Climbing The Gallatin Tower Standard Route in the Gallatin Canyon
On a nice sunny day in August, Opie Jahn and I headed into the Gallatin Canyon to climb the Gallatin Tower. The Gallatin Tower is the prominent gneiss formation on the west side of the Gallatin River just north of the 35 MPH bridge. We planned to climb the 3-pitch Standard Route on the Gallatin Tower – a SW Montana climbing classic.
The Gallatin Tower is located on Highway 191 between Big Sky and Bozeman – just north of the 35 MPH bridge. The ideal place to park is just north of the tower on the west side in a small slow traffic turnout. There is plenty of room for multiple cars and most of the cars there are people on the Tower. There is another parking area a little bit farther south. A small trail leaves the main parking area and parallels the highway. This may be the most dangerous part of the day. Directly under the Tower, the climber’s trail begins to switchback up to the base of the climb through a large pile of talus and scattered pines.
The well maintained trail ends in a large staging area at the base of the tower. There are lots of routes here, but our goal for the day was the 5.8 Standard Route. While gearing up, beware of many large, loose rocks. Enjoy the nice warm, morning sun that quietly warms the gneiss. It’s easy to identify the Standard Route as it starts just looker’s right of some mossy ledges in a nice steppy corner that leads into some cool cracks.
The first pitch of the Standard Route is rated at 5.6 and it’s super short – maybe 12 meters? In fact, many climbers recommend climbing the first two pitches in one go. We didn’t. The first pitch ends at a large triangular belay ledge with multiple bolts and chains. There is a nice set of chains to belay your partner. A bit farther to the looker’s left is a nice bolt to anchor the belayer for the 2nd pitch.
The 2nd pitch is the most serious pitch of the Gallatin Tower Standard Route. It’s rated at 5.8 and runs about 50+ meters. The pitch starts with a few easy moves through a chimney. Then it follows a beautiful crack. At the top of the pitch, the rock mellows out and there is a nice shoulder to belay from. Opie and I were unable to find any bolts or chains at the top of the 2nd pitch. We were surprised, so maybe we stopped early. Or late. Either way there was plenty of nice cracks to build a bombproof anchor.
The 3rd pitch is rated 5.7 and begins directly above you. It runs about 25-30 meters and works up a face and through a nice chimney. Watch out what you hold on to as there are some loose rocks through this section. At the top of the chimney, we found a nice, protectable crack that leads into a scramble all the way to the top of Gallatin Tower. Don’t step on any BBQ grills left behind by fun-loving climbers. Not a bad place to kick back, grill up some brats, and enjoy the views of the Gallatin Canyon.
Just above BBQ ledge, are four nice bolts to set up an anchor for the final belay. We found it hard to communicate with each other during transitions despite our screaming. A good tugging system for communications is a good thing to establish. Our communication problems may also have been attributed to the constant low flying helicopters installing power line towers in our immediate vicinity. Yes, that’s right we were definitely climbing in rotor wash. Hold on tight!
At the top of the Gallatin Tower, the views were jaw-dropping. The Gallatin River meanders through the valley. Small toy like cars move silently along 191. The stunning east side formations beckon you to go climbing everyday. It’s worthwhile to sit around and enjoy the views for a few minutes. There are great views of climbs like Mother’s Day, Watchtower, Elevator Shaft, The Joker, Waltz, Sparerib, Skyline, and hundreds of others.
When it’s time to leave, head west a couple of meters to a set of rappel chains that drop into a notch. The rappel is about 15 meters down a vertical wall then it changes direction slightly to get down some step-like terrain. It ends in a wide open zone. Walk slightly south-southeast for 3 to 5 meters and you’ll find a second set of rappel chains hiding to your right behind a large boulder.
The 2nd rappel is much longer – approximately 29 meters. Glad to have a 60 meter rope! Tie your rappel knots and be sure to use a rap extension just in case. At the bottom of the rappel, a well-established climbers trail takes you back down to the base of the Gallatin Tower.
All around a really cool climb – 3 pitches, 2 rappels, nice weather, and solid rock. Since it’s easy access, respectable climbing, and warmer than the east side formations, it’s also really popular.
The best place to learn about this route and hundreds of other routes in the Gallatin Canyon is to pick up a copy of Bozeman Rock Climbs by Bill Dockins and Tom Kalakay. That book rocks.
Enjoy the rest of the photos from climbing the Gallatin Tower Standard Route:
This climb was completed on August 28, 2014.