Captivating Cragging

Warm spring climbing areas.

It’s spring, which means it’s time to put the ice tools away and squeeze into rock shoes once more. But with Montana’s fickle weather, finding climbs that are accessible, warm, and dry enough for early-season missions can be easier said than done. Here’s a primer on spring crags that will satisfy, whether you’re looking for bolted sport routes or classic trad climbs. Also remember that winter may have damaged some routes—be on the lookout for loose rock, and always respect nesting birds. And if the snow just won’t quit, there’s always Spire…

Sport: Clipping Bolts
Allenspur: THE best sunny afternoon climbing in the area—if the wind isn’t blowing in Paradise Valley. With views of the snowcapped Absarokas and snow-swollen Yellowstone River, the climbing position is fantastic, and the stone is of excellent quality with dozens of routes to keep you busy. Try Look Ma, No Hands (5.8) for a lesson in friction, or Sully’s Route (5.10a) for some unique moves, and don’t forget the classic Flake Fest (5.10b).

Rocky Pass South: The Pass always delivers—stick to the sunnier north side of the pass for warm spring days, and clip bolts ‘til your heart’s content on pocketed, high-friction limestone routes like Screaming Woman (5.9+), Night Shift (5.10b), and China Crisis (5.12a). There are tons of routes, and the approach is short—perfect for a quick afternoon session.

Natural Bridge: This area is further away (1.5 hours) so may be best suited for a weekend overnight, but the unique geography, mild weather, and density of hard sport routes make it an excellent place to get strong this spring. Warm up on Snap Dragon (5.9) and climb under an enormous chockstone wedged in the gorge, the move on to the tiny edges and delicate moves of routes like Porcelain Wall (5.11c), and, if the river isn’t running high, the Kraken (5.12c). There’s new development happening here, so stay tuned. 

Trad: Natural Protection
Practice Rock: Not only is Practice Rock the closest crag to Bozeman (you can be there in 15 minutes from downtown), it’s also a low-elevation, sunny aspect perfect for spring climbing. Dust off the cobwebs and remember how to place gear in classics like Pinnacle Dihedral (5.8), Blind Black Babies (5.9), and Theoretically (5.10c). This is a popular area, so be patient and respectful, and leave the boombox at home—not everyone enjoys your club beats.

Gallatin Canyon East: Located on the east side of the Gallatin, just downstream from the 35mph Bridge, this area holds a trove of excellent climbs that tend to get sun and stay warm. There are several tiers of climbs—depending on wind, the upper climbs may be warmer and get more direct sun, so check out classics like Ski Tracks (5.7) or Spare Rib (5.8) that eat tons of gear, or step up to Ashes of Stone (5.9) or the much-adored Pineapple Thunderpussy (5.9). If you haven’t heard about Gallatin Canyon 5.9s, watch out...

Neat Rock: With a variety of single and multi-pitch routes snaking up warm, sundrenched granite, Neat Rock is a perennial favorite for early training. It doesn’t hurt that it’s practically on the banks of the Madison, so after climbing you can wet a line and make it a spring multi-sport day. The three-pitch Standard Route (5.9) also offers a 5.7 escape, if you’re not quite feeling the crux chimney (usually peppered with pigeon guano). But if you’re feeling strong, check out Steel Drivin’ Man (5.10d) to get a solid pump.