The North Rib of Metcalf Mountain, in Montana’s Beartooths, is a wild and interesting climb on a serrated ridge. It’s a mix of 4th class scrambling and technical climbing, with several short pitches rated around 5.9.
At 11, 977 feet, Metcalf is the highest of the 11-ers in Montana. It also has one of the shortest and easiest approaches. A few miles on a rough but decent trail get you right to the base of this beautifully jagged mountain.
Easy scrambling at the base of the north ridge soon turns into roped climbing. Route-finding is tricky. At times it seemed that moving between the notches was the hardest part. This involved a fair bit of downclimbing, a couple of sketchy traverses and one short rappel. We found an old fixed nut above the rappel and went off that. We also found an old sling in the gully below but chose to just downclimb that section.
Anchors consisted mainly of slung horns. The rock quality was decent. Except when a piece below me broke off and set off a tremendous rock fall. Nothing like the hot smell of granite smashed hard against granite.
The roped climbing had a bit of everything: cracks, slabs and a chimney. The chimney was more of a squeeze on the side of a chockstone. I left some skin in one of the cracks and called it the crux, but Matt thought it was easy. Guess things always depend on how big your hands are.
The weather in the Beartooths is notoriously changeable and violent. Since this is a somewhat committing route, an early start is advised! We were lucky to escape the storm in the picture above. If you do have to descend the route, it will be tedious and slow, but doable. From the summit, you can descend the Class 2 South Ridge
Interested In Climbing This Mountain?
The best way to reach Metcalf is from the Rock Creek trailhead, southwest of Red Lodge. You’ll go about a mile on the big, maintained trail, then cut off right through the trees on a much fainter path. This trail will take you close to Shelf Lake, if you can manage to follow it through several creek crossings, marshes and boulder fields. Even if you lose it, getting to the Shelf Lake area is easy.
Peakbaggers should check out the South Ridge route, which is a steep hike to the ridge, then an easy scramble over boulders to the summit. This is the route we descended. There’s no trail to the ridge so just pick the easiest path. You’ll be hiking up steep loose dirt and scree and might have to get around some snow. The boulders at the top could have some Class 3 moments.
Climbers will follow the trail to where it peters out below Shelf Lake, then hike the steep slope to the saddle between Spirit and Metcalf. Once you’re up there, try to take the line of least resistance. Endless variations on the route are possible and you could definitely get into harder climbing if you wanted to (or even if you didn’t want to). We took a 30m rope on this route and it was perfect.