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North America, United States, Montana, Gallatin Canyon, Sheep Rock, Various Ascents

Sheep Rock, various ascents. Between August 2002 and July 2004 I climbed eight new routes on Sheep Rock in Gallatin Canyon, 20 miles south of Bozeman. Sheep Rock is the first major formation seen when entering the canyon, on the west side. Each route was climbed ground-up, solo, mostly involving direct aid but with occasional sections of free-climbing.

Local climbers have been passing under Sheep Rock for years on their way to the solid gneissic climbs Gallatin Canyon is known for. The legend was that Sheep Rock was no good, that climbers of old had checked it out and demurred. Upon initial inspection I presumed they were correct. Sheep Rock is composed of less-than-solid limestone, with the lower 300' a mass of fractured blocks. But after this introductory terrorfest, the rock becomes sounder, and the angle diminishes from overhanging to less-than-vertical for the final half. The routes that flank the shifting sides of Sheep Rock require skills that can evade most, involving long stretches of pin pounding, and mandatory free climbing moves mixed with the occasional clean aid blessing. Demarcating a line out of the abstractness involves keeping a very open mind if one does not wish to lower oneself to drilling.

With large expanses of loose, collapsible rock, and wild, teetering, gothic formations, Sheep Rock presents a certain foreboding within its structure that does not allow for speed. Aspirants should allow for the trials that await them on any route attempt, and any attempt should be considered as an attempt on a Grade IV. As an example: I have had two hammers break, have had three ropes chopped by rock fall, and have taken a 40' ground fall…all on the same route!

Brad Carpenter