Slot Canyon

Slot Canyon. I’ve climbed there at least a dozen times in the past few years. The drive seems long and monotonous. After leaving Whitefish we drive North on 93. We then turn left turn and keep driving. Then another left. Each turn takes us down a narrower road. Eventually we’re barreling down a wide single-lane road running parallel to a deep canyon. After parking in the narrow pullout, we turn and walk down the narrowest path yet: the path into Slot Canyon. Unlike the long unvarying drive, the hike into Slot Canyon consistently awes me.

The canyon floor is a creek. Fortunately, it’s frozen, and we can walk to the ice at the end of the canyon. Each year, a slightly different smattering of logs impedes our march to the head of the canyon. Each year, different patterns of snow caps, small hanging icicles, and frost carpets decorate the rough, angular canyon walls. Every year, despite conditions, the canyon amazes me. The high walls and snow-covered ledges muffle sound. The creek, trapped beneath a layer of ice, murmurs quietly to itself, like a contented baby cooing quietly in its crib, under the radar of all the grown-ups bustling about, absorbed in their own worlds.

A bottleneck in the already narrow canyon looms ahead. Once through the narrow gap, everything changes. To my right, a familiar ice fall clings to the cliff. Seeing it is like seeing an old friend. I feel a surge of joy and excitement. I want throw down my pack and begin climbing immediately. Having only climbed on a narrow sliver of ice this season, the broad, thick icefall here looks like a feast, and I am a starving man, eager to take my fill. But I wait. That is mostly what one does when ice climbing. A long wait in the car, a wait while the lead climber makes his way up the falls and sets up the top rope, and a series of waits between climbs. All the waiting is not bad, it is not boring. Standing around and drinking in the scenery all day could be exciting. For me, though, the scenery takes a back seat and the anticipated thrills of climbing occupy the forefront of my mind. Even after I have climbed a few times, I still anticipate further climbs. I consider going back, trying certain moves, climbing over thus and such a curtain, rather than around it, stemming between two small columns instead of keeping my feet together. Like a sumptuous spread of gourmet hors d’oeuvres, the choices are endless, and I want to sample everything.

Half our purpose in going to Slot Canyon was to gather some lead-climbing footage for an ice climbing film. So dad set up the camera and tripod and Paul took off up the ice. I watched as Paul began climbing, making mental notes about the condition of the ice. Anymore, it’s automatic; when I see an ice climber, I try to gauge the ice conditions through their movements. Though the day was warm, Paul’s tools sent frigid, brittle shards of ice flying in all directions. Up higher on the climb, conditions appeared softer, for the ice chips stopped raining down and Paul’s ice tools sunk into the ice with solid thunk noises only wet, plastic ice can make. Before too long, he reached the top and I tied onto the end of the rope to second the climb. I carried a pack with our new 70 meter rope in it. I never thought about the added weight of the pack affecting my climbing, and before my feet left the ground, I’d completely forgotten about the pack. Over the 30 or so meters of the climb, I encountered a wide variety of conditions. Near the bottom the ice was brittle, tending to dinner-plate badly. Up higher, on a more laid-back portion of the climb, I had to hack through a snow-covered crust of semi-rotten ice. The final ten meters of the climb consisted of nice soft ice which allowed for incredibly solid placements, giving a very secure feeling. The ice was lumpy, with a lot of snow-covered ledges and cauliflowers. Water dripped from the tiny icicles hanging all around me, and the punctures from my crampons and tools oozed water. I reached the top of the climb breathing hard and covered in snow. Paul and I set up the top ropes, and rappelled off the climb.

Throughout the rest of the day, everyone took turns climbing and waiting. Even with two top ropes and two climbers on the ice at a time, the hours flew by and darkness approached. Long before I was ready to call it a day, we pulled down our ropes, stuffed them in our packs, and trudged out to the car.

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Slot Canyon

Slot Canyon. I’ve climbed there at least a dozen times in the past few years. The drive seems long and monotonous. After leaving Whitefish we drive North on 93. We then turn left turn and keep driving. Then another left. Each turn takes us down a narrower road. Eventually we’re barreling down a wide single-lane road running parallel to a deep canyon. After parking in the narrow pullout, we turn and walk down the narrowest path yet: the path into Slot Canyon. Unlike the long unvarying drive, the hike into Slot Canyon consistently awes me.

The canyon floor is a creek. Fortunately, it’s frozen, and we can walk to the ice at the end of the canyon. Each year, a slightly different smattering of logs impedes our march to the head of the canyon. Each year, different patterns of snow caps, small hanging icicles, and frost carpets decorate the rough, angular canyon walls. Every year, despite conditions, the canyon amazes me. The high walls and snow-covered ledges muffle sound. The creek, trapped beneath a layer of ice, murmurs quietly to itself, like a contented baby cooing quietly in its crib, under the radar of all the grown-ups bustling about, absorbed in their own worlds.

A bottleneck in the already narrow canyon looms ahead. Once through the narrow gap, everything changes. To my right, a familiar ice fall clings to the cliff. Seeing it is like seeing an old friend. I feel a surge of joy and excitement. I want throw down my pack and begin climbing immediately. Having only climbed on a narrow sliver of ice this season, the broad, thick icefall here looks like a feast, and I am a starving man, eager to take my fill. But I wait. That is mostly what one does when ice climbing. A long wait in the car, a wait while the lead climber makes his way up the falls and sets up the top rope, and a series of waits between climbs. All the waiting is not bad, it is not boring. Standing around and drinking in the scenery all day could be exciting. For me, though, the scenery takes a back seat and the anticipated thrills of climbing occupy the forefront of my mind. Even after I have climbed a few times, I still anticipate further climbs. I consider going back, trying certain moves, climbing over thus and such a curtain, rather than around it, stemming between two small columns instead of keeping my feet together. Like a sumptuous spread of gourmet hors d’oeuvres, the choices are endless, and I want to sample everything.

Half our purpose in going to Slot Canyon was to gather some lead-climbing footage for an ice climbing film. So dad set up the camera and tripod and Paul took off up the ice. I watched as Paul began climbing, making mental notes about the condition of the ice. Anymore, it’s automatic; when I see an ice climber, I try to gauge the ice conditions through their movements. Though the day was warm, Paul’s tools sent frigid, brittle shards of ice flying in all directions. Up higher on the climb, conditions appeared softer, for the ice chips stopped raining down and Paul’s ice tools sunk into the ice with solid thunk noises only wet, plastic ice can make. Before too long, he reached the top and I tied onto the end of the rope to second the climb. I carried a pack with our new 70 meter rope in it. I never thought about the added weight of the pack affecting my climbing, and before my feet left the ground, I’d completely forgotten about the pack. Over the 30 or so meters of the climb, I encountered a wide variety of conditions. Near the bottom the ice was brittle, tending to dinner-plate badly. Up higher, on a more laid-back portion of the climb, I had to hack through a snow-covered crust of semi-rotten ice. The final ten meters of the climb consisted of nice soft ice which allowed for incredibly solid placements, giving a very secure feeling. The ice was lumpy, with a lot of snow-covered ledges and cauliflowers. Water dripped from the tiny icicles hanging all around me, and the punctures from my crampons and tools oozed water. I reached the top of the climb breathing hard and covered in snow. Paul and I set up the top ropes, and rappelled off the climb.

Throughout the rest of the day, everyone took turns climbing and waiting. Even with two top ropes and two climbers on the ice at a time, the hours flew by and darkness approached. Long before I was ready to call it a day, we pulled down our ropes, stuffed them in our packs, and trudged out to the car.

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