This weekend the weather wasn’t looking promising anywhere, so I hopped on Summitpost to see what was around I-90 that I hadn’t been to the top of yet. I was planning on running a mountain just as a workout even if I couldn’t see anything from the top in the clouds. McClellan Butte had been on my radar for a while – I had seen it in every proximity search but never clicked through to the page. Once I saw folks describing the route as a scramble at Class 3 or even Class 4 I knew that I had to give it a shot.
The trailhead is relatively close to Seattle, right at Exit 42. This was my first time checking out the south side of the valley but it all looks fairly similar. McClellan Butte’s trail gains elevation fairly gradually for the first couple of miles, crossing the John Wayne rail-trail at just before the one mile mark.
After the road crossing, the route gently pitches up until I ended up walking some of the steeper upper sections (the whole thing is runnable, I’m just not in my best shape right now). The upper mountain started to drizzle on me.
After mile 4 or so, the trail crests a ridge and juts to the (south?) in order to avoid some cliffs. It traverses along the upper mountain until reaching the final summit scramble.
With a beautiful sunny weekend ahead, Ryan and I set out to do some spring snow climbing and chose a prominent summit in the Snoqualmie Pass area, Kaleetan Peak (meaning “Arrow” in the Chinook language). With the shockingly low snowpack this year, we weren’t exactly sure what sort of conditions we would encounter.
We opted for a lazy alpine start of 6am leaving from the Denny Creek trailhead in order to minimize the already-small risk of wet loose avalanches on the descent (in warm afternoon conditions, “solar” aspects can often become destabilized).
Our plan was to ascend the peak via an East facing couloir to access the normal scrambling route from there to the summit. We packed for non-technical snow climbing including ice axe and crampons, both of which turned out to be essential on this route in these conditions.
The Denny Creek trail to the pass is very pleasant – dense forest, waterfalls, and nice views down the valley as the trail gradually gains elevation to Hemlock Pass..
Intermittent ice and snow can be found just below Hemlock Pass but it should be gone fairly soon. Arriving at Melakwa Lake early in the morning, the air was cool enough to break out the gloves as we admired the thin glaze of ice on the water from the freeze the night before – a good sign that snow conditions would be nice and consolidated on the path ahead. Continue reading Kaleetan Peak→
Oh boy, I am three months behind on the blog – not because I’ve been too busy with outdoor activities to keep up, but because I’ve been working and travelling to keep my mind off the historically bad Cascades snowfall this year.
Mission Ridge Skiing
Fed up with (no) snow on the West side of the crest, I headed to Wenatchee with my buddy Mike to ski Mission Ridge’s one ribbon of machine snow. Little did I know it would be the best turns I’d experience until early March at Whistler…
Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Trail
In mid December, due to the mild temperatures, I walked the flat and level, forested Middle Fork Trail near the Mailbox Peak trailhead accessed from North Bend. It was a really beautiful hike, and there is a hot spring to visit several more miles down the trail (reservations required, apparently). There was some beautiful rime ice on the summit of Garfield Peak which towers over the river.
The biggest obstacle was the road in – several of the potholes were big enough to threaten my Honda CR-V; I believe the road is now closed until it can be repaired from a mudslide many miles in.
Mt. Daniel is a perfect target for a summer climb. At 7960′, Daniel is the only county highpoint “twofer” in the state of Washington: it is the highest summit in both King County and Kittitas County (it straddles the Cascades Crest, and hence the county line).
Respecting the late summer melt off, we chose the non-technical SE ridge to avoid glacier travel. With something close to 5000′ of elevation gain, Mt. Daniel can be summited as a very long day, but we chose to camp one night instead to shorten the summit day.
We headed East on I-90 from the Seattle area on a Friday evening, stopping in South Cle Elum for some Smokey’s BBQ (will be a fixture of all my following trips over Snoqualmie Pass I think) before continuing north on the Salmon La Sac road to Tucquala Meadows trailhead. Under the light of the moon and headlamp, we made our way to the intersection of the Pacific Crest Trail near the turnoff for Peggy’s Pond. After stumbling around in the dark trying to find the spur trail to the pond, we gave up and found a very nice campsite right there. Overnight, there was a bit of a drizzle and we awoke to unsettled clouds.
The four of us made it to Peggy’s before a pair chose to stick around and spend the day exploring the area instead of going higher. Two of us continued on the climb. To the west of the pond, there is a maze of “social” trails in the grass, and we missed a key turnoff and ended up climbing a creek and ending up in the Hyas Creek Glacier basin before traversing back to the south to rejoin the ridge (which we managed to do without losing too much elevation). The next section was marked by cairns, which helped us navigate in the poor visibility conditions. After gaining close to 2000′, we made it above the cloud ceiling and the views really opened up.
This portion of the ridge is pretty fun – it’s Class 1/2 walking for the most part with careful route selection and we moved efficiently toward the bend in the ridge heading north.
The views to either side of the ridge are simply spectacular. It really feels like a remote part of the Cascades.
When the ridge takes a bend toward the East Summit, the rock quality becomes really broken and poor. We found ourselves dropping down ~50′ off the ridge into a gully with loose scree. Taking a tumble here would be pretty uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, the route description calling this ridge “a walkup with a couple of Class 3 spots” doesn’t quite capture the seriousness of some of the scrambling steps. We were stopped in our tracks right below the false summit at the biggest gendarme on the way to the East Peak. Our path crossed a very awkward rock step over thin air. A fall here would have been a 40 foot slide down a slick slab and would have been quite serious, likely fatal, especially considering the remote location.
The rock was slick and wet from the previous night’s rain, so we elected not to continue past this point. We saw a foot trail right on the other side, so it was clear that we weren’t off route – I wonder if we just didn’t see the right move or if a key foot placement had broken off or something. The pictures really don’t do it justice.
I think we were being cautious but we tried to scope out the move for a long time and didn’t get quite comfortable with it.
Reviewing trip reports later, it seemed as though many parties choose to traverse the snow slope below which would have been a much easier and safer option if we had crampons with us. I’m not sure exactly where one would access the snowfield from low on the ridge but evidently it’s straightforward.
The clouds dropped back a bit to make the views on our trip down a great consolation prize.
We even got a little peek of Peggy’s Pond on the way down, though Cathedral Rock was cloud covered the entire day.
After reuniting with our friends lower down near the PCT intersection, it was a quick and pleasant trip back to the cars. The clouds parted even more and it turned into a beautiful sunny day.
This weekend I wanted something easy enough I could do it solo without worrying too much about getting hurt, and something close enough to home that I could justify burning the gas to get one person there. That narrows it down to pretty much just I-90. Luckily, there are some great spots for solitude and easy peakbagging, even in the summer.
I drove to the Ira Spring trailhead (located around 30 miles from Seattle) and took off up the nicely graded trail, reaching the pass to the Mason Lake area in just over an hour. It was a perfect, clear day with great views of the southern Cascades peaks, including Rainier.
I chose a campsite right next to beautiful Mason Lake, set up my tent, and dropped my overnight gear before taking off uphill towards Mt. Defiance.
The trail was well-maintained all the way until breaking out onto a slide path/talus field about 300 feet below the summit. Continue further than you think you should, and an informal trail will appear on the right. I was impatient and headed straight up the beargrass and dirt clods of the open field (a mistake).