Ascent of Saddle Butte on 2016-08-09

Climber: John Hasch

Date:Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Saddle Butte
    Location:USA-North Dakota
    Elevation:2820 ft / 859 m

Ascent Trip Report

Saddle Butte
2820+ ft.

Tuesday, 8/9/2016

After yesterday’s North Dakota conquest, I drove north on US 85 to the I-94 intersection in Belfield. This was to become something of a hub from which I visited several area destinations. Not far west of the interchange was a rest area that was part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and that is where I spent the night.

It wasn’t until the sun rose this morning that I was able to appreciate the beauty of my lodging choice. It was a great place to stay overnight because there were no overhead lights to illuminate the parking area. This provided great darkness for sleeping. But when I walked to the visitor center for the first time in the morning, I could see the beauty of the Badlands stretching out to the north beyond a sturdy, waist-high stone wall that extended for perhaps a thousand feet in both directions. Once I was cleaned up and ready to leave for the day, I took a few minutes to walk the entire length of the wall, snapping several representative photos of the area. There were some trails that dropped down into the canyons below, but I opted to stay up high and skip the added time that such a hike would take.

I returned to nearby US 85, and this time I headed north toward the McKenzie County highpoint, Saddle Butte, located just a bit east of the town of Watford City. I followed my GPS and prior trip reports to the west side of the butte, and I looked for the gravel road mentioned by others.

The western approach was immediately noted as being problematic. Along the entire road on the west side of the butte, work crews were busy installing new pipelines (oil/gas?). I found what I thought was the gravel road described by others, but a crew there actually had the road blocked.

I got out of my car and approached one of the men who sat in a nearby truck. I introduced myself and told him of my desire to climb the hill. He identified himself as the environmental person for this project, and he agreed I would not be entering from the west on this day. He then asked me if I had gotten permission from the owner to enter his land. At this point, our conversation ended with me providing some response.

I was about to give up on the climb when something prompted me to drive to the eastern, Hess oil side of the butte. I drove around the south side to the roads that headed north into the oil, the route first mentioned by Dave Covill in his 2009 trip report. I saw a few people working at various places, but no one stopped me or questioned me. I drove north until I was basically due east of the highest visible ground. There was an east-west fence going up the butte, and a cattle guard was in the road. I crossed the cattle guard, turned around and found a decent place to park out of the way along the road.

I walked back to the fence and chose to climb on the left (south) side. In hindsight, this would prove to be the wrong side. But once the visible rise was climbed, it was easy to find a place to pass through the barbed wire fence.

The first rise is actually a false summit. Once at this point, it was easy to see and climb the true summit a bit farther to the west. The summit area actually has two ends that rise a bit from a saddle in the middle. I climbed to the saddle and then meandered to each of the higher ends after very modest walks.

In the saddle, I found some kind of survey marker. It was not an actual benchmark; rather, it looked more like some kind of construction marker. It appeared to be rebar driven into the ground and capped by an orange plastic covering labeled “EFN Control” in black letters. Nearby was some sort of stone pile – a mini cairn of sorts? I was confused about its significance since it was clearly at the saddle and not at either higher end. I did not find a register to sign – perhaps I should have looked under the stone pile.

I returned to the first hill and back to my car the same way I ascended. My time was a bit more than the lightning speeds of some, but I did the best I could. I completed my goal. My motto is “Slow but steady.”

I would suggest that others consider this approach if they find the west approach blocked and not accessible for any reason.

My next HP destination was Sentinel Butte in adjacent Golden Valley County. But first, I opted to do the tourist thing and visit both units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

I passed the entrance to the north unit as I drove north on US 85, not far south of Watford City. So it was an easy decision to spend some time visiting this park that was literally right on the way. I paid the entrance pass that would later admit me to the south unit.

The north unit consists of a one way road that winds about 14 miles through the park. I drove to the end and back for a total of about 28 miles round trip. Besides the beauty of the multi-layered hills formed by various layers of sediment, the key to this trip was the animal life. I had hoped to see some buffalo, and I was not disappointed.

A few miles into the drive, I rounded a curve and was stopped by a traffic jam. Several buffalo, numbering between 50 and 100, were grazing beside the road. Many of the buffalo were in the middle of the road, effectively blocking traffic from progressing in both directions. This condition lasted for about half an hour before the buffalo gave way and yielded the road. Even then, we slowly crept past, driving within feet of the lingering buffalo. This was a nice response to fulfill my hope, but I was not done. I drove to the end of the road, and I returned under seriously darkened skies that constantly threatened downpours. Back on US 85, I made my way to the south unit of the Park.

The south unit drive consists of a 36-mile loop that can be driven in either direction. So you are never more than 18 miles from the entrance. I drove the entire loop, and animals became a focal point once again.

In addition to the captivating scenery, I stopped my car at various times to get a closer view of horses, bison, and prairie dogs. The bison were once again on or near the road, and the wild horses were grouped in bunches of 10-15 near the road. The prairie dogs were grouped in a couple of multi-inhabitant “towns” just off the main loop.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this tourist diversion. But now it was time to get back to HP’ing. The day was fading, and I still wanted to try to get to Sentinel Butte.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:365 ft / 110 m
    Extra Gain:38 ft / 11 m
    Round-Trip Distance:1.3 mi / 2.2 km
    Route:Follow left side of fence
    Trailhead:Road near fence/cattle guard  2531 ft / 771 m
Ascent Statistics
    Time:35 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:25 Minutes

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