Death's Head (Mesa Butte)

Interesting Facts: 

Apparently there's a whole story behind the name and the fact that it's changed from "Death's Head" to "Mesa Butte", which is now called "Square Butte"...

Trip Category: 
OT - Off-Trail Hiking
Technical Difficulty Level: 
3
Endurance Level: 
Low
YDS Class: 
Hiking

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Sunday, April 22, 2018

There's not much to say about Death's Head, other than it's name is very dramatic compared to it's reality. I wanted to spend Earth Day (April 22, 2018) hiking in warm sunshine rather than flirting with the escalating spring avalanche cycle on skis, so that's exactly what I did! After several recent hikes with Phil where we ended up floundering around in waist-deep snow, I decided to bring snowshoes, leave early and hopefully pick some drier objectives for the day. As I drove through Millarville towards the front ranges of the Rockies, I was reminded why I do these diminutive, easy front range hikes every once in a while. Sure! Compared to other objectives, they are super easy and even sort of boring, but they bring their own small pleasures too.

 

I parked near the Mesa Butte parking spot along Hwy 549, which had 3 vehicles already parked there at around 07:00 in the morning. It was an incredibly still morning and some cheerful birds serenaded me as I made my way across the bridge spanning Threepoint Creek and walked up a gravel road leading to a well site. I should point out right off the bat, that this isn't the way most people do the Death's Head hike and isn't the suggested route in the guidebook either. I was only doing this route to make it a bit longer and get some more exercise. Silly, I know. wink

 


[The bridge over Threepoint Creek is my starting point.]


[There is still an alarming amount of snow on this side of the valley! Hiking up the well site approach road here.]

 

Just before arriving at the well site, I noticed a cutline and the route I wanted to follow heading uphill to my left. I strapped on the 'shoes and started up on a nice hard-frozen snow slab. As I ascended the first ridge, I noticed that already the warm spring sun was causing certain areas of the frozen snow crust to collapse underfoot, which helped speed me up quite a bit! There was an alarming amount of snow piled up on this northeast facing route and the few times it collapsed on me made me realize just how much hell it would be if it started failing regularly underfoot! The route undulated a bit, but soon enough I was staring up at the final (steep) slopes to the summit. I barreled straight upwards - almost too steep for the 'shoes but thank goodness for an overnight freeze.

 


[Starting up the route off the road - note the old cutline I'm going to follow at right.]


[Looking back from part way up the cutline over the well site road with Mesa Butte at left.]


[Honestly, this route would be HELL without the exact conditions I had. I floated above all the nasty bushwhacking (for the most part) on a nice easy snow crust.]

 
[Birds chirping, warm sunshine, a nice crust to 'shoe on. There are worse things I could be doing today.]

 
[On the last roll before the summit which is visible at distant right.]

 
[I was concerned about the snowpack deteriorating through all these bushes which would make the 'shoeing really unpleasant, but it held up for me. Death's Head just ahead here.]


[Looking up the final bit of the ascent. It got steep near the top (over 40 degrees because the 'shoes almost didn't work anymore).]

 

Views from the summit were OK for a front range bump, but I couldn't linger due to the threat of a collapsing snowpack. I rushed down the steep hillside from the summit and noted that the warm sun was indeed taking a toll on the supportive crust already. I got lucky for the most part on return, and within 2 hours of leaving the gravel approach road I was unbuckling the 'shoes already.

 

 
[Very decent summit views looking west (L) and north (C) over other front range summits like Mount Quirk. ++]


[The long summit ridge of Bluerock Mountain is visible through trees to the SW.]


[Looking north over Quirk Mountain.]


[Moose Mountain.]


[Mesa (or Square) Butte lies to the NE.]


[A tighter shot of Mesa Butte with Calgary's downtown buildings appearing at distant right.]


[Better views west off the descent just under the summit. This is Threepoint with Rose to the left.]

 

The fresh morning air and chirping birds were so pleasant, I decided I might as well hike over a few more hills and pad the summits list a bit more before heading home.

Summit Elevation (m): 
1,738
Elevation Gain (m): 
370
Round Trip Time: 
2.00
Total Distance (km): 
7.20
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 1 : you fall, you're stupid
Difficulty Notes: 

No difficulties other than finding good conditions that don't involve endless post holing or severe bushwhacking.