Friday, September 23, 2005

Central Montana climbs

My takeaway from Highwoods Baldy climb

John Kranick conquering Wolf Butte

Unremarkable Mount Kennon
It’s the change of season and in the mountain ranges of Central Montana, cattle rule.
Over the past week I’ve been haunting the Highwoods and Little Belts because the price of gas makes me think twice about roaming farther a field.
I reclimbed Big Baldy in the Highwoods, and Wolf Butte in the Little Belts and added a new peak, Mount Kennon in the Highwoods in that stretch.
Highwood Baldy is always a test of one’s physical shape because climbing it requires an immediate gain of 3,200 feet over about a three-mile stretch. I generally climb this peak about three to four times a summer because it is so close (about 36 miles from my doorstep) and the views are so satisfying. This time I did it to test my strength, which has been very depleted by a six-week flu. I took the Deer Creek route off Highwood Creek near the Thane Creek Campground, up the north face, and enjoyed the walk up in less than two hours.
The only down side is that after July 1 the cows take over the Highwoods. But it is not enough of a disincentive for me to dissuade any hiker or climber from enjoying this hike.
The formal trail up Deer Creek is a mess because the cattle have cut so many trails, trashing the streambeds along the way, and crapping in the water.
The trail ends just before the real climbing begins as it leaves the bottom and goes straight for a saddle that leads to the north ridge and the talus and scree that heads to the top.
On a clear day the peak is a perch for most of the central part of Montana: Big and Little Belts, Rocky Mountain Front, Bearpaws, Sweetgrass Hills, Little Rockies, Judiths, Moccasins, and Snowies.

Wolf Butte in the Little Belts

A late summer rainstorm made me cancel a trip I was to have led up Wolf Butte in the Little Belt Mountains for the Montana Wilderness Association.
Luckily, John Kranick, who now lives Everett, Wash., had signed up for the hike and wondered what “Plan B” might be now that the hike was cancelled.
“Plan B” turned out to be a midweek climb of Wolf Butte, the third time I’ve climbed this nearly 7,000 foot laccolith in the past year.
What makes this climb so satisfying are the big-as-a-house boulders that must be negotiated to the top.
The views from the top are nearly as good as the views from Highwood’s Big Baldy. The Highwoods float above the plains just to the north, and Square Butte is like a giant ship at anchor on the flat-lands surrounding it.
The tricky part of climbing this mountain is trying to stay on public land to reach the base of the peak. There’s a nice section of State Land adjacent to the Lewis and Clark National Forest, which we accessed near where we parked our car. Staying on vehicle tracks near the edge of the trees were were pretty certain we weren’t trespassing.

Mount Kennon in the Highwoods

One of my projects of the years is to try and climb all named peaks in particular valleys or mountain ranges.
I had been missing only Mount Kennon in the Highwoods (elevation: 5,617 feet) in the extreme northcentral part of the Highwoods, that could be reached by approaching it from the long, gravel Shonkin Road.
It meant going from the town of Highwood to Shonkin Creek where the road is most suitable to a 4-wheel rig. I had to go through three wire gates to get to the base of this small mountain.
Then it was only 1,000 feet to the top from where I parked, following the spine of a laccolith. Near the top I spooked three big mule deer bucks in full antlers.
I was surprised to see a large summit cairn. I could see that continuous ridges could have taken as far south as Prospect Peak.
After the climb, I decided to complete the traverse around Highwoods by driving to the small town of Geraldine at the base of Square Butte, and taking the Geyser Cutoff road that cuts between the Highwoods and Round Butte back to the small town of Geyser.
I had been delighted by the fall colors coming on in the Highwoods. The drive around this mountain range offered the best of Central Montana scenery, a combination of ranch and low-slung mountains punctuated by occasional, colorful small towns. The drive was 150 miles from Great Falls.

1 comment:

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