American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Wyoming, Bitterroot Mountains, Various Activity

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

Bitterroot Mountains, Various Activity. An entry for new climbs in the Bitterroot Mountains is well overdue, since the last AAJ entry was made by Stephen Porcella five years ago. Since 1997, many significant first ascents have been established in Blodgett, Mill Creek, and Lost Horse canyons by a core group of dedicated Bitterroot loyalists, most notably Brad Stevens, Jim Crossland, Jimmy Pinjuv, Chris Trimble, Kelly Cordes, Rafael Graña, Kevin McCracken, Jim Earl, and Stephen Porcella.

In Blodgett Canyon, the north face of Point 8252 was climbed in a single push by Trimble and Stevens. Their 20-pitch route Caesar’s Palace (IV 5.10) is, along with the north face of Point 9883 (Tin Cup Canyon), climbed in 1992 by Graña and Keith Schultz, and the north face of North Trapper Peak (first ascent unknown), one of the longest technical routes in the Bitterroot Range. On the 700-foot south face of the U.K. buttress, above and right of Nez Perce, McCracken and Graña completed the elegant Juanita’s Wall (IV 5.11). This direct line awaits a second free ascent. To the right of Degrees of Freedom on the south face of the Drip Buttress, McCracken and Jeff Shapiro established Trowelhead (V 5.9 A3+), with McCracken exclaiming that it contained “some of the best nailing I’ve ever done.” The summit pyramid of this formation has yet to be climbed and a complete ascent of the Drip still awaits. Of particular note is Crossland’s first solo ascent (with aid) of the 1,000-foot south face of Flathead Buttress, via the Rich Pierce Memorial. This was the first solo of a grade V in the Bitterroot. Kudos to you, Jimmy King!

On the next formation west of The Drip, the combined efforts of Stevens, Trimble, Cordes, Graña, and Mike Kehoe produced The Cornler (IV 5.11). The route climbs a sustained dihedral on the west face for three pitches (5.10+), followed by “many” pitches (up to 5.11) along the gendarmed south ridge.

Mill Creek Canyon, a relatively untapped drainage with as much rock as Blodgett, saw a motivated revival, led by the tireless Crossland. At near the four-mile mark, Crossland and Graña climbed five pitches of sustained finger and hand cracks on a south-facing buttress to produce Ozzie’s Wall (IV 5.10+). While not as long as the popular My Mom’s Muscle Shirt (5.10+) in Blodgett, it is easily superior in quality. On the steep wall right of Dihedrals East, Crossland and Earl finally topped out on Another Day at The Mill (IV 5.10/11), with help on the lower pitches from Tiffany Scrymgeour and Warren Hollinger. On the 1,000-foot-plus wall one-quarter of a mile west of the popular No Sweat Arête, Crossland and Graña, after many bivies, completed Bittersweet (V 5.11 A3, 9 pitches) with much help and inspiration on the lower section from Stevens, Pinjuv, and Trimble. Pinjuv free climbed the fourth-pitch dihedral on top rope at “at least 5.12”; when entirely freed, the climb will certainly be the most difficult long route in the Bitterroot Range.

On the south- and west-facing cliffs above and upstream from the campground in Lost Horse Canyon, over 50 one- to three-pitch routes from 5.7 through 5.12 have been established. The discovery and development of this area is particularly significant to Bitterroot climbing, in that for years (decades) locals have sought to find just such an area endowed with the quality and concentration of crack climbs found here. Porcella, Pinjuv, Graña, Crossland, Stevens, Cordes, and Trimble are primarily responsible for new route development and access trails at Lost Horse.

Rafael Graña, unaffiliated

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