Slope County Highpoint Trip Report

White Butte

Date: July 11, 2005
Author: Lanny Wexler

We followed the directions in Charlie and Diane Winger's Highpoint Adventures book. We reached the former Van Daehle's abandoned residence about 6:30 pm after following a good dirt road in from US 85, just east of Amidon, ND.

I stopped to check if the new owners were home. Boy, this place gave me the willies. It was abandoned and in a state of great disrepair. I decided not to knock on the door as it looked deserted and was overgrown with high grass, a prime hiding spot for snakes. We did make our presence known but no one came to the window or the door, so we proceeded out of their driveway and drove about another half mile south on a poor overgrown dirt road and parked.

As soon as I left the car, I went to the trunk to don my snake leggings. The beauty of the place was inspiring but the danger was ever present. I felt the excitement of being in this distant place and now having the chance to add my 37th state highpoint and first new state highpoint in nearly three years. White Butte beckoned across the vastness of the prairie.

My friends got themselves organized and we started walking towards our objective. We proceeded south on the road, passing a field of junked cars off to the west. Soon we reached the end of the barbed wire fence. My friend Ken was in front of me and no more than five minutes from the car, he startled a rattlesnake that was lying in a rut, obscured by high grass, near the center of the dirt road. I yelled as I thought I heard it rattle and hear it slither off into the grass to the front and left of my friend.

I was on-edge after that but we proceeded on. It was a bit confusing at first with the multiple trails. I saw trails taking off to the right where the fence started but continued on the road south until we spotted the gate. As my friend opened the gate and were surprised when we saw the fence posts collapse. I was not expecting this and was concerned about property damage as we wanted to leave things the way we found them. We figured we would fix the fence on our way back. We proceeded forward, apprehensively with me stomping my feet and beating my stick to warn snakes of our presence. Snakes don't hear noise but they do sense ground vibrations so I thought it was prudent to let them know we're coming and to "get out of the way".

My friend George and I soon had doubts that we were on the right trail as we walked the fence south. I had seen Charlie and Diane Winger's graphic and description of a grove of trees to the southwest but we saw none. We saw the Butte in front of us and another one off to our west. There were multiple routes and we were concerned we would be following a herd path that would lead to a dead end. I thought I saw another route that went off to the west some 5 to 10 minutes back, near the north end of the fence, close to where we encountered the snake. Knowing the lateness of the day, I knew we could not afford to be wrong. Otherwise we'd have to call it quits for the day or risk being caught out after dark. Our motel was well over a hundred miles away, so a lot was at stake.

Trying to be conservative, I backtracked to the north, retracing our steps. It took us several minutes to latch up the gate (restore the poles to a somewhat vertical position). We walked north to the end of the fence, we then turned west and followed the trail but my heart sank as it became apparent the trail was petering out.

Now with a sense of urgency, I told my friends we would follow our original course and proceed directly south. I sized up White Butte and felt somehow a southerly route directly towards White Butte would get us up there. It was a gamble.

We resolutely retraced our steps after having lost about 10 to 15 minutes. The clock was ticking. We undid the gate and I had my friend put on long pants as I realized he was only wearing shorts. We soon passed the spot we had turned back. I fearfully proceeded onward following the narrow foot wide trail with eyes wide open and the with grass often brushing against me.

Soon the trail led off toward the right (southwest) and we began to climb the white clay hill. We made our way up steep pitches that alternately leveled off. As we climbed, the vistas grew wider and wider. Despite the danger, I could not get over the beauty of this place. Someone had described this as looking like Scotland and it really did have that appearance. It seemed a gentle landscape with soft green heathland, wildflowers, sweet grassland scents and even trees hidden among a sheltered spot. I nervously plowed through grass at one spot as the trail seemed to almost disappear but I emerged in the open again. As we climbed up two more steep hills before we arrived at the summit at about 7:30 pm.

Despite this fact, White Butte was only a 400-foot climb I had a real sense of accomplishment. I had been dreading this climb for months because of my fear of snakes and had consider either not doing this highpoint or coming here in winter. Not a fun prospect, as winter has its own set of challenges.

I looked down on a benign landscape with farms stretching out to the horizon and adjoining white clay buttes. Some of the rolling grassland among the buttes looked like a golf course. I think arriving late in the day made the experience all the more unique, with the long shadows being cast and the delightful temps rather than coming here in the blazing white heat of midday. I was even able to see my rental car, some one mile away. I opened the green register box and signed in and took a bunch of photos for my "bragging rights". After spending about 15 minutes on the summit I proceeded down with the same sense of caution I used on the way back.

As we descended, I was unable to find the same path down but soon recognized the grove of trees mentioned in the Winger book that I was unable to locate on the ascent. The path down seemed to be a bit more established than the one I used on my ascent. It sidled over to the east and then took the right fork which descended towards the same barbed wire fence that comes up from the road. The trail finally led to an open slope that led very steeply down to the prairie below. It required myself and our friends to sit down on our butts and slide down about a 100 feet of white crumbly clay with only a few spots to grab on to, to slow our descent. As I reached the bottom first, I joked that we got white butts on White Butte!

After that it was another 10 minutes until we reached the car. We affixed the gate and walked the final hundred yards or so to the car. I wasted no time packing up and driving away.

Well we were pleased and drove some fifty miles north on US 85 to dinner in Belfield, ND at I-94. I treated my self to a burger, fries, ice water with apple pie and ice cream ala mode and the continued on our way west to our motel in Glendive, Montana.