David Hobbs called it "The Plank." He was referring to the roughly 80-foot-long, inch-wide length of webbing he strung across the top of the North Rim of Mill Creek Canyon last summer, the first highline in the Bitterroot. It took Hobbs months to plan it, and then three days of trying over two weekends before he successfully walked it. But the high didn't last long.
Hobbs, 23, a University of Montana nursing student and veteran of the U.S. Telemark World Cup Team, discovered in late May that someone destroyed the five bolts comprising one of the highline anchors.
"They were all pounded flat, like someone used a big hammer," he says.
Hobbs guesses the hammer-wielder is a frequenter of the area who doesn't approve of Mill Creek's transformation into a playground for adventure-seeking highliners and rock jocks.
Mill Creek, about an hour south of Missoula, is quickly becoming a popular rock-climbing destination, largely because its many sport-climbing opportunities are well suited to beginners and intermediates, providing a point of entry to the sport that the greater Missoula area has largely lacked. Climbing pals Ken Turley, Dane Scott and Michael Moore, among others, began bolting the routes back in 2009; now there are 44, and counting.
"Mill Creek has surpassed our expectations in terms of how popular it's become, and we're delighted," says Turley.
He wrote last summer in the Mill Creek Report (millcreekreport.blogspot.com) that Hobbs' highline upped "the adventure quotient...several notches."
The vandalism has the Mill Creek climbing community ticked—and "ticked" is the appropriate word, since ticks pervade the place (hence route names such as "Tick Magnet" and "Witness the Tickness"). The climbers defend their right to recreate on public land and Turley notes there's legal precedent for prosecuting bolt choppers, referencing a 2007 Massachusetts case.
Hobbs says he's reluctant to re-bolt the highline anchor and risk more vandalism, but he's otherwise unfazed.
"There are plenty of other cliffs out there to highline between," he says. "We just have to find them."