by Jack Tackle

I don’t remember how many times I had slogged up the hill to Twin Falls before I realized that there was another slender piece of ice yet to be climbed nearby. Pat Callis was the first one I can recall using the name Cleo’s. Numerous climbers had pondered this beautiful, yet intimidating feature. Pat and I had the privilege of struggling up the three pitches that make up this Montana classic for the first time, sometime in the early 80’s.

After the initial wave of climbing the more obvious and larger formations, the group of us that were interested in doing new routes began looking at ice that held new challenges due to their more technical nature. Cleo’s became a major focus of attention and attempts. I’m not sure of everyone involved in taking a whack at the thing, but I can remember being blown off it twice. Gary Skaar and I had to abort one attempt after the outer layer of the first pitch calved off with Gary doing the air surf into the snow below the belay.

Another significant factor in the new ice climbs being done at this time were the tools. Ice climbing unlike rock climbing only exists because of technology. New tools like Lowe Hummingbirds had recently arrived on the scene. The tubular picks on both the hammers and axes were an applicable advantage for the brittle and steep ice up Hyalite.

The day Pat and I did Cleo’s I do have some fond and specific memories. I have repressed any memory of the approach once we started up the hill, though I believe we had to ski from the dam.

It was a pretty normal day in Hyalite, cold in the bottom of the drainage and gradually warming as we gained elevation towards the base of the climb.

I had three Lowe ice tools with me that day, loaded for bear. One axe with an elephant pick and two short hammers with tube picks. We third classed the first pitch and much to my chagrin during that pitch, the elephant pick snapped in half. I was so pissed at this new “advanced” Lowe tool that I flung it off into space in disgust. I did however watch were it landed and planned to reconnect with the axe on the way down.

For some reason it was my lead on the second pitch. Armed with my two remaining Lowe hammers, I moved upward. I recall wondering if I had the arm strength to last as I peered up the slightly overhanging corner that loomed above my head. There were slight bulges that formed overhangs and I can remember being amazed that I could stem up and around and keep on going. I placed three screws in the harder climbing, finally reaching a rest stance. Because of the cold friable ice and the steep angle, the Lowe tubes had worked great. What I didn’t realize about the pick design limitations soon became all too apparent to me. I was trying to traverse left with my hammers placed low about mid body. All of the sudden I was an airborne ranger. It was like being dropped out of a plane. I didn’t hit anything until the rope drew up against Pat. I know that he wondered what the hell my problem was, not only falling unexpectedly but after the crux. Now to my dismay I had to re-climb the crux after having logged about 25 feet worth of flight time. At the end of that pitch I found a beautiful cave for the belay. I’ll never forget how smooth the ice was and how it had a completely flat floor that was the deepest of blues.

Pat followed the pitch in his usual graceful and swift style, certainly with less calamity than myself. The last pitch was and still is real climbing, almost a full rope long. When I got to Pat in the trees he was belaying from, it was time for the traditional Camel cigarette. As we peered out from the top of the climb we realized we only had a few minutes of light. We ran over to Twin Falls and rapped off in the dark. I did try in vain to find my axe that I had hurled off the first pitch. I heard later that some enterprising youth hiked up in the summer and recovered the tool.

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