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
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 Greensleeves, Fat Chance, and Mummy I.
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 Hangover, The Fat One, Mummy II, and Twin Falls.
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.
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.