A fall multi-sport close to home.
Bleached by sun and sculpted by wind, a dead tree clings dramatically to a small rocky ridge at the high point where the steep climbers’ trail intersects the official Chestnut Mountain Trail. Setting our bikes down, we collapse at the old tree’s gnarled roots, greatly relieved that regardless of the rock-climbing challenges and six-plus miles of riding awaiting us, the hardest part of the day is over. We are done pushing bikes uphill with packs full of climbing gear. From here on, our “Tour de Chestnut” should be nothing but fun.
Fall is often the best season for both mountain biking and climbing, making it difficult to choose how to spend a beautiful crisp day. Combining one of Bozeman’s most fun and scenic rides with some of the area’s best sport climbing, one can tick off both, not a half-hour from town. Though this can be done in a variety of ways, today we dropped a car at the Chestnut trailhead and continued on to our starting point at Goose Creek.
Catching our breath and admiring the expansive views, we remind ourselves that multisport adventures typically tread a fine line between challenging fun and sufferfest struggle, and generally involve a bit of both. This one offers up a favorable ratio, with the suffering limited to a relentless mile-and-a-half uphill pedal/hike-a-bike from the car to the ridge.
From our rest at the old tree, it’s a short, easy pedal on the Chestnut Trail followed by a few hundred yards bumping along a faint climber’s spur trail to our first destination—steep pocket-pulling on breezy crags with an alpine feel high above Bear Canyon. From here, we can chase sun or shade on routes with north-, south-, or east-facing aspects ranging from 5.9 to 5.13. Skipping the area’s most popular and classic, but often chilly, north-facing climbs, we go in search of sun, venturing onto some chossy-looking routes new to both of us. As is often the case with Montana limestone, we’re rewarded with great climbing in spite of the rock’s less-than-perfect appearance. After several hours deciphering tricky sequences and pulling hard, our fingers and forearms are ready for a rest. Time to get back on the bikes for the ridge ride and big descent to our second destination.
Forested singletrack switchbacks lead to a steep two-track that crosses an open hillside. We try to stay focused on the trail instead of the spectacular views of jagged limestone spires arrayed across the mountainside to the west. Soon, we hang a sharp left, glad we’ve been here many times, because this slightly overgrown fork is easy to miss. The Frog Rock spur trail is a relatively short but very sweet roller-coaster ride built by the late, great Terry Johnson. The way in is fun, the way out is even better.
High above the interstate, a steady breeze blows through Bozeman Pass as rumbling freight trains and highway hum reverberate off tiers of cliffs rising above us. The wild setting and industrial noise create a strange, discordant mix as we stash our bikes and consider our options—a long hike and scramble for east-facing routes; a moderate amount of scrambling to access Frog’s west face; or short sport climbs next to the trail about three minutes away. Hot and tired, depleted of food and water, we opt for a quick trailside pitch. The long, spectacular, east- and west-side routes will need to wait for another day with an earlier start, better planning, and cooler weather. We don’t mind, though, as we finish the day rolling down the last few miles in the evening light, our grins growing wider as we realize we’re the only ones on this often-busy trail. Years of climbing and biking on Chestnut Mountain have brought years of exploration and some trial-and-error route-finding. But at the end of the day, we complete another great multi-sport—one that we’ll spend many more years perfecting.