Ascent of West Chalk Butte on 2012-08-02

Climber: Edward Earl

Date:Thursday, August 2, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Hi-Clearance Vehicle
Peak:West Chalk Butte
    Elevation:4200 ft / 1280 m

Ascent Trip Report

In Ekalaka I proceeded SW, then S, on Main St until it ended at a T-intersection. Call this point mile 0.0. I turned R, and after 1 block turned L on gravel Central St, which soon becomes Chalk Buttes Rd. At 9.7 miles I stayed straight where Pershing Cutoff goes L. At 16.0 miles I turned R on a dirt two-track side road whose green identifying sign had collapsed. At 16.6 miles I went right at a fork by some big bales of hay. At 17.7 miles I entered the Custer NF and parked. At this point is a FS information board with a stock of forest road maps and an invitation to take one, and it proved useful.

I hiked the road from here, and in just a few minutes reached Trenk Pass, identified by a sign. After ~30 minutes hiking time, I passed through a wire gate with some abandoned structures on my L. There are several junctions in this vicinity, but the correct route is to always stay on road 3816, passing up side roads 38165, 3816A, 38162, and 38161. and 381612 - in most cases the side road is identified but the main road is not - do not follow any road signed as anything other than 3816. 381612 is trickier, because at the fork where it branches off, the sign is between the two branches, and it's not obvious which branch the sign refers to. The forest map said said that the left branch was 381612, while the topo map said the left branch was 3816. In any case, the correct branch is the left one, which enters a forest - I initially took the wrong fork and only careful attention to my compass alerted me to that fact. At <45.7128°N, 104.7341°W> (coordinates derived from Acme, not GPS), I reached the base of the gully that tops out a few hundred feet S of the northern 4200+' area. After waiting a few minutes for a storm threat to subside, I left the road on the R side and hiked through a few trees and climbed up the gully, which was mostly open grass on the R side. The going was usually better on this side, but I did cross to the L side at one point where it was better there. The gully became very steep near the top until reaching the ~4170' saddle at its head. From this point it was a hard R turn followed by an easy 400' grassy stroll amid scattered pines to the northern of two 4200+' summits of the Chalk Buttes.

For the southern summit, I returned to the road and continued along it until reaching the ~4170' saddle near the W side of section 31 (the final ~150' climb was quite steep). From here I strolled ~300 yards SW through grass and scattered pines to the southern 4200+' summit.

On my return trip, I decided to follow the suggestion in Cedron Jones' book, Peakbagging Montana, and traverse the broad, grassy plateau most of the distance back to Trenk Pass. Road 3816 goes partway across before fading gradually, then I followed my compass to the "isthmus" that connects the body of the plateau to the northeasternmost portion of it. Total time along the length of the plateau was nearly an hour. From the N rim of the NE lobe I descended steeply into the forest, using occasional trails. It was very steep and brushy but overall not too bad, but only because I was going down - to come up this way would have been a nightmare. The "pain" (if I could call it that) was short-lived before the gradient eased and I intercepted FR-3816 not far from Trenk Pass, then I was back at my car in almost no time.

If you choose to do the loop route, I strongly suggest that you do it in the same direction that I did it (and which Cedron Jones describes); the steep climb up to the plateau that you would do in the reverse direction would be downright miserable.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1200 ft / 365 m
    Total Elevation Loss:1200 ft / 364 m
    Round-Trip Distance:7.5 mi / 12.1 km
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Open Country, Bushwhack
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1050 ft / 320 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 450 ft / 137 m; Extra: 600 ft / 182m
    Loss on way in:600 ft / 182 m
    Distance:5 mi / 8.1 km
    Route:FR 3816
    Start Trailhead:Trenk Pass  3750 ft / 1143 m
    Time:3 Hours 15 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:600 ft / 182 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 450 ft / 137 m; Extra: 150 ft / 45m
    Gain on way out:150 ft / 45 m
    Distance:2.5 mi / 4 km
    End Trailhead:Trenk Pass  3750 ft / 1143 m
    Time:2 Hours 

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