Ice climbers in Montana are getting ready to pull off their gloves: not to clip a screw, but to fight to keep access to HyaliteCanyon. Slated for 2008, the Gallatin National Forest’s newtravel plan would close and gate the road climbers use to access the world-class ice and mixed destination outside of Bozeman between January 1 and May 15, designating it instead for family-oriented cross-country skiing.
This plan, entitled 7M, is the culmination of more than four years of discussion, public-comment periods and ongoing debates among user groups.Effectively reducing a five-monthice-climbing season to six to eight weeks in November and December, 7M proposes plowing to Hyalite Reservoir, three miles from the trailhead, and then gating the road beyond. While the ski in doesn’t sound prohibitively long, a failure to plow even to the reservoir seems to be built into the plan: The Forest Service has set up a lower closure location eight miles down the road and established an ungroomed, circuitous snowmobile route that experienced local sled-heads call advanced and difficult riding. Hyalite is world famous for its quality, offering everything from beginner to elite routes.
It’s a lot more family-oriented than people think, says Nate Opp, a local climber.
The Forest Service received over 10,000 comments to the draft plan, says Marna Daley, Gallatin National Forest public affairs officer. The agency used those opinions to create the final plan, says Daley, in hopes it would provide fair and balanced opportunities for all users. Climbers have recently held meetings with local ski and snowmobile groups. Together these user groups agreed to share use of the road.
In an early-January meeting, though, Forest Service officials turned downclimbers’ requests to change the travel plan through means other than a formalappeal process. According to climbers who attended the meeting, one Forest Service official said climbers have the responsibility to prove us [the ForestService] wrong. And we don’t want to be wrong.Joe Josephson, area guidebook author, says, We’ve been working to educate the Forest Service aboutthe value of Hyalite ice climbing. And they’ve ignored us. With over 900 letters from climbers after the first travel plan was proposed, in 2002, climbers have established a presence among Hyalite’s user groups.
With assistance from the Access Fund, locals have filed official appeals,but Montana ice climbers still need legal and financial help. The legal costs of an official appeal to prove the Forest Service has made an arbitrary and capricious decision will be upwards of $50,000.
Jason Keith, Access Fund policy director, said, If you live in Montana, you’re a climber and you vote, let your politicians know what you want from county commissions up to senators. They can’t direct the agency, but they have oversight.
Visit www.accessfund.org and www.montanaice.com for more.