No Cattle, No Wading, Just a Wonderful Blue-Sky Day on Lionhead Butte
Climbing a butte on the east side is always a wonderful thing to do as the views from the top show where the mountains meet the plains with 360 degree views that include the Rocky Mountain Front. So at 8 a.m., six GiG members headed out to trek up one of the newest buttes to open to the public: Lionhead.
It had really rained hard in Great Falls the night before, so we were a bit worried about gumbo roads. The whole way out, we were looking for puddles, which did seem to get fewer and fewer as we approached Fort Shaw, our turn.
However, June said Cascade had had a downpour that rained out the evening baseball games, so we worried anew. But not to worry, as the roads were mostly dry, although they had the distinct ruts from others who had driven the road when it wasn't so dry.
Anyway, we arrived at the gate, parked along the road and got on trail around 9:20. We all wore gaiters, thinking the brush would be wet, since this is a bushwhack, but we didn't have any trouble as we waded through rose bushes and many wildflowers: fritillary, shooting stars, golden peas, numerous biscuitroot, including big seed, larkspur, showy locoweed (aka rabbitfoot crazyweed) and a few arrowleaf balsamroot. We also didn't see any snakes, another reason for gaiters. We also brought wading shoes as there is one small creek crossing, which we worried might have swelled due to the rain over the last two days. But it didn't. We walked right across it. Some of the gals left their watershoes/sandals/crocs by a rock all strung together in case wind came up. We were a bit worried about finding them on the way back; luckily, KuntZ's were bright pink.
The first part is up, up, up until we reached a nice resting spot under some evergreens. Then the more challenging footing begins as under the brush hides quite a few rocks in this section. We all had to watch our feet and got a bit too high, so we backtracked down until we found the slot in the back of the butte. Once there, we were able to follow an elk trail almost to the top. And we saw a ton of elk sign, but only two herds of deer, one on neighboring Birdtail Butte and one group of seven whitetail just below the summit of Lionhead.
On the last approach, we walked up a rocky ridge, with June hopping around one outcropping wondering if she could get her husband to do this climb. She thought he could make it to one outcropping, but Katie said it was worth it to push on for the views of the Rocky Mountain Front, which didn't disappoint, with the snowcapped peaks popping out against the bright blue windless sky. We had lunch on top and didn't want to descend it was so pretty and warm.
Then it was back down, but instead of retracing our steps, we decided to follow the fence line to see if it connected to the road. It's a bit out of the way to go this direction, but it was easier walking and avoided much of the tricky footing of the rocks hidden in the grasses. And it did run into the road, so we walked it back to our cars with one caveat: June forded the creek and walked along it for a while to pick up everyone's sandals and watershoes.She found them all easily, minus one of Doreen's, so she went back to find her left shoe. Going this way, we also saw signage indicating parking areas for hunters, so we wondered if we could open the gate and drive this way. We would save the worry of a creek crossing and get closer to the approach. (follow up: June called the owners and confirmed that we can drive and park at the back of the butte). Luckily, we didn't run into cattle the whole day; in prior years, we had to do a lot of shooing and shouting to get the cattle to stop following us).
We were home around 3 p.m. Who went: Susan, June, Doreen, Sheila, KuntZ, Katie