Breaking news: Our Teton snowpack has achieved “grim” status – but luckily it’s remained damn cold. Instead of futzing around on skis, Brian Emory and I took off to Bozeman for some mid-week ice climbing. I managed to lead & flash two WI-4’s, my first at the grade, and Brian sent his long time project, The Thrill Is Gone (M4, WI-4). Read on for a few anecdotes and a conditions report in the Genesis and Unnamed Wall areas.
Genesis Area – Hangover, Genesis 2 & 1
Unfortunately, the Teton’s aren’t the only place in need of a winter re-boot. Snow levels in Southwest Montana are gravely low. The trade ice routes, basically everything in the Genesis Area, are hooked out and beaten to smithereens. I’m not sure of the natural mechanisms behind freezing water ice, but most high-traffic flows could use a new varnish. On our first day we took laps on the classics, climbing Hangover, Genesis 2 (G2) and closing the day on Genesis 1 (G1). Hangover was a quite literal staircase that proved a lesser challenge than typical Hyalite WI-3, but still phenomenal as a warmup. Better ice was found on G2, and after leading the right-most shoulder we re-directed a line on the intimidating center flow to practice steeper climbing on virgin ice. G2 provided my second lead at the WI-3+ grade and set me up nicely for a stretching lead on G1.
I had never climbed G1 or the WI-4 grade before, so staring up at the intimidating ultra-classic prow certainly commanded my attention. The ice looked well beaten, hinting better sticks and worse protection. In typical Brandon stubbornness I yearned for the proudest line, which rises 60-ish dead vertical feet from the belay. As a multi-year traveler of Hyalite Brian voiced his reservations on my decision to lead G1, citing my less than twenty days of experience, steepness of the route and probable difficulty of finding good screw placements, but offered an enthusiastic belay nonetheless. Despite many aerated and generally worthless screws I was able to clear the line in a patient and calm flow-state while having the “time of my life” – a “proud lead” in Brian’s words. Ample hooks and large mushrooms allowed better rests than expected on such vertical ice. As I lowered off and changed over to belay I smiled at my line of screws. My experience on G1 was exactly how I hoped my first WI-4 lead would go, no cortisol, no pump, just plain old fun.
Unnamed Wall – The Thrill, Fat One and Jeff’s Right
On day two we headed to the Unnamed Wall for Brian’s long time project, The Thrill is Gone. “The Thrill” is the most classic mixed climb in Hyalite, a test-piece at the M4, WI-4 grade. To a newcomer (me) the chimney and thin upper ice looked desperate, but Brian dispatched the line with ease. Two screws down low saw him to fifty feet of climbing in a stem chimney, protected well on traditional gear. No one particular section seemed to phase him, and his predicted crux, stepping onto the upper ice flow, was reported easier than expected. 3-4 more screws sewed the upper curtain on this ultra classic 100 foot route. I love the cascading positive energy of watching your partner send their project. I chose not to top-rope The Thrill in hopes of an on-sight attempt in the near future, instead channeling Brian’s momentum towards another WI-4 lead on a different Unnamed Wall classic.
The Fat One was supposed to be my warm-up, but quickly turned into the main event of the day. Instead of taking the easier lines on either side of the flow, I harnessed Brian’s energy and went for the steepest and least traveled line. Though probably only 30-35 feet, the center of The Fat One’s lower curtain is definitive WI-4 and still clean as a whistle. After two sketchy screws I began to feel the wrath of terminal pump in my forearms. The bomber hooks from G1 weren’t here to save the day. My picks started to deflect with fatigue, and my heart tingled with fear. Brian said I learned a valuable lesson familiar to ambitious ice climbers – how to problem solve when things turn dangerously sour. My first instinct was to punch it up the final ten feet like a rabid coyote, but Brian’s advice to “slow down” brought me back into the moment. The two screws between me and the ground weren’t worth two cents. I switched grips and stances incessantly until finding rest barely decent enough to sink a god-sent bomber screw, get two good sticks and yank the crux bulge. On the rolling ramps above I needed a five minute rest to de-pump the phantom lacrosse balls in my forearms. Thankfully, the latter half of The Fat One is a straightforward WI-2 romp. Crude lesson learned: ice grades are not like rock grades – all WI-4’s are not created equal.
After finding Magically Delicious (M4) void of ice due to a suspected fallen tree diverting the normal flow, we finished the day on Jeff’s Right which climbed true to grade at M3, WI3. This was my first “mixed” lead in Hyalite, though only a handful of rock moves, albeit unprotected, were needed to reach the ice. Jeff’s Right proved exactly what the doctor ordered, a challenging, long (30-35M) and engaging climb spiked with plenty of good rests. The direct crux finish was glassy and shattered easily, but ended as soon as it started.
After a full value eight pitch weekend, I am ecstatic to say my elbow tendonitis remained largely at bay. Panic-induced death grip lock offs on The Fat One got the beast murmuring for a second, but ultimately I returned home pain free and healthy. The newly bolted wrist hasn’t spoke up recently either. With little snow in the long term forecast I am beyond itching to return to Hyalite, perhaps more for the mixed climbing than anything else. The Thrill is calling my name, and if Magically Delicious decides to remain dry, I might be turning my attention to the Scottish Cliffs or Ketosis next. As my seventh and eighth days on ice of 2022, I feel like I’m finally starting to get a hang of this frozen water dance – and having quite a bit of fun with it as well.