Montana's Worthwhile Winter Summits

Ice climbing

Photo by Seth Anderson

Wind whips from seemingly every angle, cutting through what I thought would be a sufficient number of layers to keep me warm but the wintery landscape I find myself traveling through proves far more frigid than I had anticipated, yet the strange motivation to stand atop the rocky summit high above pushes me onward. 

Climbing Montana’s high summits during the winter season may seem like a grueling type-2 fun sort of day in the mountains, but during our bitter winters we have an opportunity to experience and thrive in all that nature provides during its harsh winter grip. Ice, snow, and rime encrusted summits are just a few of the challenges we face while attempting to climb Montana’s great mountains during winter. Though unwelcoming and frigid, Montana’s winter landscape provides what many outdoor enthusiasts dream about, cold smoke powder, daunting ice formations, and enough summits to last a lifetime! If one is willing to push past the unpleasantness that comes with frigid temperatures they will surely be rewarded with incredible experiences in a variety of winter landscapes. To eager mountaineers, winter is the perfect time of the year to bundle up and embrace the opportunities of winter. As trails fill with snow they become a canvas for adventuring as backcountry skis and skins allow opportunists to explore these snow-filled areas. Whilst trickling waterfalls transform to beautiful sculptures of frozen ice, ripe for the eager ice climber to ascend–Montana’s winter landscape truly has a little bit of everything, exactly what every adventurer dreams of!

Climbing in winter
Photo by Seth Anderson

Winter climbing requires specific equipment and knowledge with tools such as crampons, ice axes, avalanche beacons, and additional equipment that make the impossible possible. Large steep faces of snow and ice are conquerable thanks to centimeters of steel attached at our hands and feet, allowing us to ascend these great mountainsides. An entirely different realm of mountain expertise is also required to stay safe while out exploring as avalanches, ice fall possibility, and warming temperatures are just a few of the dangers one must understand and attempt to mitigate while out climbing these great mountains. Once a general understanding of snow and ice is gained the possibilities are endless with the winter wonderland provided to us here in Montana holding large amounts of untapped potential. During wintertime ascending these mountains can prove extremely difficult as time, conditions, and hazards all have to line up perfectly to grant a safe summit bid. Though when the stars aline, the experience of toting a heavy gear bag on your back to a beautiful mountain summit during winter is a moving experience.Most of the time a descent from a winter peak requires a bit of skiing, but to any adventurer this is merely the cherry on top and an opportunity to cash in on all the hard work it takes to get to the summit. Logistically, carrying sharp technical climbing equipment and skis to a mountaintop is extremely tough work but the rewards reaped from these incredible experiences outweigh the heavy packs. Earning your turns and trudging up the side of a mountain to ski down seems comical, but let me tell you, it is one of the most eye-opening experiences one can live. With an entire mountain to descend, the options are endless so it's up to one's imagination while peering down these slopes to imagine what is possible to ski.

Climbing in snow

Photo by Seth Anderson

With hopes of a summit bid to one of Bozeman's most classic summits, Beehive Peak, my climbing team and I endured a sweaty approach to the head of the basin, finding ourselves below the great couloir that would lead us to the peak's summit cap in no time. Gearing up at the top of the notch we peered around the face at the steep snow gully that stood between us and the summit, pausing to take a deep breath before stepping into the unknown. Whipping winds and snow blowing from every direction possible made this scramble of snow and rock one to remember, while spindrift from above continually poured down onto us as we ascended. Every movement on the face had to be smooth and specific, the mere millimeters of metal attached to our hands and feet securing us to the mountainside were carefully placed on each hold up the gully of loose igneous rock.

Taking turns ascending the crux of the climb we were happy to have brought crampons and ice tools as scrambling to the summit proved challenging. Before we knew it we stood atop the wind-whipped summit, embracing each other and noting the quality and variety of climbing en-route. Though bitter cold and comparable to a wind tunnel, the summit of Beehive Peak was an incredible adventure thus far and, on a beautifully sunny day, a true blessing. After familiarizing ourselves with the nearby peaks and ranges we said goodbye to our temporal place of accomplishment and descended carefully back down the warming gully. Returning to our skis at the base of the climb we were ecstatic to ski down the great 4th of July couloir we booted up on the way to our successful summit bid. Skiing back to the car with the great peak in our rearview we couldn't help but smile at the great company, skiing and climbing we experienced throughout the day. 

Montana provides some of the most pristine and beautiful wilderness in the United States but once you add a layer of ice and snow into that mix and you truly have paradise on earth. One can only dream of attempting to conquer all that winter in MT has to offer, but it's always great to try!


Photo by Seth Anderson

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