Despite their location only three hours from my front door, I had never visited the Cabinet Mountains of Western Montana. Over post-work beers, Cory told me that he “wanted to do something big outside on Saturday” and we hatched a plan to go climbing in this rugged, adventurous range on September 4th, 2021. Cory has done a fair bit of backcountry skiing in the Cabinets and already had a pretty good lay of the land.
Ojibway Peak has an incredible Southwest Face that floats high above Rock Lake – it begs to be climbed. I was hugely impressed with the scenery and topography of this area as we hiked in – wow! An easy trail brought Cory and me to the lake’s outlet stream, where we said goodbye to the sweet, sweet trail. We began wading through foilage, going cross-country to gain an approach gully which would bring us to the talus field below the face. The gully was about what you’d expect: some minor scrambling and major bushwhacking got us through.
At last, time to rock climb! I launched up the first pitch and used every inch of our 70 meter rope to reach a bolted anchor just below the major roof that runs across most of the lower face. The next pitch tackles this roof through an obvious weakness with some fun moves and good gear. Once beyond the roof, the climbing is very run out but delightfully secure. The sun’s luxurious warmth was on us and the blue sky beckoned us closer.
I was scratching my head looking up at pitch three – the guidebook description essentially says “go left,” so I tried going hard left from the belay. After poking around over there and getting pretty run out, I came back to the belay and took a more natural line straight up before I began traversing left, which is the way to go. This involves moving over some really bad rock. I typically have a higher-than-average tolerance for loose rock but this was gnarly and dangerous. Piles of loose blocks were positioned in the worst possible spot, straight above the anchor where Cory was faithfully holding the rope. I moved carefully through without incident.
The fourth pitch lightened the mood with excellent climbing up the left corner of the Podium, a crazy pedestal that reaches high up the face. Protection was plentiful as I stemmed and laybacked up the corner. Arriving at the belay anchor atop the Podium, I was struck by the crazy position I was in. This small ledge, only a couple feet wide, is truly the only flat terrain on the upper face. I hope that I visit it again someday.
From here, there are several direct finishes that tackle the upper face at 5.9-5.10. Cory and I opted for the classical route that makes a clever escape from the incredibly intimidating upper wall by traversing a narrow foot rail directly left, gaining a crack and then following the left-hand skyline of the face. Apparently some people break this into two pitches, but I was able to do it in one by placing minimal protection and using the full length of our 70 meter rope. This could be done with a 60 meter rope too, you would just need to belay lower on the North Ridge (there are many options for gear anchors). Cory followed the pitch before we we unroped and scrambled toward the summit from the final anchor.
From the summit area, we downclimbed the North Ridge. We belayed a short pitch of downclimbing near where our final belay was located – there are two down-mantles that warrant attention, otherwise the ridge is 4th class, easing to walking the lower you go. Once at the saddle at the base of the North Ridge, we continued directly toward the lake down a different gully system than the one we had come up on. This was a big gamble since we could get cliffed out at any time, which would force rappels or a brutal climb back up to the talus field to find another way. We scoped this gully from high on the mountain and thought it might work out, so we committed. With some tenacity, we bushwhacked down the gully and began traversing South as we encountered steepening terrain. We got cliffed out once or twice, and negotiated a lot of exposed 4th class loose slabs,but eventually ended up regaining the same gully that we had gone up in the morning. It turns out that we used the same gully to approach and descend, but used different parts of it each way. Funny how that worked out!
Bolted anchors exist atop pitches 1-4, which allows this route to go comfortably on a single rack of cams from tiny to 3 and a set of nuts. Doubling up on cam sizes is really not helpful as this route is somewhat run out by nature, although you can place as much gear as you want on pitch 4. If you really wanted to sew that one up, bring a few extra cams in the .5-1 range. Considering the very long first and final pitches, I would recommend a 70m rope. A 60m will work too, with some mellow simulclimbing.
Fill up on water at the Rock Lake outlet stream.