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Ice Climbing in Bozeman, Montana

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Come and Get It is a notorious M7 mixed climb in Hyalite Canyon outside Bozeman, Montana. In this film from Outside contributor and filmmaker Nathan Norby, he profiles climber Matt Cornell who follows in the footsteps of mountaineering legends Conrad Anker and Alex Lowe by attempting to free-solo this route.

Video Transcript

INTERVIEWER: Why is Matt climbing this rock wall? Like, what's the point?

CONRAD ANKER: I think for those of us that are passionate about climbing and we wake up and our factory setting is, let's go climbing now.


(SINGING) Why would I want to walk on solid ground when I can hear you. So much better when I can see the clouds closer to the ground.

MATT CORNELL: I rent a room in a house with five other people, and I live in a closet under the stairs. We wanted to make it as cheap as possible. So we were thinking how many people we could end up in the house. It was five bedroom, and then I took the closet under the stairs.

I mean, I've lived in it for the past four winters. I've become very accustomed to it. I enjoy it. It's kind of like lifestyle. It's about as good as it gets.

CONRAD ANKER: Being a dirt bag is a phase of a glamorous life where you let go of the material things. So you're not looking for the real job. And the goal in life is to climb as much as you can.

MATT CORNELL: If I have someone to go rock climbing with that day, they'll come pick me up and we'll go up to Hyalite. And if not, I'll take my bike out and ride it up to the entrance to the canyon and hitch a ride up and go to some circuits.

CONRAD ANKER: Harder you dirt bag combined with the harder your roots, the greater cred you have within your community.

(SINGING) I just want to gear up, gear up, gear up.

INTERVIEWER: How long you've been waiting for?

MATT CORNELL: Too damn long.

I'm very drawn to this area because it's just very beautiful. You can just look anywhere and be amazed at what you see. And the big attraction is just the access to the ice. Walking around Hyalite and approaching the climbs. And to me, it's what is currently good in Hyalite, like what the current conditions are doing that motivates me. And it's trying to find the best ice and whatever is the freshest.


I'm cleaning some sketchy ice off this thing.

Come and Get It, the route, is a classic Alex Lowe piece at the grade of M7. So to solo it, it's been done once before by Craig Pope.

CONRAD ANKER: Psychologically, it's demanding. When it first went in, it had quite a intimidating aura about. I mean, it's put three people in the hospital. And to get Matt dialed in and to know each and individual move, we practiced it together. And so we would be like, place that gear there, pull on that, reach through to that spot, get the lower pick stick. It's good.

It's friable rock. And think about it. You're putting a lot of leverage on it. And you can blow a hold out. There it is, and so that's the manner in which Matt prepared for it. And he understood the route. It's pretty good. And that's part of what we do.

Every climber puts himself in a place where a slip would be fatal. It's just varying degrees.

MATT CORNELL: It's a test piece for a reason because there's not many mixed routes that go totally on natural gear. It's just a very natural line. And the fact that it was put up on site by Alex Lowe is a pretty incredible feat at the time.

CONRAD ANKER: People had tried it, but Alex Lowe was the first to lead it. And he died much too young at age 40. But part of that legacy climbers leave behind are the climbs that they opened up, that they were the first ascension of it. And to see Matt connect to the history of climbing through Alex Lowe via this route is pretty special.

MATT CORNELL: It gives you an appreciation for what they were climbing back in the day with straight shafted tools, leashes, and putting that up on site. Pretty incredible. We've got it pretty easy nowadays.

(SINGING) For my babe, [INAUDIBLE] in my bed. [INAUDIBLE] for my babe.

Things always get tangled. The knot, the bane of my existence. It makes me very psyched.

CONRAD ANKER: Soloing is about the purest form of climbing and not having the encumbrance of rope and protection-- so risky with the ultimate consequence, death. Climbing on the andesite in Hyalite, you're on low percentage holds, holds that require very specific placements.

MATT CORNELL: It's very cryptic. It's hard to find the right little cracks or seams. Or sometimes you're even just like shouldering your tool and grabbing the rock with your hand because it's just a better hold.

Once you find the hold, you can work it out and figure the moves. But a lot of it is just how you pull on it, how good the hooks are, how many teeth you're getting in some of the hooks, the angle that you're pulling on them, and whether you to have twerk a pick in a crack or hook it over a flat edge and be very careful not to move it. And so all those going into climbing a mixed route.

Then you pull into the crocks, which consists of one very good hook that you have to match on. But it's a big move. You have to get real scrunchie, get the feet up high, and move into an OK hook. You have to set it just right before you commit to weighting it.

CONRAD ANKER: So imagine, if you will, you walk along a railroad track. Elevate that up 100 feet where if you fall off you're going to die. With the elite solo climber, they're able to either tune that noise out, that mind dry it out, or harness it in a way that allows them greater focus in the moment.

MATT CORNELL: Once you leave the ground, you're not thinking about the consequences. You're not thinking about anything but the movement. You're totally committed. So it's building up the gumption to actually, this is OK, I know what I'm doing, I've rehearsed it many times. It's just like making yourself commit.

CONRAD ANKER: What is your risk tolerance and what do you place that in? And so that's an internal question for Matt.

MATT CORNELL: It's almost like a meditation of sorts, like a moving meditation because you're totally clear in your mind. There's nothing else. It's just totally in the moment.

CONRAD ANKER: Soloing and you finish something up, there's a moment of reverence and thanks to the mountains that you had safe passage. And it's not like a scoring a touchdown and spiking the football and bravado. And it's like, you just savor that moment.

MATT CORNELL: Fuck, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: How do you feel?

MATT CORNELL: I pretty good.

It's a mixed emotions kind of thing, where it's like you're really happy but you're also like you have to know your limits. And you're like, that was really cool, that went really well. But like, let's keep it real and make sure I don't get in over my head with this.

CONRAD ANKER: If you do it because you love it and it's your way of creativity and artistry while you're experiencing this brief moment of life, then it's a pretty good thing.

MATT CORNELL: It's changed my life in a very positive way. It's made me see different aspects of climbing that were just previously unknown.


So that's one of the big things that attracts me, is finding something that hasn't been climbed frequently or that year. Or maybe it's something that's just formed or maybe something that rarely forms and it just comes in for maybe a few days before it's gone and so you--


That is a first for me. I'm not going to lie.

- Turn away from the camera.

MATT CORNELL: That was fucking great. Oh shit.