By Loren Rausch

By mid-August, Scott Salzer
and I both needed to tear off
the drama and city grime
plastered to our souls. I’d
been balancing a job, a college
workload in secondary
education, and a chronically
broken vehicle. We knew
no better way to cleanse
ourselves than by attempting
to climb a loose, obscure rock
wall in a remote mountain
range. At 7 p.m. on a
Saturday night, we
left Bozeman,
headed for
The Dog’s
Tooth, a 900’ cliff hidden
at 10,200’ in the Crazy
Mountains of South-Central
Montana.

As we drove north of Livingston
at dusk, the grassy
hills rising out of the Shields
River reminded me of the
farm where I grew up in Eastern
Montana. Above them,
the Crazies rose dramatically.
The Native American Crow
culture called these “the
mountains of mountains,”
a name which suited our
adventurous spirit.

But, trying to find the trailhead
we got lost in the dark
on several nondescript
dirt roads, each of
which terminated
in a hay field. When we
finally crept into the parking
lot, Jupiter hung bright in
the southern sky.

At 5:30 a.m. we left the
warmth of our sleeping
bags and devoured meager
bowls of instant oatmeal.
For the first three miles, we
rode mountain bikes along
an old logging road. We hid
the bikes where the road
petered out and hiked the
remaining three miles to
Cottonwood Lake.

Daybreak found us a quarter
mile from the lake, in a beautiful
alpine meadow. At the
head of the cirque, the west facing
wall rose dark above
the vanishing ice of Grasshopper
Glacier. To the best of
our knowledge, there was
only one established
climb on this ominous
cliff—done
in 1974, The Brother Bear
route was notorious for poor
quality rock.

As we pondered which
line to climb, a golden
eagle flew directly over
our heads. It glided along
a vertical streak of white
rock that went from base
to summit. This is what
we were going to climb!

[dcs_img width=”300″ height=”270″ thumb=”true” framed=”black”
author=”photo by Loren Rausch” desc=”Scott Salzer climbing on the Dog’s Tooth.”]
http://www.explorebigsky.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/dogs-tooth-2.jpg
[/dcs_img]

We organized our gear
and Scott led the first
200’ up low-angle rock to
a crumbling ledge. I led
the second pitch, a notch
harder. Then, Scott took
us up a beautiful and scary
5.9 pitch, climbing around
a huge detached flake. I
planned to kick the flake
off once I passed it, but
couldn’t bring myself to
do it, imagining the crash
of the two-ton rock into
the glacier below.

Next, I led a steep, but moderately difficult
section and stopped at the only real
ledge we found all day. We lounged, took
off our shoes, and ate. Above looked
steep and intimidating.

I ventured up a beautiful dark slab,
climbing finger-sized cracks. Then,
the rock turned white and steepened. I
followed another discontinuous crack
system, wedging my hands into 2”-wide
fissures that were surprisingly steep
and loose. The last 100’ was terrifying.
Desk-sized blocks were wedged together
on an overhanging wall, and I was smack
dab in the center. I had a vision of the
whole mass detaching from the wall;
tons and tons of car-sized rubble exploding
off the face, the smell of smashed
rock and broken bodies. After two hours
of intense climbing, of checking every
hold and keeping calm, I emerged on
a textbook-shaped ledge of good rock.
Shaken, I built an anchor from my
remaining gear.

As I belayed Scott up to me, I was transfixed
watching a murder of 20+ crows
flying at eye-level next to us, cawing,
cooing and floating on thermals. We
climbed the last 100’ to the top of the
wall over exposed and fun terrain on
solid rock.

Scrambling to the summit, we looked
out over the network of steep,
glacially carved peaks and knife-edge
ridges, shattered talus fields, and
cliffs guarding mountain lakes.
We descended to Rock Lake, then
climbed over a ridge back to Grasshopper
Glacier. Alpenglow lit the
Dog’s Tooth, its face changing from
grey to a warm pink hue. Jupiter
appeared again in the twilight as we
relaxed in the meadow. We hiked out
in the dark, found our bikes, and did
the last three miles in 15 minutes,
crashing the bikes a handful of times
on the rutted road.

We called our route Old Crows, after
the birds that flew nearby while I’d
led the crux pitch. I imagined they’d
watched us climbing slowly upwards,
and perhaps even thought us to be
deranged, if not curious, creatures.
Driving the dirt roads back to Clyde
Park we agreed the climbing was loose
and terrifying, but the coarse rock of the Dog’s Tooth had rubbed our souls clean.

For more of Loren Rausch’s stories,
visit the Dukkha Diaries at

yerbaman.blogspot.com.