Bozeman Ice Festival: Accounts from the Players

Posted on: December 5, 2007

Dean Lords hanging out in The Cave, Hyalite Canyon, Montana. [Photo] John Irvine

Alpinist was proud to sponsor the 2007 Bozeman Ice Festival last weekend. As outlined in both a December 3 Newswire and a November 7 Weekly Feature, the festival's many facets, as well as the complex nature of the access issues that plague the canyon, require significant explication. Thankfully, the Montanan community—and visiting Coloradan and British Columbian communities—of ice climbers is prolific, in both their climbing and writing. This week, Alpinist features the writing of Joe "JoJo" Josephson discussing the design of both a new kind of competition and an access battle, John Irvine telling a tale, Chris Alstrin getting nervous about public speaking and Brian Prax finding a new friend.

Ice Breaker Competition

By Brian Prax, Jackson, WY, Cloudveil

The idea of participating in an ice climbing competition has always made me want to vomit. Tights, fruit boots, climbing the same man-made route with a fake dry-tooling woody to finish at the top, against the clock with pre-placed pro and draws, being videotaped with head-basher music in the background, a huge crowd: they all seem, collectively, to be the antithesis of ice climbing.

To me, ice climbing and competition are as unrelated as politics and social reform. Ice climbing is the essence of two people experiencing physical and psychological challenges in an arena of natural beauty, unbound by rules and regulation, resulting in a sense of accomplishment and sensual fulfillment. The standard "comp" scene is decidedly disparate.


When I was invited to compete in the first Ice Breaker competition at the Bozeman Ice Festival this year, I was, to say the least, skeptical. The initial e-mail from my longtime friend Joe Josephson inviting me to the event sparked my interest, despite my disdain for such things. The format was quite different. Teams of two, chosen randomly from a hat, would climb as many routes as they could within at least three of the four geographical regions of Hyalite Canyon between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. Each route would be scored based upon its difficulty and approach. No spray-painted red lines beyond which placements were disallowed, no crowds, plenty of approaching, rapelling, traversing, tactics, re-approaching, anchor building, deconstructing, rope coiling, stacking, packing—all the elements of actual ice climbing—how novel! No more than two minutes later I called Joe back to confirm the reality of this event. He explained the basic details, accosted me for not talking to him sooner, and easily convinced me to participate. I would indeed play this esteemed game.

Showing up thirty minutes late for the informational meeting due to icy road conditions and a driving companion's last-minute shuffle, I got my partner assignment, a few cheap bottled beers and instructions on rules and regulations, and then we were left to our own devices. Nate, my randomly assigned partner, seemed apt and agreeable. He invited me to stay at his house, and I agreed. We went home, drank scotch, discussed strategy, packed our bags and decided that we would treat the competition as an adventure. I knew immediately that I had found a new ice-climbing partner, as well as a new friend. I crashed with the blackness of an overtired, epic road-tripped corpse, with no alarm set, knowing Nate would rally me in the dense morning stupor.

I barely awoke to commotion at 5 a.m. to find Nate brewing coffee and frying eggs and bacon. We chatted briefly, ate, drank, finished packing and departed on time (barely) for the event. We had scarcely donned our boots and readied our packs as the gun went off for the start.

We spent the rest of the day dashing up moderate ice climbs, rushing to the next, sending, offing, bolting to the next, dodging other competitors, hiking miles to another region, climbing more routes, taking pictures and generally having a great time. I realized that I had already won, in my own way. I had connected with another like-minded, ice-climbing freak who had the same days off and wanted to climb the same routes that I did. We both hated the Bush administration, war, and politics in general, yearned for reform in global climate change, were passionate in relatively new phenomenal relationships, and relished this arbitrarily formed bond imposed upon us. We climbed well together, dealt with systems proficiently, changed our plan efficiently with regard to the rules of the competition, and most importantly, had an absolute blast spending time with one another.

We did not win the competition. We did, however, dominate in the realm of connection and friendship, and we're looking forward to the promise of future epics. No ice climbing competition I have ever witnessed has brought this sort of bounty to its competitors.

A Hyalite Canyon climber prepares his dog for a long, cold day of ice. [Photo] Erik Lambert

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