The East-South-West Face Traverse

The East-South-West Face Traverse

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 47.82284°N / 112.68973°W
Additional Information Route Type: Hiking, Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Summer
Additional Information Time Required: Most of a day
Additional Information Difficulty: Class 2
Additional Information Grade: I
Sign the Climber's Log


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. This route aims for the southeast corner of the peak, where the summit cliffs meet the southeast shoulder. Apart from a bit of scrambling on the southwest shoulder and a steep and tiring slog up the summit access couloir on the west face, the route is a straightforward hike to the top.

Getting There

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.

Route Description

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.

Ear Mountain East FaceThe 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.

Ear Mountain SW ShoulderSouthwest shoulder

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.

Ear Mountain GullyThe 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.

Ear Mountain View Northwest from SummitView 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.

Essential Gear

Good footwear, appropriate clothing for conditions, plenty of water, a camera to take stunning photos in all directions. And don't forget the sunscreen.

External Links

Ear Mountain Wildlife Management Area

REI Trail Information

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Information



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