I was graced with the pleasure of living in Bozeman, Montana for 2 months last summer. This town houses the students of Montana State University; neighbors excellent climbing and whitewater kayaking; and is home to thousands of a certain type of person that uses organic shampoo made from hemp, has a bracelet- and blueberry-selling stand at the weekly farmer’s market, and has at least two (dirty) Phish shirts. It’s a small slice of heaven with places such as The Crystal, La Parrilla (some joint that gives away free burritos), and rivers which every Montanan enjoys “floating.” My friend Robin and I decided that climbing the state’s high point, Granite Peak, was a reasonable option for a weekend endeavor between shifts at our place of employment. We planned to leave Friday morning.
It was Wednesday evening, and we were discussing the route information we had gathered from Bozeman’s own Barrel Mountaineering. We were struggling to select a single climbing route since the mountain had a number of established paths reaching the summit. Ultimately, we wanted to climb the lesser-climbed North Face, and the North Face’s Notch Couloir in particular. But vague condition reports, zero knowledge of the area, and a much smaller chance of reaching the summit (as opposed to following a less technical route) deterred us. Instead, we were considering the same route that 99% of people take to the top, following a mellow East ridge with lots of beautiful views, moderate rock climbing, and far more safety zones. This route would eliminate snow, ice, and the majority of glacier travel and increase our chances of reaching the 12,807 summit with minimal trouble, route-finding, and uncertainty.
It was Thursday afternoon, and we were rushing home from Gallatin Canyon, where we’d spent the morning climbing prior to the start of our evening work shifts.
The entire ride home we debated route options, logically producing arguments of costs and benefits for each option. Robin didn’t have mountaineering boots, which, while seemingly trivial in the grand scheme of choosing a climb, is actually a huge factor, as we would be traveling over snow and ice that require crampons. As we pulled into the driveway, we chose the “normal route,” both of us slightly unsatisfied at the reality of taking the easiest route to the top. Robin had an appointment before work, so he rushed off and I wrapped up some preparations.
While I sorted through miscellaneous climbing gear and read the approach details, though, I was hit with a realization: We wouldn’t be happy. We had to climb the harder route. We had to get on the North Face and give it our best shot. I called Robin in the middle of his very important appointment—a hair cut—and told him exactly what I thought. I was so relieved when he told me he’d been thinking the same thing. But now it was 45 minutes until work started and we needed two forms of climbing protection that I didn’t have—pitons and ice screws—and Robin needed some boots. He was extremely busy and preoccupied with head massages, so it was up to me to get the gear.
I decided that the best shop to find such specific gear out of season (it was mid-summer and we sought ice screws) was your favorite co-op and mine, REI. But I didn’t have time to ride my bike the 5 miles to REI and return in time to buy Robin’s boots at the secondhand shop in town. For the first time all summer, I forewent my bike and ran to the garage, jumped in my sleeping Audi as the garage door opened behind me, figured out how to put my car in reverse, and looked in my rear view mirror. What I saw behind me was not an empty driveway, but a ginormous SUV with its front bumper at the same level as my roof rack. Robin’s vehicle was parking me in. I called Robin. He had his keys. Jealous of the head massage I knew he was receiving as he answered his phone, I ran back inside, grabbed my skid, and mashed harder than I’ve ever mashed—downhill and fast—to what was, temporarily, the only place in the world that mattered: Robin’s salon. As I skid a 180 on the side walk in front of the shop (because my stupid bike—or should I say skid—doesn’t have any brakes) the door opens, Robin’s wet hair emerges, and a set of keys barrels toward my head. Without stopping, I toss the keys in the pocket of my girl jeans pants and haul myself and my single-speed bike up the hill that I had descended 15 seconds prior. Within 10 minutes of leaving the house I return, having biked way, way too fast and far considering the hot weather and my distinct lack of athleticism. I have that bike to look cool, not to ride! Nothing makes me angrier than using it.
I jump in Robin’s 150⁰ SUV interior, crank the A/C (read: HEAT) to full blast, and power to REI, blowing through every red light, hitting 14 college students on neighboring MSU’s campus, and knocking an old lady off her golf cart. I make it to REI, sweating, in good time and without any (caught) traffic violations. I had to be at work in 15 minutes.
To my sincere disappointment, though, REI did not have ice screws or pitons, the 2 pieces of gear we needed. Regardless of how many handlebar baskets, “performance-enhancing walking shorts,” and middle-aged women in yoga shants it had, the store was new and had not yet existed through a winter season, meaning they couldn’t have any surplus ice screw stock. After making only a slight “scene” and shedding fewer tears than I expected, I was back in the ginormous SUV, driving to the climbing shop in town (across the street from work). I called Robin and told him the situation. He quickly finished his head massage hair cut and biked to the secondhand shop to purchase the boots he needed. Pressing the SUV’s brakes for the first time in front of the storefront (I drive cars like they’re fixies), I casually drove onto the sidewalk, hit a tree, destroyed a parking meter, and finally drove through the store’s front door, widening it substantially and collapsing the storefront while caving in the floors of the expensive loft apartments above. Because I was smart enough to have rolled down my window in anticipation, I was screaming orders for pitons and ice screws before the car even exploded. A wonderfully helpful employee casually rummaged for any leftover pitons or ice screws from last season, not too concerned with the wreck, let alone my apparently unnecessary haste (I didn’t have to work for “two whole minutes,” and the car in Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift “didn’t explode for SIX!”). Finally, the gear was found. Of course the credit card machine wasn’t working, so the people on the other side of the counter were forced to find a pen, then a piece of paper, then a working pen, and finally inscribe my credit card number into a pad of old route topos.
“Yeah, man…like, have fun tomorrow on your climb. As long as we remember, we’ll, like, charge your credit card if we get that crazy machine working again. Stupid machines. This is totally why I live in a teepee, man. Have I ever told you that I hate free markets? Man, they incentivize innovation, which only takes us further away from mother earth, man. My teepee has the coolest machine—it’s called fire. It’s the only good thing man ever invented, bro. Well, I guess we didn’t really inv-….” Robin tumbled into the store, curious about his car’s position inside the collapsed climbing shop and the bewildered look on my face as I stared, dumbfounded, at the overly-cliché climber.
“There’s no time for boo-hoos or story time. I’ll explain later. We’re supposed to be at work, in uniform, in 19 seconds,” I tell him, avoiding the smashed car and ruined section of Main Street. He runs outside through the rubble and jumps on his bike as I slowly back the car out, accelerating heavily past the police cars as the building’s façade tumbles to rubble on the pleasant, small-town Main Street, landing on a manatee, a recently-found Pablo Picasso painting, a flock of baby geese following their mother in an orderly line, and the last surviving snow leopard.
We weren’t late for work, worked all night, and packed until 1am. The approach was going to be long, steep, and long.