Mesa Butte loop

Seems to be an awful lot of people looking for places to hike. We were in the Jumpingpound 10 days ago plunging through knee deep snow, 4 inches of fresh stuff atop a foot of crust, crawling under alders and climbing over fallen trees. It was  a hill not worth climbing and will not be appearing any time soon in a book. So this last weekend we hot-footed it down to the south end of Hwy. 549  to look at the open ridges on the east side of the road. Just what we needed. The grass may be  brown, but the crocus is out. And the trails are in great shape: Curly Sand trail is completely dry; so are the trails up Mesa Butte.

Our route was a combined get-fit-and-let’s-see-what’s-changed  loop, so don’t feel you have to follow us!  We started up the well road opposite North Fork campground, then transferred to the logging road that took us into Mesa Creek valley. Since we’d last been there, someone has laid proper  boardwalk across the boggy Mesa Creek crossing. Yeah! Made a detour up the grassy hill at 736276 which has a trail to the top and is a great viewpoint.

View of Mesa Butte

View of Mess Butte from hill 736276

Then carried on up the logging road to a T-junction with the pipeline right-of way and turned right.  Normally we follow the logging road that twines about the right-of-way, but on this occasion, the road was icy and the right-of-way was dry, so we followed the grassy swath all the way to the gate. Or nearly. Turned off left onto the logging road  and followed it uphill to a junction, where we turned left. Got the poles out and using one of those insanely steep cutline access roads climbed  500 ft. up a ridge onto the north end of Mesa Butte. Noted one set of dirt bike tracks  coming down. At the top turned left  at a junction and followed the newly brushed-out trail — made by dirt bike riders?— to the summit. It’s a good moment when you emerge out of the trees into the lightness of meadow, sky and far off views. The wind was howling cold, so we retreated back to the trees for a snack.  The summit register is still there under a lone tree and proof that Mesa Butte is a popular climb at all times of the year, both day AND night!  For decades, families have been climbing to the summit on rogue trails. Who knew?

Of course, 99% of people come up the south ridge from the col and not by our roundabout route.  The shortest route is from a well site  on the west side of the butte. Note: The well roads were gated in fall 2014. Judging by the lack of tire tracks, dirt bike riders don’t appear to use the popular hiking route;  I think they come in from the cutline to the north. It’s what you call “sharing a summit.”

We saved the best for last which was an undulating walk  along the open south ridge of Mesa Butte beyond the col to the intersection with Curly Sand trail. There’s a trail all the way which equestrians use from Mesa Butte campground. The intersection is lower down than one would wish for, but luckily it’s an easy winding climb onto the final ridge. On the way down, we crossed a brand  new logging road  shortly before reaching the meadow at the bottom.

Mesa Butte-Ridge

Descending south ridge of Mesa Butte

A 12 km loop with 1880 ft. height gain. Reached from Calgary by heading west to Bragg Creek, then south down Hwy. 762 to Hwy. 549. Turn right and drive beyond the turnoff to the Quirk Creek Gas Plant into K Country.

Mesa Butte Map

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  • Gillean Daffern Apr 10, 2010, 7:53 pm

    You are quite right.
    Potted naming history coming up:. In the 1890s A.O.Wheeler who was knocking around the foothills with the irrigation survey named it Mesa Hill for obvious reasons. Over the years it got changed to Mesa Butte and was officially recognized as such in 1949. The creek on the east side was named Mesa Creek at the same time. Later, a loosely knit community to the east came to be known as Square Butte —though it doesn’t seem to be an officially recognized name. You pass Square Butte community Hall on Hwy. 762 en route to Hwy. 549. Presumably these people did not know the name of the hill they could see to the west, though it has been marked on maps as mesa something since before 1914. Things possibly came to a head with the building of a multimillion recreational ranch property called Square Butte Ranches in view of the hill. (You can’t miss it if you look northeast from the summit.) Anyway, a few years back the locals were clamoring for a name change and shamefully, in my opinion, Alberta Geographical Names acquiesced.

    To make things worse, the name was transposed to a hill to the west. This hill is not mesa-shaped, so why name it Mesa Butte? In fact, Wheeler called it Death’s Head after the shape of the sandstone rocks neat the summit.

    There are many other instances of unacceptable name changes throughout the foothills, perhaps the most flagrant being the changing of Bull Creek to Cutthroat Creek in the Bull Creek Hills.

  • Derek Ryder Apr 10, 2010, 6:41 pm

    Now I could have SWORN that was Square Butte, not Mesa Butte. One of my favourite places for a quick picnic.