Saturday, June 23, 2007

A rite of summer --- Wolf Butte

Dwight Smith beneath the fickle finger of fate

Reaching the top!
The start of summer must be properly observed, and so it was with a climb of Wolf Butte (elevation 6,732 feet) on the north side of the Little Belt Mountains outside Geyser.
This butte, or small mountain, is unique for its large granite boulders, some as large as houses (and that’s saying something these days with houses averaging over 3,000 square feet).
Almost as interesting as the climb itself is the drive up the Lonetree valley road for access. It is located about a mile east of Geyser. The road eventually intersects with the east-west Forest Service Road from Dry Wolf Creek (south of Stanford) to Monarch via Dry Gulch and the ghost town of Barker.
Lonetree is flanked by easily accessible and scenic volcanic peaks: Peterson, Clendenin, Mixes Baldy and Anderson on the west; Wolf Butte, Granite, Taylor, Butcherknife Ridge and eventually Big Baldy on the east.
The access point for Wolf Butte is at the Lewis and Clark National Forest boundary marker at a cattle guard. It is State Land to the north of the cattle guard, national forest to the south. One should possess a State Land permit.
The butte is climbed by hiking north on State Land across a drainage, finding a road trace that heads for the mountains and skirts the timber, proceeding through a fence line and past an abandoned and scenic homestead with bay windows. Then it is nearly up to a saddle between Wolf Butte and Granite Peak.
As the saddle approaches the climber begins to sidehill north and up the butte, first through scrub timber and then increasingly larger boulders.
A first time climber might be advised to hang toward the west end of the butte’s boulder basin. The route is easier to find here. Then at the ridgeline find the top toward the east end.
Getting to the official top can be a bit tricky, but not too difficult.
Once you spot it, work your way through several trees that block its access at its south face. Finishing that, the route should be clear across a couple of large boulders, then a narrow, but short ledge. Then it is a few steps to the small top.
From the top one sees exceptional views of central Montana’s Island Mountain Ranges: the Bears Paws and Highwoods to the north; the Mocassins, Judiths and Snowies to the east; the Little Belts to the south; and Big Belts (and Rocky Mountain Front) to the west. It is quite a precipitous drop over the north side of the butte. I’m told this is a great place to practice rope climbing.
This was the eighth time I’ve climbed the butte; each time more satisfying. There is no set route.
My climbing partner, Dwight Smith and I headed straight down the gut of the butte, which is steeper and more challenging than the west route we climbed up. A year ago, Mark Hertenstein and I followed a spur ridge east from the top and then down and that was steeper and more challenging still.
One thing that impresses with each climb is how pristine the butte is. No trail, no debris.
This is a quick trip within easy distance of Great Falls. One can reasonably arrive at the hike’s starting point within an hour of leaving the city, be on top in 2-3 hours and back to the end point in even less time.
It is always a good “default” hike for those who would like a challenge a marked trail can’t offer.

1 comment:

Selahkayaker said...

Thanks Tom for the heads up on Wolf Butte. My brother and I hiked it Labor Day week 2008. During my annual visit to my brother who lives near Great Falls I was google searching for a Butte hike and landed on this entry.
We enjoyed the drive and the hike was great. I live in Southern California and enjoy the solitude of the Montana country. When we reached the summit of Wolf Butte and were afforded 360 degree vistas we realized we were the only humans in that place for mile around.
It would be interesting to know the history of the old homestead there at the foot of the butte. Do you know the story?