Hard-Rock Life

by Jack Taylor

A guide to rock climbing in and around Bozeman.

Rock climbing is a hallmark of outdoor recreation. Seriously—carabiners and ropes have essentially become the universal signals of people who like to spend time outside. Oh, you’ve got a spring-loaded metal device affixed to your water bottle? Where did you go camping last weekend?

Joking aside, climbing is fun for pretty much anyone. And for some folks, it becomes an all-absorbing obsession. Perhaps there’s a primal urge hard-coded in our DNA inherited from tree-swinging apes. We have an impulse to climb. It feels good.

And fortunately, there are plenty of spots to rock climb around Bozeman. For beginners and experts alike, our mountains and valleys are dotted with cliffs of all different rock types—granite, limestone, and sandstone alike. So whether you’re an expert or neophyte, here’s what you need to know about climbing in southwest Montana.

Where to Go
For easy sport climbing, Bear Canyon is the go-to. There are tons of bolted routes in the 5.6-5.10 range. It’s also one of the closest climbing areas to downtown Bozeman—just a 20-minute drive and 10-minute approach.

Allenspur is another great beginner-friendly zone (albeit a bit farther from town), and has some more difficult climbs to be found—it’s a good spot if you’re looking to appease climbers with a variety of skill levels.

When it’s time to notch it up, Practice Rock offers a selection of climbs from 5.6-5.12. There aren’t any sport climbs per se, but it’s possible to hike to the top and set up a top-rope on a bolted anchor for nearly every climb.

Another popular area is Bozeman Pass, with a variety of sport-climbing crags offering routes across a broad range of difficulty. The Training Wall is known for having some local test-pieces.

Gallatin Canyon is the beating heart of Bozeman-area rock climbing. With hundreds of routes ranging from moderate multipitch romps to nails-hard crack climbs, there’s enough to keep a zealous climber entertained for years on end.

Wolverine Bowl has the best limestone sport climbing in the area. It’s bullet-hard, very sharp, and dotted with long pitches in the 5.11-5.12 range. Not to mention, its setting in the Bridgers is quite serene.

Looking for a weekend road-trip outside the immediate area? Natural Bridge has some of the best sport climbing in the state. Pipestone has a plethora of boulders and cracks, with nice camping. The Humbug Spires offer tantalizing faces and cracks, and are steeped in climbing history.

Tying In
Around Bozeman, you’ll find lots of places to climb—and fortunately, not too many other people out there. Still, there are some important pieces of etiquette to keep in mind.

First and foremost, give people space. With plenty of room to spread out, there’s no need to be crowding another party on a route. Wait patiently for a pitch to open. There’s surely something else nearby.

On the other hand, don’t be a hoarder. Spending two hours working the most popular route at the crag on a busy weekend is pretty inconsiderate.

Music is a polarizing topic. At the end of the day, though, it’s presumptuous to think that other people are okay with you blasting tunes out there. Some of us are trying to enjoy nature for all that it is—sound (or lack thereof) included.

And then there are dogs. Lots of them around here, in fact. If you bring your dog climbing, it is absolutely imperative that you consider the impact on other people. Well-trained dogs who lay at your feet or stay out of the way are perfectly fine. But if you’ve got a four-legged nuisance on your hands who is running amok, stepping on ropes, and bothering other climbers, you’re not going to make any new pals.

One of the coolest parts about climbing in Bozeman is that we have such a tight-knit community of climbers. You’re bound to start seeing familiar faces within just a few outings. On top of that, we’ve got a smattering of year-round events where you can brush up on skills, help with crag maintenance, and meet like-minded folks.

Mondays, Thursdays, Sundays
Climbing Clinics – Bozeman. Learn the fundamentals of belaying, communication, rope management, and climbing movement, then progress to more advanced skills such as leading and anchor-cleaning.

Speaker Series – Bozeman. Swing by Uphill Pursuits on select Thursdays throughout the year for talks by local experts on everything in the mountains, from first aid to expedition reports.

Spring Fling – Bozeman. Before you head outdoors for the summer, have one last hurrah at the indoor wall to celebrate climbing and watch the best throw down.

Crag Maintenance – various locations. Help maintain the climbing areas we love and their access trails with the Southwest Montana Climbers Coalition. As a bonus, you’re bound to meet some like-minded folks to rope up with.

Montana Women’s Climbing Festival – Helena. Going into its fourth year, this festival is a fun-filled gathering for lady-crushers in the area. Sign up for a clinic to learn some new skills, or just go out to enjoy the climbing and company.

Tour de Hyalite – Hyalite Canyon. A classic friendly competition in an iconic setting: race to the top of Hyalite Peak and back, then climb pitches at Practice Rock to take time off the clock.