In Conjunction With OutsideTV.com and Osprey Packs
Two weeks ago I was in Minneapolis—the city where I grew up—for a showing of Chris Alstrin’s and my movie Waypoint Namibia. Afterwards, a man from the audience asked me what I did in the winters when I was not in Africa. I told him I ice climbed. Midwest Mountaineering, the gear shop in Minneapolis, had partially sponsored the evening’s film. I figured I had a 50/50 chance this man would know what I was talking about.
“Ice?” he asked.
I shrugged. Minneapolis had just had a major snowstorm. I’d almost eaten it in the parking lot, several times. I tipped my head toward the doors. “Someone’s got to do something with all of that stuff,” I said.
We chatted for a while. I tried to convince him ice climbing was a good idea—fun even—and he told me he liked to scuba dive. I told him I was afraid of dark water. He said he was afraid of frozen water. We accepted each other’s differences right up until he asked me where I ice climbed.
“This year?” I said, “Bozeman, MT, Ouray, CO, Cody, WY, Munising, MI, North Conway, NH…” I rattled off my winter schedule. “I go for ice, and for the ice festivals,” I said.
He nodded and thought for a while, as if mentally mapping out the locations in his head. “Is that really necessary?” he asked.
Less than a week later I was in Hyalite Canyon, Montana. At the Bozeman Ice Festival. The day started with sixty women in a circle on a slicked over icy parking lot. We were all there for a women’s clinic day—six us as guides, several volunteers, and the rest climbers eager to learn. We lit off onto snow packed trails lacing together ice flows under steel skies. Sixty women swung and kicked and pulled and danced that day. It snowed on and off, the Montana wind swirled spindrift, and pretty much everyone was happy and game.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally go climbing with sixty people, let alone sixty strangers. Granted, I personally worked with fifteen over the course of the day. But I felt the mass. There are days you climb for yourself, and days when you climb for others, and still other days when you help other people climb for themselves. The Women’s Clinic at the Bozeman Ice Fest was the latter. The day wrapped up, demo ice tools, jackets, boots, crampons, gloves and more were returned, and that was that.
Except it wasn’t. A few hours later, the day’s climbers joined others (men, women, children, though sadly, no poodles) in the heart of Bozeman. I couldn’t walk more than five feet without seeing an old friend or a newly familiar face. This didn’t let up for three days. In the end, I still didn’t even get to say a proper hello to everyone I knew.
To the outside, assembling dozens of people to swing sharp things at a breakable surface is illogical. But on the inside, it makes more and more sense to me every year. If you know me, or you read what I write, you know I’ve been looking for home for the past three years. Last weekend, the ballroom of the Emerson Cultural Center became home. It’s the gift of this community. It’s the result of the work of those who create these gatherings. It might be temporary, but it’s the moment to mark in a winter of moving on a temporarily frozen surface. So this winter, I get to feel at home in a half dozen icy communities in the country. I’m lucky. But is it, as the man in Minnesota asked, necessary? Two weeks later I have an answer for him: It feeds the soul, powers the swing, and helps us all understand how those two things come together in ourselves.
Get Revved up for the Following Ice Festivals
January 6-9, 2011: Ouray Ice Festival, Ouray, CO (http://ourayicefestival.com/)
February 4-6, 2011: Michigan Ice Fest, Munising, MI (http://www.michiganicefest.com/)
February 4-6, 2011: Mt Washington Valley Ice Festival, North Conway, NH (http://www.mwv-icefest.com/)
February 18-21, 2011: South Fork Ice Festival, Cody, Wyoming (http://www.southforkice.com/)
December, 2011 : The Bozeman Ice Festival starts it all off again. (http://www.montanaalpineguides.com/bozemanicefestival/index.html)
And there are more cropping up every day…