|Yes Montana, you have a big sky, and it's beautiful first thing in the morning|
Departing the Eastern Sierra for the holiday season was a tough move this year. After a great day on Bloody and arrival of a storm as big as any we received in the 2011/2012 season meant the dawn patrol before departing town brought the first face shots of the season. “Ian, just point ‘em down hill…if you’re going too fast, make a quick turn and shower yourself with cold smoke.” Yes, the snow the week before Christmas was more bountiful, more stable and drier than expected. That meant deep, hero turns before work…then departure for some time with family. No biggy…the more it snows, the more full the backcountry will be when I get back.
|So much potential for good...|
The first leg of the journey saw the landing gear touchdown in DC. With silly-cheap flights to cross the country, then to Vermont, I would be continuing the one-way ticket travel theme of 2012. That was all fine and good until getting on the metro to my brother’s apartment I got a call. “Cancel your last leg…I need you to tow my boat up to New York.” The relaxed holiday travel just got a little, well, less easy.
|...Yet time and time again a bastian for power hungry, do-nothing bureaucrats|
Before finally coalescing and hauling his behemoth wakeboarding boat behind America’s most ubiquitous people hauler up half the eastern seaboard, it was time to explore our nation’s capitol a bit. Washington was great, mostly because I got to spend time with brother, and see some of America’s most poignant bi-polarism: Much of what is right with our country [world class museums with free admission], situated directly next to the epitomy of what is wrong [an almost completely dysfunctional government].
|Those semi's probably got better gas milage. Oops|
Pete and I explored the botanical gardens, wandering through a jungle bedecked with delicate orchids, equatorial spice plants, palm trees and glass walls dripping with warm humidity. No ticket cost, just a friendly head nod from the front desk as we wandered through the various rooms. It’s a source of pride to know that just down the street, anyone can do the same, but with air and space, contemporary paintings, the bill of rights…the list goes on. We also took some time to complete a hot lap of the capitol. Years ago friends and I would point at the marble dome saying “We work there,” happily reminding ourselves of our senate page duties during the summer months.
|The first gift of xmas 2012...and one that keeps on giving|
15 years later, as Pete and I meandered around the global symbol of grassroots democracy, I could only muster a sense of tepid ambivalence. Deep down, I want to know our government can do what’s right and prove again we can be global leaders in the right arenas. More pragmatically, I look to it as a sheepish sanctuary of selfish politicians eager to do nothing but hold onto power so they can continue lining their pockets and those of their wealthy corporate benefactors. I wish you well, DC, and it was good to visit, but it was time to head to New England.
|How many routes can you count from your doorstep? Home sweet home for five days|
Never have I operated a standard road-going vehicle aveaging less than 10mpg. Waking in the morning to see brother to work, it was then time for me to go to work, and that meant logging miles quickly and efficiently. I had to get his 5k lb boat to upstate New York before 4pm, and I was successful. I even squeaked in a detour through Princeton, NJ – long enough to admire the beauty of the town and snicker at their namesake institution’s bloated sense of prestige and importance. Then it was off to the green and white mountains of Vermont. Three trips home in a year was a personal best in 2012, and though I can’t expect to repeat it in 2013, it doesn’t damper the joy of spending time with family, eating local delicious foods, sipping local microbrews and reminding myself of why Vermont was such a great place to grow up. Sprinkle in plenty of time relaxing and laughing and exchanging stories over scrumptious home-cooked feasts, and you have a great winter-warmer recipe.
|Yes, it's ok to smile whilst ice climbing...because it's so damn good|
Travelling out of Vermont proved to be difficult for everyone but my father as he eschewed the travel advisories accompanying the biggest storm in two years and got me to Hanover with time to spare for the next Dartmouth Coach to Boston. Buses, an airport bivy, planes full of winter sickness and two rental cars later, I was in a place that should elicit a smile from anyone: Cody, WY. It was time for the annual ice pilgrimage to the Rocky Mountains with a bunch of College gents and it was not to disappoint.
|Mr. Feinstein even joined us for a couple days. Photo: Jeff Hebert|
The South Fork, Shoshone River area is a fantastically beautiful concentration of conglomerate rock cliffs, mountains and buttes spewing ice flows over cliffs in a frequency unmatched by any locale in the contiguous 48. In the last 5 miles of the drive you set eyes on 100m flows of ice from the cozy confines of your car seat and stare with pavlovian anticipation of the next day’s objective. This year marked the first for opening the Flying H ranch at the end of the road to ice climbers.
|Eben, a little wet, but no worse for the wear|
There are three alternatives to this lodging arrangement: car camp at the near by Deer Creek campground [convenient, but rugged if you don’t love camping in < 0F temps and have wet, cold gear], bivying at the base of climbs [brrr…why would you ever do that?], or drive back into Cody and get some inexpensive lodging. Problem with the latter is the road is 37 miles one way, winding in places and speckled with deer at sporadic and unpredictable intervals. We jumped at the possibility of sleeping out there [nice work, Ryan], and we were set for five days of winter glory.
Day 1: Broken Hearts
Day 2: Festering Ice, Ice Fest
Day 3: School House Gully
Day 4: Mean Green
Day 5: Spying and Flying
|Mr. Hebert was even smiling...but then, how can you not?|
Bryan joined us for the first two days of climbing while the author had to bail after half of the climbs on day 2 due to illness. Of course, there has to be something memorable with every trip and this time it was an unfortunate turn of events. Ryan took a chunk of ice directly to the left pupil, rupturing capillaries and abrading the cornea. That meant a late night run to the Billings Clinic for a qualified ophthalmologist to conclude that Ryan would regain full vision, albeit with some side effects including x-ray and augmented reality vision a la the Terminator [watch out, ladies and the DOD].
|Eben taking on pitch 1 of Mean Green. Photo: Jeff Hebert|
After some tasty talking with airline personnel exploiting some ‘medical emergency,’ he was back home to accelerate his recovery and we were back at the Flying H to make the most of the rest of our stay. Eben and Jeff kept up the continuous climbing and got an afternoon in the Schoolhouse gully after rallying from Billings in the am, and while the author took another rest day to purge the travel demons, the ambitious pair knocked off the first three pitches of Mean Green the next day. Jeff parted ways back to the pacific northwest while Eben and the author went exploring for Spying and Flying. The first pitch was too wet and thin in spots for our liking [quite surprising given air temps were barely double digits F], so pitches 2 – 4 were completed in its stead. Compared to the other climbs, S&F had a longer and more arduous approach, but the quality of ice and aesthetics of the climb [certainly even more so with pitch 1 fully in] are well worth the price of admission.
|Mr. Hebert exercising wardrobe/gear color coordination and safety first on P2 of Mean Green. Photo: Eben Sargent|
For the author, it was then time to spend some welcome time in MT with the better half – introducing her to ice climbing after a day of flying with her and her father over the Beartooth Mountains in his Comanche 4-seater. There are fantastic ski and rock lines in those mountains for those willing to endure a little approach and bush whack, and I was delightfully surprised at the general burly-ness of this previously unknown terrain – I can’t wait to get back with the AT setup and some additional gumption.
|The author leaving the evil at the belay on pitch 4: Spying and Flying. Photo: Eben Sargent|
Lauren scaled four pitches of ice with nary a complaint – not a surprise given her Montana heritage and how there was thick, blue plastic ice everywhere in that canyon. One more day based out of Red Lodge involved a road trip with the lady up East Rosebud Canyon – a gorgeous glacially carved valley on the Beartooth’s northern fringes. Home of California Ice and a couple of other hidden and not-so subtle ice flows, I’m surprised I haven’t explored more of this area and can’t wait to go back with more daylight and the pointy bits.
|First day ice climbing...and this has been in your back yard for how long?|
|Yes, don't be afraid to smile when getting the goods...|
So after a couple weeks of getting around and about, I’m as enthused as ever to make the most of the 2013 winter [with some work mixed in for balance of course], I wish all of you a happy and healthy season, and look forward to seeing you outside.
|Highest peak in Montana...from the window of a Comanche...sure looks like fun|
|Water and bubbles sure do funny things when it gets cold|