Whit Magro pulling the crux exit moves of the first pitch. Magro’s camera froze after the two shots that appear in this article. [Photo] Kris Erickson
On November 27, in thin conditions, Montana locals Whit Magro and Kris Erickson made the first free ascent of the classic Hyalite Canyon climb Winter Dance (WI7 5.9 A1 or WI6+ R M8) for its seventh recorded ascent. (See the December 5, 2007 Weekly Feature for more on Hyalite Canyon and the 2007 Bozeman Ice Festival.)
The two Montanans hiked the 90-120 minute approach several times this year. Magro said that “[Winter Dance] has never gone down with a one-push effort; it has always taken kind-of siege tactics.” The pair climbed the first two pitches of the route in early November, with Erickson aiding through the second pitch to allow Magro to toprope the route, cleaning it and practicing some of the free moves. Another journey up canyon resulted in retreat, however, after the pair found warm temperatures and extreme exposure to falling ice. Finally, on November 27–their fourth try of the season–they nabbed the ascent.
Erickson led the 150′ WI4+ 5.9 (M5) first pitch. Magro then climbed the rock of the aid pitch’s bolt ladder at M8, freeing that pitch for its first time, then Magro spent three hours onsighting the crux third pitch which consisted of delicate rock climbing protected with traditional gear before finally reaching some rather thin ice. “[Pitch 3] was so heady,” Magro said. “If you had fallen, you would definitely sustain some major damage to the body. You wouldn’t die…” A “bad overhanging icicle” situated directly above the belay had Magro proceeding very carefully.
Despite being rather chilled by his long belay, Erickson led the fourth pitch, 120 feet of WI5+, which Magro finished in the dark, having forgotten his headlamp. The pair returned to the car almost exactly twelve hours later. Magro said, “It was extremely gratifying to have something like that finally go after ten years. It’s cool to bring it into a new realm.”
The first ascent was made in 1998 by Alex Lowe and Jim Earl, who established a twelve-bolt ladder through the overhanging rock to reach the dangling icicle. Erickson was part of the team that claimed the third ascent, as well as Alex Lowe’s partner for one of the first, unsuccessful attempts. As Magro said of his partner, “Kris has seen the evolution of this climb.” Magro himself made the fifth ascent. This first free ascent, in Joe Josephson’s words, “opens it up for other years that [the dangling icicle] doesn’t come down. The ice forms like it did the year of the first ascent once every ten years or so.”
“Everyone usually says that the hardest route they’ve done is the best they’ve done, and this route is hard,” Josephson continued. “But I honestly believe that this is one of the top ten routes in the world. In this case, the biggest and most significant accomplishment was Whit onsighting the third pitch. Normally, you can traverse off the belay onto some sketchy Grade 7 ice, but this year it wasn’t formed, so there was some interesting rock protection, interesting climbing. The pitch is only 70 feet, but it took Whit three hours to climb it, with Kris freezing in the cave the whole time. The grade probably doesn’t do it justice.”
“It would be sweet to see someone repeat it,” Magro said.
Kris Erickson leading the first pitch (WI4+ 5.9/M5). [Photo] Whit Magro