Jamming the One-Eyed Monster

A new climbing route with an old friend.

Years ago, I heard rumors of giants lurking over the horizon in the forest south of Butte, and that none were more grand or prominent than the Cyclops. He ruled supreme, lord of the formations that create the Humbug Spires. These giants are the striking granite formations that jut skyward out of the arid granular landscape.

There is a rich history of young aspiring climbers using these monolithic structures as training grounds, honing their skills and preparing for more daunting and perilous adventures. My climbing partner, Robbie, and I have made two pilgrimages to these sacred rocks—the first, a daytrip, to climb a route on the Wedge known as The Mutt and Jeff, and the second, an adventure, with more strenuous effort and grandeur.

We met at the Moose Creek Trailhead at 11am, prepared to spend the night camping below the Wedge and climbing whatever suited our fancy. We shouldered our heavy packs and started down the trail.

We decided on climbing the Southwest Face, which follows a continuous crack system that flows past the right side of the Cyclops’s eye.

For being relatively obscure, the trail was in remarkable shape… for the first few miles. After crossing over and out of the initial draw, downed timber became more and more prevalent. In some sections, we walked around the debris, but in others, we belly-crawled under the felled titans. The first view of the Wedge was magical; its massive roof, from where it receives its other monikers, was on proud display.

Once we had located camp, we made ourselves busy establishing it. I then set about making tape gloves, something I had only practiced. I had even taken the time to shave my hairy hands in advance. I was methodical.

We decided on climbing the Southwest Face, which follows a continuous crack system that flows past the right side of the Cyclops’s eye. It’s a moderate lead that follows bomber cracks, spooky traverses, and finishes 80 feet below the center of the roof. It requires over half of the rope, and once started, the only way off is up.

I fumbled with my figure-eight. I had left too much of a tail and didn’t want loose rope dancing at foot-level as I negotiated the slabby traverse. Robbie watched impatiently, “Do you still remember how to tie in?” he asked.

“Yeah, I do,” I shot back, as I finished it off. I started up the bone-white flake, climbing from the wide thick base up to the tip of the spearhead. I pulled hard on the last questionable hold—it was bomber—and escaped onto the face. I stared longingly up at the second half of the next crack, which leads to the Southeast Chimneys. I placed a #3 cam high, for maximum rope drag, which was my only concern after dancing through the traverse. I climbed past an abandoned sling and pondered why the other party decided to bail as I continued on to the cozy belay ledge.

The first view of the Wedge was magical; its massive roof, from where it receives its other monikers, was on proud display.

I piled my gear onto the anchor, above the overhand master point. Robbie picked it clean, and then started cruising up the next pitch. Suddenly, he started cursing at me from the bolted anchor some 70 feet above. I hadn’t put his long sling in the pile. I had, however, packed our first anchor-building material—a double-length sling of thick webbing, which he found on his harness. Upon shambling up to the belay, I was greeted by the sight of my old familiar friend grinning at me.

The third pitch contains the cruxes of this climb. After climbing unprotected up broken rock for 15 feet, you clip two bolts and back them up with a wire stopper. The climbing backs off after this, but soon you are left with the classic choice: left or right. Robbie chose right. He followed an amazing line, steeper than the previous cracks and filled with interesting jams. Like all good things, the crack came to its terminus too soon—ten feet below a suitable place to build a belay. With buttery smooth granite above him, he took his time and aimed for the one chickenhead. When I had picked my way up to his perch, he was resting, fully weighting his artfully crafted anchor, one foot on the chickenhead.

Climbing Humbug Spires Cyclops

The next lead was “easy,” so it was my turn again. Since we’d gone off-route, I had to walk over to the principal crack in order to start the climb and place my initial protection. It was mostly smooth sailing, but just before reaching the pinnacle of the dike, I started finicking with my cams to establish additional protection. After failing to get any metal to stick, I threw a sling onto the point, and climbed on.

The forehead of the Cyclops is bald, and the rope-drag only adds to the tension. I fumbled and bumbled, but I did not stumble. I basked in the evening glow as I strode toward the summit—one of the few times with Robbie that I’ve topped out first—to a registrar and bolted rappels. With some solid friends, something to write with, and a 70-meter rope in tow, it was an idyllic way to cap off the day.

Robbie and I ate well that night beside the light of the fire, as stars twinkled overhead. Our adventures continued into the next day, and at a final stop at the bar on our way out of town, the beer was cold and refreshing. We parted ways laughing, new plans already in the works.