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[TR] West Mcmillan Spire/Elephant Butte - West ridges via Stetattle Ridge 09/06/2020


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Trip: West Mcmillan Spire/Elephant Butte - West ridges via Stetattle Ridge

Trip Date: 09/06/2020

Trip Report:


Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of getting back into the Southern Pickets with @JasonG and @Trent. We took the eastern high route/approach via Stetattle Ridge. I outlined the route in the approach notes, this will be more for a general itinerary/thoughts/photo dump. Hiking along Stetattle was extremely panoramic and quite pleasant. We setup camp the first night just north of North Stetattle (pt. 6728). There were abundant tarns for water and flat spots to setup at. Not long after unpacking the guys pulled out the whisky and chocolate, a ritual I'm not familiar with having spent most of my time trying to be as ultralight as possible. We shot the shit for hours and listened to tunes on Steve's little speakers. I'm sure now that theres a little room in my pack for some whiskey. I slept really well until the (full?) moon was dead center over the sky and woke me up with its brightness. We got up decently early for the big day of tagging Elephant Butte and  and a plan of making it to the summit of West Mac for the nights bivy.  We were a bit above an awesome sea of clouds down in the valley. The drop down to the notch above Torrent creek is fairly straight forward and to get up out of it toward the benches at 6200' above the small lake east of Elephant Butte is just a bit more involved, but not too bad. We dropped packs at the notch at the base of the west ridge of Elephant Butte. Was a quick romp to the summit and we were surprised how many entries in the register there were as of late. We toyed with the idea of staying on the ridge crest and tagging the next two high points west of the Butte (Hippo, Rhino). But some hairy climbing/scrambling, lack of inspiration to tag them, and a concern for having enough time to deal with the ridge to get into Terror basin pushed that idea to the side. I'm glad we spent the effort on the more important task of getting into Terror Basin safely and efficiently. We stayed more or less at 6200' from Elephant Butte until we got to the notch just west of pt 6455. From there it was staying very close to the ridge crest. At this point, the route gets very exposed, serious and committing. Scrambling on 4th class rock, heather benches, veggie pulling. It was not too far removed from what you'd experience on the NEB of Jburg. It finally eases off just before Little Mac. A small sandy notch allows entry into Terror Basin. From there we traversed down across snow to get to the base of West Mac, we were able to go up a dry mossy waterfall on the rib extending down from West Mac which cut out quite a bit of travel. We scrambled up the west ridge and made our way up to the summit. Theres now currently three one-person bivy spots up there now. We made dinner, drank whiskey and waited for the sunset. It was an awesome sunset, highlight of the trip for sure. But after every calm, comes a storm. We settled in for the night in really pleasant weather. At some point the winds picked up dramatically and Steve and I got sand blasted all night. Meanwhile Jason was locked in mortal combat with the snaffles. He said they were trying to take his headlamp off his head. They had told me the night prior that the snaffles really like him. I think the wind that Steve and I were experiencing were keeping the snaffles at bay, leaving Jason as easy prey. Didn't sleep a much that night as you'd guess. Got up and made breakfast and a big pot of coffee in a spot on the summit mostly out of the wind. The sunrise was fantastic and made up for the night we had. Packed up and made out way down West Mac and out Terror basin without issue. This was an incredible trip and thanks to Jason for inviting me on this, I cant say I would've thought to do this kind of trip myself. It was the kind of trip I have been meaning to have for some time now though. And big thanks to Jason and Steve for being SOLID partners. It was really cool being around two guys that have been climbing with each other for as long as you both have. I won't be caught without whiskey on the next Choss Dawgs trip.




Myself as we make our way up Sourdough Creek. Jason Photo.



Jason and Steve looking at the next two days.



North Stetattle.



Sunset, Elephant Butte and The Southern Pickets



Sunrise, Snowfield group and Davis Peak






Sea of Fog.



Jason up on Elephant Butte



About to make our way into the business end of the traverse.





Steve Photo.


Steve with the veggie belays.



End of the hairy stuff. Jason photo.





Into Terror Basin.



Headed up West Mac.



Up on West Mac preparing for battle with snaffles and wind. Steve photo.


Dinner time. Jason photo.



Sunset on Mt. Fury



Morning light on Inspiration, The Pyramid, Degenhardt and Terror. Kulshan in the distance.



Ray of light on Azure Lake.


Hopefully Jason and Steve will drop off more of their photos!


Gear Notes:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Whiskey, Chocolate, Van Halen

Approach Notes:
Start at Sourdough Lookout Trail, go up along Sourdough creek, Stay on the crest of Stetattle Ridge. From pt. 6154 follow game trails down ramps and ledges to the notch above Torrent Creek. Ascend more ramps and ledges with a bit of steep schwacking up to ~6200'. Traverse westward around that elevation, Elephant Butte is a quick jaunt from the notch west of it. Gain the ridge proper from a notch just west of pt. 6455 (just east of the Mcmillan Spires). This is where the scrambling gets extremely exposed. Traverse mostly solid rock and heather benches toward East Mcmillan, occasional goat trails and veggie belays. Aim for a small notch to the left of where the ridge meets Little Mac.

Edited by kmfoerster
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So great meeting and getting out with you @kmfoerster!  You were an integral part of the adventure and anyone would be well served to have you along on a trip!

I will try and add a few more of my favorites in the coming weeks, but that was a super memorable outing! 

I think part of the issue I had with the snaffles, aside from being snaffle bait, was that I didn't have a bivy sack to seal them out.  That and I didn't figure out why they were attacking my head until way too late in the evening.  They really do like shiny things!  I'm sure a headlamp would be a prized midden addition, and a sure fire hit with the snaffle ladies! :pagetop:

I so hate snaffles. A respectful hate, but hate nonetheless.

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As promised, more photos!


Looking up the Big Beaver over Beaver Pass at the Redoubt group.


Heading to Elephant Butte


Summit of Elephant Butte


The ridge narrows and Mac Spires loom above @kmfoerster


Unknown people posing for me  below West Mac


Dinner with a view on West Mac


Sunrise was windy but spectacular


North to Davis Peak (L), and West to Degenhardt, Kulshan, and Terror (R)


Teebone ridge on the walk out from Terror Basin

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  • 2 weeks later...

Yep. I didn't see you guys down there, but yeah we camped on Stetattle first night, then near peak 6914 second night.

We had planned to climb Triumph that weekend but due to permits ended up doing this traverse instead. The ranger told us "it goes mostly 3rd/4th class, with some weird sections," which turned out pretty damn accurate. The views that weekend were incredible, definitely going back up Stettatle, hopefully this winter.

Also - the wind sunday morning!? We were on the ridge that morning and it was howling!

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  • 2 weeks later...

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