Navigating Routes to New Perspectives
When we first moved to Bozeman, my husband and I spent an entire summer trying to figure out the climbing “beta” of the area. Four years later, and we still joke about how we would spend an entire day hiking with all of our climbing gear, trying to find our objective, and have to go back the next day to climb it because we would get lost every time. This is why we love Montana. It’s not that climbers here aren’t friendly and helpful, it’s just that not every crag and climbing route is perfectly mapped out for you with well manicured trails and obvious signage. Montanans just like to keep things adventurous - and we can get behind that.
If you’ve ever tried to explain to your parents that you rock climb after they’ve watched the film “Free Solo” where Alex Honnold solos El Capitan in Yosemite, then you know there are several types of climbing and that they are all very different. If you’re new to the sport, we assure you, free soloing is not the norm, nor does it come recommended. While there are other rock climbing genres like aid climbing and free soloing, the three most common types are bouldering, sport climbing, and traditional or trad climbing.
Bouldering: The biggest distinction between bouldering and other types of climbing is equipment, or lack-there-of. Instead of relying on a rope and harness for protection, boulderers rely on thick mats made specifically for the purpose of protecting a climber when he or she falls. Boulder routes are not typically higher than 20 feet tall, but a select few “high-ball” boulderers have climbed routes over 50-feet off the ground.
Sport Climbing: Sport climbing relies on fixed bolts in the rock that the climber clips their rope into with a quickdraw (a piece of webbing with a carabiner at each end made specifically for the sport). As the climber ascends, the potential fall distance is measured by twice the distance of rope between the last clipped bolt, and the climber.
Trad Climbing: Trad, or traditional climbing consists of a climber placing removable protection (generally cams and nuts) in cracks in the rock and then clipping their rope into it as they ascend. The protection is then removed by the person “seconding” the route behind the lead climber. In trad climbing, there is no predetermined route - some refer to it as more of a “choose your own adventure” activity in comparison to sport climbing.
One of the largest distinctions in rock climbing is the type of rock you’re climbing on. In Montana we have a lot of granite, limestone, and gneiss. Utah is known for sandstone cliffs and spires, while Yosemite and Squamish are known for their iconic granite walls — each type of rock requires a different technique, and offers up a very unique climbing experience.
Montana rock climbing is not for the faint of heart, it often requires route finding and navigating skills, rugged approaches, and adventurous alpine-style climbing. The added effort is usually rewarded with epic views and solitude.
For those looking to test their skills, Yosemite Valley is a mecca for climbers around the world. Immense granite walls provide endless climbing opportunities—many of which are famous test-pieces accomplished by only the most seasoned and skilled climbers.
Rock climbing is a rewarding and challenging sport that allows you to garner new perspectives on your surroundings while working with your environment. While the sport can be intimidating and even dangerous if you aren’t experienced, climbing gyms are a great gateway to outdoor climbing, allowing you to get comfortable and learn the basic skills needed for when you venture onto rock.