Kickin' Ice

There’s a lot of lingo in ice climbing: V-thread, spectres, frontpoint, flute, serac, and WI4, to name a few. Fresh off my first hard ice climb, the pain in my hands taught me another interesting phrase: screaming barfies. The white-hot throbbing doubled me over and a steady grunting escaped my lips.

“Oh, you’ve got the screaming barfies! This is gonna be great,” my climbing partner exclaimed, back-pedaling to escape my imminent expectoration.

It was hard to believe something like that existed, but he was insistent. “No, it’s real. Your hands hurt so much from the pump and from thawing out that you scream in pain. And then barf.”

Lava filled my mittens and my eyes started to water. “Really?”

“Yeah,” he laughed. “It’s awesome.” He was kinda right.

And, I soon found out, we were not the only ones to take such a perverse pleasure in these disparate discomforts. For the last 14 years, a group of talented and passionate ice climbers have banded together in mid-December to celebrate and promote this cold- and pain-laced pastime. It’s called the Bozeman Ice Fest, and it’s a five-day extravaganza involving some of the most reliable and concentrated ice climbing in the United States. The 2010 Fest not only had the best attendance (so much so that the previous venue was outgrown and festivities moved to the Emerson), but also the best conditions, as the perfect freeze/thaw cycles yielded the most solid waterfall ice in recent memory.

A wide range of on-ice clinics took place each day, offering something for everyone, from clumsy first-timers to grizzled, frostbitten veterans. A separate, women-only clinic strove to get more females onto the ice.

After long, hard days swinging ice tools, climbers met at the Emerson nightly for drinks and free gear demos from leading brands like La Sportiva and Arc’teryx. Everyone gathered for nightly presentations and slideshows by contemporary ice-climbing pioneers like Canadian Will Gadd, the mountaineering author known for his record-breaking 24-hour ice climb and establishing the hardest ice routes in the world, and Jack Tackle, a living legend who’s spent the last 40 years completing difficult alpine ascents.

The last night of the Fest, things ended with a massive raffle, giving away over $20,000 in donated gear and raising nearly $5,000 for Friends of Hyalite, which will defray the cost of plowing the Hyalite road once the snow falls.

This year’s Ice Fest runs December 7-11 and promises to be the biggest celebration yet. And alongside the clinics, raffles, and lectures, the organizers have planned a once-in-a-lifetime presentation to celebrate the Fest’s 15th anniversary. The vision is to gather 12-15 of the most influential ice climbers in North America on-stage and have them regale a sold-out crowd with tales of alpine war stories. The legendary Jeff Lowe, Barry Blanchard, and Henry Barber have all agreed to attend, with many more big names on the way.

All events fill up quickly, so remember to buy your tickets early. Make sure to swing by for all the details.