EMPLOYEE FAVORITES: Kevin Volkening, Gallatin Canyon, MT
Here at Black Diamond, the inspiration to innovate is driven from within. When we're not at the office, our dedicated crew of employees is out cranking at the crags, putting in miles on the trails and questing around the mountains in search of untracked descents. In this ongoing series of posts on the Journal, we'll be highlighting some of our employee's favorite rock and ice climbs, ski descents and trail routes.
This month's favorite comes from Quality Assurance Engineer Kevin Volkening.
At the intersection of flaring cracks, offset brass micro nuts, loose rock, lichen, and good ol' heart-murmur-inducing fear is the Gallatin Canyon of Montana. Since the birth of modern free climbing some of the sport's greatest champions have cut their teeth on the Gallatin's pink- and white-marbled gniess. One of my favorite photos from the local guide is of a young Alex Lowe on the opening moves of Callis' Warts and Corns (5.8 R), an expression typifying a true love affair with endeavors into the vertical plastered across his face. With a traditional ethic harsh as a Montana winter, the Gallatin often has you cautiously embarking into a sustained section of face climbing with absolutely no idea when the next bottoming blue alien placement might reveal itself. As if this wasn't already enough spice to induce some serious fire ass, you're most likely the first person in five years stupid enough to venture into that particular void, only to be greeted by crumbling feet and lichen encrusted edges. At full-bore, code-red status, 20 feet above your last "bomber" micro nut, desperately utilizing a combination of your finest beaching, thuggery, and pawing, you find yourself atop a solitary fin of rock. The pine covered slopes of the surrounding canyon drop dramatically to the river bottom, where the faint sound tourists' hoots and hollers traveling scenic US 191 boost the ego. This is of course until you realize they're not cheering for you, but for one of the many guided raft parties negotiating the "Mad Mile" below. Now before all you kids pack up the Ford Econoline and head for the Treasure state, be forewarned: Many of my happiest memories of days spent in the Gallatin would be the average climber's worst nightmare. However, in the off chance that while pumping Trance Around The World, updating your Instagram, and preparing to attempt the proj for the 19th time at your local crag this weekend the thought of some crap writing you glanced over on the BD webpage about some obscure climbing area in Montana inspires you to visit the Gallatin ... well then make sure you don't leave Montucky without climbing the following routes.
Callis' Warts and Corns (5.8 R): Named for local badass Pat Callis of the first ascent crew to Lost Arrow Spire Direct in Yosemite. After pulling a roof 10 feet off the deck, put your big boy pants on and vision quest for the next 100 feet with marginal protection.
Mother's Day (5.8): A three-pitch canyon classic. A take it or leave it first pitch guards two stellar pitches involving chimneying, route finding, and the best flaring crack outside Vedauwoo. The first time I climbed this route, 5.8 was a challenging grade. Thrashing my way up the final flare, I reached the top dry heaving. High fiving my good buddy, we pulled the 6 pack of IPA's from my pack and over the next two hours, watched the sunset and celebrated only to realize we'd both forgotten our headlamps and only had flip flops to negotiate the loose scree gully descent.
Diesel Driver (5.9): The canyon's best splitter has it all from fingers to fists capped by thrilling roof pull crux at three-quarters height. Perhaps once this post goes public, I'll finally be able to figure out who scored a #10 BD stopper at the lip of the final crux roof. On my onsight attempt, I had no idea how to jam and thus resorted to a mix of crimping and laybacking to get me over the roof. As one might guess, my attempts failed miserably and after multiple wingers onto said nut, I was forced to give in to the Diesel Driver.
Triple Crown (5.10+): A seldom done but nonetheless stellar route. The gaping maw above your head is best accessed by climbing the opening crack of neighboring Dark Horse (5.10) before traversing into the horizontal, wannabe offiwidth which climbs more like a sport route than a sufferfest.
Densepack (5.11): If you want a true taste of the Gallatin Canyon, this is the route for you. If the technical face climbing with tricky placements up a blunt arête isn't enough for you, then looking down at a nest of marginal gear protecting the crux moves should get the blood flowing.
Stigmata (5.11+): Steep, sustained, bouldery climbing on all natural protection through a blood red streak, this route has it all. Get psyched and get on it! During my send of the route I knew there was no possible way I could place gear through any of the three boulder problem cruxes. Thus, I opted for the old adage, "when in doubt, run it out." Five pieces of gear and 100 feet later I was pretty glad I didn't blow it.
Songline (5.12-): I don't care who you are or where you climb, this route would be 5 stars anywhere. This is the only line on a solitary piece of stone jutting from the hillside some 2,000 feet above the river below. Two bolts and an assortment gear will get you the top of this gem.
Rusty Nail (5.12): A recent addition to the area, it's amazing this route didn't see an ascent earlier. Challenging traditional style climbing up a crack to a point where you're sure the holds / crack just ends. Miraculously, the route changes completely in style for 5-6 more bolts up perfect edges . . . spectacular.
Having the Gallatin in my backyard for six years, I became blind to the beauty of the area. Now that I've made the move to Salt Lake and will soon enjoy weekends in the desert, the best snow on earth, and an insanely awesome proximity to the U.S.'s best climbing areas, nostalgia has taken its toll-if only I had sacked up that one more time, if only I had tried a little bit harder on that route, or if only I had trained just a little harder plagues my mind. However, I've come to realize that all those fleeting desires are exactly what make the Gallatin the Gallatin. It's no Eldo Canyon, it's no Index, its no City of Rocks, but the fact that sacking up to lead the next pitch takes some serious mental fortitude, the fact that the fear of taking the winger on to a piece which may or may not hold prohibits how hard you try, and the fact that no matter how many of hours you can log training the Gallatin will always put you back in your place is what makes the Gallatin Canyon my favorite climbing area.