Tuesday, September 24, 2019

White Butte - North Dakota High Point

The day after our 40th anniversary, Judy and I hiked to the top of White Butte, at 3,506 feet, the high point of North Dakota. Ten years previously, the day before our 30th anniversary, we hiked to the top of Mt. Elbert, at 14,433 feet, the high point of Colorado and the second tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S. The difference in hikes in that ten years may say something about my age and fitness level. 

According to one previous hiker, White Butte is 45 miles northeast of the southwest corner of North Dakota; 6.5 miles south and 1 mile east of Amidon, population 20 in the 2010 census; and by my estimation, 36 miles south of the eastern boundary of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit.  
This sign is in Amidon and points to a dirt road going south. 
The biggest challenge to climbing White Butte is finding it. Our directions took us down a dirt road that was closed due to flooding and road construction. At that point I thought we'd been stymied, but after getting directions from a person we flagged down driving on the road, and subsequent directions from another person at a house nearby White Butte, we found the trailhead. 
White Butte from near the home we stopped at to ask directions. The high point is the little knob to the left of the summit plateau. 
Sign at the parking area.
This photo was taken from the summit and looking back toward the trail head. Our car is parked near the northeast edge of the most green field to the center/left. Following the edge of that same green field and a dirt road to the south you see a clump of several large green trees. The abandoned farm house is in front of those trees. If you follow the road further south, you can see men in orange vests getting out of a truck. They are about two-thirds of the way from the farm house to the trail head. 
This is a view of the summit from near our car. The summit is to the right on the ridge from the biggest knob to the left. 
The next challenge was due to expectations. We got there about 3:45 p.m. and a couple who had just come back from hiking it said that they had gotten very muddy, climbing up some clay hills that were quite steep, and that it had taken them three hours. They believed it was a six mile round trip. My information from Summitpost said it was 3.4 miles round trip. Judy was not happy with me because of this new information and I was not particularly excited about a 6 mile hike this late in the afternoon either. 

For awhile, I thought the map and directions from Summitpost were approaching it from south to north, and we were going north to south. I thought that accounted for the discrepancy in mileage. It wasn't until we were half-way into the hike that I determined we were on the right route. The couple before us had wandered off the trail and created much more work for themselves. 

From the parking area, just off a nicely graded dirt road that bends from west to north, you follow a fence line south on a much less well developed dirt road. 
This photo, taken with a telephoto lense from the summit, shows the abandoned farm house in the foreground and our vehicle behind it near the far edge of the greenest field behind it. 
.7 miles from the parking area you pass an abandoned wood farmhouse on the right. When I saw the farmhouse, I knew we were in the right place. 

.3 miles further you reach the trailhead which is through a gate, with a sign. That area was very muddy. 
This photo, taken from the summit, shows the trees next to the abandoned farm house at the back, top left. Three men in orange vests are walking on the dirt road and their truck is behind them. The trailhead is near the top right (the white trail head sign is visible). 
The trail head sign.
White Butte from the trail head. 
.2 miles from the trailhead you reach a sandy wash and the trailhead keeps going mostly straight south, to the west a bit and then to the south. The couple we'd talked to had wandered west too much at that point and up some steep muddy banks. We wound around uphill, getting out of the white clay and eventually reached green grass and a downed barbed wire fence which was .1 miles beyond the sand and mud. 
Looking back. The clay cliffs to the west stay to the west. 
From there it was .3 miles to the summit, first along up a big knob on the left that I thought was the summit, but then stretching to the southwest along a ridge to a smaller knob that was the high point. 
Beyond the clay and into green fields. The east knob is visible in the background. 
Looking back, across the green field we crossed. We are nearing the east knob. 
Looking back, we have now bypassed the east knob and are heading to the ridge. 
Looking ahead, the summit knob is in front of us. 
The summit knob. 
We made it to the top in about 42 minutes and Judy was happy with me again. At the top is a round geological survey marker, a metal green ammo box with a summit register and a cardboard sign with "North Dakota" written on it, and a the grave of Lawrence P. Buzalsky (1935 to 1990), a member of the family that previously owned the land. Ten years previous on Mt. Elbert, we'd met three men that were scattering a portion of the ashes of a buddy who'd died. I guess we all want to go as high as we can when we die, and the high point is about as good a physical realization of that as you can find (I've been to Death Valley, the low point of the U.S., and no one was clamoring to spread ashes or be buried there). 
The grave stones, metal ammo box and geological marker are to the left of Judy. 
Mr. Luzalky's grave marker. 
We noticed a truck that drove most of the way down the road we'd walked, almost to the trailhead. Three guys in orange vests got out and started hiking the way we'd come. We later passed nearby them and determined they were hunters (their truck cabin was full of bows and arrows). 
Terrain on the other side of the high point, to the south.
Terrain to the southwest.
After about 10 minutes on top, we started back down and were finished in about 1.5 hours total. 

It was less secluded than I'd imagined from my reading, and more green. Like other high points we've done, it took us into a part of the state we would not otherwise have gone and gave us a different perspective of the state. 


  1. After all was said and done, this was a fun hike, though a bit windy on top. There were actually some short passages that were rather steep, so it wasn't just a stroll to the top. I'm glad we did it.

  2. That was a strange array of objects at the summit.