Cleo’s Gargoyle: Bozeman’s scariest sport route

Dave Reuss's picture
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Never, ever go climbing with Drew Pogge.

I try to remember that—but every few months, he’ll trick me into it. He’s the Editor-at-Large here at O/B. Editors-at-Large don’t really ever have to work, so he’ll show up at the office every few months like that drug-addicted cousin who only calls you for bail money. The same cousin who just needs to crash on your couch for a few days until he gets things lined out. That guy.

When it comes to climbing, Drew waits just long enough for me to forget how awful the last experience was, and then he’ll call up and offer to buy the post-climb beers.

That last part always gets me.

Main Tower

So we meet up, and after hours of bushwhacking deep into Hyalite Canyon, we find a massive cave with a single line of bolts tracing up the overhanging face. It’s our objective: Cleo’s Gargoyle. If you’ve spent any time in Hyalite, you’ve seen this spire in the distance. “I have to climb this crap?” I ask, reaching over and picking rocks out of the wall at the base of the cliff. Prying pebbles out with two fingers, I realize it’s consolidated mud. There’s no way it’ll hold my bodyweight. The guidebook calls it “conglomerate”—which means it sucks. Just imagine trying to climb on rock with the same consistency as a textured ceiling.

“It gets two stars in the book. Should be an adventure,” Drew says. He pulls the shoes and harness out of his bag and squints up at the line. “But you’ll lead this pitch, right?”

Pitch 1 (10d) follows the bolts to the top of the cave and a cool stance.

First Pitch

Thirty feet up, I slump down and hang on the bolt, sweaty and shaking, gathering the courage to make the next exposed moves to the good hold a few feet up. The bolt is drilled into mud, but so far it's holding and looks safe. Before trusting my weight on the next cobble, I give it a sharp kick with my heel. It explodes out of the wall and clatters off the rocks below. “That probably would’ve held you!” Drew yells up. “Just stop kicking all the good holds! You’re ruining the route for me!” I step up and my foothold blows out—I don't even have time to get scared before I'm hanging on the rope again.

Little spiderweb cracks inch out from behind the bolt hanger.

A few near-death experiences later, I'm hunched in a cave belaying Drew up the pitch. A lone mountain goat, its thick winter coat coming off in dreadlocked clumps, turns the corner of the far buttress and glances up. He starts to turn away, but then turns back fast and gives the head-tilt usually reserved for curious dogs. They’ll do anything for salt, and the last thing I need on my climbing bag is goat saliva.

Curious Goat

“Hey you! Goat! Get out of here, you tourist! Ha! Get on!” I pry a rock out of the wall and pitch it down, but the stone falls a city block short of hitting its target.
The goat just stares, frozen. Hunched over in my cave 70 feet up, I look down and find a tuft of goat fur waving in the breeze at my feet. He starts his careful saunter toward our bags. I get ready to yell again, but Drew beats me to it. “Dammit, this route sucks! I hate it!” The rope pulls tight again and rocks crack on the talus below. “For God’s sake, nothing holds my weight! Everything keeps breaking!”

"You picked this stupid thing!" I yell down.

Pitch 2 (5.8) continues straight up a chimney/gully to a good belay ledge.

OhmyGod—Myelbowsarecrampingup—Ican’tgetmyfoottothenexthold—Thisrockisshit—I’mprobablygonnadie—Oratleastbecrippled—Ican’tbreathe—Pleasestopbreaking—I’llneverreachthatbolt—IwannakillDrew—Thiswassostupid—JesusChristwhyamIhere—Istillcan’tbreathe—Thisistheend—

Up The Pipe

“Stop it, Dave. You’re fine. Breathe.” I say the words slow and out loud, hoping to believe them.

Rarely do you have to do things. You don’t have to pay your rent; you’ll just get kicked out. You don’t have to go to work; you just won’t have any money. But now, ten feet above my last bolt and ten feet below my next one, I have to climb higher and that’s it. If I let go, I’ll crash into the blocky ledge below me, shattering bones and snapping ligaments, then left to dangle there, broken and useless as Drew wonders why the rope jerked tight and when it’ll be his turn to climb. How long until he would cut the rope? Since he’s kind of an ass: ten minutes, tops. But then again, he might tie me off, leaving me soaked in tears and dangling like a half-emptied piñata until the mountain goats hunt me down and devour my sweaty skin for their sodium fix.

With my last ounce of strength, I reach high over my head and clip a bolt, then pull the rope, heavy as steel cable, and snap it through the biner. I’m safe, but with the next bolt shimmering another 20 feet above me, I sigh and shake my head.

Mid Route

After pulling the final chimney moves, I belly flop onto the top platform and pant for a few minutes. My mouth tastes like sand, so I spit—and my stringy white saliva is studded with black specks of dirt and rocks from the broken holds that blew up in my face. I scratch more dirt out of my ears and my biceps start cramping from dehydration.

"Dammit, Drew."

Twenty minutes later, Drew bear-crawls the last few steep feet of rock and sits next to me. “That last pitch was really fun!”

Blood pumps hot into my cheeks. “Are you kidding me? The bolts were 20 feet apart! And the holds kept breaking! That was some of the scariest climbing I’ve ever done.”

“Oh, whatever." He takes a long drink from his water bottle and rubs his forearm across his mouth. "On top-rope it was awesome. This next pitch looks fun.”

The exposed Pitch 3 (5.9) follows bolts to the top of the formation. Rappel the route (two ropes required). All bolts.

The sun has crept across the valley floor, giving us less than a few hours of sunlight. In true Pogge form, we left both headlamps in the car.

“You know, the guidebook says the last pitch is run-out,” I say. “The sun is going down and I’m all adventured out. But if you wanna lead it, I’m game.”

The inevitable disaster starts to play out in my head: summiting at dusk, getting the ropes stuck on rappel, bushwhacking by moonlight, twisting an ankle, fighting a momma grizzly bear, limping back to the car—and that's if things go well. Drew tiptoes over in his tight climbing shoes, wincing with each step, and searches for the first bolt. After squinting at the crumbly rock for a few seconds, he throws his hands in the air and starts walking back. “What the hell?” he says. “The first one is like 25 feet up! I'm not doing that. Screw this.”

My jaw drops open. I’m about to argue, ready to tell him it’s his turn to weep with fear and contemplate being licked to death by a herd of mountain goats, but the potential satisfaction of watching him suffer is replaced by the relief of not dying. He tricked me into climbing with him, and I’m alive. “Let’s get off this rock,” I say, setting up the rappel station. “And you owe me a few beers.”

Rap Off

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