Scarpa Athlete, Montana Alpine Guides owner and lead guide Sam Magro, has been climbing crags and ice faces in the Northwest, and just about anything he can scurry up since a young age. Magro spends part of his seasons traveling abroad climbing and guiding. However the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remains one of his favorite places to climb. Here he tells about the 2012/13 ice season.
The ice season in Montana starts earlier than most areas in the contiguous US. A wet stormy fall in the valleys makes for good ice conditions up high and one only needs to venture a bit higher to nab the season’s first swings. I kicked this ice season off with two good friends on the north face of The Sphinx, a mountain little known to folks who don’t reside in Montana. After a long approach through terrain chocked full of grizzly, elk, mule deer, and hunters you eventually pull out of the lowlands and up over the shoulder between the Helmet and the Sphinx. The north face is like a catchers mitt for early season winter conditions complete with several ice lines and multiple exposed hanging snowfields; the latter pose the highest risk on this often wind-loaded face. It’s a big day in the mountains and a great welcome back to winter.
Last November my time was divided between tracking down elk with a rifle and climbing the classics in Hyalite Canyon. With December came the Bozeman Ice Festival, mixed climbing competitions, climbing clinics that we (Montana Alpine Guides) coordinate with the help of many locals and non-local gear sponsors. SCARPA, among others, make this event possible; bringing all aspects of the ice community together.
Christmas came and went and then we were off to Canada for what was supposed to be a glorious five-day trip, two days at The Ghost, a rest day, then two days at Stanley Headwall. Instead our trip went like this: three days working on a car in -10°F in the Napa parking lot of Calgary, followed by a failed attempt to get into the ghost, food poisoning, and a long drive back home. I’ve had better trips, but I’ve also had worse. Back home I had one week to prepare for guiding in El Potrero Chico, Mexico. A trip that unexpectedly ended up being a rather wild ride (see Climbing among the Cartel).
Once back home fellow and local climber, Conrad Anker and I had the privilege to work with Veteran’s Expeditions, an organization that takes US war vets to the mountains. We had a solid group of ten US war veterans who learned to ice climb and winter camp over the course of a five-day period. On our penultimate day we began to bolt and clean a previous project that Conrad had begun. That day we added six bolts while teaching the vets to mix climb. The energy was high among the entire group.
The following week, we finished bolting what was later dubbed “The Straits of Gibraltar” M8/9. After several afternoon missions we completed the FFA and the route now adds to the growing number of mixed climbs in Hyalite Canyon.
“The Straits of Gibraltar” kicked off the start to a great finish for the 2012/2013-ice season. That next week a group of four friends and I ventured a bit deeper to the edge of the Beartooth Mountains. There, we established several new lines, the first of which would be considered a five-star route at any location. We bolted it ground-up, two bolts at a time so all those present could get their kicks. We ended up with a 35m M7/WI5+ now known as “Lockhorn.” We later trekked onto several ice lines that are not recorded anywhere and thus follow the no-publish Beartooth etiquette. Several folks know of these lines but it’s requested and often threateningly so, not to mention the detailed location. And so, the adventure stays alive and while one may think they are nabbing another FA but really it was climbed back in the 80’s with straight shaft tools!
One line was over ninety meters of sustained WI 5 known by word-of-mouth as “The booger.” We then carried on a bit deeper approaching with skis, packs loaded with ice gear, boots, drill, bolts, and pins. We came away from the last outing having had established another quality mixed line, “Criminal Trespass” (M5, WI5 35m) consisting of four bolts and some end-of-season delaminating ice. We may have climbed another new route consisting of forty meters of vertical ice, then again, it’s possible it was climbed many moons ago. Either way, it was a wonderful route.
Back in Hyalite the road closure was quickly approaching (April 1) and the ice season would also come to an abrupt end. My last day up there was around 50°F and my mind was beginning to lean to dry rocks and bare hands. We dug deep enough to add one more addition to Hyalite’s routes with “The Broken Stair,” M6. I felt content, my season complete: plenty of good times on good routes with great friends.
It was a nice closure to the season but now that the 2013-14 season has arrived I’m digging my gear out of the closet and once again pulling out the map.