With a short break after a long semester, I had some free time to venture out once more into the wild world. It’s always difficult choosing where to go, but word had spread of some very nice new bouldering in Montana and it was hard to say no. I was also hopeful to add a new V10 or harder to the list of states.
There’s always a bit of uncertainty traveling to a new area, and the usual questions darted in and out of my thoughts. “Perhaps the rock will be poor? Perhaps it won’t be the next amazing thing? Perhaps it will be awful, a waste of time and I’ll never want to go back?” But these things hold little more importance than the fleeting moment they occupy in my mind. I have to know what’s out there, and taking that blind step into the unknown has given my life more joy and meaning than I could have possibly imagined.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
I had been to Montana first as child, and several times over the years since, but never to climb. It is a place of romantic grandeur and subtle beauty and I looked forward to spending time in a beautiful place with great people. I would not be disappointed…
We landed in Bozeman to a steady rain which tempered my psyche ever so slightly. I had made plans to meet up with friends Sander Pick and David “Derv” Sjoqist to get a tour. Sander and Derv are two of the most motivated climbers out there, and they’ve scoured a number of wild mountain ranges throughout the state, finding some incredible problems. Thankfully Sander took the time to beautifully document some of the developement that had gone on. His Mile 18 video stands out as one of the best bouldering videos produced in the last few years. I highly recommend a viewing.
We had poor weather the first day, with many boulders soaked, so we ventured into Yellowstone. The highlight was a grizzly bear not far from the road. We left the mountains that evening and went back to Bozeman.
The weather on the second day cleared, motivation was high, and we raced down the freeway. At a somewhat unlikely point we left the freeway and turned the car towards the rolling green hills. The pavement turned to gravel, the views opened up and the mountains soared.
We were now heading into grizzly country, the dark forest broken only by the rushing Boulder River. The road worsened and large boulders appeared . After nearly an hour we pulled in and hiked up to a fabulous collection of blocks. The rock was beautifully polished gneiss, similar but more consistent than the Poudre Canyon. Standout lines included Spears of Madness V10 FA Sjoquist, Supernova V10 FA Pick, and Big Dipper V12 FA Pick. Our motivation quickly turned to Sander’s outstanding testpiece Big Dipper V12.
We sieged the line, and after several hours of projecting I finally did all the moves. Sander and Derv threw themselves at the direct finish, a gorgeous project in the V13 range. It was great session. Of course I explored a bit but came up empty handed.
The rain came for a few days and we headed to a different and much drier part of the state. The rock outside of Butte is more coarse, but outstanding lines can still be found. This area is referred to as the Boulder Batholith, and has 75 square miles of exposed rock. Hard to imagine there’s not more out there than the few small sectors we saw. We did spend time exploring and trying an outstanding V11 from BJ Tilden Montana Beef. This problem has great rock, a flat landing, an obvious start and it is independent. We also cleaned up a lower start which would bump up the difficulty dramatically. It was clear there were V14s waiting to be climbed, and good ones at that. On the last day in the Batholith I also established a V8 near the Cattle Pond called First Taste.
When the weather dried up I went back to Mile 18, in hopes to send Big Dipper. The next day of dry weather I did just that. I was ecstatic to climb such an outstanding line of perfect edges, and earn my V10 or harder tick for MT. This problem fortunately fit me perfectly and it was a great feeling to top out on a challenging problem. I wouldn’t have even gone to Montana if it weren’t for the efforts of the locals, so of course a big thank you goes out to them! Here is uncut footage of the second ascent:
With a hard project finished it was time to explore and find some projects! Mile 18 held for me the most and best potential so we focused our efforts there in between the rain. Bryan Vansickle and Kyle Hilton were psyched for some hiking and we set off, up the side of the mountain to a hidden talus field. I had been previously challenged by the locals to find new rock. Here’s what I came up with:
We didn’t get a chance to try any of these stellar blocks, but again, I donate my finds to the locals in hopes they can put up some new rigs for all! We also explored closer to the river, and found some other great boulders the locals had seen. We spent the last day trying this excellent project to no avail. Perfect rock, a flat landing and just minutes from the road. Just another great project to come back for!
It was a fabulous trip to a beautiful part of the country and some much needed time and space to reset. Rock climbing has always been so good for that and I am ever thankful to have it in my life. I look forward to returning soon someday.