On the Rocks

by the editors

You’ve probably noticed the Rocky Mountains are aptly named. Limestone, sandstone, granite, gneiss—we’ve got rocks galore, and that means tons of climbing opportunities for those with the guts to get vertical. Whether you’re new to the sport, or a veteran looking for beta on local routes, read on—what follows is a primer on where to go, what to bring, and how to be safer and climb harder.

Essential Gear
While most climbers start by borrowing gear from more experienced friends, it’s best to own a few things of your own. Namely, shoes, a harness, and a chalk bag. Locally, both Uphill Pursuits and Spire Climbing Center can get you set up. Never buy used harnesses, ropes, or protection at pawn shops or on Craigslist—you’re putting your life on the line, literally, and you never know what used gear has been through.

First, it’s important to understand how climbs are rated. Beginners should be looking for something between 5.4-5.7, intermediates 5.8-5.10, and advanced 5.11-5.12. Right in our back yard, Gallatin Canyon has dozens of routes and bouldering problems, great history, beautiful scenery, and easy access. The canyon is largely traditional climbing, but there is a smattering of bolted climbs as well. Many of the older routes are appropriately sandbagged, so climb on with gusto. Skyline Arete (5.6, six pitches) is a crowd-pleaser, and shouldn’t be missed. Step up to the ultra-classic, perfect parallel cracks of Spare Rib (5.8, two pitches), Diesel Driver (5.9) or virtually anything on Gallatin Tower (5.6-5.13 options).

Up Hyalite Canyon is Bozeman’s pet crag, Practice Rock, great for a quick pump after work. Park in the pullout on the right and pick your way up the talus. Most of the routes can be top-roped by hiking around to the right; just use caution when doing so. Hundreds, maybe thousands of climbers have experienced their first climbs or trad leads on routes like Strawberry Crack (5.7), Jerry’s Route (5.8+), and Rosebush Crack (5.9). When you’re ready for more of a challenge, make sure to check out the splitter gear line of Theoretically (5.10c).

If clipping bolts is your jam, head to the Bozeman Pass. Limestone routes from 5.6-5.13 are clustered among fins and faces, with relatively quick and easy access off I-90 at Trail Creek Rd. If you’re looking to make a day of it, you may also want to check out Bozeman’s coolest—both scenery-wise, and temperature-wise—sport-climbing crag at Wolverine Bowl. A longer drive and about an hour-long hike brings you to the steep limestone with some of the best friction around, with many harder grades. Don’t miss The Beat Connection (5.10b) and Hate Street Dialogue (5.11b).

Want to meet some new partners? There are several events each year in southwest Montana that bring the climbing community together. Here are the highlights, but keep your ear to the ground—there’s always something going on.

Intro to Climbing – Bozeman. If you’re not quite ready to take on climbing solo, sign up for a group lesson at Spire Climbing Center. These intro courses meet the second, third, and fourth Thursdays of the month and give you basics on belaying, commands, and technique.

Spire Fridays – Bozeman. We’re all about deals, so here’s one of the best: the first Friday of the month is $54 climbing and gear for the whole family, the second Friday is $12 passes and half-off gear for women, and the third Friday is $12 passes and half-off gear for students and military members. Saving money ROCKS. 

Climb for a Cause – Bozeman. On select Sunday evenings, half of each Spire pass purchase is donated to a local nonprofit. Not only can you wrap up your weekend on the wall, but you’ll contribute to a local cause, too. 

Spring Fling – Bozeman. Before you’re outdoor climbing for the rest of the summer, have one last hurrah on the indoor wall. Get together with friends and neighbors to celebrate the climbing community and watch some of Montana’s best throw down. 

Tour de Hyalite – Hyalite Canyon. In September, competitors run 14 miles up to Hyalite Peak, then climb the five hardest routes they can at Practice Rock to reduce their time—the harder the routes, the more time deducted. 

Full Gravity Day – Bozeman. As winter kicks off and it gets a bit too cold to climb outdoors, solve some boulder problems at Spire. This is the largest bouldering event in the Northern Rockies, so even if you aren’t competing, it’s worth checking out for the scene.

Editor’s note: Dates are subject to change based on weather and other factors. For the most updated information, visit