The second half of our winter adventure vacation was centered around ice climbing. It was all in the same general area so I decided to put it all in one entry even though it was 3 days.

The drive from Bozeman to Hyalite Canyon’s Grotto Falls trail head is about 25 miles and takes about 45-60 minutes. The reason is once you are in Hyalite the speed limit drops to 25mph for 15 miles.

Day 1:

On the first day we arrived just after sunrise. Our first objective was Willow Gully. To get there you approach as you would to get to Genesis 1. Across the street from the Grotto Falls Parking Lot, there is a well packed down trail. Follow this trail through the forest ascending (sometimes steeply) up to the base of Genesis 1. Walk right along the base of these massive waterfalls and follow the beaten trail over a few small and steep hills to the next smaller ice flow. This is Willow Gully W2.

Willow Gully is a great short route for a first lead on Waterfall Ice. Damien had only led alpine ice before so he took this opportunity to try his hand leading W Ice. You can go straight up the middle of the flow or stay right into a chimney-like feature. From the ground it looked easier to go right. However, looks can be deceiving. Damien of course finished his lead, but last upon top-roping the middle variation we discovered that it was much easier that the right!

We didn’t stay at Willow very long as it is a pretty small flow. Instead from the top of Willow we traverse right along the top of the cliff, sometimes belaying each other, to the top of Genesis 1 (or G1). Looking at the massive ice flow form below the left side is rated W3 and progressively gets more difficult (up to W5+ the further right you go). We set up a top-rope on one of the many trees along the top of the cliff on the W3 flow. There are tones of preexisting tree anchors along all of G1. We used the existing slings to back up our own anchor.

We had the wall mostly to ourselves. The only other climber was a rope soloist who spent the day running laps of the W4 & 5 sections. A soloist also ascended the W3 route en-route  to access the upper waterfalls. We were able to do 4 variations of the W3 G1 left wall using redirect ice screws. The wall is 80+ feel and was well picked out. Lots of hooking with tools and stepping on preexisting steps. However, if you weren’t sucked into taking the east way there was untouched ice in-between to get a more technical workout. I did 11 laps that day. Damien did about the same.

Day 2:

One the  second day we once again headed to G1. This time we set up a top-rope by following the trail right from the base of the flow. The trail is well packed down, but steep. There is a hand-line over one the the sketchier spots, but caution should definitely used throughout. I put Damien on belay from one the W5 anchors so he could access the W3 anchor we used the day before. The tree is anchor actually hangs over the side of the ice flow so soloing was not a risk worth taking for us. Once again very few folks passed through. Another rope soloist and a team that climbed W4 at the end of the day. I did 15 laps that day. Damien did a bit less than that. Vitamin I was helpful for sure that night! We also checked out Lower Green Sleeves which is located just beyond Willow Gully. It is rated W3, but many agree that it is only a W2. We also checked out the Amphitheater Corner area which is along the Hyalite Creek Trail from the parking lot. We planned to set up a top-rope on Fat Chance W3 the next day really early in the morning before the Saturday crowds arrived so we wanted to make sure we knew the location.

Day 3:

We were on the trail to Amphitheater Corner Climbs before sunrise on Saturday as planned and arrived at the base just as light was creeping into the sky. There ate two ice flows on the left of this open area. The larger one on the left is called Fat Chance and the thinner, scarier looking one on the right is is called Thin Chance. Both are rated W3. Our guide described that setting up a top-rope was very possible though a bit of a trash by walking up to the left of the flows. This seemed reasonable enough. We geared up and headed on the well traveled trail left of the falls to set up our top-rope. We soon found that this steep trail was not taking us toward the too of the waterfalls, but actually it headed away from them. We went back down and tried a few variations ascending the snow beside the waterfalls, but there was no way to safety get over the short but menacing head-wall near the top. We went back on the trail and followed some boot-prints that diverged right back toward the falls, but they stopped short when the terrain became too dangerous to continue. Total we spent about 2 hours trying to figure out how to get to the top of the falls and even asked passing climbers to no avail. We decided to go back to Genesis, hoping it hadn’t gotten too crowded yet.

It was definitely crowded at Genesis 1 and another team was already on Lower Greensleeves (our other option). However, a team was just about to get off our old W3 line which they were only suing to warm up. We later found out that they were from Seattle too. Small world. We quickly scrambled to the top of the cliff and set up a toprope on our anchor tree. We ended up spending the day once again on the 4 variations. Again I did 15 laps. Damien was pretty spent, but still climbed quite a lot. We also had the opportunity to teach some new climbers some correct technique. Always good to help folks at the wall before something goes terribly wrong.



After 41 laps and 24 hours at the ice flows I feel like I can now lead W3. I’m sure Damien would say the same.  If only we had good, reliable Waterfall ice in Washington. It was an awesome ice climbing experience. Our technique had defiantly improved and confidence had built. One note about the ice quality at G1 however. The warm weather had been weakening the ice. On Saturday Jan. 23 massive dinner-plating was occurring all over the wall with football sized (or larger) chunks coming down. We anchored the belayer far away from the wall on a tree for safety. The W4 routes are very hollow and melting out fast. The W3 routes are extremely picked out (others might be as well). Definitely could use a cold snap!


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