Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Trip to the Butte Bouldering Bash

A boulderer topping out "Alien Nation."

Last weekend was a summer encore. We had a four day weekend, and decided to take a trip to Montana for the Butte Bouldering Bash held at the Boulder Batholith on Saturday. We packed on Thursday, and left Lander right after school on Friday. We grabbed dinner in Cody, and kept driving north into territory we had never visited before. As soon as we entered Montana, fields of hay and potatoes bordered the roads. The traffic increased noticeably. And after a year in Wyoming, Montana felt crowded to me. As soon as we hit I-90 we started looking for hotels, but they were all full. Bikers leaving Sturgis and Yellowstone tourists had gotten all the rooms. After stopping at 4 hotels, we found an open room in Livingston, MT and spent the night.

My first view of the Boulder Batholith, while driving the next morning, blew me away. I've never seen such a concentration of perfectly sized boulders and granite formations. Hundreds upon hundreds of 15 foot boulders and vertical fins covering gentle hillsides. Thomas Kingsbury organizer of the Bash, first ascentionist and area guidebook author, confirmed the quantity of bouldering in the area. Over 1200 problems have been developed in the Batholith already and there is still a lot of potential for more.

We arrived a bit late, but were still able to register for the comp. Then we made our way to the boulders.

We warmed up on the "Nemesis Traverse" which follows the lip of the saucer seen in the photo above. As I topped out my palms started to sting, and when I looked down at my hands I saw that my right hand was bleeding. The rock of the Boulder Batholith is shockingly sharp! Significantly sharper than Flagstaff, Redfeather, or even Vedauwoo.

Our second problem was "Dead Arete." I stepped on and the hand hold flexed. On my next attempt I pulled down, not out. The hand hold stayed, but my foothold broke. The rock wasn't making a good first impression, sharp and fragile isn't a classic combination. I tried smearing on my next try, but the crystals I smeared on broke out of the rock and rained onto the pad hitting just before I did. On my third try, I only stepped in areas that looked like they had been cleaned, and carefully made my way to the top. After being so inspired by my first view of the Batholith, the poor quality of the stone was a bit disappointing.

But as we kept climbing many things about the Butte Bouldering Bash impressed me. The comp was very well organized with a freshly swept trail and small duct taped signs that labeled the areas and each comp problem. The signs made it very easy to find and identify the 90 problems selected for the event.

The formations at the Northern Bourbons, where the comp was held, look really cool and are located in a pleasant open forest. Most landings are perfect, and there weren't any mosquitoes!

Many of the competitors were wearing tape gloves and climbing the crack problems. About a quarter of the area's problems ascend cracks. Ashley and I didn't bring enough tape, but the crack lines are good and very concentrated. The Batholith could easily compete with Vedauwoo as a crack bouldering Mecca. Justin Edl, a Vedauwoo trained crack climbing expert, got 1st place in the competition and I watched him flash an open project that I had been trying.

The rules of the comp were also competitor friendly. The top seven problems were scored, and we had plenty of time to climb. A flash scored 100 extra points, but points weren't subtracted for each attempt. It was a relaxed scene where you didn't have to get out your scorecard after every failed attempt to make a tally mark.

All the boulderers were very friendly, the area has a great group of dedicated developers, and the mid comp barbecue amongst the boulders was very cool.


The vertical fins of the Boulder Batholith create many arete problems ascended by pinching the high friction granite. Slopers, and large cone shaped chicken head features are also common. Crimps are scarce and usually break off if you pull on them. At most bouldering areas you need calloused tips, but at the Batholith you want calloused palms.

Ashley climbing "Palm Aid."





I couldn't resist doing a little exploration for steep rock outside of the competition area, and someone had picked up my book with our unnamed scorecards in it, so we didn't know where we should go next anyway. Eventually we ran into Thomas who was leading people to different sectors. I mentioned we were looking for steep rock, and he took us to the Mother Ship boulder. The steep lines with long traverse endings were a lot of fun, and gave us a great workout.


A wrong beta attempt on "Lever Action." Eventually I could make the dyno, but I wasn't able to control my swing.

Not climbing comp problems for a couple hours wasn't good strategy. In hindsight, I just should have asked to look at other peoples' guidebooks. Our scores weren't as good as they could have been, but we won a bunch of great things anyway. Ashley placed third in the women's division which got her a cool new Mago chalkbag. Everyone in the comp won two raffle prizes. I won "King Lines" and "The Sharp End" videos which I've wanted to add to my collection for a while, and guides to two areas in the Boulder Batholith. I won't be going back right away for the bouldering, we've got better rock in the Lander area, but I'd consider making the 7 hour trip again next year if they hold another "Butte Bouldering Bash."

It was cool to see Montana. I now realize that western Wyoming is a relatively undeveloped island surrounded by agricultural areas and abundant small towns in Montana and Idaho. Before the visit, I'd expected Montana to be as wild and empty as Wyoming.

I wouldn't recommend the Batholith as a destination area to most out-of-state boulderers, but definitely check it out if you live nearby, or if you happen to be driving I-90 through Montana, or if you love crack problems, or if you love sketchy highballs.

One of the most sparsely featured highballs. This was a project when we arrived, but it looked like someone sent it by the end of the comp.


Our three day trip was a large loop. We spent a rest day at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone.



Then we spent a day climbing at Blacktail Butte in Grand Teton National Park. We spent half the session making redpoint attempts and toprope ascents of a great route called "Arch," and spent the other half bouldering on the "Blacktail Traverse" which Ashley sent by the end of the session.

The main wall at Blacktail Butte.

The Blacktail Traverse


Last week I noticed a large jump on my hit counter. I discovered that ClimbingNarc.com posted an article on bouldering travel that sent readers to Davin's China trip posts at his blog, A Place of Legend, and the Wind River expedition post on this blog. It's nice to have a lot of people reading the posts. Thanks for the attention.

3 comments:

Narc said...

Thanks for taking the time to write about your adventures!

TK said...

Great meeting y'all and glad you could make it out! Cheers!

Lloyd Family said...

Thanks for throwing the Bash! It was fun to meet you and experience the Batholith.