Searching for the Pinner
Rising south from Bozeman, the Gallatin Range divides the Yellowstone River and the headwaters of the Missouri. From town, my gaze is drawn to the volcanic ridgelines and corniced peaks that guard the northern edge of the range.
Come first snowfall, Bozemanites ascend the road up Hyalite Canyon in search of smooth turns and wild spaces. Gaining access to the upper reaches of the Gallatins, this road winds through icy narrows and climbs towards the towering faces of Blackmore, Elephant, Bole, Chisholm, Maid of the Mist, and Divide.
I’ve skinned countless miles in these mountains while picking my way through the chossy cliff bands and scouring remote basins. Classic lines abound in this steep and accessible terrain.
One of my favorite lines can be found just off the main valley. The first time I found the Pinner was the result of an early morning misadventure and a race to get back to town in time to make it to work.
Stomping through the predawn light, my partner and I missed the approach drainage, bushwhacked more than we needed, and made it to the base of an icy Twin Falls for sunrise.
Racking up and securing his skis to his back, TJ Anderson led the long but moderate flow to the trees that mark the edge of the basin above. Located between Elephant Mountain and Palace Butte, this simple obstacle – a 65m piece of ice – removes much of the competition for the line on a powder day. Stashing our rack and rope at the top of the climb we stepped back into our skis and cut a track into the basin.
At first, the line wasn’t visible. Mount Bole commanded our attention and our gaze is drawn to its prominent nose and abundant lines. However, I knew the line we were looking for was hidden near the back of the basin.
As we skinned under the north facing cliffs, the Pinner was still hidden from view. Finally, at the back of the basin, we looked up and the couloir cut a perfect line behind the rock and back the way we came – protected and hidden from nearly every other spot in the drainage.
At the base of the climb, the snowpit showed decent stability and after a brief discussion we chose to ascend. It’s a steep boot up from the bowl to the ridgeline on top.
Kicking up the last few feet, we peered over the crest towards Divide Peak and the Storm Castle drainage – a link up for another day. Looking south, I took in the wildness of the Gallatin Range. Surprisingly, the Gallatins are the last major mountain range bordering Yellowstone National Park without a Wilderness designation.
Just below the ridgeline TJ clicked in and dropped into the couloir. Hops turns put him into knee-deep powder and he pointed through the narrow volcanic walls into the safety of the bowl below. I followed through grin-inducing snow until half way down a hard turn released the top layer of fresh snow. As the sluff ripped past TJ, I paused and let my heart rate settle. Then, with a deep breath, I finished the tight, scoured line. Making the final turn into the basin below, we both looked back to admire our tracks and breathed a sigh of relief. Exhilarated, we retraced our skintrack and prepared to face the workday. A short ski through the forest brought us back to the top of Twin Falls and our stashed gear. A rare party will ski the icefall but rappelling the climb was in order for our skill level. This time, on the exit, we found the correct line through the drainage and raced back towards the trailhead. With a successful tick of a classic, we headed down the canyon to get TJ to work.
The perks of living in a mountain town: we were able to climb 3,600 feet to the top of our line, climb one long pitch of ice, and ski a steep couloir in a brief seven and a half mile trip.
Trailhead: Grotto Falls Trailhead at the head of Hyalite Canyon, about forty-five minutes south of Bozeman.
From Bozeman take 19th Ave south for seven miles. Turn left on Hyalite Canyon Road. Follow this road up the canyon for twelve miles until it ends at the Grotto Falls parking lot.
USGS Maps: Fridley Peak Quad
Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center Current Advisory:mtavalanche.com/advisory