More than a decade ago, Brett Eckert realized the moss-enshrouded cliffs tucked into the Stillwater State Forest north of Whitefish held untapped potential as a playground for area rock climbers.
Known as Point of Rocks, the 3,000-acre chunk of argillite-laced forest lay dormant until a state logging operation lifted its veil in 2008, when timber crews cut roads up to the rocky ridges and revealed a maze of sedimentary slabs, which curious and enterprising climbers began exploring in earnest.
Back then, Eckert didn’t imagine that cracking the area’s potential would transform the obscure rock garden into a rising star in northwest Montana’s climbing firmament, or that it would provide a much-needed outlet for the area’s burgeoning community of bouldering enthusiasts — climbers who focus their efforts on solving technical, condensed problems on smaller rock formations without the use of ropes.
In a geologic context, the time has flown by, even though Eckert has spent countless hours since 2011 fastidiously scrubbing the cliffs of their lichen embellishments and pioneering new bolted routes up their sheer faces.
In addition to cleaning and creating the routes, Eckert authored the inaugural guidebook at Point of Rocks in 2016, detailing 183 routes at a climbing locale that is a happy medium between the close-to-home Kila Crags outside of Kalispell and the far-flung quartzite mecca of Stone Hill, west of Eureka.
In the Point of Rocks 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.”
Prior to the release of his book, according to Eckert, Point of Rocks had been “pretty off the radar,” with beta about the area spread through the climbing network primarily by word-of-mouth, and a familiar band of climbers congregating on a regular basis.
Today, Eckert says he often doesn’t recognize any of the cars or trucks at the trailhead, and encounters unfamiliar faces all the time, including younger climbers for whom Point of Rocks is their entrée to the sport.
Although the area has exploded in popularity since Eckert published the initial guidebook in 2016, it hasn’t been overwhelmed, he said, and climbers can easily find solitude and an unoccupied belay station after departing the trailhead parking lot.
As Point of Rocks gained popularity in recent years, new routes continued to pop up, built by Eckert and a dedicated clutch of climbers who worked so diligently that it didn’t take long before the region’s first guidebook was outmoded and needed an update.
To that end, Eckert set to work revising the guidebook, adding more than 250 routes and dozens of bouldering problems, which have proven popular among the valley’s growing contingent of rock monkeys spawned by Rockfish Climbing and Fitness in Whitefish.
“The first book was well received and it has definitely grown out there since then,” Eckert said. “It has gone from barely seeing anyone to parking lots full at the trailhead, but there’s not that much pressure on the climbing walls. It still feels wild out there, but the trails are a little more worn and things aren’t as overgrown.”
Eckert laid ambitious plans to finish the guidebook last year, but life got in the way and he didn’t complete the project until this spring, under pressure from a legion of climbers who wanted fresh beta.
“There was a lot of pressure to get the new guidebook done because the first one got outdated pretty quickly, so it’s a huge load off,” he said of releasing the book, “A Climber’s Guide: Point of Rocks, Montana,” available for sale at Rocky Mountain Outfitter in Kalispell, as well as both Sportsman and Ski Haus locations and REI.
“It’s nice that there is this resource now where people can spend their evenings on challenging climbing routes and not be too far from home,” Eckert said.
A self-described introvert, Eckert has become the go-to guru at Point of Rocks, and while he was conflicted over unlocking the area’s secrets to the masses, he said seeing other climbers enjoying the routes he built with his own sweat and blood while poring over the guidebook he wrote brings a sense of satisfaction.
To recognize Eckert’s contribution to the sport, the Northwest Montana Climber’s Coalition bestowed him with its annual honorary membership in 2019,
“The fact that other people who love this sport as much as I do are spending their valuable free time at this area is the ultimate compliment,” he said.
For more information on “A Climber’s Guide: Point of Rocks,” check out Eckert’s website at www.climbPOR.com.