Type: Trad, Alpine, 1600 ft, 12 pitches, Grade IV
FA: Tom Kalakay and Robert Mueller 1989
Page Views: 12,513 total · 124/month
Shared By: Ian Cavanaugh on Sep 6, 2010
Admins: grk10vq, Zach Wahrer

You & This Route

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This is a must do route for anyone looking for a great alpine experience up some of the best rock in the state. Looking directly across Elbow Lake at Eenie, this route takes the longest line up the face. Upon reaching the base of the wall, there will be a cairn marking the start of the route.

Pitch 1 starts off a corner system to a ledge, where it turns slightly right and follows a moderate crack (5.7) for 150' to a large grassy ledge. This pitch can feel more difficult if wet.
Pitch 2 From the ledge follow a corner system (5.6) up several large steps to a large ledge. You will need to traverse until under the 3rd pitch. The first 2 pitches can be combined with some good rope management and a bit of simu-climbing. Make sure not to start the 3rd pitch too far left.
Pitch 3 will start with a weird squeeze move to a stance marking the start of a right tending hand crack. Follow this crack through a small roof and up a finger crack till another roof is encountered. Step up and over the roof on to a slab face which is a bit run out. This is the crux of the pitch (10a).
Pitch 4 Continue up the face following a small closed seam until you are able to traverse right under a large roof on hollow flakes. Once around the roof, easier climbing follows to a large ledge system below the giant dihedral system. There is another slightly runout section before the ledge, but climbing is easy (5.7).
It is also possible to belay before this section, on top of the large roof. If belaying on large ledge at the start of the dihedral pitch it is possible to combine it into one long 200' pitch, if not it will need to be broken up at a ledge half way up. The first half of this pitch goes at 5.8 and is very fun to climb. The second half is a bit harder (5.9) with interesting gear placement that will make you think all the way up. This pitch ends on a down and right sloping ledge and will require some ingenuity to build a good anchor among all the loose blocks. For the next pitch you will need to head up the ramping ledge until it is possible to turn right and climb up some loose blocks to a good stance and a short finger/hand crack. Continue up and right on easier climbing over short faces and ledges ending at a large ledge and belaying at a large detached block. This marks the start of the crux pitch and the half way point. From here it is easy to bail if you get into trouble with time or weather. It is possible to sling the large block at the start of the 6th pitch and double rope rappel to the 3rd pitch ledge. From here traverse to the right until it is possible to sling another horn for one of the most exciting rappels, 150' of hanging in space as you descend into the couloir between First Buttress and Eenie.
Pitch 6 is the 6th crux pitch is a spectacular hand to finger crack broken up by a large roof and a ledge. Start by climbing on-top of the large block, head up a hand/finger crack to a large roof. Hand traverse the roof to the right, #3 or #4 camalot useful, till possible to climb on ledge to the right. You can belay here in order to reduce rope drag but is not necessary. Continue up a finger crack to another large roof, where it is possible to traverse left into another finger crack. Step up the and through the bulge until it is possible to transfer back right to another finger crack and a fix nut (crux 5.11b). Continue up the crack and face until you reach a large sloping ramp below the Prow, belay here.
Pitch 7 heads straight up the ramp to the corner of the Prow. Rope drag can be bad on this pitch so it is not recommended to place gear until about to turn the corner around the Prow. Once on the backside (north) of the Prow climb 20' up a face and traverse left to a ledge system below a 9th pitch hand crack. It is also possible once around the Prow to continue left, staying low until a thin seam is reached, directly below the ledge and pitch 8. This is a not recommended variation going at 5.10 R/X. The next pitch is one of the best of the route. Start up a finger crack, climbing on top of a large detached flake. Head straight up this amazing left trending hand crack that continues to get steeper the higher you get (10d-11a). Pull over a bulge to the left and continue the face and broken cracks to another ledge. From here a short traverse back right and around will put you onto a nice sloping ledge on top the Prow. Once here there are 2 possibilities: the first is to go up a wide crack on the right (5.8) and make a airy traverse back to the finger crack on the right. The second, which I would recommend, is a great 5.10 variation which heads straight up the finger crack. Right of the ledge a 5.10 move is required to pull over a small bulge and into the finger crack. Once in the crack easier climbing follows (5.8) through the finger crack and a OW with a hand crack in the back. This will lead you to a small ledge and the start of the 11th pitch.
Pitch 11 follows a hand crack in a corner and then up easier 5th class scrambling. Pitch 10 and 11 can also be combined into one pitch but watch for rope drag. From here only moderate 5th class scrambling is required to reach the meadow, which also leads to the true summit if desired. If you have made it this far pat yourself on the back, as you have just completed one of the longest technical routes in Montana. Hopefully you have also made it to the top with a little light to spare, as teams have been forced to bivy here before. The descent is somewhat involved and exposed, so be careful. Start by climbing up the grass field until possible to traverse right. Continue heading right until a very exposed corner is reach, climb up and left over a short face and back down to the grassy ledge. Continue right until finally over the saddle between Eenie and the First Buttress. A short exposed down climb leads to a slung horn for the first rappel requiring 2-60m ropes or a single 70m. After the first rappel to a ledge there are two options, to the climber's right a single 35m rap leads to the descent gully. To the climber's left is another rappel, I do not know if this is possible with a single 70m, but it looks to lead down to the opposite side of the couloir (west) which you do not want to go down. Scramble down the couloir towards a small lake watching out for cliffs as they tend to be everywhere. Once on level ground again head south west and back to Elbow Lake.


This route is located on the south face of Eenie. This is the main buttress directly across Elbow Lake. From camp head back down the main trail and cross the creek below Elbow Lake. Follow the trail and over talus fields along the west bank. After the lake, follow the trail up as you would for the standard route on Mt Cowen. Just before reach a large opening through a wall know as the Garage Door, turn right heading back towards the base of the massive tower. Once at the base turn back around to the south side and look for a cairn marking the start of the route.


A double rack through #3 Camalots, double set of nuts, many slings single and double length. There is a single fixed nut on the 6th pitch, other than that there is no fixed gear, so bring anchor building material as well as bail slings/webbing.


Matthew Seymour
1996 Dodge Van, USA
Matthew Seymour   1996 Dodge Van, USA
A year on and the day is still burned into my memory. This is one of the best alpine routes anywhere in the 48, I promise. The climbing itself is nearly perfect, the setting is amazing. Even the hike in and the camp by the lake are spectacular. Do it. Oct 18, 2011
Kurt Prond
Bozeman, MT
Kurt Prond   Bozeman, MT
For long hard free climbs, this is one of the best I've done. And it is so close to Bozeman, I'm amazed that more people don't climb it. I thought the hike in was brutal. The route is pretty straightforward if you can decipher the above description. I'd say it is a fair rating of 5.11a. Very high quality rock. Definitely worth the hike. I've heard that people do it car to car in a day. 1600' of climbing and 18 miles of hiking seems very difficult and I wouldn't recommend it. On the descent, you can go either way once you rappel to the high saddle. We went west toward the base of the climb. It sucked but we made it. You might try the other way. Feb 23, 2012
fwiw, having climbed extensively on this buttress, I'd strongly recommend descending to the west. there may be the occassional rap, depending on how much snow & ice is in the gully, but the key beta is to move out of the gully (skier's left) and onto the toe of the first buttress, around half-way down. this sneak-around and a short downclimb near the bottom will bypass the several cliffs and chockstones in the lower gully.

you can also easily escape from p7 by traversing the ledge climber's left, into the giant slot on the north side of the buttress...if memory serves, it was only two raps with a little downclimbing.

also, after noting the p3 image and re-reading the description, I'm pretty sure you're climbing left of the original line. p3 should deposit you at the base of the huge, left-facing corner - like, directly at the base, no traversing required.

Jul 26, 2012
Nick Stayner
Wymont Kingdom
Nick Stayner   Wymont Kingdom
Has anyone done the Hooven-Leo as a variation start to this route? Jul 31, 2012
I've done the Hooven-Leo variation, but was a little disapointed - overall, it's pretty low angled climbing and there's a ton of grass in the cracks. Aug 30, 2012
I climbed this route Aug 2012 and did the Hooven-Leo alternate start. We thought the alternate start was awesome! We never had much trouble with grassy cracks so maybe thats cleared up a bit since Pete climbed it. This is the only time I've climbed the route so I can't compare to the normal start, but the alternate start looked much funner (its a splitter that runs for hundreds of feet) than the first couple of blocky pitches of the standard start.
If you are interested in doing it, its super easy to find. Its the obvious splitter crack on the otherwise blank west facing face starting maybe 100 ft left of the standard start. We did it in three full 70m pitches which put us somewhere around the fifth pitch of the standard route. Apr 22, 2013
Bud Martin
Bozeman, MT
Bud Martin   Bozeman, MT
I've done the Hooven-Leo start as well and the standard start. Though I found the climbing on the Hooven-Leo to be quite enjoyable, I would recommend the standard mostly because it takes a more direct line and has some great climbing. Jun 8, 2013
Kurt Prond
Bozeman, MT
Kurt Prond   Bozeman, MT
Did this route again this summer with Ellie Thompson and had a perfect day. Both times I have done the route in 9 pitches with a 70m, and it seems to work out well. They end up being full length pitches and it requires a bit of simul-climbing on the first pitch. I uploaded some photos that will hopefully help with route finding. I also uploaded a topo for doing it in 9 pitches-hopefully this is helpful. I can upload larger separate files if it is too hard to read. The alpine rock and ice topo is good, but leaves out some details on the "easy 5th class" portions that are not as straightforward or easy as they should seem. Hopefully this topo helps with that as well. I can revise it if need be-add more detail. After the second time, I still think it's one of the best routes around. Every pitch has something different and exciting to offer. Quality stone as well. Thanks! Enjoy the route! Nov 29, 2013
Kurt Prond
Bozeman, MT
Kurt Prond   Bozeman, MT
Also, fwiw, we descended the gully to the west again, Pete after reading your comment. You are right about getting out of the gully, but I will say both times I've gone down this way, I was ready to give up climbing for good at the bottom. Very sandy, and steep. Pete, out of curiosity, why do you prefer this way? Dec 1, 2013
Ian Cavanaugh
Ian Cavanaugh  
In 2011, Kyle Christenson and myself were able to complete a full traverse of ever summit. We started out by climbing the Centennial route, bivyed on the summit and traverse the rest of the, I believe 7, summits finishing on Mt Cowen main summit. Wondering if anyone else has attempted or completed this. it was a lot of fun and added a lot of climbing and traversing to the whole experience. Jan 27, 2014
Steph Abegg
Bellingham, WA
Steph Abegg   Bellingham, WA
Climbed this route on Sept 5, 2018, perfect weather and conditions. What an awesome route. We did the Hooven-Leo start and descended the East gully option, and it took us 19 hours car to car moving at a relaxed but steady pace. Here's our time splits for those interested in the car-to-car option:
Trailhead to Elbow Lake: 3:20
Elbow Lake to starting climb: 1:35
Pitches 1-5 (to base of crux pitch): 3:35
Pitches 6-10 (crux pitch to top of route): 3:45
Top of route to notch: 0:45
Notch to packs: 1:35
Packs to trailhead: 4:35
Car to car: 19 hours Sep 6, 2018