2/21/2017

High on Hyalite: Ice Climbing with the Sierra Club Military Outdoors

2016 Sierra Club Military Outdoors Ice climbing group. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com  
I was surrounded by silence.  A thousand feet above the canyon floor the environment was so frozen in white that time seemed transfixed. Snow slept heavily on the mountains. Pale clouds hung low, stretched out across the peaks like slowly pulled wool. Together the snow and the clouds seemed to absorb any sound. I felt as if I’d forgotten how to hear, what day it was, or anything other than the wall of snow and ice that I had dug my crampons into. I was high up in Hyalite.

Lindsey Robinson on the Mummy II WI3. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
Gregory Schillinger on Champaign Sherbert WI4. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
The silence was broken by the faint clinking of ice tools as Devin worked his way up the cliff and joined me at the anchor. “My forearms are burning,” he remarked and I smiled in agreement. We still had a few more pitches before finishing the route. Devin and I were climbing Land of the Lost, WI4, which is a beautiful long and winding ice route in Hyalite Canyon. Each pitch gave us a different perspective of the canyon and frozen waterfalls first climbed decades ago by men like Alex Lowe and Conrad Anker. Sometimes we could see Winter Dance, an intimidating icicle hanging like fangs above our own route; sometimes we caught glimpses of Twin Falls and the towering Cleopatra’s Needle across and up canyon from us; we could also look down at Unnamed Wall and the Fat One where we’d climbed both rock and ice a few days earlier.  

Hyalite has arguably the highest accessible concentration of natural water ice formations in the US. It looks like a frozen rainforest. The rock walls behind the snow and ice are mostly basaltic andesite, formed by an ancient lava flow. Mounds of conglomerate rock are found in higher layers, deposited by a mud flow from volcanic activity in Yellowstone millions of years ago. More than one glacier has carved Hyalite into a wide U shape and dragged rock debris far down the canyon.

Gregory Schillinger and Isaac Teaford on Champaign Sherbert WI4. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
Devin and I were part of a Sierra Club Military Outdoors annual trip to ice climb in Hyalite Canyon with the Montana Alpine Guides. Everyone in our group had some background in climbing or mountaineering, but the chief common element among us was that we had each served in the military. Several men came from Army and Navy backgrounds; Devin had served in the Marines and I was in the Air Force. Most of us had not been with a group of veterans since leaving the military.

Gregory Schillinger climbing at the Unnamed Wall. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
Kyle Burton climbing Genesis I WI3+. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
The group at the Unnamed Wall. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
For five nights, we all camped in Hyalite sharing hot meals and coffee and resisting the cold fingers of winter. Around the campfire we laughed with familiarity at each other’s stories of military life.

Window Rock Cabin, Hyalite Canyon, Custer Gallatin National Forest, Montana. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
BBQ. Window Rock Cabin, Hyalite Canyon, Custer Gallatin National Forest, Montana. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
BBQ. Window Rock Cabin, Hyalite Canyon, Custer Gallatin National Forest, Montana. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
BBQ. Window Rock Cabin, Hyalite Canyon, Custer Gallatin National Forest, Montana. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
After Action Review. Window Rock Cabin, Hyalite Canyon, Custer Gallatin National Forest, Montana. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
During the day, we pushed each other to climb better, longer, and harder. I could tell there was instant trust and camaraderie in ice climbing with people who have been through deployments and who know the ups and downs of serving in the armed forces.
  
Approaching the climbs. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
Climbing The Fat One WI3. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
Heading back to the cabin for the night. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
The day Devin and I climbed Land of the Lost, our guide Adam remarked on the fortitude of the military teams he’d guided in the mountains. I can see how dealing with tough and miserable military deployments can help veterans adapt quickly to demanding situations in the wild. However, in war there is a human enemy. On the mountain, there are challenges and hazards to overcome, there is a very real risk of death or injury, but there is no true enemy. I gathered that Adam had likely lost as many friends on treacherous expeditions in the Himalayas as I had lost in Operation Enduring Freedom

Adam Knoff teaching lead technique on the Mummy II WI3. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
Adam Knoff of Montana Alpine Guides Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
Harsh and painful experiences can make us feel isolated, but being together with women and men who have gone through the same difficult times can help restore a broken spirit. Spending time in the mountains, in wild places, is just as important for guides like Adam as it is for veterans.

Issac Teaford on Champaign Sherbert WI4. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
Isaac Teaford – U.S. Navy Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
Being on a wall of brittle ice forces you to exist only in the present. The mind is focused on the spikes of the crampons and the tips of the ice tools, the pressure of the body on the ice--nothing else. The stress and confusion of careers, relationships, money, past mistakes, and future plans—everything is cleared away so that the mind and body can feel the ice and maintain vertical progression up the waterfall.
Adam said on our descent, “Sometimes you have to stop pursuing happiness, and just be happy.” In the quiet pauses between our crunching footsteps in the snow, I said to myself, “I am.” 

Lindsey Robinson – U.S. Air Force

Lindsey Robinson – U.S. Air Force Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com


Robert Vessels – U.S. Army, Sierra Club Military Outdoors Program Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com


Gregory Schillinger – U.S. Marine Corps Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com


Kyle Burton – U.S. Army Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com


Devin Duval - U.S. Marine Corps Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com

Steve Seager – U.S. Army Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com


Dan Shoemaker – U.S. Army, Sierra Club Military Outdoors Program Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com


Sam Magro – Montana Alpine Guides Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com


 
Nathan Smith – U.S. Army, Liberty Mountain employee Photo ©Jake Hirschi

The goal of Sierra Club Military Outdoors is to ensure that service members, veterans, and their families have the skills, exposure, knowledge, and confidence to access the great outdoors. Time spent in nature not only promotes mental health, emotional resiliency, and leadership development prior to deployment, it provides invaluable know-how to help returning vets enjoy and engage with nature upon returning from deployments. Many veterans experience difficulty adjusting to civilian life after leaving the service. Time spent outdoors eases the transition and improves both mental health and social skills. Providing service members, veterans, and their families with quality outdoor experiences will help foster the development of a new generation of Sierra Club leaders and supporters from within the military and veteran community, including family members who will work to actively achieve the Sierra Club's mission and become outdoor leaders in their communities.

In March of 2016, Liberty Mountain was proud to support the Sierra Club Military Outdoors Program on it’s ice climbing trip to Hyalite Canyon above Bozeman, Montana. We believe in the power of the outdoors and it’s restorative nature. To find out more about the Sierra Club Military Outdoors, go to: sierraclub.org/outings/military

"I was not sure what to expect going out on this ice climbing trip being a more mature veteran, retired in 2000, but it was just plain awesome! The bond among the veterans the Montana scenery and the professionalism of the guides made this an experience that I will never forget. If I had trepidations at the start of the trip they soon were erased with feelings of excitement and challenge. I was proud to be chosen for this experience, proud to be a part of this group and by the last day wished it could last a little longer." 

-Steve Seager – U.S. Army

Steve Seager on The Fat One WI3. Unnamed Wall, Hyalite Canyon, Montana. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
“The Hyalite Canyon trip was my first exposure to ice and mixed climbing, but certainly reinforced my love for the outdoors and passion for climbing in general. Being with fellow veterans and fantastic guides made for an awesome experience. Climbing in Hyalite had the affect I always seek in the outdoors; where all the noise and worry of life is cancelled out by being in the moment and surrounded by a beautiful landscape.” 

-Devin Duval – U.S. Marine Corps

Devin Duval on The Fat One WI3. Unnamed Wall, Hyalite Canyon, Montana. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
“Spending time in the mountains, in wild places, is just as important for guides like Adam as it is for veterans. Being on a wall of brittle ice forces you to exist only in the present. The mind is focused on the spikes of the crampons and the tips of the ice tools, the pressure of the body on the ice--nothing else. The stress and confusion of careers, relationships, money, past mistakes, and future plans—everything is cleared away so that the mind and body can feel the ice and maintain vertical progression up the waterfall.” 

-Lindsey Robinson – U.S. Air Force

Lindsey Robinson on a pillar at the back of the Bingo Cave. Unnamed Wall, Hyalite Canyon, Montana. Photo ©Nathan Smith – Pullphotography.com
"The mountains and climbing are an important part of my life. The beauty and solitude I find there is invaluable to keep my life in balance. The friendships I’ve found in climbing are the closest thing I’ve found to the comradery and teamwork I experienced in the military. Joining this great group of veterans in the backcountry was an amazing experience I hope to repeat at some point."  

-Nathan Smith – U.S. Army, Liberty Mountain Employee

Nathan Smith on the Elevator Shaft WI4-. Unnamed Wall. Hyalite Canyon, Montana. Photo ©Cheri Smith – Pullphotography.com


Article and photos by Nathan Smith @pullphoto Pullphotography.com
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1/03/2017

Bozeman Ice Fest Recap


This year the Bozeman Ice Fest was held from November 8-11. The festival celebrated its 20th anniversary and was essentially a four day party. Bozeman is located at the mouth of the world famous Hyalite canyon and offers fairly easy access to spectacular ice climbs. Hundreds of festival attendees were able to get out and climb some ice, test new gear, make new friends, and enjoy the adventure film series shown in the evenings.

Kyle Rott on "The Good Lookin' One"
The Liberty Mountain / Grivel team was lucky enough to get into town early and enjoy some ice before the crowds arrived. Tuesday we braved the cold morning weather and headed up to the Unnamed Wall for some laps on The Good Looking' One, The Thrill is Gone and a few other classic routes. 


Not only does it provide phenomenal ice, but the canyon isn't half bad looking either. Donations form the climbing community and from the festival itself play a big role in plowing the canyon road to provide access for climbers, skiers, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.


Here's Liberty Mountain Sales Rep Thad VanDenBerghe gearing up for a climb during clinics on the Genesis Wall. The lineup of Outdoor Designs gloves did a great job keeping our hands warm and dry during multiple back-to-back days on the ice. The Denali gloves that he's sporting here are great on belays and are bomber waterproof.


Probably the best gear decision we made was to bring Valandre G2's as our belay jackets. These expedition weight down jackets are said to be one of the best and warmest options out there, and we are all definitely sold. The 850+ count goose down blocked out wind in negative temperatures and kept us toasty all week long. Not only did they serve our team well, but many others that we climbed with ended up in our jackets for belays too because theirs simply didn't compare.

One of the coolest parts of attending festivals and demoing out gear is getting feedback on what climbers like about our products and what they think could be improved. 



An Ice Fest attendee demos the brand new Grivel Salamander 2.0 helmet. 

The new lineup of Grivel helmets recently arrived in the US and festival participants were some of the first to test them out. Above is Liberty Mountain Director of Sales Peter McConkie in the ultralight Stealth helmet. The Stealth weighs in at an unreal 6.7 ounces and comfortably houses both a beanie and flowing locks of hair in a one size fits all package.


Even a local news broadcaster was able to get out on a pair of Grivel tools and crampons.


This is what Ice Fest headquarters back at the Emerson Center for Arts and Culture looked like. Festivals are one of the best opportunities to test out new gear before buying it. Each night festival participants had the chance to demo boots, ice tools, crampons, helmets, and even outerwear for their clinics the following day. Loads of companies bring some of their best products and let attendees take them for a ride. It's a chance to test out a bunch of different gear; things that you might someday purchase, and gear that you might only own in your dreams.


The Grivel team was making it happen at the demo table. Festival participants were able to test out loads of Grivel products including Tech Machines, Tech Machine Carbons, North Machines, Salamander 2.0 helmets, and both G-20 and G-22 crampons.

Edelweiss was one of the beer sponsors and helped everyone enjoy drinks from Bridger Brewing.

Athlete Clinics

A few sponsored athletes were sharing their climbing knowledge during clinics at the festival. 


Here's Edelweiss USA athlete Scott Bennett leading a Fast and Light Clinic up the "Genesis Wall"


Grivel Athlete Shingo Okhawa taught an Intro to Leading Ice clinic and talked about the basics of swinging ice tools, proper movement, and placing ice screws. Check out some highlights of his clinic in the video above.


Aaron Mulkey's Mixed Climbing Clinic on "The Thrill is Gone"


Grivel and Beal athlete Aaron Mulkey shared his expertise on mixed climbing during his clinic on the Unnamed Wall. He also showed how he captures rad drone shots like this one of the class on the same climb pictured above.

A big thanks to all the volunteers and other sponsors who help make the festival happen each year. See you next year at the 21st Bozeman Ice Fest!


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11/16/2016

Ice Climbing in the Beartooths: November 2016

Alan Rousseau at the belay of Pitch 5 of Ice Dragons.
The Fall of 2016 will go in the books as one of the warmest and driest on record for the intermountain west.  Which for some user groups has been preferable:  Mountain bikers, rock climbers, and trail runners have been shocked about the ability to still get up high and find dry conditions into mid-November.  It has, however, left the ice climbing community pouring over photos, forums, and searching long range forecasts for somewhere within a days drive that has below freezing temps.  Around the Salt Lake area one climber, Nathan Smith, is more vigilant than the rest.  When I got a message from Nathan suggesting heading to the Beartooth’s (a remote range in Montana) to climb an ice line, of course I was interested. 
East Rosebud Lake. The trail starts on the left-hand side of the photo and winds it’s way up to the ice line on the far left.

The Beartooth range is one that is generally kept quiet, people seem to keep information close to the chest.  I had heard of it as this kind of mystical place, reserved for the hard, with flurries of development of long routes in rugged terrain.  Which of course added to the appeal, but makes finding information regarding our planned route, Ice Dragons, not all that easy.  Fortunately, Nathan spoke to someone that had recently climbed the route.  However, we still had a wide range of ambiguity regarding technical difficulty.  One guidebook suggested a grade of M6 WI4, while one trip report suggested WI3, lengths of the climb also varied from 1,000’ to 1,500’.  Either way we were interested in climbing something frozen so we packed up the car and started the nine-hour drive to the East Rosebud Trailhead.  Arriving with a couple hours of light we caught a view of Ice Dragons:  A stunning ribbon of ice splitting the large north face, which forms the shoulder of Mount Inabit.  Our binoculars confirmed that the line was very much in.  


Alan in the “five-mile basin” nearing the cirque holding Ice Dragons.

We began to read through approach information, and found two viable options.  The first was less distance overall, but more mileage through unstable scree and talus fields.  We opted for a second option that had a bit more mileage but less off-trail time.  After plotting some waypoints into our maps we set off into grizzly country at 4 am, hoping our big four legged friends were deep in a winter slumber already.  The first six miles of trail flew by in under two hours.  We found ourselves under a large rock face known as “the Bears Face” from here we located a deep slot, filled with loose rock where we would gain 1300’ of elevation.  It was classic one-step-forward-two-steps-back terrain, and was pretty time consuming.  Eventually we popped out on the pleasant treed shoulder of Inabit and then dropped down and contoured into the talus filled “five-mile basin” where Ice Dragons can be found.
Navigating the talus leading up to Ice Dragons, the largest ice flow in the center of the photo.

We arrived at the foot of the route in five hours.  We were told that the ice would get fatter and fatter with an Indian summer, but were still surprised at how much ice was there compared to conditions the first ascent party found.  Instead of looking at a pitch of primarily rock, we were looking at a pitch of WI3 with maybe a move or two on the rock.  
Alan Rousseau on the first pitch of Ice Dragons.

The climb for us was mostly rambling WI3 and all pitches were around 60 meters in length.  The ice was in great condition, not quite plastic but the majority was one hit sticks.  The position and nature of the climb, up the obvious weakness in the wall, gave it a distinctly alpine feel.  After 1,300’ of climbing we hit the plateau of Mount Inabit.  We rappelled back down the route building two rock anchors and the rest were v-threads. 
Alan Rousseau on the third pitch of Ice Dragons.

Looking back just a few miles to summer conditions lower on the trail.
Nathan Smith on the fourth pitch of Ice Dragons

Alan at the top of the ice climbing. 300’ of snow and mixed lead to the plateau from here.

Alan punching his way up.

For the descent we decided to take the more direct option that involved more off trail time.  It also involved some undesirable scree fields but was not nearly as steep as the notch we climbed through that morning.  The descent took around 3 hours from “five mile basin” to the car.  We arrived at the car at 5:30 pm and had to turn on headlamps as we sorted through gear.  Just as soon as we arrived we loaded up the car and started the long drive back to Salt Lake.  Nathan took the helm all the way back, arriving back at in the city at 3:30 AM the same time our alarms sounded 24 hours earlier.  The stats were 18 hours of driving, over 18 miles of walking, 5,300’ of elevation gain, 1,300’ of ice climbing, 45 and half hours Salt Lake to Salt Lake, and two climbers stoked for winter to show up in their backyard. 

Alan hiking out after a fun day in the Beartooths.

Thanks to Nathan for motivating, the Beartooth’s for being rad, and as always to Liberty Mountain for the continuing support.
-Alan Rousseau