This past weekend, Sarah and I got on the hardest alpine climb we’ve done yet: The Original Route (aka Javaman, 5.10, 5 pitches, 700′), on the south face of Beehive Peak near Big Sky, MT.
After failing in the Bridgers the week before, we were both feeling a bit down, but still wanted to get out and try again. On Thursday, Sarah said she had energy and wanted to do a big day Saturday. I was excited to hear it and began listing some possible areas we might go to. Sarah found the Original Route in the guidebook, and we speculated if we were ready for such a difficult (relative to us) climb. We’ve been training for the past 9 months, but pushing grades in the alpine is not something to take lightly.
After some thought, we decided we were indeed ready to give the Original Route a shot. On Friday, however, the weather forecast was showing a 30% chance of rain in the morning and a 50% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. Rain wouldn’t be a big deal, but standing on top of a 10,742′ peak in a thunderstorm is obviously a bad idea.
Instead of scrapping Beehive all together, we decided to do a shorter, less difficult climb: New World Route (5.8, 3 pitches). This would get us up and down much quicker than the Original Route, and we’d beat the afternoon thunderstorms.
On Saturday, we woke up a 4:20 AM, made snacks, filled up our water containers, did one last weather check, and hurried out the door. The drive to Big Sky was uneventful, and we began the hike in at around 6:15 AM. We tried to push our pace a little, but not so much as to burn ourselves out before the climbing.
When we got closer to the formation, however, we realized a party of 3 had reached the New World Route ahead of us. Since their leader was just starting up the snowfield and neither of us enjoy climbing below others (rock fall potential and speed considerations), we chose to change plans. We debated for several minutes, trying to decide if we should do a 2 pitch 5.7 route on the right side of the face, or opt for our initial plan of the Original Route.
Doing the shorter, easier climb felt like a bit of a cop out, so we decided to go for the Original Route. The weather was looking good (no rain and few clouds in sight) and the hourly forecast I’d checked when we woke up said the strongest likely hood of thunderstorms wasn’t until 2 PM. If everything went according to plan, we felt we’d be able to summit and get down before then. We racked up, tied in, and I set off up the first pitch.
So many things were running through my mind as I began climbing. Was I making a mistake? Were we pushing too hard? Was it smart to get on the hardest alpine climb we’d ever tried with a marginal afternoon weather forecast? I shut out the doubts, telling myself we could always rappel the route if things got nasty. It would be expensive to leave that much gear behind, but retreat was possible.
The start of the route is in your face and bouldery 5.9, so I had to focus on making smooth, deliberate moves. A fall here would likely mean a broken ankle or leg, and I had no desire to hobble back 4 miles to the car. I linked one move into the next, pulled up over a bluge, and found a perfect section of crack for gear. Several minutes of climbing later, I was building an anchor and bringing Sarah up.
Pitch 2 is the crux, and thinking of it made me nervous. The first pitch had felt good, however, so I figured I should be OK. Sarah gave me the gear she’d retrieved, and I took off again. Given the vagaries of the available beta for this climb, I didn’t really know what to expect. I kept pushing upward, through the first section of 5.9 wide crack, which went down smoothly. The pitch went on and on as my remaining gear dwindled. Where is the crux? I carefully crimped and edged my way up a slab, and then saw it, ten feet of vertical corner. I’d arrived!
Which was a good thing, as I only had a couple pieces of gear left. I plugged a cam under an overlap below the roof, and looked up nervously. I generally like corners, as I find good ways to stem and rest. Unfortunately, this one had a slab below it, with no place to get in gear high enough to prevent decking initially. Just don’t fall.
I pasted my feet on the left wall of the corner, reached up, and searched for holds. Nothing. There were some slopers and a weirdly angled crimp, but nothing good enough to get me to commit. I studied both walls further, discovering a crack out left that I’d totally missed. The problem was that it was too far away to hand jam, or even comfortably stem on. But, it was the only option, so I got my feet up once again, and this time, I stabbed my left foot as far over as I could. My leg was uncomfortably high, and didn’t feel particularly solid, but it was working. I smeared the right side of my body into the corner, found some shitty holds for my hands, and brought my right foot up. I repeated this process a couple times until the crack arched over into reach.
Looking down, I realized the slab was uncomfortably far below me, and I was once again facing a fall with potential injury. Get some gear in. I was still solidly jammed in the corner, with the crack out of my view, so I groped around in it, trying to decide what size piece might fit. Big blue C4, I thought, thankful to still have one on my harness. It was even racked on the correct side. I uncliped the piece, and blindly placed it into the crack, trying to sense the lobe expansion. Feels good.
A foot above, the crack arched into a nearly horizontal rail, juggy in a few places. The feet still weren’t good, and I was tired from the strenuous gear placing position, but at least I had pro in. Once on a jug, I took a quick look at the cam. Not a perfect placement, but probably the best I’ve ever done blindly. I quickly did the final moves, built a belay with my last three pieces, and tried to steady my heavy breathing as I brought Sarah up. 5.10 climbing at 10,500′ is hard on the lungs. The guys on New World Route congratulated me as they set off on their 3rd pitch.
From here, we had a decision to make: Stick with the original route, or try one of the numerous variations that split off at this point. Since the variations are less well documented, and we were aiming for speed, we stuck with the standard path. I took the gear from Sarah and set off on the traversing 5.7 pitch, which I think I did part of correctly, but then got off route. It turned out OK, because I ended up belaying on a nice ledge in the right general area. Unfortunately, for Sarah, this pitch is not well protected for the 2nd for most of the way and does have some scary, loose rock on it. Thankfully, we both got through without falling or pulling anything off.
The next pitch was another 5.9, but it was a short, exposed roof pull/traverse. After the battle with the 5.10 corner, I was feeling a little drained, but made quick work of it. The climbing eased, and I began running it out, moving as quickly and efficiently as I could. Now that the hard parts of the technical climbing were over, I only worried about weather and the descent.
More easy climbing passed, and I found myself wondering if I might make it to the top in one long pitch. The more I thought about it, however, the more I doubted it was possible. The last two pitches would be around 75M if I combined them, and we only had a 65M rope. Simul-climbing through the 5.9 roof would not be a good option. Instead, I plugged two bomber cams into an overhanging corner, and tried to keep up with the belay as Sarah nearly sprinted up to me. “I heard thunder,” she said breathlessly as she approached.
“Then let’s shift gears,” I replied, taking the few pieces of gear I’d used on the last pitch from her. She quickly put me on belay, and I launched up the final pitch. The climbing was easy, and I soon arrived on a nice ledge. Above me, only 4th class remained. I yelled for Sarah to take me off belay, hauled up the slack between us, and threw the rope around a solid horn. Terrain belays are nice.
The few tiny clouds we’d spotted at the 2nd belay had grown into massive, dark thunderheads. Thankfully, the lightning still sounded far away, and we hadn’t seen any cloud to ground action yet. We quickly packed the rope, put on our approach shoes, and scrambled to the summit.
With no time to pose for a nice photo, I quickly snapped a few pictures to remember the summit by:
After tagging the summit, we quickly scrambled our way down into the descent gully. There is a large slung block at the top to rappel from, but we opted to down climb as getting the rope out would take longer. After a few exposed moves, the gully opened up and we we began churning through scree. Every foot we descended, my anxiety about the weather decreased, while my nerves about entering the snowy 4th of July Couloir increased.
While packing on Friday, I had asked Sarah her opinion if we should bring ice axes or not. One of the guides said the snow was usually easily avoidable on the descent, so we opted not to bring them to save weight and bulk on the climb. We were about to see if we’d made a bad decision.
As we moved further down, Sarah spotted a large fluffy mass crashing down the gully ahead of us. “Mountain goat!” We watched as the spooked fluff ball sprinted headlong down before us. “Wish we could move that fast,” Sarah said, laughing. “Hope he doesn’t get hurt.”
On the way up, I’d spotted an alternative descent that would keep us out of the couloir and completely off the snow, but would require traversing the ridge; prime lightning strike territory. So when we reached the saddle that would take us into the 4th of July Couloir, we crossed the ridge and began heading down. From here, we had just a few hundred feet left to descend.
The scree quickly turned to snow, and we pondered our options as it began to intermittently rain and sleet. The snow was soft enough to kick steps with approach shoes, but it would be a long, tedious, and (without an axe) potentially dangerous decent. Instead, we opted to down climb the troughs that had formed on the sides of the gully, where snow melted away from the rock.
This progressed fairly well, until we reached an overhang with bad feet and hands. A few difficult, scary moves later, and we continued motoring down the trough. At one point we kicked steps across the couloir, changing sides to reach easier terrain.
When we finally made it to the bottom, we both cheered. It was good to be off the peak. The weather wasn’t improving, and we decided to keep our harnesses and gear on until we reached a safer location. After twenty minutes or so, we felt comfortable enough to pack everything up for the rest of the hike out.
We took our time getting back to the car, feeling excited for what we’d accomplished. Many people were hiking up to check out Beehive Lake and the beautiful scenery despite the rolling thunder. The lot was overflowing with cars by the time we got back. When we stopped our timer for a round trip time of 8 hours, 54 minutes. It was a good day in the mountains. 🙂
Detailed Route Beta:
The Original Route, aka Javaman, is a really accessible climb for those wishing to push into 5.10 in the alpine. Even though it has 2 pitches of 5.9 and one of 5.10, the cruxes are short and quickly passed. The climbing itself is interesting, mostly in cracks, and lead to a fantastic summit. Even the approach is easy (by alpine standards) and straightforward.
The Original Route is located on the left side of the south face of Beehive Peak, ascending the tallest part of the face. The crux pitch is distinguishable as a large, right facing corner, capped by several roofs.
From the Beehive Basin Trailhead (GPS: 45.306839, -111.385645), hike the well established trail until you pass the large puddle, and reach the lake (about 3 miles). If you want to bivi, there are several nice spots in this area.
After passing the lake, the trail shrinks considerably, but try to stay on it as long as possible in order minimize impact. Once you reach the scree fields, contour your way up and left to reach the base of the climb. If you head far left too early, you’ll get stuck below the black dike, which is not part of the climb.
From the car to the base of the climb took us 2:30.
We brought doubles from #3-0.75 C4, along with a single run of smaller cams from #.5 C4 to #00 C3 (including orange and yellow Mastercams). A set of nuts (including DMM alloy offsets), some quickdraws, and 8 shoulder length slings rounded out the rack. I felt this was a good selection for the route.
P1: Start at the base of a small, overhanging corner on the left side of the face, directly on top of the black dike. Make a few bouldery moves with no pro before gaining intermittent cracks. Continue following cracks through a less steep section. Belay before the vertical, larger than fist sized section at a small stance. (5.9, 100′)
P2: Climb the large crack directly, use features inside, or a combo of the two. I found a great red C3 placement here, and didn’t feel like a #4 C4 was necessary. Once above this 5.9 mini-crux, continue up the corner system, traversing past small roofs. Climb a section of slab, then get ready for the crux corner. There seem to be two ways to climb this, either in the corner itself, or going up the overhanging splitter crack to the left of it. Either way, reach the top of the corner and build a belay in the roof crack above. (5.10, 170′)
P3: I believe I got slightly off route here, but I will describe what I did. It worked and wasn’t too difficult. The guidebook doesn’t describe this pitch in much detail. Traverse left out from under the roof, following an angling, nearly horizontal crack. The hands are good, but the feet aren’t. I continued the traverse until the end of the crack, reaching a large stack of (seemingly) stable blocks. Once up these, I continued angling up and left on moderate, sometimes protected terrain. I built a belay on a large gravely ledge, about 15′ left and 20′ below the crux roof of the next pitch. (5.7+, 140′)
P4: From the belay, move up and right on easy, but poorly protected terrain, aiming for the black roof above. I placed an offset nut in a solid constriction before turning the roof, and that was the only good gear I could find, so just a heads up. Once past the roof, the climbing becomes easy. Continue up until you come to an overhanging narrow corner. Build a belay here. There are likely several options for where to end this pitch. (5.9, 180′)
P5: If you belayed in the overhanging corner, head up it, pulling one last 5.7 section. From here it is all 5.Easy and 4th class to the top. There is a convenient terrain belay on the first large ledge you come to. I belayed there. (5.7, 120′)
From base to summit took us 3:15.
Scramble the rest of the way to the summit, then follow the ridge line to the left (west). When you reach the top of a gully, you can choose to either rap (there was fresh webbing with rap ring around a beefy horn when we were there) or down climb. If you’ve done this route, you’re likely fine to scramble down, but do what is best for you. I felt the moves were high 3rd or extremely low 4th class.
Once at the bottom of the steep section, contour along the scree/gully to your right. Once you reach a rock ridge, head straight down the gully. Be cautious as it is very loose and somewhat steep. When the gully turns to the right, head up a short section of scree that leads to the top of the saddle between Beehive Peak and the rest of the ridge.
From here, you have two choices: Head down the 4th of July Couloir directly ahead of you, or turn to the right and go along the ridge until you reach a moderate scree slope to descend on your left. We had threatening weather, so we chose to stay off the ridge.
If you go down the 4th of July Couloir, expect your experience to vary depending on snow level. We went down it mid-July and troughs were melted out along the walls on either side, making it reasonable to downclimb the slabs and walls. If there is more snow, or harder snow, an ice axe (and maybe even crampons) would be advisable. We were able to kick step in approach shoes across sections when we needed to. Had the weather not been bad, I think the ridge descent would have been a bit easier.
Once you reach the bottom of the couloir, find your way back to the lake and the rest of the way home!
Car-to-car time for us was around 9 hours.
(Disclaimer: If you decide to use this beta, you take all responsibility. I’ve done my best to write this from memory, but I may have made mistakes. It is your job to exercise good judgment and not just follow blindly… 🙂