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Ice climbers: Local climbers enjoy a cool activity

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ice climbing

LEFT: Teak Cummings navigates an ice formation in Hyalite Canyon near Bozeman. ABOVE: Juan Gallego-Calderon climbs an ice route in Hyalite Canyon on Dec. 1.

The misery index can be a bit higher for ice climbers when compared to other outdoor recreations.

But for some people, the activity and challenge of ice climbing resonates into must-do outings each winter.

Here are three local climbers who love to scale ice. Some are just starting out, while others have been swinging the hammer-sized ice tools and kicking spiky crampons for years:

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ice climbing

Juan Gallego-Calderon

Juan Gallego-Calderon

Age: 34.

Hometown: Cali, Colombia. Currently living in Idaho Falls.

Profession: Scientist

How long have you been ice climbing?

2-3 years

How did you take up the sport?

I really like alpine climbing. I started ice climbing as a way to be more comfortable on terrain with steep ice/snow, to learn how to place protection, set up anchors, V-threads, etc. I immediately got hooked.

What appeals to you about ice climbing, say over other types of climbing?

It is a different type of suffering because of the cold. The movements are very different from rock climbing and the training requires work on different skills. I still see it as a good training for alpine climbing.

Favorite place to ice climb?

My very first-time ice climbing was in Rjukan, Norway. I think it is still my favorite place due to the steep canyon walls, minimal crowds, and short approaches.

Your next big trip?

I am new to the area, so I hope to go to Hyalite Canyon (near Bozeman, Mont.) multiple times this season.

How do you respond when people call you crazy?

I just laugh.

What was the scariest moment you’ve had ice climbing?

Getting pumped 3-4 meters above my last screw.

What would you tell others interested in taking up the sport?

Approach it with humility. Even if you are a strong rock climber, it will feel alien and scary at first. Also, top rope as much as you can before trying to lead — falling on ice is not the same as falling on a cam or a nut! In addition to the doubt of whether the screw will stay or not, you are also climbing with sharp tools and crampons. The potential for an accident is much higher.

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Scott Hurst

Scott Hurst plays on Spaghetti Falls near East Rosebud Lake, Mont.

Scott Hurst

Age: 46

Hometown: Rexburg

Profession: Outdoor Retail Manager

How long have you been ice climbing?

19 years

How did you take up the sport?

While attending graduate school in Indiana they had a cold spell that allowed some of the local limestone seeps to form (into ice). One of my instructors was an ice climber, so he took a bunch of us out climbing. We were eventually chased off because it was on federal land managed by the Army Corps of Engineers near the Monroe County Reservoir. A few of us snuck back another time or two to climb. After that I was hooked. When I came back to Idaho and started working at BYU-Idaho I did some of the early Dean Lords ice festivals in Teton Canyon. From that, I started taking students and eventually found my way to Montana where the ice climbing is much better.

What appeals to you about ice climbing over other types of climbing?

The thing I like about ice climbing is the fact that it is such an interesting medium to climb. Unlike rock, in ice you always have your hand and footholds available to you. Swing a tool. There are also a lot fewer people who ice climb and so the solitude of it can be quite enjoyable. I like the challenge of trying to stay warm and keep my head in the game. Much of ice climbing is mental. I love the mental challenge of it all. Facing fear while leading on ice. Knowing that you shouldn’t fall. The beauty and stillness of the winter. This is why I climb ice.

Favorite place to ice climb?

Hyalite Canyon, Bozeman, Mont., Cody, Wyo., Dubois, Wyo.

Your next big trip?

Assuming I get all my work done, Hyalite Canyon during the Bozeman Ice Festival. Maybe the pillar in Darby Canyon coming out of the Wind Cave or the pillar above the Boy Scout camp in Teton Canyon.

How do you respond when people call you crazy?

I am not sure anyone has ever called me crazy. But my philosophy is that one man’s risk is another man’s adventure. Do what you love and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.

What was the scariest moment you’ve had ice climbing?

I was climbing a mixed rock and ice route on the north face of Sacajawea (in the Lost River Range) this spring and topped out the pitch on some really thin ice. When my partner joined me we decided to bail because of the conditions. In the process of rappelling off the route, a big avalanche came down and slid past us. Fortunately, my partner was under an overhang and most of it went over him.

What would you tell others interested in taking up the sport?

Top rope a ton and get the techniques dialed in before you start leading. There are lots of great places to learn and festivals to take clinics at that will move your abilities forward.

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Teak Cummings

Teak Cummings climbs an ice formation in Hyalite Canyon near Bozeman, Mont.

Teak Cummings

Hometown: Idaho Falls

Profession: Retired

How did you take up the sport?

I first sank an ice ax well after I turned 50. That’s the time frame most of my outdoor adventures started. Our kids were grown so (my husband) Dan and I could spend the days doing our thing. Our son and his friends, a group of experienced ice climbers, invited us to climb on an ice column in the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls. Tied on top rope, I swung my ax, sometimes having to make repeated swings, barely piercing the frozen beast. As I ascended I tried to make a pair of non-ice climbing crampons secure my feet to the column. I was sure I would peel off at any moment.

Favorite place to ice climb?

I have climbed in Hyalite Canyon (near Bozeman, Mont.), Teton Canyon (east of Driggs) and at a Jackson Hole Ice Climbing Competition. Each experience had its own surprises. Hyalite Canyon offered hero ice, ice that is softer and the swing of the ax results in a nice solid, secure thud. Teton Canyon’s ice flow had flowing water encased behind a thin sheet of clear ice, water coming down as the climber is going up. The Jackson Hole Climbing competition focused on climbing as fast as possible. I came in second out of two and won a nice fleece. Each area has its own uniqueness.

What was the scariest moment you’ve had ice climbing?

I personally never had a serious event ice climbing, unless you call the screaming barfies a serious event. At the time, I thought it was quite serious and have no desire to experience it again.

Your next big trip?

I look forward to being invited to ice climb this winter. I’m only a slightly better ice climber with better ice climbing crampons, but seriously enjoy the challenge.

What would you tell others interested in taking up the sport?

I suggest if you get the opportunity to try it with experienced climbers, say “yes.”

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