Peter Mathews drops his welding hood. Blue sparks fly as he connects the frame on what will soon be a new rock-climbing boulder on the Montana State University campus.
Mathews works with Bozeman-based Stronghold Fabrication, which built five of the six artificial climbing boulders in Bozeman city parks, as well as synthetic rocks in Big Sky, Livingston and Great Falls.
The boulder is located beside a small creek between the dorms, and precedes the completion of Yellowstone Hall, MSU’s new 400-bed freshman dorm.
“This boulder will have the most difficult climbing of any we’ve done yet,” says Pat Wolfe, who owns Stronghold with Whit Magro. The two met while attending MSU, and are accomplished climbers.
Funded by Associated Students of Montana State University and the Outdoor Recreation program, the boulder is a clear statement by the university about the value of outdoor recreation.
“The boulder interests me because it is a heartfelt manifestation of the value we place on outdoor recreation at MSU,” said ASMSU Outdoor Recreation Program Director Ryan Diehl, who has been the driving force behind the project. “It will bring better quality of life to the students in high density housing, and provide an opportunity to climb on campus.”
MSU is lacking in climbing facilities compared to other institutions of similar size, Diehl said.
A small climbing wall in MSU’s Marga Hosaeus Sports and Fitness Center is the only other on-campus facility. Built in a converted racquetball court, it sees an average of 65-70 climbers a day, according to MSU Assistant Director of Recreational Sports and Fitness Abbey Keene, who oversees the wall.
The boulder was the brainchild of Jordy Hendrikx, Associate Professor of Geography and Director of the MSU Snow and Avalanche Lab. He initially proposed it as a memorial for graduate student Olivia Buchanan, who died in a Colorado avalanche in 2015.
Hendrikx worked with Diehl and architecture professor Michael Everts, who spearheaded the work of customizing Stronghold’s structural design. Professional climber Conrad Anker, a Bozeman resident, also had input, as did MSU architecture students and climbers.
Included in the design is a feature for adaptive climbers, Everts explained, with large handholds on an overhanging wall, so people without the use of their feet can climb with only their arms.
“We all came together and designed it to be pretty cutting edge for a bouldering rock,” said Candace Mastel, project manager for the boulder. “It’s not your standard cookie cutter thing you buy out of a magazine.”
“We’re proud that it was a collaborative project,” she added. “It’s a good legacy for everyone to be able to work on this.”
After Stronghold sprays concrete and sculpts the climbing holds into it, the boulder will cure for a couple of weeks while the landscapers fill the landing area with mulch and build a path. It will be open for climbing by July.
For more information on Stronghold Fabrication boulders, visit strongholdfabrication.com.