Kootenai Country Rock Climbing

Photo courtesy of Craig Davidson

    In Kootenai Country Montana for many years travelers north bound from Libby approximately 58-miles on Highway 37 and about 15-miles south of Eureka noticed infrequent sightings of men and women at the Stone Hill Rock Climbing Area. The area is about 3.1-miles south of the Lake Koocanusa bridge that access’s Boulder Creek.    
    This magnificent setting is characterized by large diameter ponderosa pine trees at approximately 25-35 inches and mature Douglas Fir. Large rock formations, cliffs, and huge boulders hide the trails that allow bighorn sheep to escape predators like the cougar. In late spring and early winter, the eerie wailing of a lonely mountain lion at night might be heard on clear, starry sky evenings. Whitetail and mule deer browse on shrubs and graze on grasses enhanced by forest burning which can improve wildlife habitat.    
    In these surroundings, a few hardy rock climbers challenge themselves in many ways. This spot has unique rock climbing choices and gained popularity in the late 1970’s when a climber named Paul Clark established the first main lines and wrote a guidebook on the subject. This hill has routes for all skill levels of climbers. The rock is hard quartzite and has sharp edges, steep slabs, vanishing cracks and small horizontal roofs. Cracks are protectable, and over half the climbing routes are protected by bolts and traditional means.      

    The challenges include framework/edging and nine-main-crags above and below the highway. There is some seclusion in the routes and one can climb a variety of pathways. There are stair-step climbs to treacherous overhangs. The climbing ratings range from 5.7-to-5.13d. Some routes provide walk off descents also. Distance of approach is usually less than the height of the crags and bumper belays have been known to occur on roadside bluffs. In early 2000, a fellow named Steve Stahl established some 260-lines. Some of the names of the features of Stone Hill climbing give an indication of the seriousness of the challenges. Names like Lizard Overhang, Primordial Buttress, Bighorn Buttress, Tomahawk Rock, and Land of the Lost should be somewhat self-explanatory to experienced climbers. A popular climbing wall for those seeking advanced routes is the Holdup Bluffs North, which is located handily on Highway 37.        
    There are numerous campgrounds along the reservoir, and free camping is available at Camp 32, about 8 miles north of the hill. To the south, Rocky Gorge and Peck Gulch campgrounds are accessible with boat ramps, bathrooms, and swimming areas. Paul Clark’s Guidebook is available at Rocky Mountain Outfitters in Kalispell, Montana. For more information visit Kootenai National Forest or call the Eureka office at (406) 296-2536. Plan a stay in Kootenai Country Montana and do a little climbing, or undertake a major challenge. Be safe and enjoy this part of Big Sky Country, a sort of Glacier Park without the crowds!