With three straight years of ice climbing in Montana or Wyoming over New Year's, it was clear that the tradition would continue. Dale and I met up in Billings on the Friday after Christmas, spent a quick night in a hotel there, and woke up early to drive down to Cody. We provisioned ourselves with ~4 days and 3 nights of food, then busted out the Southfork Road towards the ice.
With the groceries chilling out in the car and after a little trailhead lunch, we hiked in for the Schoolhouse Route. We didn't have a ton of time, but also didn't expect to do more than the first few pitches. It was a solid 1.5 hours to the first ice pitch, especially since there hadn't been much snow yet and there was quite a bit of unconsolidated dirt to scamper across in between trying not to take a digger on the iced over stream.
We fired the first three pitches, trading leads and having a blast getting back into the swing of things. We descended during sunset, finished the hike with headlamps, and then headed for our bunkhouse at the Double Diamond X Ranch, which turned out to be all of a three-minute drive from our trailhead. Bonus!
The DDX Ranch was a great venue for our adventure. It was just the two of us in the 6-person bunkhouse, so we spread out our stuff, made dinner, drank whiskey, and talked plans for our upcoming trip to Patagonia.
We had ambitious plans to climb View to a Thrill on our second day and did the full approach to get there. Things were pretty warm in the sun and lots of ice was falling from Dressed to Kill. We quickly did the approach pitch and had a long look at the pillar above us. It was well attached, but looked pretty sun-baked. Dale went scouting and decided it didn't look safe, so we bailed, hiked down, and got a pitch in on Slogger before hiking out at dusk. Better safe than sorry.
With our experience on the South-facing side of the canyon the day before, we decided that the North-facing climbs would be a better bet and we were right. The Lower Bench was in to an extent that hadn't been true in 5+ years. We ticked off The One Hitter that next day, then headed back for Joy After Pain after that.
Joy After Pain looked stellar from below and it did not disappoint. A steep 60-meter pitch led to a steeper pillar, then a series of shorter pitches up the drainage to a spot with two falls. We climbed the right side, rappelled, then climbed the left side and kept heading up. We were rewarded. After a last quick pitch, we arrived at the base of a huge curtain of ice. Dale had a crampon front-point failure and I wasn't about to turn the pitch down. It started out steep on a pillar and then got on top of some mushrooms before running to the top in a shallow depression with good stemming feet on either side. It was definitely my proudest lead to date. I was psyched, especially after climbing ~5 pitches already that day and being on our 4th day of climbing.
We celebrated New Year's Eve with the ranch proprietor and his daughter briefly, put a dent in our whiskey, and talked gear for Patagonia until pretty late. With only one set of functioning crampons, we decided to do Ice Fest on our last day, which is a great 60m+ pitch of steep ice above the Flying H Ranch. Dale borrowed my crampons for the lead and then I seconded. It was a perfect cap on the trip. We hiked out, stopped in Cody for brew pub deliciousness, had another quick night in Billings, and then headed home, knowing that we'd see each other again in about 10 days down in El Calafate.