Highpointing: White Butte, North Dakota
July 1, 2019
White Butte, North Dakota is one of the few places where it feels like you could really disappear off the face of the earth. This rural, sparsely populated landscape can be harsh, unforgiving, wild and wonderful, oftentimes all on the same day! When I first started checking the weather about ten days prior the weather was forecasted to be sunny but cool. As the days got closer the weather started to go downhill. By the morning of our visit it had become overcast and windy, with rain threatening to dump on us at any moment.
Joining me on this adventure were Dave Dechant and Laurie Gibson. Dave had helped film Timms Hill way back in the beginning of this series and Laurie was an friend and colleague of mine from my contractor days. The fact that I managed to convince both of them to go with me to the Dakotas is still a mystery. At the start of the day we were able to get fairly decent footage at Painted Canyon but by the time we got half way finished at Theodore Roosevelt National Park the weather was working against us. You can hear the rain in a few scenes as we worked our way through the park.
Conditions had deteriorated even further by the time we arrived at the White Butte trailhead. At this point we were getting cold, wet, and miserable which led to rushing and just trying to get anything that was half usable. The hike across the field was wet and the wind seemed to cut through our layers of clothes. There was a bit of respite when we reached the base of the butte with it providing shelter from the wind.
It is at this point we had reached what would be the hardest part of the hike. Slopping through the mud at bottom of the butte was a quite an experience. When that dirt gets wet it becomes incredibly slick. Unfortunately the first 25 yards of the trail heading up the butte proper was exposed dirt and impossible to get traction on. With no purchase to be found on the trail Laurie opted to remain at the bottom and take photos and footage of the surrounding area. Dave and I managed to find away up the side passed the mud and then rejoined the trail and continued onward.
The remaining part of the hike was uneventful, the trail was easy to follow and nary a rattlesnake to be seen.(Come to think about it I don’t remember seeing any wildlife including birds on this hike. They all had much more sense than us to hunker down.) The weather seemed to back off a bit as we ascended until we neared the summit. Then everything changed again. Once at the top it was windy, perhaps the windiest highpoint we have yet filmed at. The summit shot you see involved a bit of camera “trickery.” Instead of the normal set up, Dave had to duck behind a small lean, set the tripod up low, and angle the camera up. The end result was a bit darker than we would have liked, and doesn’t show the surrounding area of the summit but at least we got a working shot. Expect to see the other version in the Season 5 recap.
Despite the adverse conditions I really enjoyed this highpoint. The badlands of North Dakota are austere but strikingly beautiful. The highpoint provided more than enough challenges making for some excellent memories. This was an episode that when I first started sketching it out I had concerns about having enough material though once I hooked in Theodore Roosevelt that became a non-issue.
Equipment-wise I really should have had a lav mic for this episode. That would have solved some of the sound issues we had due to the elements. We did the best we could with the shotgun mic, but even with a dead cat the wind was blowing it out. The ever-reliable Nikon D7200 continued to be ever-reliable handling the elements with aplomb. At some point I will figure out how to shoot in the rain but until then you will just have to bear with me.
Music for this episode came from the YouTube Audio Library by Chris Haugen. There were two objectives that needed to be met. One was to find music that supported the Old West vibe of the story and the other was for something I kept thinking of while on the hike, particularly when heading up the butte itself, on how much it reminded me of Scotland. The three pieces chosen support those two elements nicely.
If you are ever in that part of North Dakota do yourselves a favor and check out both the state highpoint at White Butte and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The North Dakota badlands are one of the hidden treasures of this country and are worth your time. If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel. Click the bell icon while you are there for all the latest updates. Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!