Thursday, April 14, 2016

Prospecting for 'Gold'

On our way with West Butte in the background

On top

Gold Butte

Struggling up a steep talus slope for the final 800 feet
Gold Butte in the Sweetgrass Hills is a short climb of a Montana Island Range mountain nearly as interesting historically as it is as a climbing objective.
This mountain is in the middle of three prominent Sweetgrass Hills buttes north of Shelby, the other two West Butte and East Butte.  This is the most sharply pointed of the buttes.
While called "buttes" these have the prominence of mountains.  We gained 2,400 feet over 5 miles roundtrip, the last 800 feet on very steep talus slopes made easier by elk trails that criss-cross the face of this mountain.
Gold Butte mountain is reached most easily by two routes ---- from the former mining camp of Gold Butte or the Cameron Lake Reservoir.  This hike is from Gold Butte camp, where there is little evidence of the camp save a lone gravesite near the starting point or the gold mine itself and the dredge and dredging ponds.
15-year-old Jessie Rowe's 1902 gravesite
This camp is reached by going north from Shelby on Interstate 15 to the townsite of Oilmont, then 18 miles east to the Miners Gulch Road and then another 9 miles north to Gold Butte Road and 5 miles east, where to Eclipse Gulch, an obvious route to the base of the butte.
It is 2.4 miles and 2,000 feet to the top.  On top, the 360 views include the other two buttes, Glacier Park to Chief Mountain, the Rocky Mountain Front and the Cypress Hills in Canada.
I had done the Cameron Lake route 11 years ago.  It is .3 mile longer and 500 feet more in elevation gain.
The Gold Butte camp route is much easier.
We saw many wildflowers on this trip, a herd of deer, a prairie falcon, sandhill cranes and grouse.
The gravesite contains the body of 15 year-old Jessie Rowe, who died in 1902.  The grave is fenced and there is a good view of West Butte to the north.
It was obvious that other graves had been dug up and bodies moved to a site about a half mile to the north on a flat bench.
We also visited the site of the old gold mine; the mine shaft is boarded, but very visible.
Seeing the desolate grave of the teenager in this former bustling camp gave me a very lonely feeling.
For a topo map of route and other photos:CLICK HERE
Katie on top, with East Butte in the distance

Coming off the mountain

The old gold mine adit

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