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The Bozeman Ice Tower

Bozeman Daily Chronicle Editorial Submission for 26 November 2010
© Conrad Anker 2009

Hyalite Canyon, due its northerly drainage and volcanic rock, freezes up each winter to provide the most reliable and varied ice climbing in the lower 48. Thanks to the County Road and Bridge and the Forest Service’s plowing efforts, Hyalite Canyon is accessible for winter enthusiasts be they fishermen, skiers or climbers. The Twin Falls freezes up offering a great introductory experience on water ice. The springtime drips transform into frigid test pieces attracting the best to test their mettle. From the moderate to the extreme, Hyalite Canyon offers a high density of climbs in a remote setting.
To celebrate the sport, each December climbers from around the world meet for instruction and a good time at the annual Bozeman Ice Festival. The cold temps and dependable conditions allow us to hold the first of the seasonal ice festivals. Ice climbing is a global sport with similar gatherings taking place in Korea, Canada, the Alps and Russia each winter. Competitive ice climbing is part of the fun and entails scratching one’s way up a fake cliff dribbled with blobs of ice. Climbers compete in difficulty and speed. Competitions are popular enough that at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics ice climbing will be a demonstration sport. For the sport to eventually make it to the Olympics, a track record of “World Cup” level competition needs to be held. Currently, the ice climbing world cup is held in Europe and Asia each winter. With an eye on the 2014 Olympics climbers are training and competing to represent our country.

To date there is no venue for world cup ice climbing in the United States. Not having a national training facility creates an opportunity for Bozeman. By designing and building a competition climbing structure Bozeman would be the first community in the United States to host the Ice Climbing World Cup. The event could tie in with the Bozeman Ice Festival in a logical and efficient way.

Imagine a structure at the County Fairgrounds reaching 100 feet into the sky. Designed and built with side-cycled chair lift towers from the old Deer Park and Bridger lifts at Bridger Bowl, the tripod shaped tower would allow climbing and rope work. In the summer climbers could challenge themselves on warm rock. Novices could ascend the stairs and learn to rappel. In winter the structure would be draped with several tons of ice, providing ice climbers a controlled feature to train on. Additionally, the tower would be an ideal place for the County Search and Rescue Team to train for evacuations and high angle rope work. The aerie at the summit would provide an eagle’s view of the fairgrounds and have a flag visible from Interstate-90. The tower would require a small footprint and could be maintained by volunteers and the fairground staff in a similar manner to Haynes Ice Hockey Pavilion.

With the completion of the fifth boulder in Rose Park this summer we will have enhanced our parks with equipment that appeals to all ages and most abilities. Scampering around on a cement rock encourages exercise, an activity that benefits all. The boulders were built with support from the community and the Parks and Recreation Department. To extrapolate the concept of the outdoor boulders to a community funded winter ice-climbing tower is a sensible progression. It would put Bozeman on the map as “ice climbing central” and bring more visitors to the County Fairgrounds.

If you are interested and would like to learn more please visit or come to an evening event at the Bozeman Ice Festival at the Emerson on the 10th or 11th of December.


With each passing day I have this sense that each day is a little shorter. I never quite get everything done, the rote stuff seems to take more of my time and those truly special moments, the ones to cherish, never seem to last. This is in contrast to Sam, our senior in high school, who in two brief months will cross the thresh-hold of education to enter as an adult in our society. For Sam? These two months seem like an eternity. The clock is constant for both of us; it is our perception relative to our experience in life. Having experienced three decades more than Sam time is very precious and moves faster.

Art Mortvedt, pilot extraordinaire, came to visit Bozeman and Montana to share his quest to fly the Polar Pumpkin from pole to pole. The Cessna 180 is a fine durable single engine plane that has cris-crossed the planet. I had the good fortune to fly with Art while working in Antarctica more than a decade ago. One of our most memorable flights was a low elevation flight over the Minnesota Glacier in Antarctica filming for the Nova special (TK). The crevasses were a rope length below us, the epitome of inhospitable land. Art and his wife run a small lodge north of Fairbanks, the Peace of Shelby. Aside from walking and dog sledding flying is how you get to their magnificent place. Art is a top drawer fellow – he is a man of the land. Art is adept at keeping things in good repair and keeping a level head about it all. Yep, visiting Art in Alaska is on my big “to do” list.

My training friend Scott Creel and I enjoyed 24 hours of Hyalite on the 6th of March. We started climbing at 5 PM, went through the night and finished the following day. Lots of fun. Got to climb lots of ice!



Night Climbing.

Nice mixed climb.

Happy Campers!

Every year for the past four years my friend Boone Speed comes and visits us in March. Boone and I go back to the mid eighties in Salt Lake City. Boone was one of the key motivators in the development of American Fork, the limestone area south of the Salt Lake valley. At the time I couldn’t keep up with Boone and his fingers of steel. He still pulls down. We meet up to capture images of ice climbs.

This year Sam Elias, a young climber who took second at the 2010 Ouray Ice Festival came along. Being 20 years younger than I am and very strong Sam got on an open project in the Bingo World cave in Hyalite Canyon. After two days of working the route he sent it on his fifth go – pretty darn hard, a tour de force of mixed climbing. It was very inspiring to see Sam pull multiple figure fours out the roof.

Max was home from university and joined our small group up at the base of the Andesite cliff amongst the pine trees. As an aspiring photographer it was inspiring to see Boone share his skills with Max. The ball of knowledge. Learn from it, add to it and pass it on.

Last week Jenni, Sam and Isaac and I visited Sayulita, Mexico for spring break. In the past we would go camping in the deserts of Utah. Which is very nice. Except when it snowed. Beating snow off a tent in the predawn is my idea of a good time. Then I would here a bit of grousing that this isn’t a “vacation”.

Same Bat Channel – more to come!

January 12th, 2010. Typing the date is a reminder that time flies.

We had a wonderful Christmas break with Max home from Seville, Spain and his junior year abroad, Sam happy not have to brave the congested halls of Bozeman High School and Isaac glad to have earned time on his X-Box. (During school the toy disappears, hmmm?)
Jenni was able to get out for a few afternoons with Chippy her horse and we all enjoyed a few days up on the ski hill.

Last weekend the climbing tribe converged on Ouray for the 15th Annual Ouray Ice Festival. The gathering was welcomed by good weather, nice ice and the usual truck full of New Belgium beer. Vince Anderson set the comp route, which was the best yet. With a sit down start, an epic chimney and the cliche headwall, the route was engaging, challenging and a testament to Vince’s route setting skills. People fell off at different moves and the winner, Josh Wharton, won by climbing the route faster than Sam Elias, the only other climber to complete the route.

While on the stand I looked at the ice and began to think about the impact the millions of gallons of water frozen for the winter has on the local water and bio-zone. Glaciers are nature’s reservoirs – holding water in the frozen state and letting it trickle back when temperatures warm up. The water that is used for the Ouray Ice Park is allocated and would continue down stream for agriculture use. Being winter and all there is not as much need for water. So…. the ice park stores the water, cools the local surrounding and then releases the water slowly for the coming spring and summer.

Perhaps the practice of farming ice is good for the environment. Saving water for future use and cooling the area at the same time.

Hats off to Will Gadd, of Canada, who in a 24 hour period climbed 193 laps on “Pick of the Vic”, a 145 water fall. Just about 28,000 feet of climbing! Amazing. The climb was a fundriser for the dZi foundation, a group working to improve the quality of life and education in Nepal.

I’m off to Nepal and the Khumbu Climbing School for year seven. Looking forward to a top notch group of student and three weeks of arduous hiking around the high reaches of Nepal.

All the best,


Ice climbing and surfing are both water sports. There is probably an 80 degree Fahrenheit difference between the two disciplines. Which is pretty vast. What they do share is that they are both conditions dependent. The ephemeral nature of surfing is that one needs the right wind that creates the swell, atmospheric pressure and perhaps alignment of the stars. For ice climbing it is probably the same except that in there is no swell. Periodically surfing is given a huge season. The surfers go nuts and the legend grows.

So it is with ice. Hyalite Canyon in SW Montana we are totally happy to be in the first month of what promises to be an epic season. To start off the Mummy climbs received an ascent on the second weekend of October. Then in November the seldom seen climbs started filling in. The Big Sleep, Black Magic and Winter Dance all were climbed before the 1st of December. The standard climbs formed in well.

So what brings on a good season for Hyalite Canyon? First of the geologic layup of the canyon favors ice climbing. The canyon is on the east side (read cold) of the divide and drains north. The peaks sit atop a layer of volcanic mudflow and andesite – both a bit more impermeable to water than the country rock above. Combine this with a very wet summer, a cold October and a heavy Sierra grade layer of snow the second week of November and everything lines up! Ice grows fastest (albeit brittle) when the temps are cold.

Just for the record – I am a totally novice surfer. I aspire to get better, but until then I’ll have to be happy with dicey run outs, falling ice and the occasional smile at the top of a pitch.

The family at the 3rd annual Huffing for Stuffing 5 & 10 K Fun Run on Thanksgiving Day. Our community raised 20 K $ for the food bank. Good karma.

Sunday 13 December somewhere on Interstate 15 near the town of Monida, a tiny village straddling the border of Montana and Idaho. I’m 15 hours in to an epic bus ride across the basin and range of Nevada, up on to the Snake River Plain and into Montana. This past weekend on the 12th of Decemebr Isaac participated in the United States Track and Field Junior Olympic Cross Country running meet. Over 1200 young runners descended on Reno, Nevada. Saturday’s meet was chacterized by blowing snow, packed snow, light snow , wet snow, icy snow, slushy snow, sugary snow and even more snow. Lucky for the Montana contingent this kind of weather is de riguer in the latter part of the season. Our one week to race run was a five miler in ten degree weather.

Isaac, Colter & Theo!

Some of the runners were from climes a bit warmer. A young lady and her mom from South Texas were completely challenged. Mom was in training shoes, not water proof and the runner was tip toeing about in racing spikes. Which have about as much insulation as a pair of dragon fly wings. The family was super psyched to be part of the event – the snow was a real treat.

Blowing snow could be considered a homefield advantage for the kids from Helena, Great Falls, Butte and Bozeman. Which it was. Eight runners made “all American” (top 25) and the Girls Youth Team took second in team points, edging out the powerhouse Bowerman Team from Portland Oregon.

Cross country running is the perfect mix between pure athleticism and trail running. The courses are generally set on rolling hills with a few obstacles – sharp turns and other runners that fall over for good measure. My haunch is that kid runners will follow through with the sport for the rest of their lives. I did.

Not all is cream and peaches. This past Thursday the climbing community lost one of it’s guiding lights. Guy Lacelle of Canada fell to his death in Hyalite Canyon. A small pocket avalanche caught Guy as he was transitioning from moderate to low angle terrain. Guy will be dearly missed by the international climbing community. He was a tree planter in BC because he loved to care for nature. He was an ice climber because he loved nature in its most rare and ephemeral state.

Miss you Guy……. thanks for the 17 years of friendship. The day we caught Happy Days in nick is one of my most memorable moments.


It’s January and it’s cold. January also happens to be the month of ice festivals. The first weekend I was in Ouray (pronounced “you’re Ray”), Colorado and the second weekend I was in Keene (pronounced with a silent e at the end), New York for the 13th annual Mountain Fest. Nestled in the high peaks region of the Adirondacks, Keene is a small town of 600 people. In this quaint New England town is one our nation’s premier specialty outdoor retailers, The Mountaineer. The successful shop sells a full line of gear, books, instruments and clothing for exploring the 3 million forested acres of the Adirondacks.

Most towns of 600 struggle to keep a coffee shop and a general store open. Few, and I mean very few, support a shop the quality of Vinnie’s. How do they do it? Location, location and location. The surrounding mountains are home to top-drawer granite cliffs, steep ski runs and picturesque rivers & lakes. The climbing is world class yet a bit of a secret. The summer crags are tucked in the forest, hidden gems awaiting climbers with a draw to explore. In the winter these same crags, particularly the seepy and wet ones, transform to an ice climber’s paradise.

Jenni, Sam & Isaac joined me, courtesy of the mileage program, for the weekend. Jenni and Alex had visited the Adirondacks ten and a half years before in summer with the three boys in summer. Alex raved about the quality of the winter climbing and Jenni wanted to revisit the region in winter. So here we were.

The temps dropped down to a finger numbing -20 on Friday. After a lap on the ultra classic Chouinard Route at Chapel Pond we drove up to Lake Placid, site of the 1980 winter Olympics. Our goal: ride the bobsled. Aside from a few sled runs on Pete’s Hill in Bozeman, none of us had ridden a bonafide high speed g force genratin’ sled run. The curves were vertically embanked and pretty amazing when it we finally got he momentum up. Being one with a pretty high adrenal threshold the tourist version was over far too quick. The one-mile track on a two person bob … that is my next goal.

Sam is 16, a junior in high school and well tuned into what is cool. Indy bands are the music of his choice. Indy being independent. When chilling with Freddie Wilkinson, a New Hampshire alpinist of the sub 30 set, Sam came back with some new appreciation for the sport of gravity.

Climbing is totally indy. You can’t watch it, it isn’t mainstream and climbers sit around talking with each other about hard moves, stopper sequences and the satisfaction of suffering. You live in the moment and have to experience it first hand.

My Intermediate / advanced class at the Positive Reinforcement ice climb in Keene, New York. The fellow on the far right is Gandalf.