Winter is not Over!
By Dustin Fric
With snow melting rapidly in the alpine, delaminated daggers falling off, and warm temps all over the West, I have noticed many climbers talking about hanging up their tools for the season, or switching to rock. Other ice climbers would ride a bike fifty miles or fly to Alaska to get their swing on. Alas, it's not over yet here!
Late season ice in the Rockies actually has a much longer season then most believe. Alpine ice aside, I have climbed waterfall ice in September all the way through May. It's out there every year though it might be quite a drive, walk, ski (or a healthy combination of the three), for the go-getters there's still a solid two months of ice climbing before we actually have to put our tools up. Just remember you don't have to stop climbing ice when it melts out, just relocate or explore higher elevations.
Montana alone hosts quite a few late season venues. Cooke City is a great spot to start looking. The high winds and deep snow keep climbers away due to avalanche potential during most cycles, making spring time the safest season to explore the area. From the Silver Cord to the climbs on Barronette Peak there is plenty to do here late season. If you're not sure anything will still be lingering around, Icebox Canyon has been known to hold ice until May! Either cross the river on a warm day or throw in some waders or a raft to cross a little more comfortably. Small microclimates, like the one at Cooke City, are the best places to look for consistent late season climbs.
Another zone worth looking into if your tools don't want to spend the next eight months in a Tupperware, bin is The Beartooths, or East Rosebud. With a few climbs that linger around longer then the rest; Rosebud is definitely a micro climate. When the rest of the Rockies are hell bent on thawing, this range seems to be a couple weeks behind the curve. So if Cali Ice (pictured above on 3/12) is on your list, this is a great time to give her a shot.
For a venue with a similar late season with shorter and easier routes than Cooke City or Rosebud, look into Pine Creek. With classics like the Green and Blue Gully, Pine Creek holds on to it's ice for a while longer then most, with it's East to West orientation some routes seem to get endless shade.
These spots ought to buy us some time and for those like me unwilling to give up the ice after that, alpine ice and even cave ice can literally extend your season to all twelve months of the year! There is always ice somewhere, just throw away the box.
Just remember this is the time of year that all waterfalls fall off and melt away, try not to climb in excessively warm condition. At some point south facing routes will fall behind leaving the North facing routes as the last remaining aspect. Be safe, have fun, in that order!