Windy, Sunny, Muddy, Snowy Day Provides Views Galore
Yes, it was windy; yes, it was sunny; yes, it was snowy, sometimes over our boots, and at the end of the day, it was muddy! But the views from Crown Butte are hard to beat. With the Rocky Mountain Front staring us in the face with its snow-capped peaks to the buttes that meld into the mountains, to the plains that reveal small towns and cities, the scenery showed off in 360-degree vistas.
We did have some challenges with the snow. In some places, it was six inches deep, going over our boots. In other places, it was slick and icy, covering the trail, so we had to hike to the side to stay safe, not to mention that there is no real trail after you reach the top of the butte. The snow melting in the afternoon made for a muddy descent over wet slippery rocks. Luckily, no one fell, and thank goodness for poles.
The hike is a gradual incline until the last 100 feet or so, which seems straight up and then through a narrow crevice in the Shonkinite "crown" of the butte. At this point, we tossed our poles over the rocks and then climbed using our hands to lift ourselves over the crest.
Once on top, you realize that the butte isn't as flat as it appears from down below; instead, it is a series of ups and downs forming deep gullies and ravines, in which you can get turned around. The grasses have never been plowed or grazed so they are very clumpy (blue bunch wheatgrass, wild rye, fescue, blue gramma). Between stepping over rocks, on top of bunch grass and high-stepping through the snow, we had some great leg exercise in the four miles that we traveled.
We enjoyed the spires of the cooled lava, dotted with lime-green lichen, as we hiked a bit around the rim, but we didn't dare get too close to the edge as the wind was blowing us off our feet.
The also wind prevented us from having a nice lunch break, but we did grab a quick bite on a rocky area that had the snowed cleared from it.
Despite seeing many tracks, we didn't see the mule deer herd that usually pops up out of the ravine, but then we didn't hike all of the way to the head of the ravine either. They were probably hunkered down in protection from the gale-force gusts.
We started the day at 8:30 a.m., got on trail around 9:45, and arrived back in Great Falls at 2:15 p.m., so it was a short, but stunning, day for us. The road, as always, was bad with many deep ruts, forcing us to ride off road so as not to high-center at times. Plus the mud at the end of the day was a little squirrelly as our car squished back and forth a bit. And then the cross winds tossed the car home.