Climbers come from near and far to revel in the stunning ice formations of Hyalite Canyon.
The hallowed halls of Hyalite hold some of the most spectacular ice climbing in the Lower 48. With over 300 routes spanning three drainages, there’s no shortage of climbs to tackle. From easy, accessible top-ropes to soaring multipitch mixed climbs high on the walls, and striking pillars speckled between, Hyalite has something to offer all climbers.
The first routes in Hyalite were climbed by Pat Callis and Brian Leo in 1970. These pioneers drove up the unplowed road as far as they could in a Jeep, then finished the approach on cross-country skis. With cutting-edge equipment of the day—the first iterations of curved picks and front-point crampons—they scampered up bullet-hard flows of blue ice. The hook was set. Over the ensuing decades, more and more climbers came to Hyalite to test their waterfall-ice technique on harder climbs.
Through the ’80s and ’90s, local climbers such as Jack Tackle, Alex Lowe, and Kris Erickson took to Hyalite as a winter-climbing mecca. They looked beyond the obvious flows, climbing incipient icicles plastered on dark, speckled rock. But access was nearly as challenging as the climbing itself, with the upper canyon guarded by 13 miles of unplowed road.
In 2007, at wit’s end over the countless vehicles getting stuck along Hyalite Canyon Rd., the Forest Service announced a plan to close vehicle access for the entire winter. But a group of climbers led by Joe Josephson convinced officials that wintertime access to Hyalite was worth maintaining. The day after Christmas that year, the road was plowed for the first time—dubbed the “Hyalite Love Fest” as climbers, skiers, hikers, and ice fishermen rejoiced in unison. Since then, the road has been plowed every winter, thanks to funding from the Friends of Hyalite. Needless to say, the Canyon’s popularity has exploded, and climbers now flock in from coast to coast. But don’t get your panties in a bundle; as with anywhere in Montana, you can venture off the beaten path to a place all your own. Who knows, perhaps there are still a few unclimbed icicles hiding up there...