Winter Dance Free-Climbed

Alex Lowe and Vera Long on the third pitch of Winter Dance. Photo courtesy of Kristoffer Erickson /

Alex Lowe and Vera Long on the third pitch of Winter Dance. Photo courtesy of Kristoffer Erickson /

Whit Magro and Kristoffer Erickson have free-climbed the classic Montana ice route Winter Dance, nearly ten years after its first ascent.Winter Dance (WI6+ R M8) is a spectacular line high above the floor of Hyalite Canyon. During the first ascent, a long bolt ladder on the second pitch was used to bypass an overhanging rock band and reach the main ice daggers. Erickson and Magro made the multihour approach to the route four times this year with hopes of a free ascent. After aiding the 12-bolt ladder on the second pitch to clean the rock and suss out the moves, they came back in mid-November for the redpoint but never started up because the weather was too warm. On November 27, however, the two men returned to link the entire climb. Erickson led the long WI4+ 5.9 (M5) first pitch and the WI5+ final pitch. Magro got the bolt ladder (M8) and the extremely difficult ice of the third pitch, which was given WI7 after the first ascent but has settled to WI6+. Magro took three hours to lead this pitch, and the two finished the climb in the dark, returning to the car 12 hours after leaving.Winter Dance was established in 1998 by Montanans Jim Earl and Alex Lowe.Though it's often called an "Alex Lowe route," Earl led the crux third pitchonsight. Kelly Cordes, who made the second ascent of Winter Dance with Scott DeCapio, about a week after Earl and Lowe, said, “Pitch 3 was the crux, with the crazy pure ice climbing. I remember it being well-protected and bouldery, super-sustained, with like 10 little ice roofs. The wind forms these wild formations, and the ice can be really bad quality, too.” Cordes added, “It's a helluva gem, and perhaps the most sought-after ice route in the Lower 48. Best ice route I've ever done. Awesome job by Whit and Kris, fully taking it to another level, but no surprise that a couple of local but world-class bad-asses like them score the FFA.” A very nice six-minute photo-video montage of the first free ascent has been posted at You Tube.Date of Ascent: November 27,, Kelly Cordes,

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