Hyalite Canyon Ice is (was?) in

Looking from Twin Falls cirque east across the canyon (with Winter Dance forming on middle left of the LH prow. Click to enlarge and use magnifier to find Winter Dance)


As I write this, the temps yesterday reached 70°F (!), with no sign of winter conditions in the near future. So the ice that I climbed this prior weekend may just be liquid now. So it goes here in the Montana off-season. Irregardless, here’s my take on the weekend’s fun:

Midway up Twin Falls with snow covered ice


I got out twice this past weekend, with both outings to Twin Falls here in Hyalite Canyon. It is mostly an off trail approach, with a makeshift climbers trail existing here in the early season, and a bootpack often in the later season. A big thanks to Bud Martin for the chainsaw trail work that has aided in the community’s ease of access. Way to go, sir! After a couple of miles and a couple thousand feet of elevation gain, I made it up to Twin Falls late Sat afternoon, passing four or five climbing parties who were on the descent. Both the left and right falls looked to be climbable, so I ice bouldered around for a minute to try out my new Petzl Nomics (yup, I bit the bullet and got the gold standards!), and also to try out my boot/crampon interface between my new Scarpa Phantom Ultras and my trusty Grivel G20s. I really couldn’t ask for a much better setup.

Nomic with new Cold Thistle hammer


Everything seemed to be in working order, and I even tried out my newly purchased and amazingly crafted 36 gram Cold Thistle Tools Nomic Hammers on the notoriously chossy Hyalite rock. Anyone who has pounded a piton knows that singing sound that a well place pin makes, and the new hammers performed with aplomb, albeit while on the safety of the ground. Better to know this while grounded, than to find out otherwise 40m off of the deck! And as for a Chamonix treat to myself earlier this summer, the unavailable in the states Phantom Ultras (LW brother to the Scarpa Phantom Guides) hiked like a dream and also felt great climbing. It is a wonder to me that this Ueli Steck designed boot did not make it to the U.S. Weird. Glad to have them on my feet though!

Scarpa Phantom Ultras doing their thing


Phantom Ultra and G20


It was cold and wintery on my Sat recon, while the next day felt like spring, despite ProLite’s Brad Baumann and I getting to the trailhead as the first car and first climbers Sun morning. There was some fresh snow, although it was quite wet, and the ice looked to have built up all throughout Hyalite Canyon over the course of the last 12 hours. So up we went, with the right side of Twin Falls being my first lead of the season – and a long one at that. Twin Falls is Hyalite’s premier WI3 pitch of climbing, coming in at around 60m or so of fun and classic moderate ice. A perfect climb for those of all abilities, especially for an October (thin) ice climb. I placed four stubby 12-13cm screws and one 16cm for the whole pitch, although this was plenty for the moderate grade and thin ice. My rack consisted of a mixture of Grivel 360’s, Grivel Helix’s and Black Diamond Express ice screws. All which worked just fine. There are subtle nuances between these brands/styles, but nothing to really note except that the BD’s weigh considerably less for the gram-counters among us. My favorites thus far are the Helix and the Express screws, after using a few other screws over the last couple seasons. Ease of racking and ease of placement are the main reasons for this preference. As for the 360’s, they are wonderful to place in featured ice due to the smaller head size, but because of this they are horrible to rack. Each screw potentially has its place, but the overall ergonomics of the Helix and Express seem to take the cake.

Looking to right side of Twin Falls from the left, mid-rappel


Brad coming up and over the last of the climb


Psyched on the early season ice and lead, I brought Brad up and we traversed over to the left side of the falls to make the double rappel, given that we had a single 70m rope that wouldn’t take us all the way to the ground. The rap is straightforward from the left side, with multiple slung trees about halfway down from Twin’s left belay. By the time we got down, a couple of parties had arrived and we were on our way out, in time for a delicious Cajun lunch in town at Cafe Zydeco. You know what they say about the early bird…it catches the po-boy sandwich!

Rapping the left falls


Regarding gear, besides the aforementioned boots, crampons, and tools, I got to climb in the recently highlighted Westcomb Shift Lt Hoody on Dane’s Cold Thistle blog. A wonderfully designed piece from a North American manufacturer (Brad and I actually helped in this design, so a little gratuitous horn-tooting!). Westcomb came through for the LW community and put out the lightest NeoShell piece to date with the Shift (my small weighs 312g/11oz). One napoleon pocket, 3-way adjust hood that accommodates a helmet, draw hem, alpine cuffs, roomy enough for a midlayer, and did I mention that it’s currently the lightest NeoShell piece on the market?! For those that aren’t familiar, Polartec’s NeoShell is an industry breakthrough, and one that I’ve been testing prior to it being available on the market.

Testing a prototype Westcomb NeoShell Apoc Jacket in Yellowstone, December 2010


I can attest to the fabric’s impeccable breathability, 4-way stretch, and waterproofness. It is not your Gore-Tex of yesteryear! One must try it to believe, but I can vouch for it after nearly two years of testing. I have high hopes for this LW piece, and it has served me well thus far on various outings and temperature ranges, including the truly testing Scottish hills, winter in Yellowstone, and now Hyalite ice climbing. To many more, I say. And as I’ve mentioned many times previously on this blog, my HMG Ice Pack was absolutely a tried and true piece of highly functional equipment for the mountains. None better, in my opinion. Over a year of abuse/use and no real complaints to date. The carry and design are unparallelled for a two pound pack. Thank you HMG, for breaking the mold!

HMG Ice Pack and Nomics – locked and loaded


Again, so psyched to have climbed a Hyalite ice classic in October. Let us hope that the current warm weather doesn’t completely degrade the already forming ice here in the hills – keep your fingers crossed for more to come. If no ice, then backpacking may be in order for the upcoming weekend. Either way, I look forward to the opportunities that abound here in this gorgeous neck of the woods.

Twin Falls from below

One Comment

  1. Reply
    Janice Blum November 11, 2012

    Nice Scarpa’s! I have low rise purple Scarpa’s that I wear to work. My on cession o individuality in a forced blue only scrubs scene

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