Ascent of White Butte on 1989-05-13

Climber: Greg Slayden

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, May 13, 1989
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:White Butte
    Location:USA-North Dakota
    Elevation:3506 ft / 1068 m

Ascent Trip Report

I slept later than usual (until 8:30 A.M. or so), both because I liked my nice motel room, and because I had to ask a farmer’s permission to climb White Butte, and I didn’t want to bother him too early. I had my coke-and-cereal breakfast in my motel room and then drove out through the largish town of Bowman, hopping on this Saturday morning, back out to the lonely wastes of U.S. 85 north.

I now put myself into the hands of Zummwalt's guidebook, following his directions to White Butte, 3506 feet in elevation. I turned right off of U.S. 85 about 14 miles north of Bowman on an awful dirt road (my poor car), then left on a north-south gravel road, past some eroded buttes (which I took a premature picture of, thinking it was White Butte), to the Buzalsky farmhouse on my left, White Butte rearing it’s head behind it. Zummwalt said I should ask his permission, so I parked at the foot of the driveway of the ramshackle farmhouse, knocked on his door, but no one was home. I wandered about the yard and grounds of the farmhouse, littered with kids toys and farming gear, tried again, but still no one was home.
I was ready to give up and sit in my car and wait for someone when a pickup pulled in to the driveway. I told the surprised farmer that I was a tourist trying to get to White Butte, and he told me that the way to get there was from the north, through his cousin’s farm, a little further north and then west. He also said his cousin didn’t mind the tourists that come, so I didn’t need his permission.

Therefore I drove north on the rutted gravel road for a mile, turned left and went west for a mile, then turned south on a real bad road that passed the side of another farm as it headed straight for White Butte. The road soon became nothing more than a long, grassy strip between two fields, and, just like in Nebraska, my car found itself driving where a 4x4 would have been a much better choice. There was a particularly bad boggy depression about halfway along the route, where I just gunned the car in first and plowed through it. I finally stopped at a steep drop-off before me, very close to the base of the butte.

I then loaded up my daypack with some bare essentials for my short hike and started across the remaining field, crossing some barbed wire before picking my way on dim paths up the grassy, badly eroded slopes of White Butte, a huge irregular mass sitting in the middle of the plains like a bump on a log, part of the Chalky Buttes range. I had a photocopy of the Zummwalt map, but I basically played it by ear as I made my way upward up steep slopes, grassy saddles, and eroded ravines of the butte, soon seeing the summit across a fissure in the butte which I found a way around. I was on top about a half-hour after I had started.

The top was marked by a metal mushroom-like stake in the ground, and a old-fashioned milk bottle with paper and pencil in it was the summit logbook. I signed my name and leafed through the pages—it seemed like White Butte saw about one or two parties per week climb it, most of them people like me trying to get all the high points they could. If that many made their way to god-forsaken North Dakota, I could see that I was by no means unique in my quest.
I rested, took pictures, noticed that the north slope of the summit was eroding away and would soon claim the stake in the ground, and admired the expansive view of flatlands spread out map-like below me. Then I descended, again playing it by ear, since I could see my car, an orange dot on the fields below. However, I blundered into a steep, narrow fissure of a ravine that was full of chalky sand and jumbled rocks, very hard to get down from, probably because I couldn’t see it from above. When it rained, I’ll bet that large chunks of this butte just washed right away down this arroyo.

As I made my final descent from the butte I saw a man in a pickup truck was headed towards it, and he had stopped and got out to watch me approach as I made my way across the field from the butte’s base. When I got to him, his truck, and my car, I asked him if I had been trespassing or anything, but apparently he just wanted to talk to me. An old guy, also named Buzalsky, he was curious about my car, never having seen anything like it before, and he told me that I could have perhaps used another road through his farm instead of the grassy track I had used—however, there was now no safe way for my car to get to the farm road. He confirmed that he got a couple people a week checking out White Butte, and after another ten minutes of conversation I thanked him for letting people use his land, told him I hoped it rained for him (it was very gray and overcast out), and got in my car and headed back out over the grass to the dirt road.

I made it through the boggy depression in the grass, went east on the dirt road there for a mile, then turned left and sweated out about seven miles of obnoxious gravel pounding the underside of my car before reaching U.S. 85 again, right near Amidon, ND. As always, I was glad to leave the gravel behind and I floored it as I cruised up the nice, paved U.S. 85 toward I-94.

White Butte, North Dakota rises above cattle grazing lands (1989-05-13).
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:376 ft / 114 m
    Trailhead:3130 ft / 954 m
    Quality:3 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Open Country

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