Monthly Archives: November 2011

Not lookin’ good

Not much ice in Spearfish canyon. 11th Hour is about the only thing climbable.

The cave was trying earlier last week, but there’s not much left now.

If you’ve got the secret weapons.


You can still make the best of it.

Those global warming skeptics best hope they’re right, though. Because if these temp.s are the new normal, they’re gonna find out what it’s like to get cramponned boot up the ass.

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Cooke City

First climb of the season.

As soon as we threw our stuff in the back of the Jetta, we were pretty much doomed. It’s our own fault. We’re just too damned cheap. The thing gets 40 miles to the gallon as opposed to the 4wd Tracker with decent clearance, which gets about 25. But it doesn’t always take high clearance to get into Hyalite, and that plan was looking less likely anyway. Hell, we had just changed our minds about scrapping the whole trip. East Rosebud was as far as we were going to get, and that never took high clearance, just a shovel to get through the drifts.

“Oh shit, we’re getting sucked over!”

 I said that based on feel; the car was plowing up a bit of snow, so I couldn’t really see it happening. By the time I could stop, we were already sideways in the ditch. On the downside, it was the middle of the night about 2 miles out the East Rosebud road. On the upside, it was only 2 miles out the East Rosebud road and we had a come-along and 50 feet of old rope in the back. We’re just cheap, not entirely stupid.

We made it back to the municipal campground in Columbus by 2 AM. There was talk of turning around the next morning, but after some coffee, we headed for Cooke City. It made no sense. Cooke City was the most distant destination South of the Canandian Rockies; literally the town at the end of the road through Yellowstone. But it was a plowed road. Besides, we had nothing to lose.

We got there at noon. Mike had called Jay at the Silvertip Mtn. Center and he’d told us he could see ice from his window. Sure enough, three climbs had formed on the cliff band overlooking the town. We got two in before dark.

Climb #2

There’d been talk of camping earlier in the day. Jay said we might be able to get to some Forest Service land behind the dump. The visitors’ center lady had looked at us like we were nuts when we’d asked her about somewhere to set up a tent. The dump road was steep and it was snowing heavily when we got back to town. So, we shelled out for a cabin at the Pine Edge. Painful, but probably for the best.

Silver Gate

Drying out at the Pine Edge.

The next morning we set out to climb Hydromonster. Our luck hadn’t taken a complete 180, though. The approach beta is thin and no one had been up to the climb yet this season. We post-holed, side-hilled and flopped over blown down timber for a couple of hours. At a key juncture, we tossed a coin and headed into the wrong drainage. It was late by the time we regrouped on the road, and a dip in the Boiling River was sounding better than another run at the approach by then anyway. It’s not like we wouldn’t be back. 

Bison, tail down mode


Boiling River


Nervous elk


Angry elk


All that and amebic meningoencephalitis


Best of Cody – Triptych

It's what you got, not what they call it. Cody "WI 4".

It is hard to get skunked on this one. There is so much ice up this drainage, it would be hard to do all the possible pitches in one day. It is the second drainage past Legg Creek and easily recognizable due to the Triptych – a set of three pillars side by side about half way up the mountainside. Watch out for sheep on the approach. Just as you come around the last bend, there is a mineral lick where the bighorns congregate. Take care not to frighten them or ‘push’ them from the site. You can size up Hostile Takeover while you wait for them to step aside.

The crowd at the mineral lick in the Triptych drainage.

Hostile Takeover












Climb through a narrow gap to the right and into the second tier of climbs, High School Squids on the left and Spittin’ Bullets in a tight chimney on the right.

Spittin' Bullets seen from the narrow gap leading to the second tier.

The next tier up is the Triptych pillars.

The Triptych

 Above that is Nirvana: two easier columns in the shade on the left, (?) Long Neck Bottle and another, regular strength WI 6 in the middle, and possibly two more wet, nasty icicles higher up on the right.

Part of the upper band bonanza, Triptych drainage.

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Best of Cody – High on Boulder

Let’s say you go to the Southfork Ice Fest and have a few Fat Tires while you watch the slideshow. You’re waking up the next morning at 9 AM with the motive but without the means to do some ice climbing. Wait, you don’t have to nurse your headache and ill temper until Cassie’s opens in the afternoon. If you’re looking for a fight that won’t land you in the county jail, you can still make it out to High on Boulder.

You can’t miss it. It is the intimidating flow directly across the river from the Cabin Creek parking area. Once you cross the river (stay tuned for options) you can go right up the stream bed or intersect the Southfork trail and follow it downstream until it turns left to round the toe of the ridge forming the SE boundary of the drainage. There, a faint trail angles off right and up. The trail is easier to walk, but harder to find. Take your pick.

First pitch of High on Boulder

The climb is easier than it looks. The first pitch goes at WI 3, ending at a bolt and chain anchor on the left, which may be buried by snow or ice. Pitch two is a nice WI 4 with a belay at bolts on the left at the next tier of cliffs above the top of the climb. The third pitch is another WI 3 to a tree anchor on the right. Sometimes, a slightly steeper alternative forms on the left side of the gully, straight across from the bolts. If you choose to go that way, the traverse back into the main drainage is not too bad.

Second pitch of High On Boulder


Finishing the alternate 3rd pitch of High on Boulder

Now you’re done, and still in time to get back to the chow line and more beers. But if you’re sick of all that decadent camaraderie, there’s more. A substantial hike with some easy bands of ice to surmount, leads to 25 meters of WI 4 and then to the final headwall and the Pillar of Pain.

Pillar of Pain

This is 50 meters of solid WI 5, with a tree belay on the left.

More Pain

Looking down the Pillar

OK, now you’re really done. But if you want the Gold Star, then down-climb and rappel  to the base of the 2nd pitch and climb the pillar off to the right (Moonrise, WI 5). Break out the headlamp and stumble back to the car. You’ll probably get lost and may take a dip in the Shoshone. This ain’t the kiddie pool after all, it’s the Southfork. And you went and did it right.

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Carotid Artery

Everybody does it. We all have relationships with inanimate objects. For certain classes of object, like vehicles or weapons, personification is so common it seems normal. Every climber I know has a relationship with at least one route. Sometimes it is a hostile relationship. Sometimes it is an abusive relationship, featuring a masochistic blend of fear, pain and desire. Usually, it is a mentorship, albeit a harsh one.

I once heard a historian lament never having gone to war.  He felt he missed the opportunity to find out if he was a coward. A naive sentiment, to say the least, but I understand the thinking because I always saw Carotid Artery as a similar sort of opportunity. I felt it like eyes on my back every time I climbed My Only Valentine, on the sunny side of the same rock amphitheatre where the Carotid Artery resides.

Climbing it the first time took a string of charms. During the drought years and before a large avalanche changed the water flow a bit, the ice formed late in the season if it formed at all. Once I’d worked up the nerve to climb it, the ice never touched down. So, I packed my rock gear. Honestly, the rack of cams and pitons was a talisman all along. The mixed version of the route is part of the Alex Lowe legend and an improbability for me. But the rack has worked its magic every time. The column was formed to the ground that first time I brought the rock gear and each time thereafter.

The mentorship has been rewarding, too. I’ve had all sorts of important questions answered on that climb, like ‘You’ll get no rest, so hows your gumption?’ and ‘Got your metaphysics in line, ’cause that last screw is a piece of shit?’. Trouble is, I think the magic may be wearing off. Last time, the ice was still touching, but with a gap in the middle. I had to use my ice tools on the rock. The placements were improbable, but they were possible. I even set a piece of gear in the rock, and it was good. The promise of salvation is a dangerous thing. I’m afraid the lessons may not be over.

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