Crag time 

Mill Creek gives sport climbers new pitches

The Missoula area's sport climbing scene has dyno-ed to a whole new level thanks to a handful of committed rock hounds who have developed top-notch sport routes near the mouth of Mill Canyon in the Bitterroot Valley.

The group of veteran climbers—Dane Scott, Ken Turley, Michael Moore, Tim Karst and Kurt Krueger, among others—have spent the past year putting up routes at Mill Creek's dramatic North Rim, one canyon north of Blodgett Canyon, turning the untapped granite into a new and much-needed cragging destination.

Missoula-area climbers have always had plenty of rock to climb, but a lot of it is low quality. What rock jocks lacked were solid, mid-level crags within a reasonable walking distance from a trailhead. The Mill Creek development changes that, providing craggers (roped climbers who rely on pre-placed anchors and bolts instead of removable protection) with a wealth of new options on nearly two dozen named routes, all just a 45-minute walk from the trailhead. There's no shortage of future potential, either, since more cliffs—taller ones—line the canyon.

While the routes are poised a dramatic 800 feet above Mill Creek itself, they're mostly mild climbs in the 5.8 to 5.10 range, bolted for safety and fun.

The area's current hardman test piece is dubbed "Quod erat demonstrandum, m.f." (Latin for "what was required to be proved"), created in 2010 by Scott, director of the Center for Ethics at the University of Montana, and Turley, a software developer. The route goes at 5.12b.

"The routes are as good as any in Western Montana," says Moore, a Missoulian newspaper editor who with others has established multiple routes in two spots affectionately referred to as Tick Farm (yes, it's tick infested) and Pie Area.

click to enlarge Several Mill Creek routes, including Involuntary Tick, Ticked Off and Tick Magnet, - are named in honor of the little parasites that swarm the area in spring.
  • Several Mill Creek routes, including Involuntary Tick, Ticked Off and Tick Magnet, are named in honor of the little parasites that swarm the area in spring.

"The rock feels similar to Shoshone," Moore says, referring to Shoshone Spire, the must-climb 5.8 multi-pitch in Blodgett Canyon. "But it's not composed of cut-up crack systems—it's a geologic formation specifically made for sport climbing."

There are still plenty of hazards, including bad weather, rock fall and wind gusts. The online guidebook for the area—available for free via Turley's "Mill Creek Report" blog (millcreekreport.blogspot.com)—reminds climbers that they "may be making only the 2nd or 3rd ascent of a route, so expect a little loose rock and lichen, as well as the occasional breaking foothold." Wear a helmet, it warns.

With all the energy being focused on the area, it's no surprise that Climbing Magazine gave a shout-out to Mill Creek, naming it one of the nation's best new cragging areas in its March 2011 issue.

The attention will likely draw more traffic, and Moore anticipates that he and his crew will double the number of pitches in the area, a process he's grateful to be a part of.

"We're middle-aged guys, we have good jobs, and we've enjoyed putting our time in to give back to the climbing community," Moore says. "I mean, we've climbed other people's routes for years, and now's a good time for us to give back."

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