August 23, 2015

Shoshone Spire - South Face

I met up with a past student, Matt, about a week ago for some outdoor adventuring.  We had originally planned to backpack and maybe climb something in Glacier National Park.  After arriving there and paying the $25 park entrance fee, we discovered the fire/smoke activity to be unbearable.  Opting to cut our losses, we bailed back to Missoula to regroup and come up with an alternative plan.

I'd heard through various channels that the South Face of Shoshone Spire in Blodgett Canyon is a must-climb.  After thoroughly stalking this route on the internet, we concluded that we had no idea where in Blodgett Canyon to find this spire.  Other route beta was also limited, so I'll write this up in hopes that people looking for similar information will find it here.

As we had no idea where to find this spire, we chose to backpack up the canyon, looking for a feature matching the photos we had seen.  About a mile up the trail from the main Blodgett Canyon parking area, I saw what I thought was the peak.

Shoshone Spire is the smaller pyramidal feature between the two large faces

After hiking 2.0 miles along the trail, we were standing directly across the canyon from Shoshone Spire, which is on the north side of Blodgett Canyon.

Shoshone Spire as viewed from the south - the South Face route follows near, but not on, the left skyline

Finding the route much sooner than anticipated, we hunkered in the shade near the creek for the remainder of the day in 95 degree weather.  After about an hour, we saw smoke from a forest fire up high on the ridge to the southwest.  As we were pondering trying to call it in on Matt's cell phone, we saw a plane fly overhead, aiming directly for the smoke plume.  We spent the next few hours observing an aerial strike on the smoke plume, which seemed to mostly abate around sunset.

The next day, it took us about 30 minutes to travel from the creek to the base of the climb.  There is a good climber's trail going up around the lowest cliff band just east of the peak, which continues west to the base of the climb once you gain the main ledge.  I estimate the total car to base approach time at about 1.5 hours.  With many route variations reported and debated, I'll focus on what we did.

We started the first pitch in a left-facing corner near the far west side of the face.  This pitch can be characterized by good crack climbing with a handful of 5.8 moves.  We belayed at a tree with rap tat off to the climber's right after about 180 ft.

Matt leading up the first pitch

The second pitch was much mellower, consisting of 4th, easy 5th, and possibly some moderate 5th class moves depending on the exact route.  The second pitch brought us to the main ledge separating the blockier looking lower band with the cleaner looking upper face after a full 200 ft.

The third pitch began with the "railroad tracks", two parallel vertical cracks marked by a fixed pin and an old, fixed cam (5.8+), both of which are visible before leaving the ledge.  After about 25 ft, you negotiate a small roof and exit onto easier, choose-your-own-adventure terrain.  We ended the third pitch after about 150 ft at a mostly hanging belay as there didn't seem to be any belay-worthy ledges in this vicinity.

The fourth pitch is characterized by a multitude of flaring cracks with frequent loose blocks.  Although one of the easiest pitches of the climb technically (5.6 - 5.7), I found this pitch the most scary due to difficulty protecting it and the frequent loose blocks.  However, you must endure it to get to the final "money" pitch.  We ended the fourth pitch in an alcove on the left arete after about 180 ft.

The fifth and final pitch was totally rad.  We went more or less straight up, about 10 ft east of the left skyline.  There are several small roof features to negotiate on this line, none of which are harder than 5.8 and the pro is great.  We belayed about 25 ft below the summit on the left skyline in an alcove with lots of loose blocks of various sizes after about 195 ft.  I believe this is the standard finish as it is easy to walk north and around to the true summit, avoiding the big, nasty roof protecting the true summit from a 5.8-ish direct ascent.

The descent was pretty straight forward and can be done easily with a 60 m rope.  From the summit, head north and find a climber's trail that descends north and east through Class 3 terrain.  This trial leads all the way down to the main ledge separating the clean upper face from the blocky lower cliff band.  The trail ends at a large pine tree with lots of tat (we found four lines of tat attached to two rap rings).  We rappelled 25 meters to an intermediate rap station (solid horn slung with two pieces of webbing).  A 10-15m rappel from here gets you to the ground.  Note: seems a 70m rope would get you real close to the ground in a single rappel.  Most people report bringing an extra rope and do one double-rope rappel, but this seems unnecessary unless you're planning to use two two ropes for the ascent.

Descent beta photo

Route Beta - The way we did it, anyway

Knowing what I know now, and considering that we moved well but not fast, a sound car-to-car estimate would be about 9 hours.  While there is no need to camp near the base as we did, it might be useful to know that there are a couple of good sites for small tents near the creek, shortly after leaving the trail and heading due north toward the peak.  My overall impression is that this route goes at 5.8+ with the added element of alpine-style route finding.  As it's my only climb in Blodgett Canyon to date, I can't comment on how it compares to other climbs in the area, but I'd definitely recommend it!

1 comment:

Matt Kearns said...

With your super technical engineering background and calm, collected NOLS instructor experience, you left out the part about me nearly crapping my pants on lead for that first pitch!