting lost near the creek. Twin Falls Right was gigantic. I jumped on the opportunity to lead it but found myself a little over my head. It wouldn't have been so bad had I remembered to take the caps off my screws and found a better placement for the second of three screws that I placed on the 60m pitch. Fortunately, there was a V-thread near the middle and it eased off after that. Dave followed calling it WI4 so my pain wasn't in vain. Pain you ask? Although I used Loren's spare bent shafts that day, the previous two days of straight shafting had left my knuckles raw. Just the thought of swinging an axe made me cringe.


Dave nearing the base of Twin Falls.


Looking down Twin Falls Right, WI4.


Dave rappeling Twin Falls Right, WI4.


Our speedy approach and ascent of Twin Falls Right left us with plenty of time for Twin Falls Left. We radioed Loren from across the valley and he informed us that Jens had just led a WI5. This stoked Dave for the lead or maybe it was my no-hands face plant above a 50-foot cliff. Nevertheless, Dave found a pleasant line up the middle and I followed as best as my knuckles would allow.


Dave leading Twin Falls Left, WI3.


Dave and I cut our time in half on the descent, beating Jens and Loren to the car by a few minutes. We passed two climbers, two hikers and two dogs on the way down, helping remind me that we weren't alone in this foreign land. It was quite a treat to miss the crowds and certainly not what we had expected.


Dave, Loren and Jens packing up at the parking lot.


The tales commenced as we packed for the drive home. The day was cut short but it provided a fitting end to a successful trip. I drove to Kellogg where we had dinner. Jens took us to Ellensburg and Dave finished it off. We reached our starting point around midnight. I still had a 2-hour drive to Bellingham but it was of little concern after making some new friends and discovering a new hobby. Thanks to Jens for the invitation and thanks to all of you for making it happen. Sorry the trip report took so long. It's taken over a month to get the photos back and my knuckles are just now healing.


What, you want more?

Loren's account

Dave's account