Thursday, September 23, 2004

Little Belts: diverse adventures

Wolf Butte in Little Belts

The Arch
Over the past 30 years I’ve driven by Peterson Mountain and Wolf Butte in the Little Belts to the south of Montana 200 repeatedly and thought, “Someday I’m going to climb those things.”
This last week I made two trips to the mountains, located outside Geyser up the Lonetree Road.
I kept my promise to myself and climbed those things.
For good measure the Peterson climb included one of the most fantastic mountain sights I’ve come across, a giant limestone arch.
On the Wolf Butte climb, I also did the adjacent Granite Mountain false summit.
These mountains provided a smorgasbord of different kinds of rock.
Wolf Butte, although only 6,750 feet, is remarkable for its rose-colored granite and some easy third class scrambling.
Peterson Mountain has a ridgeline on it like you would find in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, exposed, steep, long and connecting.
The country is very wild with lots of elk sign. We saw lots of fresh black bear sign, too.
From the top of either peak you see a myriad of mountain ranges. I counted 12 from Peterson: Highwoods, Bearpaws, Little Rockies, Judiths, Sweetgrass Hills, Rocky Mountain Front, Adels, Big Belts, Little Belts, Snowies, North and South Mocassins.
The Lonetree Road is excellent gravel about a mile east of Geyser, and is well signed to the Lewis and Clark National Forest, about 9 miles from the highway. There is a bit of private land here, so I would recommend the BLM Belt Map that shows ownership.
I climbed false Granite first to about 7,300 feet and then dropped north to the saddle between it and Wolf Butte and then picked my way straight up its south face.
It was wonderful to be in some rock that wouldn’t come off in your hands or slip away under your feet. There were boulders as big as houses and jutting spires of granite to negotiate. No walk-up here. It is about 900 feet from the saddle between it and Granite to the top. About 30 feet from the highest point your route finding is challenged. I found it safest going to the right and scrambled easily to the summit, where I enjoyed the views and thought about coming back to top rope and to try some of the spires.
From here I vowed that I would do Peterson the next day.
I had deceived myself that Peterson would be a simple walk up.
We spent all day exploring various canyons and ridgelines on our way to the top.
We followed the base of high limestone cliffs up to the long summit ridge. Because there were so many breaks in the ridge, we could have stayed on top of it for the climb, but we would have missed the beauty of the towering walls from below.
We finally reached the long ridge that I had admired from the highway all these years. There’s nothing as sweet as a good ridge walk. We considered other distant Little Belt climbs that were within our vision --- Butcherknife, Mount Taylor, Barker, Mixes Baldy.
Many more trips here in my future!
From the top we spied the Arch below us in the distance and noticed that one of the northeast ridges runs directly into it. While it had looked heavily timbered from a distance, it turned out to be surprisingly easy going and relatively open.
We dropped to the base of the arch and I scrambled right through its opening and then figured a way to walk across its top.
On the way back to the car we came across several piles of fresh bear scat full of berries, and admired the autumn colors on the ground, in the trees and growing out of the limestone walls.
I came away from these hikes convinced that northcentral Montana is blessed to have such an incredibly diverse mountain range as the Little Belts.
I’ll be back to both these hikes.

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