Outside the Box: Climbing in and around Bozeman

“Mountains and Minds:” a fitting university logo since Bozeman and the surrounding areas provide outdoor opportunities galore. Skiing, hiking, fishing, mountain biking — if you can name it, Bozeman’s got it, including the popular sport of scaling sheer cliff faces with only your raw strength, otherwise known as rock climbing.

With at least 14 climbing areas within a one and a half hour radius of Bozeman, the Gallatin Valley is a mecca of adventure potential. There are opportunities for sport climbing, trad climbing, multi-pitch routes and beginner routes, so just do it (as Nike would say). That said, rock climbing is an intimidating sport to begin. Words like trad, cams, draws and approach are thrown around, not to mention the fact that one wrong set up can cause serious, if not fatal, injuries. Yet never fear: Bozeman and MSU have a multitude of resources to help start your successful climbing career.

Getting Started

Begin at the boulder wall in the Marga Hosaeus Fitness Center — it’s free (if you’re a full-time student) and instead of worrying about belaying, you can focus on honing your climbing skills. Plus, it’s a social place and you may meet a climbing buddy. Before going just make sure to get a climbing card from the Rec Sports and Fitness Office, a quick one-time process that only involves filling out a form.

The gym rents shoes for $2, if you’re not yet ready to make the gear commitment. Also, Second Wind Sports on Olive Street sells used rock climbing shoes for around $10-$30 a pair, depending on the quality — another great way to try out the sport without making a huge financial investment.

Spire Climbing Center on 13 Enterprise Blvd. is Bozeman’s local climbing gym, where you might run into the likes of Conrad Anker. Great for both beginners and more advanced climbers, Spire offers bouldering and climbing routes to practice on all winter long. They also provide instruction of all types from belaying and lead climbing to more advanced clinics on crack climbing or movement technique. Costs vary for Spire, depending on if you want a day pass, need to rent gear, want to take a class and so on. But to get a good idea of figures, a 3-month membership for a full-time college student costs $180. Be sure to bring your student ID and class schedule to get the discount. Check out more at spireclimbingcenter.com.

Vert-I-Go Mountaineering is a student club which regularly hosts climbing excursions for beginners and advanced climbers alike. Check them out on Facebook at Vert-I-Go Mountaineering Club.

The city of Bozeman has also put up six climbing boulders at parks around town for folks to play around on. Outside Bozeman has a nice description and direction for each boulder at outsidebozeman.com/places/crags/bozeman-boulders.

Getting outside

Alright, so now you own shoes, a harness and rope; you’ve learned how to belay, lead or top rope, and you’re ready to climb outside. Where should you go? Obviously, this article does not have the space or the resources to provide an in-depth description of every climbing area around Bozeman; for that buy a guidebook. “Rock Climbs of Southwest Montana” by Kyle Vassilopoulos or “Bozeman Rock Climbs” by Bill Dockins and Tom Kalakay both work nicely. Instead, here’s a few quick descriptions of places nearby — ideal to head to after classes or on a lazy weekend when you really should be studying.

Only 15 minutes away with rock grades ranging from 5.8 to 5.13d, Bear Canyon is a popular place for many Bozeman natives. The area offers nearly 20 ( relatively short) sport climbing routes. Take Kagy Boulevard east out of Bozeman until the road almost intersects into with the interstate. Make a right onto Bear Canyon Road and park when you get to the end of the road. After a five minute walk up the trail, you should find a path off to your left marked with cairns. Follow it down the hill, across the stream and up the hill to the climbing areas.

With over 70 routes, ranging from 5.6 to 5.13b, Bozeman Pass is another Gallatin Valley classic. This mainly sport climbing area with its south-facing slopes is often warmer and drier than other climbing areas. Take Interstate 90 towards Billings for about five miles past Bozeman, and get off at Trail Creek Exit 316. After exiting, head to the north-side of the freeway and make a left, continuing until the road ends in a parking area. Follow the approach trail (yes, take the ladder over the fence), until you come to one of several cliffs.

Practice Rock up in Hyalite Canyon has just over 25 routes, mostly in the 5.8 to 5.10 range. Unlike the other two areas described above, Practice Rock is mostly trad climbing on granite slopes with a little bit of sport. Most of the routes can be top-roped though, so it’s a great place to practice, as the name implies. Take Hyalite Road up to the Lower Access (roughly two miles in), continue on for another mile or so to a pullout parking area on the right. The trail starts directly across the road and it’s a little over a 10 minute walk uphill to the cliffs.

Get out and enjoy climbing, folks! And here’s to sunshine this week and especially this weekend.