Face-Off: Hyalite vs. Cody

A climbing-town throwdown.

Cody, Wyoming is a place where the Old West is more than a quixotic historical side note. It remains a way of life and proud badge of honor among the residents of the gateway community near the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park. In recent years, it’s become something of a recreation destination, offering a stiff challenge as “the place to be” as an outdoors person in the West. Now Bozeman also has its share of gun-totin’ rednecks, but let’s see how each location stacks up amongst the ice-axe-wielding adrenaline junkies.

Town-to-Ice Time
The main area around Cody, the South Fork of the Shoshone River, is a full 60 minutes from town. Once you finally get there, add epic approaches that often start with a chilly river crossing and finish with side-hill gouging across a crumbling cliff band. This makes for long days and fast driving as you try to get back to town for a steak before the Proud Cut Saloon stops serving. Thanks to Friends of Hyalite, Hyalite Canyon Rd. is plowed, and with over 250 routes within two square miles, the canyon offers the most accessible, high-concentration ice in America.
Edge: Hyalite 

Route Length
When the water ice of the South Fork was being discovered in the 1980s, rumors of the “Canadian-length” routes took on a mythical reputation and sounded too good to be true. While most routes in Hyalite are climbable in a single rope length, the South Fork does indeed hold dozens of routes between five and eight pitches, with miles of fun creek ice. It’s unique to the Lower 48, and as the saying goes, “If you climb well in the South Fork, you can climb well anywhere.”
Edge: Cody 

Rock Quality
Water ice is our medium but the rock behind it, or leading to it, is equally important for today’s mixed climber. Both Hyalite and Cody have igneous rock of volcanic origin that is affectionately known as “Kitty Litter,” but Hyalite has a lovely little secret called andesite rarely found around Cody. It’s a type of rock similar to basalt but with more feldspar. That means awesome traditional mixed climbs that actually take real gear AND steeper caves for the modern dry-tooler.
Edge: Hyalite 

Length of Season
With the right arctic vortex, both areas can come in before Halloween, but Hyalite definitely shapes up sooner on a regular basis and tends to stay in, while Cody can be hit hard with Chinook winds. Hyalite has ice late but the annual road closure on April 1 effectively shuts down the canyon. Meanwhile, some of the great classics in the South Fork are good late into April. Hyalite wins the early season, Cody the late.
Edge: Tie 

Après-Climbing Scene
If meat is your thing, you can’t go wrong in Cody. Just don’t be seen getting out of your “yuppy SUV” on Main St. with a manicured beard while wearing your fancy plastic clothing. Bozeman offers the full complement of venues, from dive bars to micro breweries, and taco joints to fancy restaurants. It’s a close call but diversity is important.
Edge: Hyalite 

Although every major species of charismatic mega-fauna in North America is present in Hyalite, you’re more likely to encounter some hippy’s husky raiding your pack of Thanksgiving leftovers than seeing a wolf. The South Fork, however, is a veritable zoo, full of deer, elk, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, and wolves. Any climbing area where bear spray is mandatory, even in winter, wins the critter contest every time.
Edge: Cody 

Ice Fests
The current Cody Ice Festival has been chugging along almost as long as the Bozeman Ice Festival, but lacks the convenient teaching areas close to the car. Long before any festivals, the original South Fork pioneers held an informal “gathering” of friends. But after an unfortunate incident with a landowner that involved an illicit substance, the original “Ice Fest” was abandoned due to a lack of venue, i.e. a cabin to party in. Today, in the interest of inspiring youth and teaching others the joy of ice climbing, the wilderness feel of Hyalite combined with the accessible teaching areas is hard to beat.
Edge: Hyalite 

Score: 4-2
Winner: Hyalite
We knew taking on our neighbors in Cody would be a challenge, but all things considered, Hyalite remains the undisputed champion.