Avy Savvy

By: Jack Taylor

A rundown on snow-safety resources.

“If you want to learn about something, going to school is just one way to do it.” —Doug Chabot, director of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC)

Avalanches: the big, bad monster hiding under the bed for backcountry skiers. Every year we hear about avalanche incidents and fatalities in our local area. The cold, hard truth is that death is an inherent risk when backcountry skiing.

Another truth is that avalanche education is widely available. In fact, avalanche-education events happen nearly every day throughout winter in the Bozeman area—many of them for free. Our local avalanche center puts out forecasts every day—also free. And there’s a limitless amount of information accessible on the internet—again, free.

It’s a common misconception that avalanche education is prohibitively expensive. Yes, a formal, accredited course is the gold standard. But if you can’t afford it, plenty of other options exist.

There’s no “one thing” you can do to be safe from avalanches—except for avoiding avalanche terrain altogether. Avalanche safety is an amalgamation of skills such as terrain recognition, snowpack assessment, weather observations, decision-making, leadership, and rescue. So this winter, whether you’re a first-time skier or seasoned vet, take some time to develop, enhance, or just brush up on your avy skills.

Print Resources
These publications are timeless resources, but bear in mind that experts are still learning more about avalanches every year—so pay attention to the publication date.

  • Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain
  • Avalanche Essentials
  • Avalanche Pocket Guide
  • Snow Sense
  • Allen & Mike’s Avalanche Book
  • The Snowy Torrents
  • The Avalanche Handbook

Online Resources
The internet has made avalanche education more accessible (and more up to date) than ever. There are tons of resources to peruse: social media accounts, YouTube channels, incident archives, and so on. Here are some places to begin your search.

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Training
From seminars, to organized practice sessions, to field clinics, there are free and low-cost avalanche-training events happening all the time in and around Bozeman. Check with any of the above resources, or your favorite local gear shop, for more info.

Courses
If you want to take a formal, accredited avalanche course, more power to you. These courses can be expensive, but the benefit is long-duration, hands-on instruction by professional instructors. Local course providers include:

  • Beartooth Powder Guides
  • Big Sky Backcountry Guides
  • Montana Alpine Guides
  • Montana Backcountry Yurts
  • Montana Mountaineering Association
  • MSU Outdoor Rec
  • Six Points Avalanche Education

Dos and Don’ts
A comprehensive list of avalanche-safety rules would take up this entire magazine. Here’s a cursory overview.

DO: Ask questions. Avalanche safety is all about gathering information. What safety gear do I need? How do I use it? Where can I ski that’s safe? How do I test the snowpack?
DON’T: Take every answer at face value. Instead, be investigative. Use reputable sources. Email [email protected] with any questions you have.

DO: Practice. Get to know your safety gear. Get to know the snowpack. Get to know your partners.
DON’T: Get complacent. Many accidents happen when the guard is down. Stay on your toes out there.

DO: Read, or listen to, the avalanche forecast. It’s published every morning in text and audio format. Many folks make a habit of listening to it in the car with their ski partners on the way to the trailhead.
DON’T: Hesitate to change plans. Higher wind gusts than expected last night? Dial it back. Warmer temps than expected today? Make a turnaround time. There’s always another day to ski.

Human Factors
Group dynamics and decision-making are critical components of backcountry skiing. Tomes have been written about human factors in avalanche safety. Start by looking up the F.A.C.E.T.S. acronym, which outlines common traps we fall into:

Familiarity – Feeling more comfortable in a place we’ve already been
Acceptance – Wanting to prove our worth to others
Consistency – Tending to stick with decisions we’ve already made
Expert Halo – Assuming that more experienced opinions are more important
Tracks – Rushing to ski a slope before it gets tracked out
Social Facilitation – Altering our risk tolerance when other people are watching

Knowledge vs. Experience
Reading avalanche reports, watching instructional videos, and taking courses will help you learn about avalanches. But at a certain point, you need to get out in the snow to get experience. This does NOT mean diving head-first into avalanche terrain. To the contrary, you can learn a lot about avalanches from well within the safe zone.

So go outside and bury a beacon. Dig a hole and look for weak layers. Look for signs of wind-loading or propagation. Compare a slope-angle map to your inclinometer. Ski powder, get face shots, and high-five your friends. If you’ve read this far, you’re already on your way to becoming a savvy backcountry skier.

Winter Watch-Outs

By Jack Taylor

A little prep goes a long way.

Winter in Montana is magical. Our landscape takes on a beautiful frozen stillness that beckons us to venture out among frosty firs, blanketed meadows, and frozen waterfalls. Even as temperatures plunge below zero, we catch glimpses of wildlife adapted to survive in the snowglobe. But as humans, we’re not so adept at enduring the cold. We depend on warm clothing, heating, and shelter to make it through. The margin for error in the outdoors is thinner during winter, and a mishap can quickly turn dangerous if you’re not prepared.

Before you take on the snowy roads, make sure your vehicle is capable. Snow tires are highly recommended and will make your life easier—and safer—all winter long. Yes, it’s a big investment, but with two sets of tires for summer and winter, each will last twice as long. If you must go without, a set of chains in your car will get you out of a pickle. Make sure they fit your tires, and practice installing them so that you can do it quickly when the time comes. If you have a front- or four-wheel drive car, put them on the front tires; if rear-wheel, put them on the back. A few more items to keep in your car include a shovel for digging yourself out, jumper cables in case your battery dies, and gloves plus warm jackets (or even a sleeping bag) in case you get stuck for a long time.

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Extra warm layers are also essential when venturing away from your vehicle. A good rule of thumb is to bring one layer more than you think you’ll need—better safe than sorry. When planning your layering scheme, start with a moisture-wicking baselayer made of synthetic fibers or wool. Never wear cotton for warmth in winter; if it gets wet, it won’t dry out until you’re back in a warm environment. Fleece makes a great midlayer for top and bottom, and the same rule applies for materials. A waterproof shell usually isn’t necessary given the dryness of our winters, but a windbreaker will add protection without taking up much space in your pack. On top of that, an insulated jacket with synthetic or down fill gives you lots of warmth with little extra weight to carry. Down has a better warmth-to-weight ratio, but like cotton, it will not dry in the cold, so synthetic is always a safer bet.

Ice, Ice Baby

The guide to an ice-climber’s paradise.

by Jack Taylor

Bozeman has some of the best ice climbing in the Lower 48, from easy top-rope crags in Hyalite to grueling alpine routes in the Beartooths. Many folks arrive in this town having never even considered ascending a frozen waterfall using sharp metal spikes, only to find themselves fully hooked on the sport just a few years later. Once considered the realm of extreme alpinists, ice climbing is now an avocation for the masses. Clinics are offered all winter by various guide services, so you can safely learn the ropes. And in case you haven’t already heard about it, the annual Bozeman Ice Festival is not to be missed.

Where to Go
Beginner
Though Hyalite has a good selection of easy climbs, as a starting place, one crag is more popular than all the rest: G1 (formally Genesis I). It’s the closest cliff to the Grotto Falls parking area—just a 15-minute walk up the hill—and you can easily set up a top-rope by scrambling around to the right. Once you’ve mastered the movement here, check out nearby Lower GreensleevesFat Chance, and Mummy I.

Intermediate
A logical progression, the next step up is G2, about twice as far up the hill as G1. It’s longer, more difficult, and more exposed, but you can still hike around (left, this time) to set up a top-rope if you’re not yet ready for lead-climbing. Other excellent intermediate climbs in Hyalite include HangoverThe Fat OneMummy II, and Twin Falls.

Advanced
Hyalite has hundreds of ice and mixed climbs, and if you’re looking for a comprehensive guide, check out Joe Josephson’s guidebook The House of Hyalite. The Unnamed Wall has dozens of moderate to difficult single-pitch routes. Dribbles, considered by many as the best climb in Hyalite, tackles three long pitches of pure ice. Cleopatra’s Needle is a breathtaking, difficult line near Twin Falls that’s sure to draw a crowd.

Outside of Hyalite, notable climbs include Hydromonster near Cooke City, California Iceup East Rosebud Creek, and the Lowe Route on the Sphinx—a popular early-season route with a burly approach that becomes dangerous once the snowpack builds up.

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Dress the Part
It can be awfully cold scaling a frozen waterfall, and proper layering is essential. Start at skin-level: thick wool socks to prevent cold feet and bruised toes, and synthetic or wool long underwear on the top and bottom. Next, don a fleece sweater that you’ll be comfortable in all day, and perhaps fleece pants if it’s cold out. At this point, start piling on upper layers (too many lower layers will restrict movement in your legs). A synthetic insulated jacket will keep you toasty. Throw on a waterproof shell and rain pants to keep dripping water on the outside—even if it’s below freezing, ice climbs can still be wet. Carry two or three pairs of gloves, at least one of them waterproof, and a hat or balaclava that fits under your helmet. For really cold days, bring a big down parka, but be sure to only wear it when you’re belaying. If you wear it on a climb, it’s sure to get wet from sweat or dribbles, which will render those down feathers cold, heavy, and possibly damaged.

Make sure to bring enough food and water—your body burns a lot of calories when it’s cold. Some nice extra touches include a thermos of hot soup, tea, or cocoa; a package of handwarmers; and perhaps a nip of whiskey if you’re feeling frisky. Most importantly, take safety seriously: carrying a satellite-communication device is always a good idea, and if you’re going into avalanche terrain, carry a beacon, shovel, and probe. Always let somebody know where you’re going, and when you expect to be back.

Post Wisely

by Corey Hockett

We live in a funny time. An age where announcing one’s experiences outweighs living the experience itself. If you don’t have a picture, did your trail run even happen? If your photo wasn’t affirmed with 1,000 cyber hearts, was your bike ride even worth it? If you climb a mountain, but fail to take a reel of it, were you there at all? So goes the thought process of the digital age.

Let me preface this by saying that I am a millennial who has social-media accounts and does in fact post from time to time. I have a camera and I understand the appeal of sharing images with one’s community. But must we do this with every last activity, every single outing? Is it too much to exercise a little discretion? We in Montana are still lucky enough to enjoy places to ourselves. Let’s do our best to keep it that way.

For the locals out there grumbling aloud about busy trailheads, head to the next drainage over. The one without a parking lot. Sure, it might be a little further from where you intended to go, but isn’t that what we’ve loved about this place all along? The opportunity to explore and discover?

Now, for those of you who have stumbled upon an area seemingly unbeknownst to others, please, for the love of all that is holy, keep it to yourself! Recognize the sacredness of such a thing and don’t ruin it by advertising it to your whole social network. Step back and realize that the reason the place seems so lovely and enjoyable is that there’s nothing around but the natural world. Crazy, huh?

As bewildered as I am over this, it’s clear that some folks are unable to move through their days without providing constant updates to their digital followership. Slaves to their vibrating, attention-sucking, brain-numbing devices, they need affirmation from others that the life they live is in fact a good one. To this, I say fine. If you want to post a photo of all the fish you caught in your secret hole, great—just don’t include easily recognizable landmarks. This same stretch of water could be quietly enjoyed by others, too. Choose a frame with an indistinct background and a caption that conceals the location’s identity. You get to show off your fish and preserve the solitude for others. Win-win.

I understand that as an outdoor guidebook, we play a role in the increased visitation to certain locations. There’s no way around it. However, we do so judiciously. No place that we promote, in print or online, is a secret spot—they’re all well-documented on maps and in other guidebooks; they’re all well-known among the local outdoor populace. “Secret” and “favorite” are not the same thing. Part of our job is to facilitate outdoor recreation—and newcomers (to town, or to a certain activity) need to know where to go. Sometimes that helps protect a place from mankind’s ravenous propensity to rape, pillage, develop, and commodify; other times, it simply leads to overcrowding. This is a conundrum, and if you think we could do a better job, tell us.

The point is, we live in a time where social media is everywhere. Like it or not, this includes our outdoor spaces. Thus, our responsibility—and I mean everyone here—is to use it in a manner that encourages healthy engagement with nature. What does “healthy” mean? In loose terms, it’s creating awareness for wild places under threat while keeping quiet about the so-called “undiscovered” spots. As for knowing which is which, it can only be up to the individual. But it ain’t that tough.

Post wisely, my friends.

Hit the Trails

by Adam Brown

A guide to exploring Bozeman’s sprawling network of trails.

Next time you get a chance—a quiet moment under the big, blue Montana sky—take a second to look around. What do you see? First, you’ll probably notice the Bridger Range, cradling our town from the northeast. To the south, the Gallatin Range extends far back into the skyline. Southwest, the Spanish Peaks poke up, keeping the Madison Range out of view and ready to be uncovered. Due west and farther out, oftentimes fading into the horizon on hazier days, the Tobacco Roots loom in the distance. The Absarokas sit just out of view to the east, with no shortage of stones to turn.

There are more ranges to see, of course, depending on one’s particular perch. But the point is, there are foothills, peaks, canyons, and valleys in every direction. Nearly every summit can be climbed; every drainage holds a secret. Even the foothills and woods near town abound with opportunity—the amount of adventures and experiences you can have is limited only by your desire to peek around that next bend. The best part? Trails wind their way through it all, beckoning you to come forth and explore. If you need some advice to get started, here are a few classic outings.

Around Town
Gallagator: Named after an old railway line, this trail acts like an arterial pipeline through Bozeman. It’s a popular commuter path from the north to the south end of town. On it, you’ll stroll by gardens, climbing boulders, and plenty of jumping-off points onto other local trails.

East Gallatin Recreation Area: North of town, you’ll find this local hotspot. Despite its close proximity and popularity, there is plenty to do here. Get in on the action at East Gallatin Pond (“Bozeman Beach” to the locals) or duck back into a trail system hidden among the river and trees. It, too, ties into other trails, including the path to the M.

Highland Glen Nature Preserve: This small network is another great close-to-town option. Here you’ll enjoy rolling hills, forested gulches, great views of the surrounding mountains above the lush vegetation, and the occasional company of grazing cattle.

Headin’ Up
Triple Tree: A local favorite in the foothills of the Gallatin Range. Get there using one of the nearby parking areas, or hike in from Painted Hills if you want to add some extra mileage. Otherwise, you’ll be getting about four miles of pleasant, forested trail with a great overlook back north over the valley. Be aware of mountain bikers on this trail, typically riding the loop counterclockwise.

The M: Montanans sure do love putting letters on their mountains. While some denote the town below or name of the mountain, our M is dedicated to Montana State University and goes back all the way to 1915. There are two ways to get up to the M. The standard route switchbacks along the foothills, while the steep route cuts straight up the face of the mountain. There’s a reason this hike is so popular: the view across town and the valley beyond is fantastic.

Drinking Horse: This mountain got its name because it resembles a horse taking a drink from a creek, when gazed upon from the east. The trail is another favorite of folks looking to get out for a jaunt close by, any time of year. In fact, the trail averages about 150 daily users in the winter and a whopping 500 in the summer. You may not get much solitude here, but the views toward the Bangtails and back into Bridger Canyon are remarkable.

Top Notch
Chestnut Mountain: A great summit option without having to go very far. You’ll find the trailhead just inside the mouth of the Bozeman Pass, on the way to Livingston—take the Trail Creek exit. Climb up a nicely buffed-out trail that switchbacks through forest and meadows until you’re finally rewarded with incredible views of the Absarokas and Paradise Valley.

Sacajawea Peak: One of the best bangs for your buck in the Bridgers (with Baldy a close second). Starting at Fairy Lake, this trail is only about four miles round-trip, but you’ll surely feel the elevation as you climb 2,000 vertical feet to the summit. At the top, you’ll get 360-degree views, including all the aforementioned ranges. The resident mountain goats have it good.

Mt. Blackmore: This mountain has a prominent presence over the valley, constantly peering down on us from the top of the Gallatin Range. Just take a gander south and you’ll be able to make out its pyramid shape. Because of its physical and historical significance to the area, it’s well worth checking out up-close and personal. From the lower trailhead, four miles round-trip will get you to Blackmore Lake, and 12 will take you all the way to the summit and back.

Etiquette
Most of the above trails are shared with bikers—even some of the more challenging ones, like Blackmore. Generally, bikers should yield to hikers, and both should yield to horses. Downhill traffic should also yield to those coming uphill. However, this is only a rough guideline, and a more nuanced approach should be taken. Just be kind, courteous, and keep your head up—everything should work out fine. It’s often much easier for a hiker or runner to take a step off the trail and allow fast-moving bikes to pass than it is to insist otherwise.

Events
May
Spring Cleanup – Hyalite Canyon. After a long winter, Hyalite needs some love. Pitch in for a morning of bagging trash and tidying trailheads. hyalite.org

May-June
GVLT Discovery Walks – Bozeman. Meet new people and make new friends on these one-hour guided walks along the Main Street to the Mountains trail system. 80+ miles await, all of which are right here, in and around town. gvlt.org 

May-September
Wind Drinkers Fun Runs – Bozeman. If you’re looking to ramp up the pace a bit and get into trail running, join the Wind Drinkers for some casual summer jaunts. winddrinkers.org

June
Summer Trails Challenge – Hit the trails and earn money for GVLT’s trail work and conservation initiatives. gvlt.org

June-August
L&C Caverns Guided Hikes – Whitehall. Explore the drier climes west of Bozeman at Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, where guides offer an immersive hike through the sagebrush hills. fwp.mt.gov

June 1
National Trails Day – Bozeman. This is the best day to give back to the trails that give us so much. Almost every trail-related nonprofit in town has a work day scheduled, so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. gvlt.org 

September 28
National Public Lands Day – Bozeman. Around here, we use public lands all the time, which means they need a little love and care every year. Use this last Saturday of the month to go for a hike, do some trail maintenance, or find a new trail run. gvlt.org

Editor’s note: dates are subject to change based on weather and other factors. For the most updated information, visit outsidebozeman.com/events.

Lines on the Water

by Eli Fournier

Fly-fishing in Southwest Montana.

Welcome to the fly-fishing capital of Montana, if the not entire West. If you come in search of piscine pursuits, look no further. Indeed, the fishing here lives up to its reputation, and come August, the town dress code might as well be quick-dry shorts, a sun hoody, sandals, sunglasses (with Croakies), and a lucky fishing hat. But aside from looking the part, knowing a few basics is also important. Here’s a rundown on a few of the most popular local waters. For more, pick up a copy of the Cast fishing guide, available for free at most fly shops and outdoor stores around town.

Where to Go
Madison River
From the “50-mile riffle” on its upper section, to Bear Trap Canyon and the flat meanders of its lower section, the Madison has plenty of options. A driftboat or raft is the best way to access the upper, but wading is equally effective on the lower. The flows are dam-controlled, but the water can still blow out from high-flow feeder streams. Early summer is caddis; mid-summer, salmonflies; and late-summer, mayflies and terrestrials.

Gallatin River
Perhaps the most famous trout river in the West, thanks to A River Runs Through It, the Gally is worthy of the hype. The river begins as a trickle in Yellowstone National Park and ends at its confluence with the Jefferson and the Madison at Missouri Headwaters State Park. Excellent fishing is to be had throughout, although “the Canyon” is the most-heavily pressured thanks to its fish-laden pockets, cool water temps, and easy access. The river is best fished wading from the banks—in fact, it’s illegal to fish from a boat on the upper section down to the confluence with the East Gallatin River, at Manhattan. If you’re just after a few casts in the evening, the Gallatin is tough to beat.

Yellowstone River
The Yellowstone originates south of the Park in some of the most remote country in the Lower 48. When folks around town refer to fishing on the ’Stone, however, they’re typically referencing the Paradise Valley section, from Gardiner to Livingston, and even further downstream to Big Timber. The fishing is dictated by flows. Springtime pre-runoff can be good, but the real goods are had once runoff subsides in late June. The Yellowstone is primo streamer water early-season, and dry-dropper territory later in the summer. It’s a big river, and wading can be difficult—but it’s not impossible. The best way to fish the Yellowstone is from a raft, stopping at good runs to wade.

Lakes
Both alpine lakes and lowland reservoirs can be productive at the right time of year. Just after ice-off in May, trout tend to cruise the shorelines of Ennis, Quake, Hebgen, and Henry’s lakes looking for easy meals. All these stillwaters can be effectively fished from shore in early spring before the fish move out to deeper waters. Once things warm up, the high-mountain lakes really turn on. But with so many possibilities in the Gallatin, Absaroka, and Madison ranges, narrowing down the options is challenging. Fortunately, there are a couple of good guidebooks, with one of the best being Flyfisher’s Guide to Southwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes. If you’re heading anywhere in the high country, bring a rod along—there are fish in just about every lake, pond, and creek in this corner of the state.

 

Catch & Release vs. Keep & Eat
On heavily-pressured rivers—all the ones mentioned above—catch-and-release is highly encouraged. While it’s legal to keep fish on some of these rivers, if every angler kept a daily bag limit, there would be no fish left. It’s acceptable to bonk a fish for dinner every now and then, especially if it’s unlikely to survive upon release; just try not to make a habit of it. A few standard catch-and-release practices: play fish quickly, keep them in the water, limit handling to a bare minimum, and use barbless hooks.

Bonking fish in reservoirs or at high mountain lakes is less frowned upon. In fact, a lot of folks on big alpine backpacking trips don’t bring much in the way of dinner food, instead relying on trout to fill their stomachs. Bring a packet of Idahoan mashed potatoes, some salmon-rub, and tortillas for gourmet trout burritos.

Etiquette
Fishing etiquette is pretty simple: don’t be a dick on the river. Chat with other anglers, give folks space, share your knowledge with those less experienced, and if floating, don’t dilly-dally and cause a traffic jam at the boat ramp. With some basic courtesy, you shouldn’t run into any issues on the water.

Under the Stars

by Jack Taylor

A guide to camping around the Bozone.

A camping or backpacking trip is one of the easiest, and quite possibly the best, ways to immerse yourself in the outdoors. Spending a night (or multiple nights) in the woods will calm your nerves, humble your mind, and invigorate your soul. When a trip is well executed, you’ll be rewarded with a sense of achievement and satisfaction. If things go awry, you’ll build resilience, learn from your mistakes, and certainly get a good story out of it. Most trips are a mixed bag of solid accomplishment and unplanned adventure. Here are some tips to help with logistics, so that you’ll have greater capacity for exploration. After all, you’d rather come home with a boastful tale about getting lost in the dark and navigating by starlight, than a dejected account of bringing the wrong type of stove gas and eating all your meals cold-soaked.

Where to Go
Our favorite place to go camping is… wait, did you really think we were going to tell you? Part of the fun in planning a trip is figuring out where to go! There’s nothing so satisfying as the process of discovery. That said, here are some general guidelines as you’re poring over the maps.

U.S. Forest Service land is perhaps the most popular option for overnight outings around here. From established campgrounds equipped with amenities, to vast swaths of unmarred wilderness, you’ll find the full gamut of camping and backpacking opportunities. Most of our nearby mountain ranges are almost entirely designated as National Forest (read: public) land.

State Parks and Fishing Access Sites (FASs) offer state-managed campgrounds, usually adjacent to water bodies or historical sites. Using these lands requires the purchase of an $8 annual Montana Conservation License, which can easily be obtained at fwp.mt.gov. The fee goes directly toward maintaining the sites.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land is more sparse around Bozeman, but it offers camping opportunities near some popular recreation sites. The campsites are generally primitive, with no amenities—save perhaps a fire ring. So plan ahead, and have a means of disposing your waste.

On that note, regardless of where you go, practice leaving no trace. Look up the “Leave-No-Trace Principles,” or just follow this rule: leave it better than you found it. That means no trash, a clean firepit, and in general just an attractive campsite for the next person who comes along.

Group Size
The ideal number of people for a camping or backpacking trip will depend on your objective. But whether it’s a solo peak-bagging mission or a river trip with a crowd of two dozen, group size is an important consideration in planning.

When solo, you can make all the decisions yourself with no external conflict. You’ll be less distracted, and will probably feel more immersed in the environment. But solo outings are riskier, as you’re self-reliant. Plus, in a group, you can work as a team and socialize. Conflict is almost inevitable, but working through it is a good skill to practice.

In the backcountry, where we go to experience pristine nature, groups of more than five people can have a significant impact on other travelers. If you’re in a large party, consider splitting into smaller teams while on the trail. You can reconvene at camp, but be especially mindful of encroaching on others’ space.

Food
Meal-planning is one of the biggest challenges of a camping trip. Our best advice is to learn from experience. If you’re happy eating freeze-dried meals, great. If you’re culinarily inclined, camp-cooking can be an excellent outlet for creativity. Don’t be afraid to bring some perishable items for the start of your trip—especially if you’re camping near a car or boat with a cooler. Unrefrigerated meat should be fine for a day; veggies up to a few days. Canned food is heavy, but increases your options. Dehydrating your own food will save weight, and is less expensive than purchasing freeze-dried meals. Pre-made PB&Js are great for a quick lunch.

Cooking
There are two ways to cook while camping: on a stove or over a fire. A stove is easier and more reliable (e.g., it works in the rain), so it’s probably your safest bet. The two most popular types run on butane canisters or white gas. Butane stoves are simple and compact, but can struggle in cold temps or at high elevations. White-gas stoves are more complicated, but they’re versatile and reliable once you learn the maintenance procedures.

But there’s a primal satisfaction in cooking over fire—and an art to doing it right. If you choose this route, be sure to abide by fire restrictions. Don’t burn the forest down, and don’t leave a mess of a firepit—especially if there wasn’t one already established.

Bears
Grizzlies are a real concern when camping in southwest Montana. Hang your food, and cook at least 200 feet away from where you sleep. Bring nothing but water into your tent—even a tube of toothpaste can tip off a grizzly that there’s something tasty nearby.

 

Big Sky Boatin’

by Corey Hockett

Paddling in Southwestern Montana.

Montana’s boating scene often gets shrugged off like a younger brother. Pitted against other western states, its reputation falls short of Idaho’s coveted multi-day trips and the Northwest’s epic whitewater. This may be why river life in the Treasure State is overlooked and underrated. Regardless, it’s all good, because in Bozeman, you’re teed up for just about all you can ask for—and usually without the out-of-state crowds joining you.

Gallatin
A mere 20 minutes from town, the Gally is our closest gem. A low- to medium-volume river, typical flows range from 300-1,000cfs at the gauge at Gallatin Gateway, with peak runoff landing somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000. In June 2022, spring rains and a melting snowpack cultivated a raging torrent over 8,600cfs, the highest ever recorded since the gauge was installed in 1994.

As a shallower river, the rapids on the Gallatin vary in shape and size and are more technical in nature. Rafters are tested with regular rock-dodging, while smaller crafts can pick from a selection of routes ranging from small drops to demanding boofs for kayakers. Most of the whitewater lies between Deer Creek and Lower Storm Castle. Intermediate paddlers should stick to sections above Lava Lake. Below this access is the formidable Mad Mile. At flows above 3,000cfs, this is a continuous Class IV run. If this doesn’t sound like you, and lounging on the raft with a beer and your dog is more up your alley, check out the river between Manhattan and Missouri Headwaters State Park. Appropriate options include canoeing, rowing a driftboat, and floating on an inner tube.

Yellowstone
The longest freestone river in the Lower 48, the Yellowstone forms deep in the Absaroka Range and flows for nearly 700 miles through mountain gorges and across prairie flats until it joins the Missouri near Williston, North Dakota. Apart from its tumbling cascades inside the national-park boundary, which are off-limits to boaters, the best rapids lie between Gardiner and Carbella Campground. Here, two supreme sections of whitewater await the eager river-runner.

The first three miles downstream of Gardiner yield playful wave trains (Class II-III) all the way to McConnell Landing. The river mellows out for the next ten miles, but picks back up where a narrow gorge constricts near the Joe Brown put-in. The fabled Yankee Jim Canyon is a four-mile stretch with three notable features: Boat Eater, Big Rock, and Boxcar rapids. At low to medium levels, intermediate paddlers and rowers will find it exciting but manageable. When flows crest above 15,000cfs, think twice before going down. While the waves and holes become munchier, the strong eddy fences and unpredictable boils are just as likely to tip an inexperienced boatman.

Below Yankee Jim, the river’s character relaxes significantly. Occasional rapids pop up now and again, but for the most part the Yellowstone is a fishing-float from here out. Downstream from Livingston, one will find more intermediate waves between Springdale and Grey Bear. While the river appears slow from a distance, it’s worth noting that the current is sneakily strong and should be treated with utmost respect.

Madison
Renowned as a destination fly-fishing river, the Madison is more apt to attract anglers than it is paddling enthusiasts. That said, Bear Trap Canyon holds something for everyone. Set in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, the river’s remoteness combined with its impressive rapid lineup make it one of the state’s most celebrated whitewater runs.

Below Ennis Lake, one can select from two put-ins. Entering directly below the dam will insert you into the action right away, with Double Drop Rapids (Class IV) right around the corner. For those who want a slower start, drive all the way to the end of the road and launch at the powerhouse. In one quick mile, Whitehorse Rapid provides an excellent warm-up with a steep gradient and a forgiving wave train. The meat of the run, however, is a distinctive S-turn that occurs exactly halfway down. The infamous Kitchen Sink is a string of drops that are demanding and technical at all water levels. Scout (or portage) on river right, and make sure to watch for rattlesnakes along the way. The second half of the canyon offers plenty of Class II rapids, as well as the unmistakable Green Wave, an exciting Class III to keep you honest.

For folks less interested in whitewater, the lower Madison provides a number of great scenic floats all the way to Headwaters State Park, with Warm Springs to Black’s Ford being the most popular tubing stretch.

Gear
Like many other outdoor activities, boating can take up a sizeable portion of the gear closet (actually, you’ll probably need a garage). If you’re new to the sport, the one thing you can count on needing, no matter when you go, where you go, how you go, is a PFD. Montana law mandates that you have one in the boat with you, and if you’re going to be running any sort of whitewater, we recommend not skimping on the quality.

No matter what type of craft you’ll be taking, drybags are handy. To keep an extra set of clothes, your phone, sunscreen, etc., a 20-30L bag will do just fine. For multi-day trips, look for an additional large bag (70-100L) to hold your tent, sleeping bag, and other big items. Summer is a mere three months here, and if you like to be on the water any longer than that, expect unpredictable temps. Wetsuits and drysuits allow people in small crafts to paddle comfortably throughout the spring and fall. Same goes for pogies; they can be a saving grace for your hands on a cold day. Last but not least, we’re not here to police you on risk-taking, but if you intend to dabble with some faster water, it’s a good idea to have a helmet. Yours truly has bonked his head numerous times in the Mad Mile alone. Without the brain bucket, I may not even be around, or at least coherent enough, to pen this article.

Etiquette
River manners are not hard to follow; all it takes is some self-awareness and a bit of planning. Rule number one: do not clog up the boat ramp. If you’re launching a driftboat or raft, put on sunscreen, rig up your fishing rod, and pack the cooler away from the ramp, in a manner that does not impede or prevent any other party from accessing the water. You should feel anxious every time your truck is on the ramp. Get in, get out.

While on the water, give people space. Don’t pull out from an eddy directly in front of a group that’s in the main current, and grant people fishing from the bank a wide berth. In essence, it’s the Golden Rule—follow it and the river will treat you right.

Events
May-August
Kayaking Lessons – Bozeman. Whether it’s a six-week class or a single-day private session, Wave Train Kayak offers a fleet of courses to help you work on everything from basic paddling technique to advanced whitewater mechanics. wavetrainkayakteam.com

June
Gallatin Whitewater Festival – Bozeman. Suit up for a rip-roarin’ time in high-water season. Participate in one of (or all) three whitewater races including a slalom, individual timed, and a mass start. gallatinwhitewaterfestival.com

Wednesdays
Community Paddle Day – Bozeman. Meet like-minded folks and paddle a section of choice on the Gallatin after work. wavetrainkayakteam.com

July
Annual Yellowstone River Boat Float – Livingston. Join an annual tradition that stretches back nearly 60 years and float from Livingston to Columbus on a hot weekend in July. facebook.com

 

Hard-Rock Life

by Jack Taylor

A guide to rock climbing in and around Bozeman.

Rock climbing is a hallmark of outdoor recreation. Seriously—carabiners and ropes have essentially become the universal signals of people who like to spend time outside. Oh, you’ve got a spring-loaded metal device affixed to your water bottle? Where did you go camping last weekend?

Joking aside, climbing is fun for pretty much anyone. And for some folks, it becomes an all-absorbing obsession. Perhaps there’s a primal urge hard-coded in our DNA inherited from tree-swinging apes. We have an impulse to climb. It feels good.

And fortunately, there are plenty of spots to rock climb around Bozeman. For beginners and experts alike, our mountains and valleys are dotted with cliffs of all different rock types—granite, limestone, and sandstone alike. So whether you’re an expert or neophyte, here’s what you need to know about climbing in southwest Montana.

Where to Go
Beginner
For easy sport climbing, Bear Canyon is the go-to. There are tons of bolted routes in the 5.6-5.10 range. It’s also one of the closest climbing areas to downtown Bozeman—just a 20-minute drive and 10-minute approach.

Allenspur is another great beginner-friendly zone (albeit a bit farther from town), and has some more difficult climbs to be found—it’s a good spot if you’re looking to appease climbers with a variety of skill levels.

Intermediate
When it’s time to notch it up, Practice Rock offers a selection of climbs from 5.6-5.12. There aren’t any sport climbs per se, but it’s possible to hike to the top and set up a top-rope on a bolted anchor for nearly every climb.

Another popular area is Bozeman Pass, with a variety of sport-climbing crags offering routes across a broad range of difficulty. The Training Wall is known for having some local test-pieces.

Advanced
Gallatin Canyon is the beating heart of Bozeman-area rock climbing. With hundreds of routes ranging from moderate multipitch romps to nails-hard crack climbs, there’s enough to keep a zealous climber entertained for years on end.

Wolverine Bowl has the best limestone sport climbing in the area. It’s bullet-hard, very sharp, and dotted with long pitches in the 5.11-5.12 range. Not to mention, its setting in the Bridgers is quite serene.

Far-Flung
Looking for a weekend road-trip outside the immediate area? Natural Bridge has some of the best sport climbing in the state. Pipestone has a plethora of boulders and cracks, with nice camping. The Humbug Spires offer tantalizing faces and cracks, and are steeped in climbing history.

Tying In
Around Bozeman, you’ll find lots of places to climb—and fortunately, not too many other people out there. Still, there are some important pieces of etiquette to keep in mind.

First and foremost, give people space. With plenty of room to spread out, there’s no need to be crowding another party on a route. Wait patiently for a pitch to open. There’s surely something else nearby.

On the other hand, don’t be a hoarder. Spending two hours working the most popular route at the crag on a busy weekend is pretty inconsiderate.

Music is a polarizing topic. At the end of the day, though, it’s presumptuous to think that other people are okay with you blasting tunes out there. Some of us are trying to enjoy nature for all that it is—sound (or lack thereof) included.

And then there are dogs. Lots of them around here, in fact. If you bring your dog climbing, it is absolutely imperative that you consider the impact on other people. Well-trained dogs who lay at your feet or stay out of the way are perfectly fine. But if you’ve got a four-legged nuisance on your hands who is running amok, stepping on ropes, and bothering other climbers, you’re not going to make any new pals.

Events
One of the coolest parts about climbing in Bozeman is that we have such a tight-knit community of climbers. You’re bound to start seeing familiar faces within just a few outings. On top of that, we’ve got a smattering of year-round events where you can brush up on skills, help with crag maintenance, and meet like-minded folks.

Mondays, Thursdays, Sundays
Climbing Clinics – Bozeman. Learn the fundamentals of belaying, communication, rope management, and climbing movement, then progress to more advanced skills such as leading and anchor-cleaning. spireclimbingcenter.com

Thursdays
Speaker Series – Bozeman. Swing by Uphill Pursuits on select Thursdays throughout the year for talks by local experts on everything in the mountains, from first aid to expedition reports. uphillpursuits.com

March
Spring Fling – Bozeman. Before you head outdoors for the summer, have one last hurrah at the indoor wall to celebrate climbing and watch the best throw down. spireclimbingcenter.com

May-August
Crag Maintenance – various locations. Help maintain the climbing areas we love and their access trails with the Southwest Montana Climbers Coalition. As a bonus, you’re bound to meet some like-minded folks to rope up with. swmontanaclimbers.org

June
Montana Women’s Climbing Festival – Helena. Going into its fourth year, this festival is a fun-filled gathering for lady-crushers in the area. Sign up for a clinic to learn some new skills, or just go out to enjoy the climbing and company. mtwomensclimbingfest.com

September
Tour de Hyalite – Hyalite Canyon. A classic friendly competition in an iconic setting: race to the top of Hyalite Peak and back, then climb pitches at Practice Rock to take time off the clock. swmontanaclimbers.org

 

Pedal to the Metal

by Adam Brown

Biking around the Bozone.

Take this for a spin: when it comes to mountain biking, Bozeman’s got it all. Countless alpine rides meander through lush forests and across rocky mountainsides, while fast, well-built, downhill-specific trails get the adrenaline flowing. We also have great desert-style riding just outside of town, as well as low-angle logging roads for leisurely jaunts. And when you don’t feel like driving, you can get your biking fix right out the back door.

Where to Go
Beginner
In town, hop on the Main Street to the Mountains trails at any point and go until the sun sets. Explore gravel paths through subdivisions in every direction, or pedal down the Gallagator to Peets Hill as you get your steering and balance dialed. Next you can tack on Highland Glen and Painted Hills. These trails are popular options for folks to rack up some convenient mileage before or after work. You can even ride all the way up Triple Tree if your heart and legs can handle it.

Now that you’ve gotten a feel for your bike, pedal up the old logging road alongside Bozeman Creek—also known as Sourdough. This all-dirt path climbs steadily for miles, and you can turn around whenever you’d like, to coast back down. If you take the left fork just before the bridge (about five miles in) toward Mystic Lake, the trail shrinks to singletrack and increases in difficulty—this route is called the Wall of Death.

Intermediate
Once you’re comfortable riding singletrack, head over to Crosscut for one of the area’s best trail systems. Here you’ll find a web of great single- and double-tracks for many different riding styles. Make a cross-country style loop from Loggers to the East Bridger North trail, or hop on the What Goes Up climbing trail to the Must Come Down trail for a flowy downhill experience.

Up in Hyalite, the Moser Creek area has several loop options, all of which feature shorter climbs than some of Hyalite’s burlier rides like History Rock. Although Moser’s trails are on the map, there are some confusing junctions, so do your research and figure out which loops you like most.

Advanced
South of town in the Gallatin foothills is Leverich, Bozeman’s most popular mountain-bike trail and the Custer-Gallatin National Forest’s first dedicated bike trail. During the summer, the parking lot overflows with vehicles, so make some biking friends to carpool with or park down at Nash Park and ride the road up. Leverich is meant to be ridden clockwise. Hop on the uphill-designated trail straight out of the parking lot, then climb a series of tough switchbacks and steep, rocky sections before finally topping out. Enjoy a stellar downhill with plenty of berms, jumps, hootin’, and hollerin’.

For more bike-specific trails, head to Copper City for a 20-mile network with something for everybody. Keep in mind that hikers and runners are also welcome here. You’ll find everything from a fun skills park and mellow beginner trails to rough and rowdy descents, including massive jump lines.

Saddle Up
First things first: you need a bike, and bikes are expensive, so you’ll need to overcome the initial sticker-shock. But consider yourself lucky, because our town runneth over with deals on gear. If you’re looking to spend as little as possible, start at a second-hand store, online marketplace, pawn shop, or the annual GVBC Bike Swap. If you’re willing to shell out for a new set of wheels, hit the bike shops. Remember that full-suspension is often preferred, but will be significantly more expensive to purchase and service. For some, especially casual bikers, buying a hardtail can save a grand or more.

Next, you’ll need a helmet, pack, and repair kit for those inevitable mechanical failures on the trail, plus the standard outdoor equipment: extra layer, rain shell, first-aid kit, and bear spray. Padded gloves are a great option, as are sunglasses to keep wind and debris out of your eyes while riding. You might also want some knee and elbow pads, because the crashing never stops, even after you improve.

Bikes are fun because they are freeing. How else can human power alone get you so far out there? But a malfunction is inconvenient at best, and extremely dangerous at worst. Knowing how to make a few fixes on your own will prove beneficial when something goes wrong out on the trail, and you’ll save some money because you won’t need to shell out cash every time you need work done. There are lots of great bike classes and resources in the area. Check in with local bike shops, or head to outsidebozeman.com/biking for more reading.

Etiquette
It’s always important to consider other trail users—whether they’re on foot, horseback, or motorized equipment. Use your discretion and pay attention. Spot approaching hikers as early as possible. They have the right of way, regardless of conditions, but still, there’s a good chance they’ll step off the trail to let you pass without interrupting your ride. If not, pull off to the side, give a polite nod, and carry on. Always give horses a wide berth to avoid spooking them, and when possible, pull off on the downhill side of the trail. Greeting the rider in a friendly voice often helps ease a spooky horse, too. If a biker comes upon another biker, the one going uphill has the right of way. If you’re traveling with a four-legged friend, make sure to keep her under control. And be prepared to clean up if she makes a deposit on or near the trail.

Trail preservation is the name of the game when on wheels. Since bikes damage the trail more than boots, it’s a rider’s responsibility to limit the impact. Don’t go out when trails are muddy. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re leaving deep marks in the dirt, you should consider walking that section instead of riding. If the conditions persist, turn back and try a different ride. Avoid biking off-trail, which damages vegetation and can create incidental and unwanted walkaround trails. If you come across a pool of water, take a few minutes to dig a little trench and drain it.

 

Winter Wonderland

by the editors

A guide to a winter paradise. 

Skiing might be the classic winter activity around here, but there are plenty of other things to do when the temperature plunges. Whether your legs are sore from hitting the slopes, or you’re just looking to try something new, here are a couple of our second-string favorites.

Sledding
Who said tearing down a hill on a sled is just for kids? Some folks say it only gets better with age. The bottom line is that it’s fun for anyone with a pulse. As affordable as it is accessible, sledding is a Montana pastime, and Bozeman has a number of popular spots worth checking out: Snowfill Recreation Area, Peets Hill, the Regional Park, and Langohr Campground up Hyalite are just a few. Really, any public land with a rising slope will do—just make sure the hill has a decent run-out.

Snowshoeing
If you can walk, chances are you can snowshoe—and have fun doing it. To get started, pick a trailhead. While packed snow offers easy walking, your best bet is to veer off-trail and make your own path. One of the major joys of snowshoeing is finding solitude and serenity in the winter woods. A beginner setup (shoes & poles) runs about $200 brand-new; if you’re on a budget, pick up a pair of hand-me-downs and use your ski poles.

Snowmobiling
With the power of a snowmobile, there’s a lot you can see. Whether flying around the mountains of West Yellowstone, Big Sky, Cooke City, or Island Park, a high-speed adrenaline rush is hard to beat. There are many guide and rental services scattered throughout southwest Montana, and most places that rent snowmobiles supply snowsuits, helmets, and other accessories.

Skating
Every winter, three outdoor ice rinks pop up at Bozeman parks: Bogert, Southside, and Beall. Once the ice sets up for the season—normally in late December—the rinks stay open until 10pm every day. Southside and Bogert have warming huts for cozy cups of hot chocolate and a comfortable abode to put on and take off skates. Additional skating is offered at the Haynes Pavilion, home of the local hockey league; they rent skates for $5, plus a $5 entry fee.

Ice Fishing
Don’t knock it ’til you try it—ice fishing is a classic winter activity out West. Bring an ice auger, a fishing rod, warm clothes, and a sixer to stay true to the deep-seated roots of this activity. Hyalite Reservoir is a good option for trout, but the Bozeman Pond next to the mall is a little closer to home and has a plethora of bass and panfish. Just remember to check the ice thickness before venturing out too far. It takes four inches to support the weight of an adult human.

Events
The great thing about Bozeman is that no matter your taste, there’s always something going on. Here are a few noteworthy events for you non-skiers out there.

Ongoing
Learn to Skate – Bozeman. Get tips from the pros on how to slide smoothly on ice. Classes offered for ages four and up, from beginner to advanced. gallatinice.org

October
Hocktober Scramble – Bozeman. This fun hockey series gives players of all levels a chance to test their skills—and have a blast doing it—in competitive pickup games. bozemanhockey.org

January
SNöFLINGA – Butte. There’s something for everyone here. We’re talking snowshoe tours, fatbike races, avalanche-awareness classes… the list goes on. snoflinga.org

January
Wild West Winterfest – Island Park. Join cheery folk for a winter celebration complete with a parade of snowmobiles, sleigh rides, and a kids’ carnival. islandparkchamber.org

February
Skijoring – Big Sky. If you don’t already know what skijoring is, you’re in for a treat. Head to Big Sky for an old-time wild-west showdown. bigskyskijoring.com

Editor’s note: dates are subject to change. For the most updated information, visit outsidebozeman.com/events.