Ascent of Maxwell Butte on 2012-08-03

Climber: Edward Earl

Date:Friday, August 3, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Hi-Clearance Vehicle
Peak:Maxwell Butte
    Elevation:3726 ft / 1135 m

Ascent Trip Report

From MT-59, 28.2 miles S of the interchange with I-94 in Miles City or 50 miles N of Broadus (approximately MP 30), I turned SE on Powderville Rd, a good gravel road whose only identification is that it's the way to Powderville; it's not signed specifically as Powderville Rd. Call the point of the turnoff mile 0.0. At miles 1.2 and 2.9 I crossed cattle guards. At ~9-10 miles, the dome-shaped profile of Maxwell Butte becomes visible several miles ESE. At 11.0 miles I stayed straight where CR-551 goes L. At 18.2 miles I turned L (N) on an unsigned dirt track (point 2992 on MyTopo); the juctions is the one at BM 2992 on the 24K topo and its coords are (45.8838°N, 105.3075°W). After an additional 0.5 mile, I reached junction 3104 and decided to park, since the road condition was deteriorating, I was less than 2 miles from my objective, and the risk/reward ratio of driving any farther wasn't worth it.

Making what was effectively a L turn at this intersection, I hiked N toward Maxwell Butte. After ~½ hour I reached the junction ~¾ mile SW of the butte, at 3200', on the border of sections 19 and 20. During this time I had been eyeing the butte for the simplest way up; although all sides appeared to have at least one climbable route, no route appeared to be without a steep or constricted part. I opted for a westerly approach if only because it appeared shorter and more direct, which made for a L turn at the junction. After another ~10 minutes, I neared the ridge on the W side of the small but convoluted basin on the W side of the butte, and I struck out cross-country over this ridge.

I descended into the basin, short but steep, and found an unforeseen challenge hidden in the pine trees at the bottom. The watercourse was a narrow deep trench with vertical walls up to 8' high, which I'm sure was caused by flash flooding. Finding a way across it was quite a challenge, as I had to poke around for a ramp, a spot where it wasn't too deep to climb, or some other kind of weakness. Brush, deadfall, and immature pines added to the challenge. I still had to negotiate a couple more dry watercourses before finally emerging onto the NW ridge of the butte. From there it was a scramble to the summit, which was steep but usually provided good footing except at one point of steep hardpan.

I descended the NW ridge to its base and then found a ledge and use trail that ran along the base of the W face, so I decided to give it a try. The ledge and trail were intermittent, but overall it worked well, or at least it was better than the trench crossing in the basin on the way up. There were still about 4 major gullies to cross along this ledge, but they were all better than the trench crossing in the basin. By working my way all of the way to the S end of the W face of the butte, I was able to find easier ground on a flat ridge that went most of the way to the road, on which I returned to my truck.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:826 ft / 251 m
    Total Elevation Loss:826 ft / 251 m
    Round-Trip Distance:4 mi / 6.4 km
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Open Country, Bushwhack, Scramble
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:776 ft / 236 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 626 ft / 191 m; Extra: 150 ft / 45m
    Loss on way in:150 ft / 45 m
    Distance:2 mi / 3.2 km
    Start Trailhead:3100 ft / 944 m
    Time:1 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:676 ft / 206 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 626 ft / 191 m; Extra: 50 ft / 15m
    Gain on way out:50 ft / 15 m
    Distance:2 mi / 3.2 km
    End Trailhead:3100 ft / 944 m

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