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Caroline George Returns to Bozeman Ice Festival, Kicks Off Ice Climbing Season
Posted on December 30, 2010

By Caroline George

For the past three years, the Bozeman Ice Festival in Bozeman, Montana, has marked the beginning of my winter season. I say goodbye to warm sun and rock, climbing slippers and tank tops, and trade it all in for big boots, crampons, axes and, of course, snow and ice.

My husband, Adam, and I arrived a little early to reconnect with the feeling of standing on front points and swinging tools into frozen waterfalls. Although the idea of standing in the cold all day is never that appealing at the start of the season, the magic of reconnecting with the ice instantaneously makes me forget about the pain of screaming barfies and a shivering body. This year though, the transition wasn’t as brutal as previous years when I would partake in the Icebreaker—a competition where we would run at least as much as we would ice climb, trying to hit three areas in the canyon, having lots of fun in the process, crossing paths with fellow competitors and trying to earn the most points by the end of the day.

The Icebreaker competition was cancelled because of a fatality that occurred in the canyon during the Icebreaker last year, when world renown ice climber Guy Lacelle was taken by a small avalanche and fell 500 feet to his death. This was such a big loss for the community. He was not only an amazing climber, but one of a few people who really stuck to their life values. This event really scarred me because it was then that for the first time I came across a dead body in the mountains and, with that, I wasn’t sure that I would return to the event. I didn’t really care to revisit the canyon and relive those moments. I was afraid of how it would affect me, but I am glad I came back.

The athletes gathered Wednesday night at the Northern Lights Store to talk about the event, what each had done throughout the year, how conditions were in the canyon, etc. It was so nice to see many familiar and friendly faces. I am always comforted by the sense of belonging to this amazing community of people who live for this mutual passion. Joe Josephson (JoJo)—the organizer—was as enthusiastic as ever, making us all feel welcome. JoJo has traveled the world in search of new ice climbs his whole life and written guidebooks for the Canadian Rockies and Montana. His unconditional love for this activity combined with his permanent smile are contagious.

The official start to the event was Thursday. Local climber-taught clinics commenced while I went climbing with Adam above Genesis 2, an area located straight above the parking lot. We had heard of a new bolted route being put up, so we headed that way. As often occurs during busy events, the route was taken, so we decided to explore a little and Adam found a fun-looking line: It started up a chossy crack of bad conglomerate, reached a smear of ice and continued farther up the crack to 40 feet of vertical and very brittle ice. Finding a first ascent in such a well traveled area always feels like you found a precious, hidden gem. Climbing it involved eating a lot of dirt and breaking a lot of ice but it was steep enough that we were pretty pumped from climbing it. We then went back down to the line that was previously busy and got to climb it in the warmth of the late afternoon sun. We ended the day with a nice, warm meal in town to refuel for the following day’s clinics.

The Bozeman Ice Festival is the only event to host a full day of all-women’s clinics, taught by women guides. I was working with Mattie Sheafor from Jackson Hole, whom I’d worked with at Chicks With Picks this year. We arrived early in the morning to a parking lot full of very motivated and excited women standing in the falling snow with their packs on and ready to go before we had even left the warmth of our car. This surge of energy is better than any double shot of coffee in the morning. Our clinic was an introduction to leading and multipitch efficiency on ice. To make sure that everyone’s expectations are met, I always ask what those are. Mostly, our ladies wanted to be more self reliant, more efficient on ice, able to place screws and take them out properly and build anchors. So that’s what we worked on all day. While some were climbing and working on their “triangle”  (swinging one tool up and two feet below in line with the ice axe to form a triangle, which is the most efficient way to climb ice), others were learning how to place a screw, build an anchor, make V-threads and multipitch efficiency.

Despite strong winds blowing the snow in all directions, the morale was high and time flew by. I get so much out of days like these. Seeing people learn, improve and wanting to get the most out of the day makes my job so rewarding. We wrapped up with a hot, mint liquored cocoa at the parking lot and a huge platter of cheese. Yum! The little details, the little treats is what makes this event so special.

Clinics were taught Saturday and Sunday, but with a busy schedule ahead I wanted to take advantage of my time in Hyalite canyon to climb for myself and to spend some time with friends. Audrey Gariepy and I went to climb Cleopatra’s Needle (WI5, 120 meters) on Saturday and witnessed someone going airborn on a nearby route appropriately named Airborn Ranger. We climbed the route and had plans to climb some more but we were more motivated to chat and catch up rather than to run around to get as many pitches in as we could. Audrey and I did a trip to the Icefall Brooke a few years back and we only get to see each other at these events. We talked so much that the long hike in and out felt like it never even happened.

Each night, we regrouped at the Emerson Center to watch slide shows by Will Gadd, Emily Stifler, Jason Thompson, Jim Shimberg and an amazing movie by Chris Alstrin, who did an outstanding job at capturing who Guy Lacelle really was. It was inspiring to watch and so humbling to revisit this unique man’s life. It felt like coming full circle with last year’s event. He is gone, but the movie immortalized him in a beautiful way.

This year’s 15th annual Bozeman Ice Festival was the best I have attended yet. The atmosphere was a lot more relaxed without the competition, and we were all there to share in a passion and remember a man who’d inspired us all in one way or another. I left with a smile on my face and full of gratitude to reconnect with friends and meet new ones from all horizons.

Thanks to all the people who made it happen. I can’t wait to come back!

Author: - Thursday, December 30th, 2010
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