Ear Mountain is an isolated eastern outpost of the Sawtooth Range and is located at the north-south midpoint of Montana's Rocky Mountain Front. Ear Mountain is unusual in that it juts out from the main walls of the Front, making it one of the most distinctive peaks in the entire range. The peak's odd-sounding name is descriptive; it's said to resemble an ear lying on its side. But, perhaps, it could also be called Ear Mountain because it's of such interest to "mountain-ears."
From Montana Highway 287 0.5 mile south of Choteau, turn west on Bellview Road (at Pishkun Reservoir sign). Continue past turnoff to Pishkun Reservoir (about 5 miles out) and proceed roughly 17 more miles to trailhead on the Wildlife Management Area's eastern border. Signs will identify the WMA at a parking area. See the Red Tape section for information on the seasonal closure of this area.
What You'll See
Due to its unusual location east of the main wall of the Rocky Mountain Front, Ear Mountain provides a unique perspective from which to view this amazing landscape. Like other peaks that form the easternmost edge of the Front, the summit of Ear offers remarkable views—to the east, endless plains stretching to the horizon with island ranges of peaks hovering above; and to the west, a vast sea of high mountains, parallel ridges and deep valleys stretching as far as the eye can see. From this central location along the Front, many of the most prominent peaks in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex can be picked out, the Sweet Grass Hills, Bears Paw Mountains, the Highwood Range and Charlie Russell's often-painted buttes dot the landscape to the east, and far to the north the southern summits of Glacier National Park are visible through the haze. Sheer cliffs drop away on all sides, framing Ear's remarkably flat plateau, with ranches and blue reservoirs spread out along the foothills at its feet.
Two main routes are possible from the east entrance.
The Northeast Shoulder Route
is the shortest, most direct route to the summit from the eastern trailhead. This route avoids most of the scree (until reaching the summit couloir), but may offer somewhat more exposure.
The East-South-West Face Traverse
is perhaps half a mile longer than the northeast shoulder, as you circumnavigate most of the mountain in the course of reaching the summit couloir. The upper east face slopes are a mix of stable ground, vegetation and scree, and the south and west faces are a mix of ledges, easy cliffy ridges and more scree. This is probably the more tiresome route.
The East-South-West Face Traverse
This route leads from the Ear Mountain WMA parking area westward to the peak. Water will be scarce or nonexistent for much of the trip, so bring plenty, along with appropriate clothing and extra gear. A closed road leads southwest toward the peak for some distance and may be followed till the route directly toward the mountain becomes obvious. Looking at the mountain, a series of vegetated slopes lead upward before giving way to scree fields below the cliffs. These provide easy footing as you climb toward the first objective of the route: the far left edge of the mountain's cliffs, where they meet the southeast shoulder of the mountain. The broad, grassy central ridge below the mountain is a good starting point, allowing climbers to get above the streambed to its left. Angle upward to the southeast shoulder, picking the best route through the occasional vegetation and plodding up the scree.
The east face with southeast shoulder at left.
When you reach the shoulder dividing the east face from the southern face, follow around to the south along the base of the cliffs. The south face will gradually come into view, with pinnacles and ominous caves dotting the face. Traverse the scree and ledges heading westward, aiming for the southwest shoulder at the base of the south cliffs. Rounding this shoulder will find you atop a cliffy ridge. The views west will open up beautifully, with high peaks poking up above the ridge separating Ear Mountain and Rierdon Gulch. Pick a route along the cliffy ridge as you move northward to reach the base of the western cliffs. A faint trail hugs these cliffs, passing a series of breaks upward which prove impassible.
Hike north along the base of the cliffs, following the faint trail where possible to avoid the looser scree. You'll wind up hiking almost to the northern end of the cliffs, passing partially detached spires on the cliffs to the right and a huge, cabin-sized rock lying on the scree to your left. Keep looking up the cliffs to the right till you finally see a steep, scree-filled gully. This is the access point to the summit plateau.
The summit gully.
Trudge up some of the least pleasant scree you'll ever encounter, watching your footing as the ball-bearing rock slips easily over more solid ground underneath. Climbing along the right-hand side of the gully provides somewhat better footing, and if you're in a group be extra cautious about dislodging rock as you go. Look back to the west during frequent pauses to catch your breath, and get great views of Rocky Mountain Peak framed by the gully walls. Finally you'll reach the lip of the gully and a quick scramble will put you on the summit plateau.
To your right will be the prominent rock outcrop visible from distant views as the central "peak" atop the summit plateau. Although it looks big, it's not the true summit. Look to the left and you'll see the plateau draw to a point due north; that's the top. Head toward it, preferably by heading northeast so you can enjoy a dizzying view down the east cliffs. Ear's plateau is shaped like a giant slice of pizza, and the summit is at the very apex where you'd take your first bite. Looking back, the plateau is amazingly flat except for the central peak just south of the gully.
Arrive at the top and enjoy the fantastic view of the pinnacles making up the ridge just north of the summit. A cairn and USGS benchmark adorn the summit, and a few feet north the cliffs drop away dramatically. The entire expanse of the Bob yawns out before you to the west. The ridges of Choteau Mountain and the other peaks making up the eastern wall of the Front shoot off north, and to the west the high peaks of the range can be made out—Mount Wright, Old Baldy, Rocky Mountain Peak. To the south, Castle Reef and Sawtooth Ridge flank the entrance to Sun Canyon, and the plains and distant mountain ranges stretch forever to the east. Train your binoculars north and slightly west and a few faint peaks can be made out in Glacier National Park, including the sharp spire of Mount Saint Nicholas. A remarkable swath of Big Sky Country is visible from where you're now standing.
View NW from summit.
The return route is the reverse of the climb. Once again, be extra careful on the scree in the gully to avoid an uncontrolled slide or dislodging rock onto your friends. Retrace the route around the western and southern cliffs, and aim back down the east face towards the trailhead. Try to shoot for the same route you ascended, as the wooded foothills have creekbeds and draws that can be tiring to navigate. Hopefully you remembered to leave a cooler full of cold drinks in the car to toast a good day's hike.
It's also possible to approach the summit from the northern access to the Ear Mountain WMA and Yeager Flats, although this approach appears to involve more bushwhacking. The obvious route from there would be to climb the northeast ridge of Ear and then around to the west face before rejoining the route up the scree-filled gully.
Another route involves hiking Rierdon Gulch and climbing its eastern wall and over to the saddle between it and Ear. This route may be more practical if you're already camping in Rierdon Gulch.
The peak is located in the Mountain Wildlife Management Area which is closed from December 1 through May 15 each year. Adjoining this is the Ear Mountain Outstanding Natural Area administered by the BLM. This area is closed from December 15 through July 15. These closure dates have bearing on which way you approach Ear Mountain. The closures are meant to protect bears and other wildlife during the main birthing and mating season.
(Thanks to Fred Spicker for upgrading the accuracy of this information.)
The Cave Mountain campground, located north and west of Ear Mountain, provides reasonably close-by camping. Those attempting the peak from Rierdon Gulch can backpack into and camp in that drainage.
External LinksEar Mountain Wildlife Management Area
REI Trail Information
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Information