Sunday, April 17, 2005

Wolf Butte bouldering

If you’re looking for an interesting climbing experience in the Great Falls area, you might check out Wolf Butte (elevation 6,732 feet) near Geyser up the Lonetree Road in the Little Belt Mountains.
Here you’ll find boulders as big as houses and sheer-faced walls to challenge your scrambling abilities. Or, if you’re into roping up, this is as good a place to be in the area.
We had packed our backcountry skis Saturday looking to take advantage of the mid-week snowstorm, but when we got to the mountains, we realized that the snow was pretty thin and melting fast. Luckily, we had packed our hiking boots as well.
We stopped the car, surveyed the horizon for snow possibilities, and realized that this might be the perfect day for an easy climb and headed for Wolf Butte.

The access is a little tricky because the Butte is surrounded by private land.
However, if you work it right, you can use public land to get to this landmark, visible from most spots in Great Falls.
Lonetree Road is about a mile east of Geyser. It is a well-maintained gravel road that travels nine miles to the Lewis and Clark National Forest boundary. There’s a sign and a fence marking the public land. Park here. Cross back over the fence and you’re on a State Land section (requiring a permit, but it’s public). Follow the road and head for the saddle between Wolf Butte and Granite Mountain. It is about a two-mile walk to the saddle. There’s about a 1,000 feet gain to this point.
Here your climb will begin.
It is another 900 feet to the top.
Wolf Butte is a laccolith, where lava has pushed up through a crack in the earth’s surface.
What makes it different from its neighboring mountains are the massive boulders that litter the ground and are piled one on top of the other, or rise in impressive spires. The surrounding mountains, like adjacent Granite Peak contain this volcanic rock as well, but is fractured and lays in talus piles rather than boulders.
On Wolf Butte the surfaces of the boulders are such that you can get great hand and foot holds on this porous rock. It makes for very stable climbing. There are lots of “slots” between boulders to crawl through. There are plenty of spots where you can wedge yourself between the walls of rock and work your way up or down spots or “stem” to another rock. This was “bouldering” at its best.
We spent this sunny, warm and nearly windless April afternoon exploring these boulders.
We worked our way across the top to the peak from west to east, and headed down a ridge of north-south spires and boulders. We were never in serious danger of being cliffed-out and could always figure our way down, around or over most boulder barriers.
The highest peak takes a little figuring, but for most should be doable. It involves approaching it from its southeast face, passing around a couple of pines that act as curtains to the route, and working your way up through a small gully.
On top you are treated to magnificent central Montana views. Mountains in view included: Square Butte (Geraldine), the Bearpaws, Highwoods, Rocky Mountain Front, Big and Little Belts, Snowies, Little Rockies, Judith and Moccasins.
For the relatively short drive (57 miles), short distance (about 5 miles roundtrip), and interesting climbing, Wolf Butte is hard to beat.

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