GET OUT: Snowvember ice

By on November 25, 2014
Nick Frazee leads a pitch on The Scepter. ELIZABETH KOUTRELAKOS

Nick Frazee leads a pitch on The Scepter. ELIZABETH KOUTRELAKOS

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – What do you do with a Klondike Bar? If I’m heading out on a mid-November camping trip, I buy a bunch and keep those morsels of delight in the snow for dessert each evening.

Some complain that November in Jackson is unseasonable for hiking, but not quite optimal for skiing. I understand both arguments, which is why one may benefit from choosing a completely different activity. A variety of outdoor excursions are possible during this dark and empty time of year, but it is important to find one that fits with your own personal needs for discomfort.

Picture cragging on a sunny wall with a full thermos, snacks and friendly chats with friends all available at your leisure. Now, take away the sun and add down jackets, cold toes and some ice tools. The possibilities are endless. A quick drive to the Bozeman area offers a much-needed breath of cold air to prepare for the long winter ahead.

On a recent trip, our truck squirreled its way up the road to Hyalite Canyon. This place seemed like its own ecosystem and soon we were in blizzard conditions. Determination combined with four-wheel drive eventually led us to a place sparkling with ice.

I had a friend living in a tent. The temps were cold and I wasn’t quite feeling like roughing it, so I called ahead and reserved a cabin in Gallatin National Forest. I stopped by my hobo friend’s tent, located in a discreet location somewhere on National Forest land. He was cooking a steak on his tiny wood-burning stove and looked up at me with wild eyes. His hand pointed at me holding a bottle of something as he smiled and took a swig. I guess that meant he was happy to see me in “savage man winter camping for long periods of time” language.

I gave him some Sour Patch Kids as a sort of peace offering and invited him to the cabin. The Window Rock Cabin was simple, but perfect. It comfortably slept four people, had a woodstove with plenty of wood available, a table and some chairs.

Happy I brought my personal stove, I unloaded the food and started cooking. We enjoyed a meal of sausage and goat cheese on a bed of pesto quinoa served with a side of hippy. This outrageously delicious meal was loved and enjoyed by all.

Hyalite Canyon offers some great ice climbing. ELIZABETH KOUTRELAKOS

Hyalite Canyon offers some great ice climbing. ELIZABETH KOUTRELAKOS

As the boys stayed awake, hydrating themselves with whiskey, poker and Oreos, I retreated to the loft with my bottle of water and quickly fell asleep. The next morning we had a big breakfast, defrosted our boots and scampered out the door. My backpack held a few thermoses of hot water, ample snacks, multiple down jackets, five pairs of gloves, a raincoat, a headlamp and climbing gear.

We started off on a warm-up called “Itchy and Scratchy.” This single-pitch climb was a mixed one consisting of ice and rock. My hobo friend conveniently broke the pick off his axe on the first swing. I reluctantly gave him my tools and watched him repeatedly bang them into rocks. Afterward, he flung his rusty file around, chipping away on the precious metal of my equipment. I promptly took them away from his dull file and made a personal note to fix them later.

The rest of the time was spent conversing about how cold we were and how much fun we were having. We climbed multiple routes, and as the group happily marked them off in a little guidebook, I took this time to enjoy a multitude of homemade huckleberry bars. I shared some but hid most of them for fear of hungry ice climbers gobbling my treasure.

After reliving this complex cycle of eating, sleeping and ice climbing a multitude of times, it was time to return home. I bid farewell to my camping friends, wishing them a warm life of clean underwear at some point in the near future. Cellphone signals of messages and updates bombarded me as I left the canyon. The time had come to head back to reality, but in my hand I still had my last Klondike bar — the perfect mix of high fat, sweetness and reliable calories to get me through the drive home.

Information: From Main Street in Bozeman, turn south onto 19th Avenue, then turn east onto Fowler Lane/Hyalite Canyon Road. Drive past the reservoir; you will see the ice. Guidebook recommended. Reservations required for cabin ($30/night). Call (406) 522-2520. 

About Elizabeth Koutrelakos

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