Last weekend was the 15th Annual Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival. With over 200 pitches of naturally forming, reliable, and accessible ice, Hyalite Canyon outside of Bozeman, MT is a world class ice climbing destination. The festival packed in four full days of ice climbing clinics, followed by evening multi-media presentations celebrating the evolution of ice climbing over the past 40 years in North America.
I have been attending the Ouray Ice Festival for a few years now, but this was my first trip to the Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival. Run by veteran climber Joe Josephson, the festival is well organized with great support from both the local community and wider climbing community. From the minute I arrived, many aspects endeared the event to me and solidified Bozeman Ice Festival's place as the new kick off to my annual ice climbing season.
I was first impressed by the number of women climbers in town for the event. The Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival goes out of their way to promote women's climbing, so much so they reserve the entire day on Friday for women's only clinics. I talked to many women who said one of the main reasons they came to the festival was because of the women's only clinics, seeing them as a more supportive environment to learn or practice skills. Over 13 Chicks With Picks alumna either attended or guided at the festival, creating a fun mini-reunion for all of us.
The clinics range from beginner ice climbing and anchor skills to lead, multi-pitch, and mixed climbing. The folks form Montana Alpine Guides are nice enough to get up at the crack of dawn to hang all the clinic ropes for the day. With the help of funds from Friends of Hyalite, Gallatin County and Gallatin National Forest plow the entire Hyalite road out to the trailhead (a good 40 minute backwoods drive), offering easy access to acres of wild ice (though still be prepared for an approach hike).
Coffee and muffins are waiting for you at the trailhead before you head out on your clinics and hot cocoa is waiting for you upon your return. You can pre-order gourmet lunch boxes from Sola Cafe which will also be waiting for pick up at the trailhead before you head out for the day.
If you are brand new to ice climbing, you can arrive at the Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival with absolutely no gear and be fully outfitted for climbing. You can demo the latest ice tools, backpacks, crampons, boots, apparel, gloves, and helmets, all thanks to sponsors such as Arc'teryx, OR, Rab, Petzl, Black Diamond, and Scarpa. In addition, a raffle is held every night giving away boxes of brand new gear.
I was pleasantly surprised at the sense of community and access to some of the greatest climbers of our time. Joe was determined to make the festival a more social event, where beginner climbers could mingle with veteran climbers over a beer and some food at the Emerson Ballroom every night while you checked out the latest demo gear.
The evening presentations looked back over the past 40 years, celebrating where we have come from in the sport of ice climbing. Speakers included Henry Barber, Barry Blanchard, Kitty Calhoun, Rick Wilcox, Pat Callis, Will Gadd, and special guest Jeff Lowe. Everyone was amazed and inspired to hear the stories behind some of the first ascents of waterfall ice in North America, including the extremely minimalist gear used to make these ascents, such as cotton mittens, straight shafted wooden ice axes, and makeshift harnesses or crampons.
Bozeman itself is a fun town with plenty of coffee shops (important!), dining, and accommodation options. The Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival has partnered with the Western Heritage Hotel and the Best Western Hotel where many climbers stayed. I stayed at the Magpie Guest House, a very nice and cozy family owned house close to Main Street that is perfect for a small group of people.
Whether you are a complete newbie to ice climbing or an ice climbing veteran, you should definitely add the Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival to your list for next year.