Climbing The Watchtower in the Gallatin Canyon
It’s September in SW Montana. There’s snow in the forecast for later in the week, so today was the perfect day to head down to the Gallatin Canyon with Stew to climb the Watchtower – a 5.8, 3-pitch climb on the 1st tier of gneiss formations. There are multiple routes on the Watchtower including Mother’s Day, Elevator Shaft, The Joker, and the Watchtower Standard Route.
To access any East side climbs, parking is located at the 35 MPH bridge on 191. According to Gaia, the base of the Watchtower is 1.27 miles down the trail and 465 feet above the parking area. The total approach takes about half an hour.
The Watchtower can be found by turning at the Climber’s Trail sign on the rock, shortly after House Rock. Then an obvious climber’s trail heads up hill. It passes classic climbs like the Waltz and Pineapple Thunderpussy, before it finally reaches the Watchtower. It is south of Elevator Shaft and Mothers Day and just north of Dog Buttress.
The first pitch is a really fun 5.5 climb. It follows a wide crack about 32 meters to a large belay ledge on the climber’s right side. There are plenty of foot placements and good handholds. The pitch ends on a grassy ledge at approximately the same height as the Dog Buttress – just to the right of the Watchtower. A nice set of chains makes it easy to belay the second climber. This may also be a great pitch for beginner trad climbers for a first lead in the Canyon.
The second pitch follows a variety of cracks to a roof under a set of horns. It is rated 5.7. It’s not the easiest pitch to protect, but there are enough placements if you keep your eyes open. The roof is the crux of the pitch. It is possible to go out to the right to avoid the overhang, but it’s not necessary. Clear the roof and cover a few more meters to a second steppy belay ledge. Another nice set of chains makes for an easy belay.
For the third pitch, you have options. The first two pitches of the Watchtower are identical to the Joker. It’s possible to go left out onto the face to climb the Joker at 5.9. Feeling a little pumped, we opted for the Watchtower Standard Route a flaring chimney that ends at the top of the Watchtower. It’s rated 5.8. At the top, another set of chains allows for for a final, nice belay.
At the top of the Watchtower, there are great views looking south. The Gallatin Tower stands out – with a clear view of the Gallatin Tower Standard Route. As always the Gallatin Canyon never fails to impress.
It is possible to walk off of the Watchtower. I’ve heard it’s not the most pleasurable walk off so we decided to rappel. It is possible to rappel each pitch with a single 60 meter rope. The last pitch is the longest rappel and it barely reaches, but it does – maybe with the help of a little rope stretch. This climb can be popular, luckily today, there was no one else in the canyon – otherwise we would have had to check for other climbers to makes sure we didn’t rappel into them. That would be no fun.
For a rack, we used mostly cams .75 to 4. We even threw in a black tricam in the horizontal crack below the roof crux on pitch 2. It worked great.
Back at the base of the climb, we changed footwear and quickly hiked back to the car. Hopefully the cold weather holds off for a few more days so we can climb again soon.
Overall the Watchtower is a fun climb. I’m not sure if it’s a classic climb in my opinion. I will probably climb the whole thing again, but I may choose to climb the final pitch of the Joker instead.
Here are some more photos from climbing the Watchtower:
Get more info on this route and hundreds of others in Bozeman Rock Climbs by Bill Dockins and Tom Kalakay.