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[TR] McClellan Butte - North Couloir 1/23/2011

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Trip: McClellan Butte - North Couloir


Date: 1/23/2011


Trip Report:

My plan during the week was to go skiing on Sunday but with no new snow and a very low avalanche danger predicted I thought it was perfect timing to go climb the North Couloir of McClellan Butte. I’ve been looking at this route for a number of years since it’s so visible when travelling west on I-90. It looked steep and narrow, perfect for a fun snow climb.


I called Joanna to see if she was doing anything on Sunday and she only had a lunch planned; hardly anything to keep her from doing a good climb. So off we went Sunday morning getting to the McClellan Butte TH (1500 ft) at 8:30. We had read numerous trip reports from Cascade Climbers and they said to take the trail until you get to about 3400 – 3500 ft and then head up through trees and a snowfield until the obvious gully comes into sight. Seemed easy enough.


We headed up the snow free trail which at about 2500 ft turned into fairly constant snow. Continuing on we finally got to 3400 ft at 10:30, 2 hrs from the TH. We were following tracks in the snow but didn’t see any heading up at this point so we just continued on looking for some tracks that were headed up since we knew someone had done the route 3 days earlier. We finally got to 3600 ft and never saw any tracks going up. So at this point it was either go back down and look more closely or just head straight up. We elected to head straight up the avalanche slope which was about 35 deg at the beginning. Going was pretty good with occasional deep steps when the crust wasn’t strong enough. Joanna being bigger than I am had a harder time but found it easier to make her own steps rather than following mine.


Higher up the slope got steeper and narrower, going to about 40 deg. Also, as we got higher up I realized we were in the wrong place. By going to 3600 ft before starting up we overshot the couloir and ended up too far east, under a big rock cliff. We were now at about 4200 ft and needed to move west. This turned out to be the trickiest part of the day as we had to traverse a 45 deg snow slope over a rock band only feet away. A self-arrest at this point was very unlikely so we were extremely careful. After negotiating that slope we headed up slightly and then needed to downclimb a steep snow slope followed by an easy traverse through trees that finally brought us to the correct gully. Yea!


We had been carrying our snowshoes all this way and never used them and clearly were not going to be using them as we went up the couloir. So they came off our packs and were firmly planted in the snow for the return.


The couloir was about 40 deg at this location with prior steps going up. The people before us had used crampons but neither of us felt the need to put them on. It was very easy climbing as long as care was taken. As we got higher up the slope steepened to 45+ degrees but the going was still quite easy. Near the top of the couloir we spied two other climbers, the ones that had made the tracks we were following. They were roped up and attempting to scale the rock/ice band to get to the summit. I had read numerous reports about others trying this and all backed off unless it was later in the season and the ice had melted out. We elected not to even bring rock gear to attempt this although I did have 3 ice screws with me if the ascent looked promising, it didn’t. It was definitely a mixed climb, ice and rock, that I wasn’t prepared to do.


We headed off to climbers left at the top of the couloir, they were on the right. We stamped out a little platform to stand on, put some warm clothes on and had a quick bite to eat. We had no intention of downclimbing the route as it would have taken a long time to back down hundreds of feet of 45+ deg snow. So we set up our first rappel right near the top on the left side. We had brought along a 60m 8mm rope for rappelling and also knew that if we needed it for climbing the route it would have been fine as we were only on a snow slope and not doing anything that would have resulted in a vertical fall. This was our first of six rappels down through trees on climbers left. The last rappel brought us back to the gully and the 40 deg slope. At this point we just plunge stepped down as the snow was soft enough to be safe. Got back to our snowshoes and then continued down the lower couloir that we hadn’t been up. There were a few breaks in the snow where water was flowing over short drops. We downclimbed these areas pretty easily and continued on our way. Finally out of the gully we followed the other climber’s tracks up to get us back to the trail and on our way down.


It did get dark on us and we ran into trouble determining exactly where we needed to be when traveling along one of the roads looking for the trail extension. We lost about ½ an hour during this time and finally got back to the car about 6:00.


The other two climbers elected to rappel off the west side of the couloir from the top rather than down the couloir as we had decided to do. Their car was still in the parking lot when we returned so they were clearly still out there.


A very fun day.




Gear Notes:


Gear taken/used:

Ice axe – used

Ice tool – not used

Rope – used

Helmet – used

Crampons – not used

Pickets – not used

Ice screws – not used

Snowshoes – not used

Webbing for rappels – used (6)

Rappel rings - used


Approach Notes:

Start at the McClellan Butte TH, exit 42. The key thing is to head up from the trail at 3400 ft so you can go straight to the couloir rather than how we did it.

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I was in the group that you mentioned in your report; we traversed out to the west for a while and eventually got to a little chimney that we were able to get to the summit from. Walked down the east slopes. A good outing though.

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glad all went well with your climb and you made it to the summit and back down safely.

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Good effort! My party and I tried climbing that mixed band towards the top last season and failed. It was a fun climb never the less.

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Beta: You can exit climber's left just a bit before the top of the couloir and scramble easy rock (or mixed) to the summit. Step over the moat, make a couple third-class moves, and you're on the crest of the ridge.


Also, the clearing you were looking for is just a few minutes after the trail crosses the logging road. The trail does not enter the clearing, but traverses across the slope under it.

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