Staying on Top

Staying on Top

Knoff, Eric
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Ice climbing and avalanche safety in Bozeman's backyard playground.

Hyalite Canyon is a natural ice-climbing venue, offering a variety of options ranging from beginner to advanced in difficulty. It’s a place of striking beauty—but there is a darker side to Hyalite. High above the valley floor, long, narrow drainages make perfect avenues for avalanches. Because many of the climbs in Hyalite are situated in tight, narrow gullies, the consequences of even a small slide are magnified. Sadly in 2009, professional climber Guy Lacelle was killed in Hyalite Canyon when he was caught in an avalanche while climbing and swept over a 70-meter cliff.

Because many of the starting zones originate high above the climbs in Hyalite, it is sometimes difficult to know if you are in a run-out zone or not. As a general rule of thumb, the west-facing side of Hyalite is more prone to avalanche activity. This area is home to popular climbs such as the Genesis I and II, Mummy’s, Scepter, Avalanche Gulch, Silken Falls, and the Dribbles area. On the east side, special attention should be given to the slopes around Twin Falls and Cleopatra’s Needle.

During the Fest, climbers are encouraged to check the avalanche advisory (available on the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center’s website at mtavalanche.com) and stay informed about current snow and weather conditions. While recreating in the canyon, it’s imperative that climbers know the whereabouts of other climbers and use common sense when traveling above or below other groups. Due to the confined nature of Hyalite’s terrain, there is risk of climbers kicking ice and snow onto climbers below. Active communication between party members and other groups is a good way to avoid accidents.

Using good judgment and keeping informed on current snow conditions will help to make the Ice Fest a safe and memorable experience for all.

Eric Knoff is the avalanche forecaster for the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.

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