A Climber’s Guide: Point of Rocks

New guide for climbing area north of Whitefish will hit shelves May 23

By Clare Menzel
Brett Eckert climbs at Point of Rocks on May 3, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

In 2008-2009, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, tasked with generating revenue for the state’s school system with resources in the Stillwater State Forest, began logging in the 93,000 treed acres north of Olney. Close to a decade later, the forest is growing back. Waist-high saplings have shot up in the clearings and wildflowers are encroaching on the logging roads, one scar that remains on the land.

For Flathead rock climbers, the creation of these roads was an accidental blessing. Providing easy access to new parts of the forest, the roads opened up 3,000 acres of rocky ridges and cliffs. Since then, curious climbers have set some 200 routes in the area, which they began calling Point of Rocks.

One hundred eighty-three routes are detailed in the region’s first guidebook, “Point of Rocks: A Climber’s Guide,” which also includes Stillwater Canyon and Drive-In Theatre, two popular climbing spots nearby. The text, compiled by Kalispell climber Brett Eckert, will be sold for $19.95 at Rocky Mountain Outfitter and Sportsman & Ski Haus starting May 23.

The 200 copies available will quickly find a permanent place on the shelves of local climbers, next to well-worn guides for Stone Hill and the Kila Crags, the Flathead’s two other bolted climbing areas. Where Stone Hill, west of Eureka, offers quality but far-away climbing, and Kila offers proximity, Point of Rocks strikes a happy medium – reasonably close, relatively good rock.

In the guide, Eckert describes its cliffs of ancient argillite, a hard sedimentary rock formed from consolidated clay, as “a step or two above Kila choss and a little more broken than Stone Hill.” At just 30 minutes north of Whitefish, Point of Rocks is close enough for climbers to visit for a few casual hours after work or on a weekend.

“Point of Rocks embodies all that is great about climbing in the valley,” Eckert said. “Tucked away in the woods, this wild locale is removed from the hustle and bustle of civilization, yet readily accessible to visitors.”

Most routes are between 40 and 70 feet tall, though some top out above 100 feet. The majority of climbs are mostly well-bolted sport routes, but the guide does detail 33 “trad” and mixed routes that traditional climbers will enjoy. There is also a growing collection of bouldering problems on the talus below.

“The climbing opportunities here deliver a range of challenges for novices to advanced climbers alike,” Eckert said. “Point of Rocks may fall short of world class designation – there is nothing harder than 5.13, the climbs aren’t particularly tall, and the rock quality is slightly less than bomber – but judged on its merits, the sum of all its parts makes for a truly unique climbing experience.”

Yet, according to Eckert, Point of Rocks has been “pretty off the radar,” because without an official guide, beta about the area has spread through the climbing network slowly, primarily by  word-of-mouth. Unlike Stone Hill, with cliffs rising up in two massive tiers above Montana Highway 37, Point of Rocks is easily missed by the unenlightened. The ragged rock is shrouded by gently rolling hills, and it’s accessible by several paths with trailheads at the end of windy, doubletrack dirt roads.

“When I first came here, we were wondering if we were on the right road,” Eckert said.

Indeed, one of Point of Rocks’ chief draws is its remote feel. Though the guide will certainly attract larger crowds from the Flathead Valley and Canada, Eckert is more excited to share the area than he is worried about tourists.

“I’ll put up a route so I can climb it, but I get just as much enjoyment or more watching other people climb it,” he said.

In any case, Eckert is confident that, so long as climbers care for and respect the spot, the layout will help retain its wild qualities.

“Another notable characteristic of the area is the spread-out nature of the climbing sectors,” Eckert writes in the guide. “Many crags sport a half dozen or less routes and short hikes are required to move between different zones. For some, this lack of quick and accessible, heavily concentrated climbing will be a turn-off, but others, especially nature lovers who eschew crowded crags, will find themselves right at home in the peaceful solitude of these far flung cliffs.”