Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ticks and Trying Hard in Stone Hill, Montana

It can be hard to make plans for May Long Weekend and we struggle with it every year. There are just so many options available; skiing, scrambling, mountaineering, climbing, mountain biking. The possibilities are endless. We came very close to joining the masses on the Columbia Icefield to finish off the ski season with some peak bagging, but with warm weather in the forecast we shifted our focus to the south and loaded up the trailer, bound for Stone Hill, Montana.

Kyle and I discovered Stone Hill not long after we started climbing. This little quartzite gem, only 4 hours from Calgary, was our early season destination for a couple of years but we hadn't been back in a while. It is a series of crags that line the road beside Lake Koocanusa on the Montana side of the border, not far from Eureka and the Roosville border crossing. The best part, besides the awesome camping, is the fact that there is literally no approach to the climbs. Some are so close to the parking that you can belay out of the back of your truck!
The main attraction - the Room With a View - a 5.8 sandbag
We arrived mid-morning and there were a few cars parked along the road. Good thing there are plenty of climbs to keep everyone busy! Despite being a Canadian holiday, it was relatively quiet at the crag, but we did run into a bunch of other Canadians! It was lightly drizzling so we continued on and snagged a wicked campsite beside the lake. After a quick lunch, we hit the crag with a vengeance, the boys were ready to send! 
Connor at the top of the Room With a View
  Connor got us started with a warm up on Room with a View, a notoriously sandbagged 5.8 route with two roofs and a very airy and exposed finish. With the main classic in the bag, we made our way over to Hold Up Bluffs and each pushed ourselves to get on some exciting routes. It was try hard day for everyone and both Kyle and Connor took a good whip on Night Flyer (5.10b trad)! It was pretty awesome coming back to the area after a few years and seeing how far we have progressed. I was trying some routes on lead that I was struggling to top rope last time!
Fish Tacos for dinner!
Awesome campsite set up not too far from the crags
Sunday, we hit up Mussel Beach crag and ran into a crew that we knew from Calgary. The boys pushed each other pretty hard, feeding off the stoke from their sends. The entire area is very sandbagged, but the rock quality is good and it takes good gear so everyone was willing to push it a bit. Many routes are not pure trad and will have key bolts to protect the blank sections. Each route seems to have a bolted anchor with chains, and its easy to access most of the crags by walking around to the top if you want to set up a top rope. There is a local guidebook (The Complete Stone Hill Climbers Guide 2009) which you can pick up at the hunting store in Eureka, but be warned, it is almost comical how many errors there are. You really need to read between the lines to figure out where you are. There is also a Montana Rock Book but it doesn't include many of the Stone Hill crags or routes. Still, it is helpful as a second source when trying to find a specific route.
The boys checking out the guidebook at Mussel Beach 
Kyle on "Eat Your Spinach" 5.10b trad
Eat Your Spinach 
Good thing Kyle ate his spinach
Excellent viewing platform for the climbs and a great view over the lake
Connor taking his turn on Eat Your Spinach
Starting up Cul-de-sac Crack (5.9+ trad) 
Thank god we had a TRCI on our trip to show us how to belay
Getting into the business on Cul-de-sac Crack
After a great day of climbing in the hot sun, we hit the lake for a swim. The Koocanusa Valley gets really warm, which makes Stone Hill the perfect shoulder season crag. I think it would get too hot in the summer as most of the crags are south or west facing.
Cooling off in Lake Koocanusa 
Adam enjoying the sunshine. It sure doesn't feel like May!
Connor summons the fire gods
 One issue with Stone Hill is the ticks. They are everywhere. We all found ticks on us, in the tents and on the ropes. We must have seen at least 30 between the four of us. Be prepared, wear deet and check for ticks!
One of many ticks spotted
 Our last day was split between Bighorn Bluffs and Hold Up Bluffs so we could get on Supercrack (5.10b) and Kyle and Connor could work on Night Flyer again. It was a slightly longer approach than the other crags to get up to Bighorn Bluffs (about 10 mins), but the view was spectacular. Kyle and Connor started to warm up on a 5.8 that was definitely not a 5.8 and got their butts kicked. Adam and I had a fun climb on Little Bighorn Face (5.9) before heading around the corner to Supercrack. Adam was the only one who went for it on lead. It had some thin cruxes and powerful moves through a roof and ended on an insecure handcrack. Not an easy 5.10b!
View from the top of the bluffs
View of Sheepish Grin (10a) and the Bighorn Roof Direct (12a)
Adam starting up Supercrack (5.10b trad)
Adam cruxing at the top of Supercrack
Top-roping Night Flyer (5.10b) - another toughy

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