Climbing clean granite south of Butte.
No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you—that is indeed clean white granite, in a bevy of prominent bulges, just two hours from Bozeman. Nestled in a beautiful subalpine setting, the Humbug Spires symbolize the adventurous character of Montana’s climbing history. Once a training ground for Pat Callis and Jack Tackle, Humbug allowed these and other local legends to hone their craft on splitter cracks and textured faces, with only the whispering firs and nearby Pioneer Mountains as company. The fabled Dirty Sox Club of the 1970s made Humbug Spires its home base, and the area has seen relatively little subsequent route development for such a vast expanse of quality rock. Nonetheless, several lines stand out as must-dos for any granite enthusiast, offering a rare experience within southwest Montana more akin to the spectacular walls of the Colorado Rockies, Cascades, or Sierra Nevadas.
Most climbing activity in the Humbug Spires is concentrated on the Wedge—the tallest of the spires—towering 500 feet above pristine meadow and forest. Start with a romp up Mutt and Jeff (5.8), the longest route in the area, offering five quality pitches of varied crack and face climbing. For slab technicians, check out Tiny Tim (5.10c), a bolted face with interspersed gear placements that will keep you on your toes for three pitches. Crack addicts, don’t miss the immaculate splitter of Dogleg Crack (5.11a), demanding sustained finger jamming around a roof and up a slab before taking a 90-degree turn to a horizontal traverse, with an optional belay at the dogleg. For detailed route information and topos on the Wedge, check out Randall Green’s The Rock Climber’s Guide to Montana or Dwight Bishop’s Butte’s Climbing Guide.
Apart from the Wedge, published route descriptions are nonexistent, but don’t let that stop you from exploring. Set out into the woods with rope and rack, and climb like they did in the old days—with ambition, determination, and little to no idea of where you’re going.
Getting to the Humbug Spires from Bozeman is easy: head toward Butte, then turn south on I-15. Exit on Moose Creek Rd. and head northeast for a few miles to the Moose Creek trailhead. Free camping is allowed at the trailhead and along Moose Creek as part of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, with a vault toilet at the trailhead and no other amenities. The Wedge and all other spires are approached via Moose Creek Trail; expect to walk a few miles to the base of your climb.