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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Posts
    363

    TR: West Butte, Sweet Grass Hills

    Was tempted by this region for years after seeing a TR on the defunct telemark tips site. Had been needing to go back so I could update some details for my book (Central Montana Backcountry Ski Guide) but have long been been stymied by the region's crazy weather. Talked to the ranger in Havre (not much info) and tried unsuccessfully to contact the road department in Shelby to see what was being plowed.

    Left Missoula after lunch on Friday and toured a new spot on Rogers Pass. Hit I-15 and dense ice fog. Gas up in Shelby.

    20180316_203154 by redpinecanyon, on Flickr

    Turned off I-15 the last exit before Canada and headed east on Nine Mile Road, which passed a gleaming new border patrol station and then turned to mud and snow. After a particularly nasty stretch of mud I stopped to consult with my map and an SUV suddenly appeared out of the fog -- an older couple who ranches here and seemed unphased when I said I was going to ski West Butte, as though that was a common thing. They said I was through the worst of the mud. Camped at the trailhead.

    20180316_211832 by redpinecanyon, on Flickr

    Up to dense fog.

    20180317_091956 by redpinecanyon, on Flickr

    Brekkie and coffee and skin through a skiff of new snow up a river bed. 50 yards into the skin I turn around and can see no trace of the truck. Follow a fenceline until the snow ends. Boot 400 vertical feet then traverse to a ridgeline with a vertical wind deposit.

    20180317_100953 by redpinecanyon, on Flickr

    Skin across open slopes and thorugh surprisingly dense forest, at times breaking above the fog but below a stratus deck.

    20180317_102521 by redpinecanyon, on Flickr

    Suddenly the snow ends and I see the summit marker, a tidy monument with a plaque honoring six sisters who climbed the mountain together every year, with date the last sister made the last trek. Crouch down to read the summit register (surprisingly busy in summer) and feel warmth on my back. Look up and the summit block is clear of fog, with layers of it wisping up just yards in either direction.

    20180317_114716 by redpinecanyon, on Flickr

    20180317_114741 by redpinecanyon, on Flickr

    The rest of the Sweet Grass: East Butte and Gold Butte.

    20180317_115009 by redpinecanyon, on Flickr

    Get 4G on the summit and check the weather. The forecast has shifted from sun to fog to clouds and now 6 inches of snow, with some ice and wind, are predicted for tonight.

    Ski narrow strips of snow between forest and grass.

    20180317_122208 by redpinecanyon, on Flickr

    Plan was to drive around through Whitlash to East Butte, but it doesn't seem smart to go that remote with the forecast at hand, so head back to I-15 and do some touring around Helena.

    20180317_134537 by redpinecanyon, on Flickr

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    The 8th best place in the LBP
    Posts
    2,719
    "Fools Crow" country. One of my favorite novels. Nice job making it up there in winter. We hiked West Butte in the summer when we lived in Rudyard. Any adventure on the Hi-Line is pretty much assured to be obscure and empty of people. Good luck with your guidebook.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Paper St. Soap Co.
    Posts
    2,316
    Cool, should be an interesting book.

    Anyone been to Bear Paw Ski Bowl? I never made it to Teton Pass prior to closing, looks interesting.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Posts
    363
    Bear Paw is an old double chair and about a dozen runs, close to 1000 vertical. Cash only, no electricity or running water. The top of the lift is usually wind scarred and the runs have a funky old feel to them. Lot will probably have 15 to 20 cars in it and everyone will know you are not from around there and be very interested in why you are there. There is not much in the way of backcountry skiing around there since the best mountain is closed for fasting and vision quests and the other spots require a tribal rec permit, which is kind of expensive if you are just going for a weekend.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Posts
    1,091
    Haha yeah if you're not Indian or from Havre you'll stick out at bearpaw. Have quite a few friends from there who volunteer or used to ride there when it opens. They got quite a bit of snow this year but some years it doesn't even open with low/no snow and Chinooks.

    Looks like an interesting trip cloud cult.

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