Bozeman is not typically known for is good rock—and for some good reasons. Compared to climber paradises like Boulder and Bishop, this B-town doesn’t really keep up with the Joneses. Yet the rock we do have is (generally) phenomenal.
There are six well-established bouldering areas *near town, all of which are included in SW MT Blocs, Erik Christensen's guide to bouldering in Southwest Montana. (*Note: Montana's version of near.) The three areas I frequent most often and featured below include Whisky Gulch and the Trailer Boulders east of Bozeman near Whitehall, and Yankee Jim in the Paradise Valley.
There’s also a half dozen or more areas being developed as local climbers seek "the fantastical Montana bouldering mecca," as Sander Pick once said in an interview for an article about MT bouldering development. The article was edited down to a bare-bone news piece that left out colorful quotes from developers about the why and how of their work in the woods.
For example, the one and only Laydee Sharkfist, in regards to developing problems in Mile 18, said, "I loved being out there because of the solitude of the area and beauty of the mountain range. And because of the bear poop. And the bears that made the poop."
Then there’s Thomas Kingsbury. Between him, Andrew Whimore, Kevin Hutchinson, Patrick Kingsbury, Patrick Odenbeck, and others, upwards of 1,500 problems have been established in the Boulder Batholith (including the Trailer Boulders). Thomas said, "I'm always curious about what’s 'five minutes farther' into the woods...There is a certain delight in finding a great boulder and piecing together a new problem...while I find joy in establishing these problems and areas, I seem to find greater joy in sharing these areas." The Batholith crew has three guides available for the area; you can find them here.
Thomas also said "a major gift to climbing is the beta and history passed down." Amen, brother. Thank you to all the developers and guide book authors in the Bozeman area working towards expanding our options.
Top Ten Favorite Problems
Bumper Ball (VO, Yankee Jim): this overhanging jug haul is as fun as its namesake. With lots of holds and a relatively easy top-out, it’s a great warmup or a user-friendly introduction to steep bouldering.
Fear of Friction (VO, Whisky Gulch): a vertical fin with good holds and a juggy topout. A nice way to start the day.
Sobek (V3, Trailer Boulders): on the same boulder of the classic Heart of Darkness problem, this moderate offers a couple tricky moves to a cruiser, though tall, finish. Yeehaw!
Devil's Right Hand (V4, Yankee Jim): I don't think this climb sees a lot of action, but daaaang, it’s fun. You can find it on a boulder a couple dozen meters north of Bumper Ball, and it looks like this:
Emphysema Traverse (V4, Whisky Gulch): this feisty number proves easy one day, impossible the next. Crimps and small feet and tensiony, horizontal movement make for a full package punch.
Aristocrat Left (V4, Trailer Boulders): slabariffic. A technique test-piece with hand-foot matches and a spicy top out.
Wave Runner (V4, Whisky Gulch): originally rated V2, this Whisky classic may get more action than any other problem in Montana, and for good reason. Heel hooks, slopers, and a juggy finale add up for a forearm pumper.
Gigarete (V7, Yankee Jim): you think you have it...until the last move. A beautiful arete climb with a very tricky (and reachy) finish.
Pope's Penis (V7, Whisky Gulch): grapple your way up this phallic masterpiece with pinches, heel hooks, and a crimp that bites back.
Heart of Darkness (V8, Trailer Boulders): on my life's bucketlist, this climb is just silly gorgeous. An uber-classic for Montana bouldering.
With all the recent development happening in Montana climbing, it’s hard to keep straight the where, what, and who. That’s why resources like Erik’s guidebook and website and Bouldering the Backwaters are so great. Ther’'s also some talented creatives out there putting together spectacular videos like the one below.
Thanks, friends and neighbors, and cheers to a winter of bouldering in the high elevation deserts of Montana.