There are very few places in the US that a Texan might think are more “western” or more rugged than their home state; Montana is one such place. “Big Sky Country” is full of real cowboys, world class fly-fishing, and actual grizzly bears. It is also home to Hyalite Canyon and the Bozeman Ice Festival, run by Joe Josephson. The Blue Ice North America team and Chamonix Guides Maxime Turgeon and Manu Ibarra traveled to Bozeman to attend the festival in December 2017.
This event is different than the rest and full of paradoxes. First off, Main Street in Bozeman is a cosmopolitan hub with many fine restaurants and coffee shops. Here, you can get an espresso and vegan breakfast burrito at the Coop on your way to the Emerson Cultural Center, a historic theatre now hosting fine local art and nightly vendor fair for the festival. At night you can get a grass-fed bison steak at Ted’s (Turner) Montana Grill and a glass of Domaine Du Vieux Telegraphe ($125) at Open Range.
Each morning you drive 40 min south to Hyalite Canyon, past bald eagles and snowy lodgepole pine as the road winds through the Gallatin Range under the splitter blue Montana sky. Just when you feel you will never get there, you arrive in the parking lot, surrounded the most concentrated classic ice climbing outside of Ouray CO or Alberta Canada. Black basalts and conglomerate cliffs roll down from the summits capped with snow, while yellowish white daggers of ice choke the gullies.
Since the 1970’s Hyalite Canyon has been the testing ground for North American ice climbing legends like Alex Lowe, Jack Tackle, and Conrad Anker. And classic routes like Cleopatra’s Needle (WI5) and Winter Dance (WI6 M8) attract hundreds of ice climbers each winter. The remote location and distributed activities keep the wilderness experience that many other festivals have lost over the years.
At night, after swinging tools all day, you return to town to meet at the Emerson Cultural Center, where you rub shoulders with the athletes, guides and participants. Beers by the Bridger Brewing Company and coffee (if you need it) is served by Treeline Coffee Roasters.
All proceeds from the event go toward plowing the road and the local non-profit Friends of Hyalite Canyon. This event happens early December every year, details can be found here: http://bozemanicefest.com/home/