Monday, June 03, 2024

Marking 20 years of "Out There With Tom": Mount Brown in Sweetgrass Hills


Mount Brown, tallest mountain in East Butte region of Sweetgrass Hills

Coming off Mount Brown was easier by taking the snow ridge down

At the Mount Brown summit with our Canadian hiking companions

In the Devil's Chimney cave

Me, coming out of the cave

This post marks 20 years of my "Out There With Tom," blog.

This blog has chronicled more than 1,000 hiking and climbing trips over those years.  I'm now 76 years old and not as energetic or steady on my feet as I was when I started writing this.

But the past 20 years have brought me endless joy and adventure in Montana's mountains that I've shared with my readers.

The first post was a Glacier Mountaineering Society climb of Singleshot Mountain in the St. Mary's Valley.

Today's post is Mount Brown in the East Butte section of the the Sweetgrass Hills.

I've done this mountain at least three times.  It includes a fun side trip along the route to the Devil's Chimney, a limestone cave that features a sunlight hole at its top, near a historic iron mine.

At 6,958 feet, it is the high point in East Butte, an area reached from Chester, the Liberty County seat.  It is about 35 feet lower than West Butte, at 6,983 feet, the highest point in this Island Mountain Range just south of the Alberta border.

Mount Brown's summit is unexceptional for its lack of views in a densely tree-covered top.

Most of the ridge line to the top from a saddle between it and the more scenic Mount Royal, was still snow-covered.  So most of our group dropped to an elk trail on the mountain's west face just below the ridge-line.

We came back to the saddle on top that snow.

The ridge is littered with blowdown trees that are easy to walk around.

Our hike began on the standard route through a gate and across private land (we got permission) to a faint trail on the east side of the mountains that had once been a jeep route to the iron mine.

We had wonderful views of nearby Mount Lebanon and Mount Royal through most of our trip.  From the saddle between Royal and Brown we could see the Rocky Mountain Front, Glacier Park, Waterton and the southern Canadian Rockies, Alberta's Milk River country, and the other Sweetgrass Hills, Gold and West Buttes.

There were elk signs everywhere, and the local ranchers warned us of bears.

There were wildflowers in abundance with bright, tall, deeply magenta-colored shooting stars most prominent.  We didn't see alpine flowers like forget me nots, Douglasia or Draba, though.

The Hills had been hard hit with drought the past seven years, the local ranchers told us, but they were smiling with considerable rain and snow this spring.  It was green everywhere.

The Hills are sacred to the Blackfeet Indians, and we saw evidence of that by the many prayer flags along the way.

Our route covered 11 miles with an elevation gain and loss of 3,200 feet.

The toughest part of the trip was trail finding.  There were portions where the trees had been damaged, many split in half, by recent snow and winds.  The most severe uphill was from the Devil's Chimney area to the Royal-Brown saddle.

Of the Sweetgrass Hills, this East Butte section is the most lush.


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