Red Mountain

Elevation Gain: 457m
Distance: 6.0km
Total Time: 1 hour 21 minutes
Date: October 10th, 2022

Red Mountain is a rather generic name for one of the 3000m summits that makes up the Highland Mountains just South of Butte, Montana. It’s a mountain I knew very little about and not one I’d specifically seek out to climb. However, Andrea and I were starting our US road trip off with a 13 hour drive from Kaslo, BC to City of Rocks, Idaho. We were both keen to break the drive up with a hike or summit and Red Mountain happened to be one of the few mountains that fit our schedule. The route up seemed to be on a decent service road and one could drive most of the way to a fire lookout tower before hiking the remainder of the distance.

Andrea and I, unfortunately, didn’t reach Butte, Montana until quite late in the day. That meant we’d most likely be returning in the dark, but at this point we were set on stretching our legs no matter what. Google maps guided us through the smooth winding service roads until we reached the turn off service road 8514 to the look out tower. Here the road condition deteriorated drastically as it become rutted out with fist-sized rocks covering large swathes of the road. In a truck, no problem, but we were taking the more road-trip friendly car instead of my Tacoma. Without the clearance, we had to carefully negotiate the road and eventually pulled off the road at around 2625m in elevation.

The Highland Mountains as seen from Butte. The large flat topped summit is Table Mountain (surprise!)
Nice views on the way in

The sun was just starting to go down, so we set a quick pace through the remainder of the service road. We reached a closed gate not long after, so the extra driving wouldn’t have been worth it anyways. At around 2750m we emerged out of the trees and onto the broad scree ridge that lead up to the fire look out. Without the the cover of forest, the wind ran unabated across the ridge line. A winding service road carved it’s way through the slopes and we opted to follow that up towards the lookout. It didn’t take long to reach it’s base, but it was now around 7am and the sun had just set. Andrea wasn’t feeling super inspired to tag Red Mountain, which was still 100+ meters of elevation above. So, we decided I’d run up to the summit while she walked the remainder of the distance to the look out.

The road condition wasn’t bad just beyond where we pulled over
Looking towards the fire lookout and Red Mountain just to the left and above
Looking back towards Butte
Nearing the base of the lookout

With that settled, I started a light jog along the service road and then branched up a foot path along the summit ridge line. Despite the loose looking nature of the scree, it actually made for good traction overall. I was making decent strides towards the top and reached the summit perhaps 7 minutes or so after starting my run. There’s not much beta to add as the trail is obvious and unobstructed. I grabbed a few photos on the summit and then started the jog back down. Andrea and I reunited at the lookout another 7 minutes later and then we walked the rest of the way down in the dwindling light.

Starting my jog towards the top
Looking back at the fire lookout from near the summit
Typical terrain to the top
Summit views. Table Mountain and Monument Peak
Looking towards Butte
Andrea waiting for me at the look out
A neat moonrise, not quite captured sufficiently with a phone camera

We reached the car with head lamps on and that concluded our short Montana excursion. The whole detour took at least an hour longer than expected with the service road conditions, but it was worthwhile in the end. Beyond Red Mountain, there were several more enticing summits that I wish we’d had time for. If you’re considering this area, I highly recommend getting there early enough to add on Table Mountain and Monument Peak for very little extra effort.

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