You Belong Outside Spotlight: Bear Canyon Sandstone Sport Climbing

Brit T climbing after work at Bear Canyon.
Bear Canyon is a great place to introduce someone to outdoor climbing.  It's close to town, has a short approach, shorter routes, and ranges from 5.8 to 5.13.  The routes are well documented in both guidebooks for the Bozeman area and this description is meant to be an introduction to the area. Due to the short approach Bear Canyon is popular with the after work crowd.  The moderate climbs on the north side of the crag get enough sunlight to climb till sunset so its a good idea to bring a headlamp for the walk out.

Getting There: From Bozeman there are two ways to get there depending on which part of town you live in.  From the south of town head East on Kagy Blvd. Bear Canyon Road is about 4 miles from the intersection with Highland Blvd.
From the North of town it may be easier to take I-90 to the Bear Canyon exit.  Take a right exiting the off-ramp and Bear Canyon road is less than 200 yards east of the exit. 
Turn onto Bear Canyon Road and continue to the Bear Canyon trailhead which is at the very end of the road.  There is very limited parking near the Bear Canyon trailhead so park at the New World Gulch trailhead and walk up the road to the Bear Canyon Trail. 

Bear Canyon Sandstone

The Approach:  It is one of the quickest approaches near Bozeman, head a short ways up the Bear Canyon trailhead, there is a collection of small boulders on the right side with a Cairn marking the climbers trail.  From here you should see an obvious trail with a large log crossing the stream.  If you don't see the log you probably have not gone far enough but if you reach the bridge you have gone too far.  From the bridge it is about 100 yards back up the trail to get to the climbers trail.

Once you are at the Crag there are three ways that you can head, to the left are some terrific moderate routes, straight ahead are two more excellent moderates, and around to the right are where the harder routes are set up.  

Batman and Robin from the trail.
Batman and Robin Slab: Batman and Robin are two classic routes in Bear Canyon located right next to each other on the large rock straight up the trail.  Both of these are slab climbs with lots of nice pockets. Start on Batman (the left one) and once you are warmed up give Robin a try.

Both of these routes can be top roped if you walk around to the right but the best practice would be to have someone climb it on lead and set up the top rope since there is risk of rockfall and some tricky exposure to get to the top of these routes from around the back.

Jeff Lee climbing Skin Diver.

Under the Sea Wall: The other moderate section is down the hill slightly and to the north.  There are 5 climbs and from right to left go 5.8, 5.9, 5.10, 5.9, 5.10.  These climbs have more cracks and flakes than Batman and Robin, are slightly longer and offer a little different climbing feel. They are an option if another party is climbing on the Batman and Robin slab.

Skin Diver is the first climb on the right and a good place to start.  At 5.8 it is the easiest of the 5 climbs but it is a fun one, the flakes give up some great side pulls and under cling moves and the bolts are close together for those who are new to leading.

South Sea is just to the left and another neat climb with a tricky transition in the middle.  Good foot holds make this a fun but very approachable 5.9. 

Further up are the last 3 moderates, from right to left Under the Sea 10b, Sea Bucket 5.9, and Coral Crimper 10a.  Each of these have something a little different and are fun routes.  Under the Sea has a small roof that is a little tricky but well protected, Sea Bucket is difficult for the first 3-4 bolts, and Coral Crimper has a tricky slab traverse mid way through the route.

The right side of the prow.
The Prow:  If you are looking for something a little more challenging there are some 11s and 12s on the other side of the Batman and Robin slab.  Kick the Bucket and Ignition are two of the best. Check out Southwest Montana Rock Climbs for more information on these routes.

In addition to the Sandstone there are some Limestone crags higher up the canyon that don't see as much use.  For more information on those climbs check out Bozeman Rock Climbs by Bill Dockins.  Climbing is a dangerous activity and having the right equipment and a partner are necessary for a safe outing.  Spire Climbing Center is a great place to start and there are also guided climbs available through Montana Alpine Guides.Your comments and critiques are welcome as we show off areas of Southwest Montana we know and love. Email Kevin with any thoughts, corrections, or suggestions.

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