Austin and I at the top of Green Gully

Austin is a delightful bright sparkle of a young being and the daughter of a dear friend of mine.  Last summer she discovered rock climbing.  I enjoyed the pleasure of taking her out for an evening on rock – and while teaching, talking and climbing – I mentioned ICE.  She was intrigued, joined the rock climbing team at Yale and recently while home for Christmas break she desperately wanted to try ice climbing.  We spent an afternoon up Hyalite Canyon where Austin learned the basics until the sun set soft and pink.  After driving down the canyon in the dark we stopped at a local bookstore so that she could pick up the latest issue of the Alpinist magazine where a large multi-feature spread was focused on Hyalite Canyon –truly a special mecca for the sport right here in our own “backyard” (near Bozeman).

Austin caught the ice climbing bug and wanted more.  We decided to get out again closer to home in what is truly our “own backyard” and I promised Austin an adventure so we climbed up Pine Creek Canyon in Paradise Valley a few days into the New Year.  Austin spent quite a bit of her holiday break chasing mountain lions with her father so she was totally up for the hike and the climb up the steep slope to Green Gully – a 180’ hunk of frozen ice sandwiched between beautiful cathedral looking purplish and green rock.  Now I only got out ice climbing a handful of times last winter and the season before that I was recuperating from major surgery and couldn’t climb at all.  I stood at the base of the falls geared up for my first lead in several years – psyched and nervous.  Sixty feet off the ground connected to ice by two points on my crampons and two axes is when the panic began its insidious (but life preserving) clutch on my innards and the noisy monkeys in my mind chattered more boisterously.  “What made you think you could lead something this big after a long hiatus from ice?!”  “Did you see how far it is to the ground?!  Did you see how much further you have to go to the top??!!”

Getting off the ground - my first lead in 3 years

Deep breath.  Focus.  Climb.  Quiet the monkeys…

I decided to quit looking down.  I kept climbing.  Placing ice screws for protection every 25 feet or so, I ran out of screws a ways from the top –thus increased focus and determination to “top out” without any mishaps.  The ice was a bit thin up there.  I placed my ax points carefully.  I climbed over the top without feeling wiped out or plumb tuckered.  I clipped into the anchor and set up the belay for Austin, mindful of the mechanics and safety. Now it was Austin’s turn to follow me up the ice – the 60 meter rope between us was stretched the full length – somehow looking up at the falls is quite misleading on how tall they actually are.Austin was far below where I couldn’t see her but luckily she could hear me shout encouragement.  I watched the sky with a bit of apprehension knowing it would be dark soon.  Austin took longer than I expected but then – she was a total newbie.  Her progress was slow but steady, I began to feel the cold seep in and Austin kept whacking away at the ice with her tools and crampons.

Tuckered but BEAMING – she joined me at the top of the falls, eager to snap pictures, full of exclamations at the view and pumped from the rush of her first full-on adventure on ice.  While she took in the scenery, I prepared the rappel…anxious to beat the waning light.  A big BOLD beautiful nearly full moon instantly lit our way as we slid and scrambled down the steep gully to the creek where we found a log to scooch across – chattering in the dark.

Austin is back at Yale but emailed recently exclaiming our day climbing Green Gully was the highlight of her Christmas vacation.  She is psyched and empowered by her climb.  I feel the same about my own bold lead after a long hiatus from my favorite sport.  I have launched into 2012 feeling more fit, focused and stronger than I have in years!  WAHOO!!!