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The Bozeman Ice Festival: A recap by Gord McArthur

Scarpa North America Blog

The Bozeman Ice Festival: A recap by Gord McArthur

Dec. 15th 2011

Gord McArthur, SCARPA athlete and ice climber extraordinaire, just returned from spending a week in Montana, climbing in Hyalite Canyon and teaching clinics at the Bozeman Ice Festival. He has an infectious love for ice climbing and a passion for teaching. McArthur recounts a few moments from the week and talks about why he’ll be going back for many years to come.

Gordon McArthur on NW Passage, M10 Hyalite Canyon MontanaThe Bozeman Ice Festival is different from any other event I’ve ever been to. So much that it’s hard to put into words the impact it had on me. Soulful, majestic, full-hearted, committed, meaningful, driven, historical and futuristic…and sure, these words are all great and will do for now, but even still…they don’t do justice to what I experienced over the past week.

Arriving in Bozeman a week before the festival, we (myself and a few other friends – Jason Nelson, Kendra and Carter Stritch) were super energized to “get after it” in Hyalite Canyon. Hyalite Canyon is host to a sea of ice climbs from beginner to totally scary hard, so there was to be no limit to how many climbs we could fit in prior to the anticipated ice festival. Before coming I had heard about a cave up in Hyalite that hosted a hard mixed climb, Inglorious Bastards, M12, so…in hearing that, it became a priority of mine to jump on that rig and try to climb it.

Walking into Hyalite Canyon simply takes your breath away. Despite the cliché, I’m serious. Hyalite is one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever climbed. Period. And standing inside the cave high up on the Unnamed Wall, there were certainly moments when I forgot all about climbing and found myself drifting off into the scenic wonderland.

Day 1 was a workday. Jason Nelson and I spent a bit of time getting used to the style of rock and sorting through the moves on Inglorious Bastards. When looking at the route from outside the cave, it didn’t seem that big or long. However when hanging horizontally close up and personal to the roof of that cave…it’s a haul and a half. I want to give thanks to Conrad Anker and Pete Tapley for putting up that route, and also a “nice work” to Sam Elias for nabbing the first ascent. On day 2, my third try I was able to repeat Inglorious Bastards, M12. (Thanks to Jason for bein’ there on the other end of my rope). I was psyched about this. Side note: It was cool and inspiring that this particular style of route was natural (nothing was drilled to enhance the route). Some may think that routes at this level don’t exist any more without “manufacturing” them.

Gordon McArthur on NW Passage, M10 Hyalite Canyon MontanaMid week, after a few days of climbing we found ourselves, amongst many others, in the Emmerson Hall (in Bozeman), mingling, giving high fives, and simply sharing the excitement about the Bozeman Ice Festival starting. Vendors and sponsors were busy handing out demo gear to all the enthusiasts, people from all over the country buzzing about clinics that they had signed up for. The hype and animation from all who were involved and participating…just standing back…for even a moment, witnessing what was going on all around me…you could just tell there was something different…something deep and inspiring.

I love teaching. I love sharing my passion for climbing with others. Any opportunity to pass on what I’ve learned, what I’ve been taught, whether the simple notion of belaying to the specific intricate movement with mixed tools on the rock, all of it puts a smile on my face. The people you get to meet are characters that make you laugh all day long. Seeing the “clients” progress in only hours, watching someone go from struggling to succeeding, the screams of joy at the top of a climb…I love it…all of it. So naturally, being given that opportunity to teach clinics for three days at the Bozeman Ice Festival…of course I was fired up.

This year the Bozeman Ice Festival was celebrating the history of ice climbing. It was the 15th anniversary for the Bozeman Fest and such icons as Barry Blanchard, Will Gadd, Kitty Calhoun, Margo Talbot and of course Jeff Lowe, amongst many others, were on board. What these people did for the sport of ice and mixed climbing will be forever remembered as a courageous and wild movement. Joe Josephson and Mike Cooperstein did an amazing job in presenting such a crew of “heroes”. And with each evening presentation, Thursday through to Sunday night, everyone that was in attendance played witness to such history…history that left us all inspired to keep pushing.

On the Saturday night of the festival, Joe Josephson gave me the honor of getting up on stage and presenting my view of “mixed climbing today”. When it came time to get up on stage, “I’d like to bring up Gord McArthur…”, my legs shook from my seat to holding the mic (thanks to everyone that encouraged me). But the second I started speaking there were no longer sewing machine legs holding me up, but sheer excitement guiding my every word. It was surreal to be on the same stage as icons of the sport. Like Barry Blanchard, who taught me how to ice climb seven years ago or Will Gadd who taught me how to mix climb around the same time (who now coaches me in pursuit of world cup competitions and current test pieces). And of course “Joe Joe”, who helped lead the way in establishing many of the Canadian Rockies’ classic ice lines. Being able to share my view of mixed climbing with everyone in that theatre was a real treat. Big shout out to Brian Dalrymple and Boone Speed for producing such an amazing video of the Bull River and “EL Matador”, M12 (the movie I showed on Saturday night at the ice fest).

From start to finish, Bozeman, Hyalite, the people, sponsors, heroes, enthusiasts, friends, event organizers, and everyone else in between…it all created an atmosphere that sunk deep. It left me feeling joy for the sport of ice and mixed climbing even more so than before. I love climbing, I love the people, I love the support, and I love the enthusiasm amongst all that share the same passion that I do. Am I going back next year? You betcha…and the year after that and the year after that.

Thanks to “Joe Joe” and “Coop” for your full hearts of this sport and willingness to help grow it as well as to inspire others.

All photos courtesy of Jason Thompson Photography.

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