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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Blacktail Ranch Cave

Lucas' fungal collection project got us the huge privilege of going into the private Blacktail Ranch Cave unescorted! Ben, Lucas and I jumped at the opportunity. This cave is extremely historic. Archaeologists from UofM have been excavating the cave for a while now. They have found a cave bear skull, a 26,000 year old horse, musk-oxen skeletons, and some human artifacts that predate the 'Ice Age Land Bridge from Asia to North America' hypothesis! If that is true, the ramifications are huge! Science is going to get one big slap in the face! This cave was open during the last ice age and is located in a corridor that was not frozen stretching from Canada to somewhere south of here. There have also been huge amounts of ancient indian artifacts removed as well. I have been in a few caves now and none have a history like this one.
The entrance (enhanced for the tour groups that book the dude ranch).
Goin down
I think this is some kind of gimic for the tourists. 
According to the Riddels (owners) there are no bats in this cave. Data point!
I crawled into a cavern and thought I was getting into a gaseous inversion; turns out it is water! A lake! It was really trippy and took a minute for me to realize it was water. I KNOW the cave keeps going but I dont scuba.
One of the many times our decent was halted by the water table (lake).

Excavation equipment.
Lucas in a meticulously dug and labeled pit.
Lucas in an even deeper one. The archaeologists have to dig through ~6ft of breakdown. The cave's ceiling fell in sometime after all the ancient things were in here. 
An indian grinding bowl, two mouse terds at the ready.
The stone to the right fits like a glove in the larger stone's depression.

Hey! Thats what we came for!
Something tribal
Bear paw
The entrance
Lucas and Ben thought it would be fun to fire up the generator and turn on the lights... so they did! The lights only go into the large caverns. We spent hours crawling around in the other passages.
Dont bother me Im eating lunch
Yes, that is a maple bar with bacon and a growler of scotch ale.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sphinx Mountain: North Face - Lowe Direct

3:30am alarm. Coffee brewing by 3:40. On the road by 4:00am. I could count on both hands how many times I have made alpine starts like this. Hopefully it gives you an idea of how serious the climb is and how serious we were about climbing it. Its one of the longest alpine ice routes in the lower 48 at 500 meters WI5 (Joe Joesephson, Winter Dance)! Devin nor I had ever been back there in the winter so we werent sure which way to approach the climbs. The standard way to approach the climbs was riddled with objective hazards (avalanches); we obviously didnt want to go that way. So we went the long way, and found out the hard way, the wrong way to go (song?). But, now we know the right approach for next time! The ice is, historically speaking, very fat. It was so pretty contrasting against the bright red conglomerate rock that makes up the north face of the mountain. We spotted a couple of big bull elk on the way in too. We walked for ~4.5 hours over 7 miles with the last 1.5 miles bushwhacking through knee to waist deep snow. That really slows you down and drains your energy. We admitted defeat at the base of the climb. Somehow, it is one of the most memorable walks in the woods I have ever had. 
Looking West at the Madison valley as the sun was coming up. We are about two hours into the hike, the whole time using a headlamp.
Dont look at me! Look at the ice!
Oh my god! Where did this come from! 
Apparently the feeling was mutual.

Im pointing directly at the Lowe Direct (lookers left flow).
What ended up being point B on our first attempt at the Lowe Route.

Sphinx is the mountain in the rear on the right, thats Helmet mountain in the foreground.
Dug a pit for informational purposes.
Obvious layering. The lower layer is all sugar snow.
Sugar or facet snow. 
An isolated column post compression test showing slabs.
Q2 sheer about 6" up from the ground on facet snow.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pine Creek Icicle Scouting Mission

Manfred, Brittany and I went for a quick hike to check the status of some ice that I hadn't heard anything about yet. Green and Blue are a go, though thin and sporty, and lower Pine Creek Falls needs some more time. 
Blue Gully (top) left, Green Gully right
Green Gully
Lower Pine Creek Falls looker's left flow
Looker's right flow

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

First splitboarding of the year!

I just had to go out and play in the snow on Bridger yesterday so I cut out from work a little early and had a solo mission to the ridge. I had to click on the headlamp about 200 vertical feet from the top. I found ~8" of powder on the ridge and shredded nothing but pow all the way back to the car via Patrol Chute. I have night skied before, but there were lights on the lift towers. Skiing with a headlamp was a new one for me. It was incredibly relaxing being in the mountains by yourself in the dark trudging around in the snow. Perfect opener!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hyalite: Hangover

My new room-mate Devin, Manfred and I all cruised up to the main fork of Hyalite for some afternoon ice. Devin had never climbed in Hyalite and was chomping at the bit. We scrambled up to the Hangover after bypassing a soaking wet shower curtain that was G1, a mini river which was Lower Greensleeves, and it would have been a marathon getting Manfred up to the base of Upper Greensleeves. It was warm and the ice was wet but Hangover was by far the best chunk of ice around. After a little apprehension because of the thin ice, I lead it up to the amphitheater. The thin conditions actually made it the funnest lead I have ever had on that route! There was some stemming off rock and girth-hitching screws cause they were too long; radventure climbing! I set up a TR and we each had some TR laps.
Thats Devin and the Hangover. We had some liquid courage but were far from hungover!
Looking acrosst (that 'T' is for Anna if she ever reads this blog; inside joke) towards Elephant mountain and Palace Butte.

I loaned Manfred my down belay jacket; dont need it when its 45*!

Moonrise over Hyalite reservoir.