December 21, 2012

Last week I got home from my first-ever trip to Bozeman, MT for the Bozeman Ice Fest.


I kind of love Montana, which doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. Why?

1) It actually gets cold in Montana. Cold = snow & ice, two of my most favorite things.
2) Elk is always on the menu in Montana.
3) It is fully acceptable to wear ice climbing clothes that you’ve had on for four days into a dining establishment and no-one looks at you twice.
4) Ditto for the hat hair. It’s just normal in Montana.
5) You can go into the forest and (with a permit) cut down your own Christmas tree. I remember doing that up in northern Minnesota as a little kid. After so many years in the south I kind of forget they don’t all just show up in stacks outside of Food Lions everywhere.
6) There are stuffed animals everywhere. The real kind. Including a giant grizzly in the lobby of my hotel that changed outfits almost every day (for real).
7) Wood paneling. You better BELIEVE I am into the cabin look!

There are many more reasons to love Montana – including the scrambled eggs you can get at the Western Heritage Cafe in downtown Bozeman, but I’ll just move on to the super fun parts – the ice climbing.

How pretty is Montana? And you can’t even see the mountains behind all those trees! Deb & I at the end of a long snow day in Hyalite. Photo by Margaret Gorman.

At the beginning of October, let’s say Oct. 1, I started receiving messages from my fellow Chicks alumnae inquiring about whether I planned to go to the Bozeman Ice Fest. I have wanted to go for the past few years because it is a great chance to get a huge jump start on the ice season, but have never coordinated early enough to make it happen. The ice fest is very popular – some of the clinics literally sell out on the first day they open up for registration. Part of that is because they are taught by WORLD CLASS CLIMBERS. They are some of the most famous climbers ever. Conrad Anker. Carlos Buhler. Will Gadd. Kitty Calhoun. Sarah Hueniken. Kris Erickson. The list goes on and on…it really is mind boggling the access you get as a participant to these world-class athletes!

On Friday I took a ‘new to leading’ clinic and we went over to climb the Scepter & the Mummy, which were awesome once we actually found them. There was not a lot of snow on the ground and our guides were not locals so we got a bit off trail and went up and down a hill a couple of times (over and under logs) until we finally came to the crag.

The Scepter was officially my first ice climb of the season. It pretty much doesn’t get any better than that. It was wildly fun and I had the amazing Will Mayo belaying me and talking me through some of the trickier sections. It reminded me a lot of Wicked Wanda up in the Ghost (Canada) because of the many different features and formations there were to play with. The rest of the day was spent running laps on slightly easier ice, practicing placing screws and working on technical things (like climbing with no tools). Again I was climbing with folks like Carlos Buhler on belay duty (are you $h*tting me?!?!). The walk back down to the parking lot was memorable as it was on frozen non-snow-covered ground which sucked a$$. I don’t know how many time I rolled my left ankle. Thank goodness it is bound with tendons of steel!

Thursday night we went to the Emerson Center to watch Sarah Hueniken give a presentation about mentorship. It was one of the most well thought-out and reflective presentations I have seen in a long time, maybe ever! It was really lovely to see how Sarah connected the dots of her own life with those of her mentors, and I think it was especially inspiring to those of us who look to HER as a mentor! It was also extra awesome because it showed some of the BADASS stuff Sarah has done that she would probably otherwise never talk about. And of course I was psyched that I was in two photos in the presentation! One Sarah shot of me leading the first pitch of “Yellow Bird” in the Ghost last winter and another of she, Dara and I as we left the Valley of the Birds last winter on a cold but super-fun day!

Me, Dara & Sarah deep in the Valley of the Birds in the Ghost having FUN (of course!).

Friday was GIRLS DAY ONLY in Hyalite (literally, it is girls’ day – the whole day is devoted to women’s climbing clinics. Pretty cool (if you’re a girl)). I was signed up for a day in Sarah Hueniken’s clinic with a bunch of other Chicks alumnae. It was a super fun day at G1 and even though I did not display my best climbing skills out of the gate, I did learn and work very hard on a new technique (that totally paid off in spades over the next few days) so I am eternally grateful for those precious few hours climbing under Sarah’s supervision. There was also a mixed climb on the wall that was just my style – mostly ice until some rock at the very top which was really straightforward, not a crazy M6 (which to me is crazy!) so I had a lot of fun on that – it was actually my favorite climb of the day!

Saturday was my day to ‘leave the nest’ and I knew the instructor I had originally signed up to take the course with had to leave because of a family emergency. So when I showed up on Saturday morning I was handed over to “Chris in the blue puffy.” Chris was a super nice guy who was a Montana local. I was relieved to hear this because my friend Amy had done the same clinic the day before, but their group had walked for basically 7 hours without finding the ice climbs they were looking for and I was not keen to get in on that. It was also puking snow, the wind was whipping, visibility was low and it was COLD, so it was just nice to know that Chris knew Hyalite like the back of his hand. Deb was the only other person in the clinic so we got tons of one-on-one attention.

One thing I wanted to really work on was traversing steep terrain. I will readily admit that I am not the most awesome at walking up, down or along steep terrain with a heavy pack on. That’s just a fact. It’s largely due to the reality that I live in the flat-lands and so I rarely actually ever do traverse steep terrain with a heavy pack on. Duh. If I am spending several days in the mountains, I get better and better each day. It is just the way I am. So Chris had us traverse some kind of – well let’s call a spade a spade – freaky terrain. He “spotted” us in a few different places as we made our way over to The Hangover. Poor Deb had just cleared a freaky section and was traversing over to a tree when she went tumbling down a steep and powdery slope. She looked like a snowman after that (and of course had to climb back up – I was glad it wasn’t me!).

As we approached our climb for the day, “The Hangover,” I started asking Chris more questions about himself. Which is when I realized that his name wasn’t Chris, but Kris as in Kris freaking Erickson. Sheesh! Maybe I should pay attention better now that I know that 😉 So over at “The Hangover” the winds are whipping, the snow is blowing and it is just full-on A$$ cold. We decide to multi-pitch it to work on systems. Kris leads with the intent for us to climb together on separate ropes. As we start to do that I feel way too uncomfortably close to Deb and ask him to bring us up separately, which he does. It is a really nice moderate climb, one that I think I could lead. Although on the top of the second pitch you are just full on swinging into frozen moss after getting through a super thin section where you can hear the water rushing just underneath the surface. The ice was NOT fat at all. All in all, it was a super fun and COLD day, but there was plenty of Jim Beam to be had – a bottle was out right in front of my pack when we got down from “The Hangover!” Needless to say, I was very excited to get back to the car to get out of that wind.

Does this look cold? Because it was. Two guys from Rochester took this photo of me climbing up P1 of the Hangover while getting blasted. I’m up there, the dark blob in the white snow shower. Good times!

Saturday night was the Ice Breaker competition. I know several of the BADASS women that were competing in this so we were lucky to get into some dry clothes and make it just in time for the comp to start. It was really inspiring to see how amazing and strong these women are – literally the best climbers in the world! It was also cold. Very cold. I had been cold all day. And I was hungry. I had been SO cold all day that I had not hardly eaten anything. Why? Because it was too much effort to get it out of my pack. That’s what happens to me when I am cold. We had no time before the comp began to grab food so I hoped there would be an acceptable something for me to eat there. I found a tent with people grilling hamburgers and hotdogs. I made a deal with the guy to buy three hamburgers for $10. No cheese, no bun. Just three patties. They didn’t have any forks. And yes, they thought I was a weirdo. But, I thought it wasn’t too bad, actually. Maybe because I was desperate for some protein. Or that it was actually real Montana beef!

Sunday was CHICKS DAY! Just a group of gals (& Kevin!) out to climb together. Check out this fun video Kate made, which was mostly filmed/shot on that day:

As you can see, it was “minus bajillion” but luckily we were on the right side of the canyon to get the morning sun. It felt like HEAVEN when that sun came out. Everyone that came by was jealous of our prime “beach-like” location. As the afternoon came in the sun went to the other side of the canyon and the wind picked up, blasting us with spin drift. It was time to head back to the car. BUT not before a stop at the igloo! We had seen the igloo on our way to the climb in the morning, but it was WAY TOO COLD to stop then to take pictures.

All in all I had a fantastic time. I was supposed to be conducting “research” for the boy on the town of Bozeman since it is on our list of potential retirement locales, but honestly, I hardly ever saw the city in the daylight. It was dark when we left every morning, and dark when we got back in. So a bit of a fail on that. Ooops. But, I DO think he would really like it there actually – it was pretty cool looking in the dark, and the people out west are a bit more our speed anyways (as is the food) because one thing I can say with confidence is that the blue-hair specials (i.e. dinner at 5 p.m.) are pretty awesome at the Montana Ale House!

I am looking forward to getting back on the ice in just a few weeks with many of these super-fun gals again. I can’t think of when I have laughed so hard for so many days (or been such a WINNER – what’s up room 201!!!). I think if you can have fun even when it is “minus bajillion” then you know you are with the right people! Looking forward to Ouray! 🙂


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