Northeast Shoulder

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 47.82284°N / 112.68973°W
Additional Information Route Type: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Additional Information Time Required: Most of a day
Additional Information Difficulty: Class 2
Additional Information Grade: I
Sign the Climber's Log
Ear Mountain NE ShoulderEar Mountain from the east with the approximate NE Shoulder approach marked.

Ear Mountain NE ShoulderClose view of upper route showing correct saddle to achieve


Ear Mountain is unique among the peaks of the Sawtooth Range of the Rocky Mountain Front for several reasons. Geographically, it sits well out to the east of the other peaks and geologically, it is not one of the elongate “reefs” with a steep eastern scarp face and relatively gentle western dip slope formed by the imbricate thrust faulting in the area. The rocks on Ear Mountain dip gently to the southeast. The peak is completely surrounded cliffs through which there is only one non-technical couloir, located on its west side. Kotynski reports one established technical route of one pitch on the southeast flank, but is not specific as to its location.

The difference in routes is the approach to this single couloir on the west side of the mountain.

The route described here is the shortest and probably easiest (?) open approach.

Distance to summit about 5 miles. Elevation gain about 3,580 feet.

Note that on some older maps a USFS trail is shown passing near the south end of the mountain. This is on private land and the current owners have rescinded any permission to cross it. The USFS dropped this trail from their inventory. We were told, “Don’t even ask.”

The NE Shoulder can also be reached from the BLM trail head to the north. This involves more cross country travel, but is preferred by some because the road to that trail head is paved.

The peak is located in the Ear 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 seasons.

Getting There

Ear Mountain NE ShoulderEast face cliffs

Start at the Montana State Ear Mountain Game Range trailhead. To get there, follow Bellview Road, which starts immediately south of Choteau off Highway 287. Follow this road for about 20 miles. Take the right fork (the sign points to the BLM Guard Station). Shortly after take the left hand fork (signed) and after that take another left fork. You will end at a large turnaround, complete with a modern outhouse, hitching posts, etc. It is possible to camp here, but there is NO WATER.

Take the trail/road (closed to vehicles) that follows a curving draw for about 1 mile. You will crest out over a ridge (note this for the return!) and drop slightly into the next drainage. Before crossing the creek, head cross country W-SW through open forest, aiming for the broad ridge crest that leads to Ear Mountain’s northeast shoulder. You can also keep heading south at the crest along a road (not shown on the map) until you are on the ridge and then turn due west. At about 7200 feet, the trees and juniper bushes end and you ascend the open slopes to the Northeast Shoulder.

Route Description

Ear Mountain NE ShoulderView down approach

Ascend the obvious scree filled gully toward the upper slopes or for better footing, climb first solid rocks on the right, then cross over to the rib on the left and climb it (still class 2 with perhaps a bit of 3 depending on your preference). It is easy to see where others have crossed the gully. Above the gully, small ribs and outcrops can be used to avoid most of the scree.

You are aiming for the broad saddle above the cliffs on the north side of the mountain and to the right of the first pinnacle. Not the narrow notch between this pinnacle and the higher one above it. (see photo).

From the saddle, traverse on a series of ledges that wrap around the mountain’s north end. These ledges, while relatively wide, are exposed and appear to be a favorite hangout for Bighorn Sheep and Rocky Mountain goats. At their end is a short scree slope leading to the west side. Follow the game trail along the base of the cliffs southward to some pinnacles that stand alone below the cliffs. The trail goes behind one of them. (If you approached from the south, and you reach this pinnacle, you have gone too far). Just beyond this pinnacle a couloir leads through the cliffs.

The couloir is filled with some of loosest rock we have ever seen. Stay against either the right or left side of the couloir for the best footing. At the top, the couloir turns south and comes out on the summit plateau at the base of a large pinnacle. It is NOT the summit.

Walk north on the plateau – the true summit is marked by a cairn at the far north end

Route Photos - Enlarge for expanded captions and detail

Ear MountainWest Side part of the route.
Ear Mountain NE ShoulderStart of traverse to west side
Ear Mountain NE ShoulderOn the more narrow ledges - traverse to west side.

Ear Mountain West SideTraversing the west side.
Ear Mountain West Side CouloirIn the couloir.
Ear Mountain Summit PlateauSummit Plateau



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