Climbing Book Face-Off

Rock Climbs of Southwest Montana vs. Bozeman Rock Climbs.

For the last 14 years, the premiere climbing guidebook for Bozeman climbers has been Rock Climbing Montana—a compendium of 70 routes with topo maps that are roughly equivalent to "magic eye" pictures. But two shiny new guidebooks, Rock Climbs of Southwest Montana by Kyle Vassilopoulos and Bozeman Rock Climbs (3rd edition) by Bill Dockins, came out within six months of each other and we couldn't wait to take a look. Here's a comparison to help you decide which one should go in your pack.


Color! Rock Climbs of Southwest Montana features full-color everything, including the amazingly convenient color-coded crag index. The color photos really popped out, making route-finding a breeze. My favorite feature is the route index in the back. The color-coded routes are organized by difficulty, and the little boxes just beg to be checked off. The crag bio at the start of every chapter is convenient as well, listing the approach time, style, and best season to climb each route.

Bozeman Rock Climbs features black-and-white photos, and in areas where trees or poor camera angles would hinder actual photographs, the author offers intricate hand-drawn topos. He provides a route index with climbs ranked by difficulty, further divided under chapter subheadings, and an alphabetical route index as well. Crag bio info is available, but you have to skim a few paragraphs to find it. The maps outlining approaches in the Bridger range are fantastic.

The author of Rock Climbs of Southwest Montana admits that his guide is somewhat of a "Bozeman select" guide. Obviously, the most popular routes are included, but each chapter begins with an outline of what has been left out. As an added bonus, the book’s website offers extra downloadable content. Annoyingly, there are noticeable route and anchor location errors, especially in Scorched Earth.

Bozeman Rock Climbs offers an exhaustive guide to the Bozeman area, from trad routes in the Gallatin to obscurities tucked deep in the farthest reaches of the canyons. Thankfully, routes that might never have been climbed have the opportunity to see some traffic. And in all the areas I’ve climbed with this book, every route was documented perfectly.

With the exception of Red Cliff, almost every grade discrepancy in Kyle’s book goes to the higher side. Among the dozens of grade differences, the majority are simple one-grade issues. I did find, however, there are certain climbs graded three whole notches higher than those in the other book.

The foreword of Dockins’ book addresses the concerns of "sandbagging" routes, or underrating their difficultly. He offers three options for dealing with the many discrepancies, which can be summarized as, “Suck it up. We climbed it with tube chocks, hiking boots, and no chalk, so stop whining.”

Though Bozeman Rock Climbs features meticulously researched climbing and a first-hand history of the area, it suffers slightly from black-and-white printing and comparatively haphazard organization. Personally, I chose Rock Climbs of Southwest Montana for its full-color photos and layout, wealthy expanse of climbing areas, and excellent organization. But no matter which guidebook you choose, you literally have years of great climbing right at your achy, chalk-covered fingertips.