West Fork Butte Lookout: An Overnight in the Sky
When I wrote the post 5 Years of Bikepacking Lookouts a month ago, I had no idea I’d be getting myself into this kind of a lookout trip. In fact, I didn’t even know Nathan and I would be riding fat bikes up to the West Fork Butte lookout, located high in western Montana's Lolo National Forest, a few days before we set out. We stumbled upon the option to borrow a couple of Salsa fat bikes at the last minute, and we went for it.
A few weeks ago in Island Park, Idaho, I’d gotten a feel for how 3.7-inch to 4.8-inch tires work on flat, snow-packed trails with little elevation gain. But the road to West Fork Butte is the opposite: It’s all uphill, and I was curious to see how the Mukluk and Beargrease would perform.
Adventure Cycling cartographer Nathan Taylor having fun in the sun.
We couldn’t have asked for better conditions. The glare ice that has been prevalent on the lower sections when I’ve visited in previous Februarys was covered with a groomed snowmachine surface. The bikes held their own on the climb, and we had to walk only about about three-quarters of a mile -- way less than we’d anticipated.
Shaun and Jeff had snowshoed up the previous day and were waiting for us at the top.
Nathan splits a round for the wood stove, while Shaun gets ready for another downhill run.
Both were stoked to get a chance to ride a fat bike for the first time. We rode the packed-down singletrack off the lookout for awhile. Then we stomped down a fresh trail on the steeper wind-loaded eastern slope, although we just kept wrecking into the soft powder over and over (which made everyone laugh over and over). Looking back, we should’ve let the trail settle for an hour or so, like when making a quinzee.
Jeff goes down on the steep foot-stomped singletrack.
The ride back down in the morning was the most fun I’ve had on a fat bike yet. It was a novel feeling to notice your back end slip when going 18+ mph downhill, and actually be able to correct it every time.
The sun even made an appearance, and I was finally able to grab a few well-lit, blue-sky shots with my new lens.
All in all, it was a great weekend.
For more about West Fork Butte and riding to fire lookouts, read Travel Tip: Riding to a Fire Lookout.