A Climb up Shoshone Spire

Blodgett Canyon, Bitterroot Mts., Montana

August 2018

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I finally found a free day that coincided with my neighbor / climbing partner's, so we headed to Blodgett Canyon, to climb Shoshone Spire. This would be my second climb of Shoshone; I did it the year before with my friend Claudine.

Climbing Shoshone Spire
Shoshone Spire

It was a nice warm summer day; we didn't get up early, and we weren't in a hurry. We got to the base sometime after noon. The previous time I did the climb Claudine and I did an easier first pitch; this time I wanted to climb the 5.8+ book just around the west side of the south facing stuff. Tom said it was my pitch; in retrospect, I think it was the hardest part of the climb. The most bothersome aspect was that there are a number of small ledges and you need to be careful placing protection so you don't have a potential "ground" fall onto one of those ledges.

Climbing Shoshone Spire
Tom near the top of pitch 1

The second pitch is easy 4th and low fifth with a couple of short 5.5 - 5.7 bits. It ends on the big ledge ("Lunch Ledge") that divides the upper face from the broken bottom section (see photo of Shoshone Spire above). Tom led up to the ledge; I led pitch three, the first pitch on the main face, stopping to belay at the leftmost of the two trees. There are good cracks for building an anchor near the tree. There was a party from Bozeman ahead of us, Trevor and Tom. I brought my Tom up and he lead on through for pitch 4. Pitch 4 ends at a notch in the skyline; the party ahead of us was in the notch for most of Tom's lead.

Climbing Shoshone Spire Climbing Shoshone Spire
Tom leading pitch 4

As Tom got to the upper part of his lead the party ahead of us started on pitch 5; you can see the lead climber (also named "Tom") going out and around the overhang in the photos below.

Climbing Shoshone Spire Climbing Shoshone Spire Climbing Shoshone Spire
Tom on pitch 4 while other party does pitch 5

In the two photos below, the lead climber of the party ahead of us is almost completely hidden; you can just see his red pack in the photo on the right. I don't really understand where he is, as both times I've done that pitch I haven't been conscious of that much of an "indentation" in the face. I guess it's just a lower angle section that the steep stuff below it hides.

Climbing Shoshone Spire Climbing Shoshone Spire
Tom finishing pitch 4; other Tom is mostly hidden half-way up pitch 5

Tom brought me up and I got to the belay just as Trevor was heading out seconding pitch 5. We reracked gear and then I started off on pitch 5. I led this pitch last time and I knew it was thin once I got around the corner. But I had done it fine and was not too concerned. The move around the corner is exposed but well protected; I put a big cam in before the corner, and another around the corner before I crossed over.

Once you're around the corner it's pretty thin and the protection sucks. At least that has been my experience. Last time I managed to place a small #0 or #00 Metolius Ultralight Master Cam. I did the same this time, placing a #0, then moved about a foot and reset it. I yanked on it to be sure it was set. My footing wasn't great as I started to move up, half stemming between two small vertical flaring seams with not much for holds. My harness tie-in was about a meter above the cam when one of my feet went out from under me without warning. I managed to yell "Falling!" to alert Tom. I felt the rope go tight momentarily as the #0 took the fall, then felt it pop loose. I remember thinking "Those other cams better hold..."

My helmet hit the rock once and I came to a halt about even with Tom only ten feet or so to the right out on the face. My arm had a pretty good rock rash, my right foot was sore and felt like I'd come down hard on the arch, and my rib cage hurt on the right side; I'd cracked something there. My head felt fine. The fall was 20 feet or so; I was beat up but still operational on the whole.

Tom wanted me to traverse back over to where he was. I didn't want to do that because it meant climbing the dang thing again, and I could see an easier way up to my right. So after a bit of a rest I traversed right and then continued on up. It was slow going with my injured rib, but better than lowering off.

Trevor Climbing Shoshone Spire Tom at the Pitch 4/5 Belay Ledge Gary heading around the Overhang
heading up/around the overhang
Tom at the pitch 4/5
belay ledge
heading around the overhang

I brought Tom up; he didn't have too much trouble. My original plan was to do a variation of the last pitch and climb the summit overhang, or go around it on the right; that didn't sound so good now that we were there and I was all beat up. So Tom led around to the left and up to the summit.

Tom and Gary on top

We had brought two ropes to the base of the climb for the rappel from lunch ledge to the bottom of the climb, but we had left the second one at the bottom. Tom and Trevor had agreed to wait for us at the rappel tree so we could use their double rope to rap. I was pretty sure we could now rap down on one rope, as Claudine and I had seen a second set of anchors part way down when we rapped off last time, but I'd not done it so I wasn't sure.

We had a slow decent to the rappel tree; the rap was a bit painful for me due to pressure on my rib but otherwise uneventful. When we pulled the rope we could see that a 70m rope could be used to do the rap in two pieces, saving having to haul a second rope. I've read that a 60m rope will also just barely make it.

We packed up, descended the scree to the creek and hiked out; it was dark by the time we got to the truck.

The fall bent the gate on one of my Black Diamond Oz carabiners, but the gate apparently stayed closed as it was closed when I re-racked it and the spring was shot. It was the rope end 'biner on a short sling; I suspect it was bent over the slight overhang below where the cam was placed. The #0 Metolius cam was destroyed. One of the tits that keeps the cams from reversing was broken off, and a chunk was missing from one of the lobes.

The broken tit makes me wonder if the cam was too small for the crack. However, I am pretty certain it wasn't, as I had a bit of trouble getting it into the crack to set it. It probably rotated when I fell; the outside lobe then would have been in a wider part of the crack. The crack was badly flared; the only "good" grip was at the back. Obviously not so good.

Biner Cam Biner Cam
Damaged Black Diamond Oz Carabiner

Biner Cam Biner Cam Biner Cam
Damaged Metolius #0 Ultralight Master Cam

So... next time I will take another look at that crack. And I may look for a different way to climb that corner. It was definitely easier traversing to the right and going over the small overhang instead of up and around the big overhang on the ridge and straight up the face. Tom seconded it just fine, and I led it fine last year too; that says something about my inattention or my degrading skills. In spite of the fall, I still think the first pitch was the more difficult.