To the south of Butte lies the beautiful Highland Range. There are three named peaks in the range, Red, Table and East. And, there are many unnamed peaks found in between those three. When one reviews the view of the peaks from town, it is fairly apparent that the ones that received names were simply the most visible... not necessarily the highest or most spectacular.
Travis Trudgeon and I set out from Butte at 12:30pm on July 17th to do the traverse. We had a one-way route that required shuttling ourselves, which we accomplished by using Travis' truck and four-wheeler. After we dropped off the truck at our end-point, we headed out to the Highland Outlook via the four-wheeler. About half the way there, it developed a flat. We continued within 1.5 miles of the outlook, although we should have taken this as a clear sign that things may not go entirely to plan.
We ascended to the Outlook from the four-wheeler and cleanly crested the west-most peak in the Highlands. The name of this peak is actually disputed. USGS Topos have it marked as "Red Mountain." However, the USGS database and other surveys have Red sitting further back in the range. Regardless, we made the top in excellent time and started down the ridge to the next peak.
The next peak is the impressive and unnamed "10,136." It is a steep and quick ascent with some good exposure to each side. Not the kind of thing that an individual with a fear of heights enjoys. With encouragement from Travis, I made it to the top without freezing up in fear and enjoyed another impressive view. The descent down from 10,136 was a short scramble, but easily accomplished.
For our labors, we rested in a high-altitude meadow at the foot of the other "Red Mountain." After a snack, water, drying out socks, and taping blisters, we started our climb to Table Mountain. Table Mountain is the highest point in Silver Bow county. The climb to it is a broad face, but long. At the top, we enjoyed impressive views of many mountain ranges and at least four different counties.
On our way up to Table Mountain, we met David and Laura, a nice couple in their 50-60's. It had taken them five hours to reach Table (it was 4:00pm at this time) and they were unsure about their descent back down. We invited them to join us on our descent and offered to shuttle them back to their car, which was parked at the Outlook.
The four of us descended Table and made our way to East Peak. Travis and I slowed our pace to accommodate our new companions and it was immediately clear that this was going to cause some trouble with our time-table. The ascent and peak of East was a simple climb and very windy. We paused briefly there before continuing our descent towards the truck. All four of us moved over unnamed peak 9,324 and, while waiting for our companions, I quickly grabbed another unnamed peak, 9,285.
We made our way across a steep talus field and worked our way down to the saddle of Pigeon Creek Ridge. At this point, it was after 7:00pm and our companions were moving a little slower. As we moved across the Ridge, I convinced Travis to descend to the creek below. I was out of water and feeling the effects and, also, figured that following the stream in the dark would be better than bushwhacking a ridge that was abundantly festooned with dead-fall. The descent to the stream was steep, across several rock-falls, and painful.
We reached the stream, refilled on water and strapped on our headlamps. It was 9:10pm. Sundown was at 9:20pm. Movement down the stream was laboriously slow. Our companions found the terrain difficult and fell repeatedly. We covered a little over 3/4 mile in an hour and a half. It was tortuous. After a dozen creek crossings, Travis identified an old logging road to the west of the stream and we were able to descend rapidly to the truck. We shuttled David and Laura to their vehicle, picked up the crippled four-wheeler, and were back in-town by 1:05am.
Overall, the hike contained six peaks and one notable ridge. We covered 11.7 miles and spent the majority of that time above 9,000ft. It also lasted, from doorstep to doorstep, 12.5 hours. Thankfully, a few bruises, blisters, scratches and brushes with stinging nettles were the worst of our injuries. We have stories to tell, peaks crossed off our lists, and a reminder that creation is beautiful, intoxicating, and unpredictable.
Reported July 18th, 2011
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