Warm Whiskey

Kevin Kennedy's picture
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Winter climbing in southwest Montana.

Sometimes Montana’s winters aren’t as cold and snowy as we might like. In fact, the first week of February this year was almost 90 degrees warmer than last year's. So what's a guy to do when Bridger Bowl hasn’t reported snow in seven days, the current snowpack is melting, and the forecast looks warm and dry?

Whiskey Gulch. Bouldering. Montana. Outside Bozeman.The Tobacco Roots guard Whiskey Gulch from incoming storms.

One option is to sulk, find a goat to sacrifice to the snow gods, and pray for low-pressure systems. Another, more reasonable option is to pretend that maybe it’s still fall or already spring. The latter is how I found myself loading crash pads into my pickup, getting ready to head toward Whitehall on a balmy, 60-degree February morning.

In between Whitehall and Butte on Hwy. 2 lies an old-growth forest full of granite boulders called Whiskey Gulch. With the Tobacco Roots looming over the area and blocking a majority of the weather that comes in, it's a solid area for climbing, especially in the winter months. Even when most places are getting pounded with storms, Whiskey can remain dry. It sits waiting for pebble-wrestling Bozemanites with no interest in skiing, to try their hand at topping-out these boulders.  

Whiskey Gulch. Bouldering. Montana. Outside Bozeman.Tony Chang warming up on The Senile Boulder.

On this day, the location, paired with an unusually warm Montana winter, made Whiskey Gulch almost tropical. We drove through some shadows of snow, to find mostly dry trails and totally dry rock. Partnered with my Butte Climbing Guide, we pulled hard, relaxed in the sun, and took in perfect views of the Tobacco Roots all afternoon. 

Whiskey Gulch. Bouldering. Montana. Outside Bozeman.
Tony Chang on The Pope's Penis, V7.

Whiskey Gulch. Bouldering. Montana. Outside Bozeman.Tony Chang on Caught in the Act, V7.

By the time our fingers were raw and the beer was gone, the sun was beginning to set. We loaded up our pads and headed back toward Bozeman. I couldn’t help but have some selfish thoughts on the short drive home, like, “Maybe it will stay warm just a little bit longer,” and “I don’t need to ski every weekend.” 

 Whiskey Gulch. Bouldering. Montana. Outside Bozeman.Andy Bouton goes for the extension to Caught in the Act, V10.

So, even when Montana’s winters are uncharacteristically dry, just remember that there are still adventures to be had. Try to refrain from sacrificing that goat this weekend, and head out in the opposite direction of the snow. You just might be surprised at what you find. 

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