On our trip up to Beehive Peak a few weeks ago, Sarah and I hiked by a really cool formation and decided we wanted to climb it at some point. The only information I could find was that it was called the Prow, and it had a single route on it: White Crystals Crack. The guidebook listed the hardest pitch as 5.10-, with 4 other pitches 5.7 and under. Given our success on Javaman, we decided to give the route a go.
Since the approach, climb, and descent are all pretty short, we decided we didn’t have to get a super early start. The weather forecast didn’t call for thunderstorms until mid-afternoon, supporting this decision.
After arriving at the base of the climb, Sarah decided to lead the first pitch, which ended up being fairly exciting. She quested up the face, linking sparse, questionable gear placements and trying to avoid copious amounts of loose rock. She did an awesome job getting through it, building a belay on top of pillar.
When I arrived at the belay, she gave me the gear she had left on her harness and I took off up the next pitch. The first half of the route continued through more loose rock, through a small gully, and across a large ledge. I delicately balanced my way up, carefully checking each hold before committing to it. While I was able to get pro in occasionally, it was constantly no-fall territory.
The face steepened, and I began using the sharp edge of the ridge crest for my left hand, and a stellar splitter crack for my right. The climbing through this upper section was amazing, well protected, and sustained (although it was only 5.6). After the shitty climbing lower down, it felt like a reward.
I finally built a belay when I reached the top of the main pillar, on a comfortable, sloping bivy ledge. After bringing Sarah up, she scoped the next pitch, took the remaining gear, and headed out.
The third pitch was a 40 meter traverse to the left, terminating on the main ridge crest of the formation. It had a few 5.6 moves at the beginning and end with easier climbing in between. And lots more loose blocks. Sarah built a belay below what was supposed to be the crux 5.10- “White Crystal Crack” pitch, and I worked my way over to her.
Looking up from the belay, I felt my stomach clench slightly. Climbing hard while having to manage loose rock is challenging and based on what I had seen of the rest of the climb, this pitch would have plenty. There was also a small roof to pull, and not much good looking gear between it and the belay. Time to be careful.
I set off up the pitch, finding a small pillar that let me avoid most of the roof, and thankfully offered a few solidish gear placements. Tapping on each hold to make sure it was solid, I pulled up off the pillar and into the White Crystal Crack. Surprisingly, the giant crystals and flakes were solid. I relaxed.
As I continued up, I kept waiting for hard moves, but everything above looked moderate. With so little information about the climb, I felt like I was doing a true onsight. Reaching the top of the crystal crack, I was faced with a decision to head up into jumbled roofs or continue in a large dihedral just right of the ridge crest. This climbing looked solid and seemed to fit the fuzzy topo we had of the route, so I went that way, pulling around another roof onto a large ledge.
Sarah and I could barely hear each other while exchanging belay calls. It was actually easier to hear the people talking on the trails almost 1000′ below, than it was for me to hear my climbing partner.
The last pitch appeared to be a short, mostly 4th class scramble, but since we didn’t know what to expect (and the last pitch was listed as 5.7 on the topo), we kept the rope on. Sarah finished it quickly and brought me up.
The hike off the Prow and back to the main trail was mellow, heading down scree fields and traversing a ridge. The trail out was super busy (as always). We passed the time talking about how much loose rock we had climbed over and how enjoyable the route was. It was a great day. 🙂
Detailed Route Beta:
White Crystal Crack is a fun adventure climb with a short approach and easy descent. It would likely not be a good route for newer alpine leaders (or followers, for that matter) as it has a fair amount of loose rock, some runouts, and requires good judgment. If you have the requisite skills, however, it is a fun half-day out in the mountains.
Thankfully, with the exception of the start of the first pitch, the route wanders enough to prevent your belayer from being in the line of fire from rockfall. We didn’t knock anything off, but the potential for letting something loose is definitely there.
(Note: In the Select Climbs to Montana book, this route is listed as 5.10-, although it doesn’t give more detail other than a hand drawn topo. I believe we followed the proper route, but either we skipped the crux, or the book is inaccurate. Probably the former. I describe the climb as we did it. The difficulty was fairly consistent throughout, and the route intuitive.)
The Prow, the formation White Crystal Crack climbs, is located below Beehive Peak and just above the main lake, off to the right (east) of the main trail. The climb itself starts on a redish pillar situated right of the huge arete/ridge going up the center of the prow.
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 bivy, there are several nice spots in this area.
After passing the lake, the trail heads up past a rock dome. Once through this steep section, the trail levels out slightly and the Prow will be to your right (east). Cross the meadow, and head up the scree field, aiming for the bottom of the pillar.
From the car to the base of the climb took us 1:30 and was about 3.5 miles.
We brought doubles from #3-0.75 C4’s, and overlapping sets of smaller cams (.5-.3 C4’s, 3-0 Mastercams, 2-00 C3’s). A set of nuts (including DMM alloy offsets), some quickdraws, and 8 shoulder length slings rounded out the rack. We never placed any nuts (too many expanding features to really trust them) and would have liked to have a couple more shoulder length slings due to the wandery nature of the route. Probably didn’t need so many small cams, but we did end up using most of them.
P1: Start up the shallow right facing corner, just to the left of wide crack/gully. Eventually, move out onto the face, heading towards the edge of the ridge/arete. Gear is infrequent on this pitch and not super solid, so be prepared for some runouts. The crux comes midway through, when the rock steepens and the holds get smaller. Lots of loose rock throughout the pitch. Build a belay either at a notch/ledge in the red rock at the top of the sub-pillar, or go a little further, crossing a gully, and belay on a large ledge with a small tree. (5.7 PG-13, 100′ or 130′)
P2: If you belayed at the lower spot, scramble across the gully (lots of loose blocks) and onto the ledge. Continue up a corner, avoiding loose blocks, and out a small overhang. The rest of the pitch is awesome climbing with solid pro in a splitter crack. Follow the crack to a large ledge where the pillar meets the main wall. Build a belay. (5.6, 130′ or 100′)
P3: From the ledge, spot the white crystal rock up and far to the left, near the ridge line. Aim for the base of this, taking the path of least resistance. Build a belay near the ridge line, just below the mini-roof that marks the start of the white crystal crack. (5.6, 130′)
P4: Head up into the mungy rock, traversing right on to a mini-pillar that makes getting past the roof easier. Continue up on awesome white crystals and flakes, tending to the right and up into a shallow corner. From here, traverse left across a ledge, then up a dihedral near the ridge line. Skirt left around another overhang (which puts you directly on the ridge), then right a few feet up to a big ledge. Best pitch of the route. (5.7, 160′)
P5: Scramble up loose blocks to the summit. (4th Class, 80′)
From base to summit took us 4:20. This was longer than expected, mainly due to slower than normal climbing caused by all the loose rock (which is abundant on every pitch).
Hike off the back of the Prow, heading north until you can contour your way southwest. Pick your way down a shallow ridge until you regain the trail.
Car-to-car time for us was around 7:50.
(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… 🙂