Water ice or waterfall climbing during Montana's long winters can add a whole new dimension to the climber's realm of learning a craft on such a beautiful medium. The abundance of ice provides high quality climbing from November through March or even April. If you've never given water ice a try, let it try you. It's not what you might expect. There are many good locations found in this part of Montana. Beginner to advanced courses are offered along with guided climbs of some of North America's best classics.
So whether it be an introduction, a long enjoyable climb in an Alpine setting, an adrenaline overload on a booming pillar or something in between, be here this winter!
After a decade Reach Your Peak is, again guiding ice climbing
and I look forward to instructing and guiding clients on some
of the best ice in the United States. Hyalite has become one
of the best early season ice-climbing Mecca's in the lower 48
states. The high concentration of ice found here with over 130
routes has made Hyalite a destination.
BEGINNER COURSES: Main Fork of Hyalite
The day begins with a 15-minute hike to the cliff band that houses these climbs. This is followed by a gradual progression of techniques that allow the typical beginner to negotiate WI2-3 or easy angles up to about 75 degrees. For those who want to there will also be a chance to get on some WI4-5 (near vertical and vertical). These half dozen routes are on shorter ice climbs, about 30-80' high and it is a rare treat to be on such high quality ice only a short distance from the parking lot.
Lower Mummy Cooler, Fat Chance and Switchback Falls Climbs.
These are some great climbs of WI2-3 (ice steepness between 35-75 degrees) about 30 minutes up the trail. Here we begin a natural progression of learning the flat footing (pied a plat) crampon techniques on easy ice with one tool then move on to front pointing steeper ice with two tools. A series of learning exercises help promote good balance and foot work and eventually good solid and confident "sticks" with the ice tools. A variation on both Fat Chance and Switchback Falls provide good introductions to near vertical ice or WI4. These are great climbs along a scenic cliff band with a short approach.
BEGINNER-INTERMEDIATE: Main Fork of Hyalite.
Twin Falls 250' III, WI3
Climbers desperate to get the season going have climbed Twin Falls as early as October and it is one of the first climbs to come into shape in the Hyalite. A high altitude of 8,200' and the fact that the large grotto that the climbs are found in, has a northern aspect, contribute to the early formation of ice. Early November-December is the optimal time to do it to these climbs. This is a great place for beginners and intermediate climbers who are in reasonable shape and wanting to work on easier multi-pitch routes. The new approach from the parking lot makes the approach under a one and a half hour hike with a 1,200' elevation gain. Historically the ascent of the left Twin Falls by Dougal McCarty and Brian Leo in 1971 set the stage of what was to come later to Hyalite. The scenic climbing on the enjoyable ice with an eagles view of some of Hyalites most well known climbs make Twin Falls an surreal location. As the winter progresses the two falls nearly become one mass and regardless the time of year both falls, share a short but stout first pitch, which is easily bypassed via a large snow ledge. Although Twin Falls is a long day, it leaves impressions of wide but tapering flows of moderate ice.
INTERMEDIATE: Main Fork of Hyalite
This climb begins with an early morning departure to reach one of the longest classics of Hyalite, the Dribbles 500', III, WI4. The climb is in a pristine location with a two-mile trek. On this four-pitch route, we will practice becoming accurate and proficient with our tools in negotiating class 3 and 4 ice. Since it is a long multipitch route standard belay set ups, rope management, ice screw placements and removal as well as the V-thread and multipitch rappelling and more will be practiced. This is generally a full day and demands being in good cardiovascular shape as well as ice climbing shape.
Upper Mummy Cooler-Walking the Cat cliff band area
The climbs: Upper Mummy Cooler a.k.a. Mummy II, Crypt Orchid, Matrix Gully and Feeding the Cat climbs with the possibility of the Scepter. Although we might not get to all the climbs listed above these excellent climbs are in near proximity and provide a variety of climbing on WI2-4 within an hour of the parking lot. Occasionally when the Hyalite test piece, the Scepter forms fat it is a steal at WI4-4+ and a bit more of an intermediate climb. In these conditions, we might clinb it depending on what the client (s) want to do. Regardless of the Scepter, the other four routes provide good quality ice climbing where your skills can be honed.
Champagne Sherbet 200' II, WI4 and the Champagne Slot 180' II, WI3+
These two rather easily reached classics of the Flanders have a rich history of being the first routes done in that valley and they were new a genera of thinner ice routes with perhaps a move or two to the surrounding rock. Champagne Sherbet is usually divided into two shorter pitches with the first pitch offering unusual ledges that can take the sting out of a short but steep curtain of ice. The second pitch, not much easier, continues up the flow and into the forest above. Occasionally a thin flow spills out to the right of the first pitch offering a very thin ice alternate or bonus pitch. The Slot is quite different with a steep and narrow runnel of ice with a move or two off the neighboring rock to maintain balance through the "neckiest" section. The scenic one-hour approach up into the cirque that forms these climbs is very manageable along an old road and it provides views of The Big Sleep, BoBo Like and Killer Pillar.
INTERMEDIATE-ADVANCED: East fork of Hyalite.
Horsetail Falls 250' III, WI4-5
This infamous Hyalite classic has an early history that still plays with many climbers mental well-being as they "gong" the finial free standing straw to the top! In Dougal McCarty's' words about the first ascent he and George Ochenski did of Horsetail in 1975 the ice was "thinner than the threads on the Salewa screws which kept sliding in and out. The water rushing down the inside of the column made a musical sound through the screw holes, making a higher pitch sound with each successive placement. A classic." The climb is a full day with an early start. It takes time and some cold weather to bring the finial 3rd pitch into shape.
ADVANCED: East Fork of Hyalite
Alpha WI4, Omega WI5 and Iota M4+
This is a great day on south facing and late blooming ice with a mixed option to do as well. Alpha is a beautiful pillar/flow that is the warm up for these routes. Omega is an arm testing freestanding pillar that has a couple mixed start variations. Iota at M4+ in fat conditions connects the Omega pillar to a short pillar back in the alcove behind. There is also the possibility of combining some of these climbs with an ascent of Palisade Falls, which is a respectable WI4. The approach is dependant on the conditions of the East Fork of Hyalite road in January. If the Palisade Falls Parking lot is attainable then a 45-minute approach can be expected. If not it may require about twice the approach time.
ADVANCED: Main Fork of Hyalite.
Cleopatra's Needle 250' III, WI5
An ascent of Cleo's Needle in good conditions provides one of the best WI5 anywhere. This classic three-pitch route has a colorful history full of monstrous falls. It is generally mid December before the climb is fat but this can vary greatly and would baffle a hydrologist! The approach is like that of Twin Falls but slightly shorter and is hiked in about 1.5-hours. All three pitches are real climbing with the first and last not being much easier than the pillar crux. Prospective clients need to be in good shape both cardiovascular and in upper body strength as well as working knowledge of the monkey hang. Clients will have plenty of opportunity on the steep ice to work on the monkey hang and its variations so that we become efficient at conserving upper body strength through good technique, which leads to confident and quicker climbing on vertical ice. There is always more to learn and relearn!