by Brian Leo

Cedar Creek Falls is South of Big Sky. I’d been looking for and finding small ice climbs for five years and after two ski tour attempts to find a “big” climb I had not yet seen this one though I knew it existed. It is tucked back in the cirque with enough trees around to keep it hidden.

In March of 1974 Jim Kanzler solved the horribly long approach by suggesting we hire a helicopter which was at Big Sky filming an advertisement. So for $20 apiece we were able to take advantage of good weather, and by eliminating the ski-in we were able to schedule this trip on days off (why do ski patrollers work 6 days a week?). Though there was no return flight possible, a trail works its way downhill to the big alluvial fan in the Madison Valley. For myself this trail would prove much more difficult than the climb itself.

I must have had my usual misgivings about going on an ice climb for I hardly said anything on the whole trip. I probably said, “You first, Rathole”. Jim Kanzler (Rathole) has a lot of motivation and talent. He’s a great climber. He also has a nickname that needs a little explanation. There were several climbers on the ski patrol at Big Sky and one, Dougal McCarty, thought that Jim resembled Reinholdt Messner, a very famous climber. Jim’s young son Jamie heard his dad being called this in jest at a climbers slide show and wanted to know why his friends were calling him “Rathole”, completely mispronouncing “Reinholdt”. Dougal thought this was very funny and used this new title in the ski patrol room the next day. The name stuck and is used to this day, much to Jim’s dismay. Dougal (whose real name is Doug) is the victim of his own nickname which is “Dog Fuck”. This comes from a letter sent by Seattle climber Don Harder that was addressed and actually delivered to “Dog Fuck McFarty” in the late 1960’s. Unlike Kanzler, McCarty seems to like his sobriquet and if you know him you’d have to admit it’s fitting.

Anyway, it was nice to have RH leading the difficult first pitch. He was well prepared and climbed the first lead which is steep, 75-80°, while I thought about staying warm on the climb above. I guess it’s no wonder your hands and feet get cold. First you go to an icy place on the north side of a mountain in Montana, and then you hang on a bunch of straps which cut off your blood circulation.

On the second lead at Cedar Creek Falls I climbed for half a rope length before the angle eased off and our climb was completed without anything about which I had been brooding taking place. Something dreadful did happen on the ski out. Skiing with a mountaineering pack while on three pin bindings over untracked trails in thick timber is another given aspect of ice climbing. I put my skis on for the first time when we got ready to leave, as there had been no approach when we landed in the helicopter at Cedar Creek. To my horror the boots were four sizes too big. I had grabbed my roommate Art Stendal’s boots! What was I going to do, post hole for 12 miles? These were more of a racing shoe and the heal didn’t hit its metal contact on the ski so I didn’t have any torque control. With his size 12 boot on my size 8 foot I looked like Charlie Chaplin.

I tried skiing out and basically crashed a lot. My bamboo ski poles didn’t last long and turned into Chinese lanterns with the splinters bowing out in the middle each time I tried to plant them.

It got to the point where I was pissed. RH was laughing and I told him, “It’s not funny anymore”. At this point we should have had a movie camera because it wasn’t funny – it was hilarious.

He broke trail and following along behind I eventually reached the road where his wife Lindalee was to pick us up. Waiting there I found three cans of beer in the snow bank which were a little old and the wrong brand (Oly) but tasted o.k. nonetheless. Cedar Creek Falls had finally been found and climbed. Shortly thereafter Alex Lowe actually skied the enormous distance in to Cedar Creek Falls and climbed it hoping for a first ascent not knowing we had done it already. An epic in its own right.


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