After a wintery start to October, we’ve enjoyed several consecutive days of unseasonably warm, calm, sunny weather. Fortunately, Montana’s four-day “teachers’ convention weekend” fell within the streak. Better yet – I’ve already completed my workshop days, so I was ready to take advantage of the amazing weather.
My brother and I had agreed to meet in Harlem (our hometown) Thursday evening, spend some time with our parents, do a quick home improvement project, and then leave on Saturday. So, I decided to leave Helena early Thursday morning, drive to the Augusta area, hike up onto Crown Mountain, and then drive on up to Harlem. Despite four straight days of warm weather, as I approached Augusta I could see that there was still plenty of snow around Crown Mountain – left over from a winter storm that passed through earlier this month. I was prepared (with gaiters and spikes) for a little snow, but a mile into the hike I was walking through 18 inches – UGH! After another mile of trudging through deep snow, I decided it would be better to save this one for a summer day. I hiked back to my car, climbed in, and drove to Harlem.
I spent Friday helping my brother sheet-rock a basement bedroom in our parents’ house. During our trips to the dump-grounds and the lumber yard, I noticed that the Bear Paws were free of snow – The mountains were calling. With perfect weather in the forecast, I decided to climb McCann Butte (in the Bear Paws) before heading back to Helena on Saturday (10/20/18).
Above: The northeastern part of the Bear Paws – I’m not sure why these two peaks are called “buttes”.
Addition to Plan B.
I’d gotten permission from the landowner last summer, so I was all set. I drove 16 miles south of Zurich, parked along the road, and hiked up onto McCann Butte. I could see Harlem to the northeast, and enjoyed great views of the Bear Paws to the southwest and the Little Rockies to the southeast. I even had a little excitement on the way down, provided by a rattlesnake that greeted me as I passed by. My biggest disappointment with the hike was that it only took 20 minutes to reach the summit (.7 miles one-way with 900 ft. of gain). It seemed like a long way to drive for such a short hike, so I decided to hike up onto Miles Butte as well – a longer hike, and more of a climb (about 2.4 miles one-way with 1,500 ft. of gain), but well worth it. My wildlife siting on Miles was much more pleasant than the one on McCann – A herd of deer, including several impressive bucks, ran across my path as I approached the summit. But the best “visual” of the day was the view of McCann Butte from high above (photo at top of page). I spent half an hour on the summit, appreciating the blend of mountains and grasslands, taking photos, and thinking about the events that transpired in this area during October 1877 – the month that Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Perce Indians surrendered to the U.S. Cavalry several miles northwest of here, just 42 miles short of the Canadian Border. In fact, Miles Butte bears the name of Colonel Nelson Miles, commander of the cavalry unit that Chief Joseph surrendered to.
Getting high on grass.
It was good to get together with my brother, spend some time with Mom and Dad, and get a “prairie fix” before traveling back to Helena. I ended up walking a total of six miles with over 2,500 feet of elevation gain – Almost every step of it on treeless grassland.
NOTE: The official name for this range is the “Bears Paw Mountains”, but locals call them the “Bear Paws” – just rolls off the tongue easier.
- Photo Tour of my hikes onto McCann Butte and Miles Butte.
Includes a map of the area.
- Map of the McCann Butte and Miles Butte area.
Zoom in or out, scroll, drag, etc.
- Battle of the Bear Paw.
The basics from Wikipedia.
- Exploring the Ft. Belknap Reservation.
Previous blog post on Bigskywalker.com.
- Exploring the Snake Butte on the Ft. Belknap Reservation.
Previous blog post on Bigskywalker.com.
- Chief Joseph & the Flight of the Nez Perce by Kent Nerburn
The Untold Story of an American Tragedy
Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on bigskywalker.com so far, including several in Glacier Park – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.