The Experiment

Published 2008-10-25

The author approaches the Standard Route, Beehive Peak, Montana. Photo by Matt Steen

We decided to conduct an alpine experiment.How much ice would there be on the Beehive in late October? Would we be able to climb it? Could unseasonably warm days, cold nights, and an early storm, create the necessary ingredients for ice…or not? Not quite sure what was in store for us, we brought along crampons, ice tools, a couple screws, a small rack, and loads of optimism.

Despite our early start, the formation was already in the sun when we reached the base. The veined gneiss contrasted against a perfect splitter blue sky. What a day it was! As we began to rack our gear, an immature golden eagle spiraled overhead surfing the early morning thermals. My mind drifted to some Leonard Cohen lyrics, “I thought I saw an eagle but it might have been a vulture I never could decide…” The suggestion of a scavenger looming above was certainly not comforting, yet I felt calm. Matt hands me the rack and I sort the gear to my desire. As I begin the climb, thin ribbons of ice once attached to the rock shatter and create the eerie sound of wind chimes, fractals fall around us. The climb was in interesting conditions to say the least.

As I slowly made my way up the crack, I found my thoughts drifting to what difficulties might lie ahead. This uncertainty kept me sharp. I knew I needed to stay on top of my game. The crack widened and I ventured in; one foot precariously stuck in the sugar snow that barely clung to the inside of the chimney while the other searched for edges on the clean face. I slowly work my way upwards, wiggling and squirming against the rock until I reach the point where I can go no further – the chimney is suddenly too narrow. I have been in this position way too many times. Strangely, I almost feel comfortable. After a few moments, I manage to birth myself from the crack and make my way to the belay.

Matt takes the next pitch, delicately making his way up a finger crack. Matt’s a strong climber, he seems to move effortlessly upwards. He continues, briefly disappearing out of sight and then returning back into the chimney. Kevin and I hear grunts of exasperation, we joke about what lurks above.

Kevin leads the final pitch, a beautiful grass filled corner all the way to the ridge. The summit has some pristine hanging snowfields. We move across the ridge to the summit, careful to not release any loose boulders. We summit one by one.

The views are spectacular, crystal clear, and appear to be infinite. We descend the couloir, make our way back to our packs, take a celebratory swig of Crown Royal and plod our way back to the truck.