by Nick Frazee
Last week my friend Alex Wakeman and I had the opportunity to climb a classic route here in Montana, just a short drive and a long walk from town. I've been waiting to climb the Montana Centennial Route (Grade IV, 5.11a, 1600') for a couple years now, and with Alex on board we were ready to give it a go. This would be the first time we would rope up together, as well as the longest alpine rock climb either of had attempted, though neither of these points had any effect on us, we were psyched!
I finished up waiting tables at 10:30 pm on Saturday, Alex was at the bar waiting for me, my car and bags were packed and we immediately got on the road. After an hour and a half drive we started the eight mile hike in, under a nearly full moon, the views of Silver Mountain Ridge lines progressively more distorted by the haze commanded our attention in the quiet night. After over 4,000' of elevation gain we arrived at elbow lake at 3:30 am. After staring at the moonlit prow across from us that we would climb, we threw our bags and pads on the ground and enjoyed a three hour nap while waiting for first light.
The morning started with another climber crutching out past me with a broken ankle, and our own broken water pump. Once we dealt with both situations and left the lake, things began to flow.
We ro-sham-boed at the base for first pitch, and swapped leads from there. The first couple pitches climb through broken 5.8 terrain, essentially the approach pitches to the route. At the base of the third pitch the rock improves substantially and the real climbing begins. The next nine pitches flew by in a flurry of amazing climbing, ear-to-ear grins, and lots of hooting and hollering. The climbing itself consisted of, but was not limited to: a beautiful and endless corner, some fun slab, perfect hands for days, solid finger locks, an airy hand traverse, a seeping fist crack traverse, plotter cracks, great pro throughout, and more beautiful corners.
The weather held and we sneaked through the route without clouds or wind, temps were perfect. We enjoyed the views for a bit as the sun began to sink behind the nearby ridge-lines and as we exited the loose death gully descent right at dark I couldn't help but feel like this day had been gifted to us by someone, somewhere.
By Sam Eastman
Castle Mountain is a rock climber’s goldmine. Yes the approach is long and somewhat tedious, yet a day spent climbing the solid golden dolomite is worth the price of admission. This year, Sam Lambert and myself returned to the lower buttress, below Eisenhower tower, to look at and eventually climb a line both of us had been thinking about all year. We had spotted a line from the top of Castles in the Sky, a sun kissed slightly overhung wall that seemed to drop for more than a few pitches!
Although the rock seems solid on Castle the dreaded top down approach is a far less stylish and seemingly medieval, although effective, method of equipping choss. Loaded up with six ropes, a drill, and bags of bolts, we made most of the approach dry, which was surprising as the brewing clouds overhead seemed ready to pounce. As we began the final 4th class scramble clouds opened and scrambling in the rain with heavy packs began to be quite the task. It seemed like a pattern started to set in. Each time we would get off the couch to get to work, a storm would set in. When a storm wasn't crackling around, loose rock would cut a rope, packrats would destroy fixed ropes or a gear stash. All said and done, Sam and I could tell the climbing was worth dealing with some rats and very manky ropes. Each time I would rap the lip, a yellow abyss would span out in front of me. Sequences would unlock, holds appeared. Every time down the fixed lines, Sam and I would get more and more exited to try and free climb the bad boy!
When the time came to free the line I almost couldn't believe it. Setting off on the first pitch fueled by Mars bars and Redbull bought from the gas station, It seemed like the beginning of the end. Laying in to a 12+ crux on dirty holds, I wondered why I didn’t put another bolt in, and just like that, dreading a long and slightly sideways fall a foothold broke and I was off. I hauled the bag up; Sam flew up the pitch, grabbed some gear and was of on a very exciting dihedral roof pitch. Stemming wide with a sloping under cling, Sam pulled hard to a jug in a roof crack. Without much trouble, he finished the 45 meter 5.12+ pitch like a champ.
As the weather continued to get worse, we carried on, up a 5.13a pitch a 5.11, a 5.12c and the top. Alpine cragging never gets old!
The send eventually came, although It seemed like a part of me was still up there above some clouds, taping core shots, laughing as Sam pounds Monster’s and burns out drillbits. I guess the process is more important than the finish line. I think so anyways!!!!
Here is the breakdown.
1st 5.12+ 35M. Slightly overhung and cryptic.
2nd. 5.12+ 45M. Dihedral to Burly roof!
3rd. 5.13. 52M. Overhung corner/face to savage boulder problem.
4th. 5.11. 22M. Sidepulls on some of the best rock..ever.
5th. 5.12. 35M. The best pitch on the route, possibly the best pitch ever, perfect crimps to a very very exposed Arête feature!