A technical limestone rock climb known as Conrad Burns 

Hitting below the Beltway: With more than 500 climbing routes listed in its 294 pages, Rock Climbing Montana provides many years worth of vertical beta for folks looking to cling to minute crimpers while hanging from the massive faces that abound in our great state. Routes within this Big Sky bible range from the easy—5.3 scrambles, for instance—to 5.13 overhangs so devoid of something to grab they’ve been climbed only once.

The book, published in 1995 by the Helena-based Falcon Press, has long been the reference book of choice for Big Sky wall rats looking to get their buzz in the vertical world. From Yosemite-esque granite buttresses towering above the Bitterroot’s Blodgett Canyon to the exquisite limestone fins near Drummond, the book provides detailed route descriptions of some of the state’s most diverse and fascinating rock formations.

While Montana’s size and geology provide climbers with an endless variety of options, each granite fissure and nub of gneiss demands a unique combination of moves and techniques to ascend. Which is in part why low bagger-types, with barely enough beer money, athletic tape and bags of goodies required for a life of climbing find themselves fixated on the vertical during Montana’s remarkably long climbing season. Lugging power drills, rock bits and heavy-duty bolts up the wall, motivated route-finders screw bolts into featureless faces for future generations of climbers to come and clip their rope.

Along with the personal rewards of challenging yourself with a “first ascent” comes the opportunity to name a route. While there’s no standard protocol for christening a climb, typically the first team will attempt to inform future climbers about what they’re getting into. “Arms Race” (5.9+), for example, is exactly that, an overhanging blitz that’s not technically demanding but an absolute challenge to complete before your arms blow out. And those climbing another Kootenai classic, “Pleasant Surprise” (5.8) will, just prior to peeling off, find themselves pleasantly surprised as the hand of God awaits them directly above the crux. Although the style of the book’s editor, Randall Green, is typically understated, a description of “The Tombstone” reads, “This aptly named formation will surely be a fitting memorial for those attempting to climb it. …rappel and pray towers stay together.”

But the hidden meanings in others names are less obvious, and often come across as the result of an insider’s joke: Consider the enigmatically named 800-plus foot wall, “A Modern Home Environment,” (V 5.10/A3+) or “Virgin Dance of the Twin Chainsaws” (5.10d).

Now, while certain place names across the state have received attention as of late—Squaw Peak and Bloody Dick Peak near The Big Hole instantly spring to mind—one of the geographic identifiers in this book only recently came to light. In the Mulkey Gulch climbing area, for instance, are two neighboring climbs, “Conrad Burns” (5.9) and “Redurtnilana” (5.10b/c). While words like “burn,” “dancing” and “fear” crop up regularly, it’s rare that the naming ever gets political. But note the description of “Redurtnilana” in the Falcon guidebook: “Name read backwards refers to [the Conrad Burns climb]…”

Ouch! And we thought the political arena was a nasty environment.

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