Warm Weather, Avalanches and Ice Climbing

Submitted by JoJo on Mon, 01/19/2009 - 11:24

With the wacky weather and snow conditions we've been having this winter, many people have been under the impression that the ice climbing conditions are not very good. Quite the contrary.

Despite the record temps in town, the overnight lows up high have been perfect for ice climbing. Just this past weekend there have been single digit temps as low as 7,000 feet in Yellowstone Park. So as the skiing deteriorates and the secret stashes get played out, the ice is only getting better. Check the Shower Falls SnoTel site (8,100 feet in Hyalite) to get a good idea of the temps. See the link to the right. The average daily temp has been well below freezing even through the latest warm spell.

Other than a few routes here and there I would not expect wholesale deterioration of the ice until March. And even then, many routes will be good well into April. Because Hyalite was typically inaccessible by now, the local community collectively has limited experience with the conditions this time of year. Please post your observations and updates on Montana Ice so we can all benefit and make the most of the local ice season.

Avoiding avalanches, of course, is a completely different concern. Fortunately for us we have a plethora of local routes that are safe regardless of the snowpack conditions. Doug Chabot and I recently got together and created a list of routes in Southwest Montana that are free, or relatively free, of avalanche hazard.

I strongly encourage everyone to frequent the local avalanche advisory at 406-587-6981 or check it out online at www.mtavalanche.com. For those of you interested in Hyalite, the canyon falls under the "Northern Gallatins" report.

Here is a list of routes that are pretty much good to go regardless of the snowpack issues (with a little more in-depth discussion for the Main Fork of Hyalite Canyon). Be aware, however, that some of these might have a loaded pocket here or there that may require caution. Remember, a small Class 2 sluff in a terrain trap can just as easily kill you as the big, to-the-ground, monster.

Like ice conditions, avalanche awareness and safety is often a matter of local knowledge, prevailing conditions and weather history of a specific spot. Please post your observations. Thanks in advance.

Big Sky
The pillars near Ousel Falls are good. Late in the season the slope above them might sluff as it warms up.

Yellowstone National Park
There are two routes that are not described in "Winter Dance" but are both excellent routes free from any avalanche hazard. I've climbed them both this winter and will be posting info soon on the "More Beta" page at www.firstascentpress.com.

Lost Creek Falls
- Located above Roosevelt Junction in Yellowstone National Park.
Tower Falls - This high volume falls gets no sun and when formed is an excellent climb. Requires a 2.5 mile ski up the road.

Cooke City Area
Hydromonster - may have some pockets here and there on the approach but this one is quite safe.
Silver Creek Falls - there may be some small loaded slopes along the creek on the final approach.
Ice Box Canyon - This area is safe, as long as the creek is frozen, but can be an ugly post hole to reach the ice.

East Rosebud Canyon - if I don't say anything about a route, it should be pretty safe from avalanches.
Sand Dune Falls
Fire Killer
Hellroaring Falls
Falls Between
- this one is in a big scree gully but it would have to be very loaded or late in the season for it to be a concern.

West Rosebud Canyon
- I'm not sure about this one. It's been awhile since I've been up there but my memory is that it isn't too bad.

Pine Creek
The popular Blue and Green are in major avalanche chutes but there are other good safe routes, listed below.

Pine Creek Falls & Variations
All Mixed Up
East of Paradise
Black Gully

Hyalite East Fork
Champagne Slot & Sherbet
High Crimes and Misdemeanors
Upper Flanders -
the routes directly above Champagne (not Code Red) are relatively safe but they are rarely formed, infrequently traveled and there may be loaded gullies here and there.

Unnamed Wall
The open slope below the cliff is marginally steep enough to slide and would require major loading to be of concern. If in doubt stay in the trees directly to Bingo World. The gullies below Magically Delicious, Come and Get It and the Black Magic Wall can get loaded. Otherwise this entire wall is pretty safe.

Genesis Area

All in all, this area is pretty safe although the gullies have been known to slide. If in doubt, do not cross over between Hangover and Genesis II. You can easily reach Hangover by hiking around the left side of the G1 cliff then staying in the trees all the way to the cliff. Upper Greensleeves can be reached by climbing Hangover and then hiking over to the top of the routes.

Mummy Cooler Area

Mummy Cooler I and the Ampitheater are always safe. Mummy II and The Sceptre have significant gullies above them. Here, natural avalanches will become more of a problem later in the season since they get considerable sun as the days get longer. The routes right of Mummy II are all quite safe although The Matrix might get some sluffing as the snowpack goes isothermal. Also, the bottom of the cliff can get loaded (from spindrift and wind) but now that the routes are more popular it stays pretty beat out. You can belay from tree to tree if it's real bad.

Winter Dance Area
This includes all the routes below Winter Dance. These all have exposed gullies that get considerable sun. Dialectric Breakdown and Winter Dance itself (using the ridgeline approach) are the only safe routes in this area although neither one formed this winter.

Dribbles Area
This describes the area from Rocket Boy (rarely formed) all the way to the Climb Above Dribbles. Responsible Family Men, Avalanche Gulch and Silken Falls are all in major gullies where avalanches are a concern. They also get lots of sun. Thus, even if there is a beaten out trail to the base, conditions can change quickly and be careful of natural slides from above.
Dribbles is the only route in this area that is safe from avalanches although there may be pockets on the approach. If it is bad, you can avoid most anything with careful route finding.

Twin Falls Area

Cleos, Twin Falls and anything between these are quite safe and they have the added advantage of only getting a few hours of sun in the morning and thus the snowpack is less affected by the sun. The slope below Cleo's is marginally steep enough to be of concern. The old trail use to stay in the trees on the right only to cut across the gully right at thetop. In an effort to make the approach route good for skiing, the new trail now comes out lower and goes straight up the gully. If in doubt, stick to the trees as much as possible. Everything right of the Big Cleft with the chockstone are in major avalanche gullies.

Everything Else

This includes Kansas Cornfield, Reparation, Monkey Ass Wall/Strong Persuader Area, Once in a Blue Moon/Long Walk to Freedom. All of these routes except Long Walk/Blue Moon (these are good routes) are in gullies requiring care.

That is it for now. Good luck, have fun and be safe out there. Thanks for reading. I hope this helps and inspires folks to get out.


Joe Josephson

For some reason I could not make this note show up here. I just heard from others having the same problem. I have reposted it under the Hyalite Section. I does have some info for other areas as well.