Endless Winter- First Ascent of “Gunslinger”

Spring tides roll in waves of warmer temps as the ice season begins to end. As the rivers rise, my thoughts of kayaking climb from their dormant cave in my mind and the dreams of ice become a distant pull. 

This Spring, the waves of warm and cold temps made it very difficult to shed my winter addiction and I found myself switching out my adventure quivers. In April, I was already paddling when Doug Shepherd called me for a quick trip to Alaska for an ascent on Mt. Huntington. After that, I was again ready for paddling season but somehow the cold temps continued to creep back into the forecast which kept my ice tools from getting dusty. I felt like I was dating two girls and was struggling to keep both happy; no matter what I did, the other one was pissed.

Beartooth Mountains

On June 4th, the forecast had been cold for about 4 or 5 days up high and I remembered an area I saw in the Fall that looked like it should have ice but just didn’t have the snow to feed it. I sent out a group text to some of my crew: “Dawn Patrol for ice in the morning. Be back at work by 10am.”  A flurry of messages came back, “Liar,” “Not falling for that this time,” “Isn’t it kayak season?”  and “Call me in November.”  Chris Guyer finally bit. He is used to my tendency to sell him on bad ideas, only to end up walking in the woods for hours and hours. But, he is young and that youthful energy outweighs his common sense. We decide to meet in Red Lodge, MT at 4am.

Gunslinger is the line on the far left where you can see the hanging pillar at the bottom of the picture

I decide to make a recon trip up the mountain the prior day to scope out a line so we are not wasting time wandering around. Lucky for us, I find an incredible line only 15 minutes from the car. So far, everything was looking perfect for our quick morning mission. I decided to hangout until the evening for some cool shots of the clouds moving across the Beartooths.

Giving the tools a nice edge for their last possible outing before summer hits

Morning came quickly and we were stoked for the possibility of climbing ice in June, only 15 minutes from the road. Naturally, Chris wasn’t sure I was telling the truth.

Chris Guyer starting to get psyched

Is it really June ? dropping in….

An alpine sunrise welcoming us into the belly of the Beartooths

Once at the base of the route, the reality of ice climbing in June set in and we were beyond excited. I wasn’t sure of the protocol on climbing free-hangers in June, but it looked good and were energized to get after it.

Some delicate climbing led to the upper pillar and I was able to tip toe my way onto it.

Chris Guyer enjoying the dream vein of ice above the pillar

Um yeah you might say we were stoked

Chris cruising up the second pitch which had another small pillar and some enjoyable mixed terrain into a slot of ice.

Me, nearing the top of the 2nd pitch

After the second pitch, we had one more long pitch of easy terrain to a small steep curtain of ice that put us on top of the cliff.

Chris and I finished the route and he got to work on time, just like I said he would.

The route ended up being 170m and was one of the most enjoyable routes I climbed all season. As we got to the car, we were grinning ear-to-ear like school kids who had just pulled of the best prank of all time. Climbing ice in June…15 minutes from the car…in Wyoming.  We tried going back the next day to tick off another route, but high pressure brought warmer temps and within 24hrs, everything had melted out. I guess it was finally time to hang up the tools and grab my paddle.


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