Skiing McClellan Butte's East Face

McClellan Butte's East Face towers over the pass as one rolls westward toward Seattle, A 45+ degree 3000' face filled with cliffs and spines. For years I was obsessed with finding a window to ski the North Couloir on McClellan - Only attempting it on foot once in 2008. But over the past several seasons, this face has truly become more of my obsession. As luck had it, a high pressure system rolled into the PNW in March, making for an ideal time to attempt a route that would often be too melted in the spring, but too dangerous for any winter like conditions.



McClellan Butte's East Face


With the forecast looking a lot like spring conditions, I called my buddy Ryan Pope who is often down for a good mid-week mission. We opted for a 6:30 start from exit 42, to give ourselves plenty of options and to travel before things warmed up. There are a few ascent options, but we opted for following close by the summer route until we were about halfway across the traverse to the far shoulder. We occasionally shouldered the skis across some of the avy chutes to avoid a fall skinning on firm snow. It was remarkable to see the debris chunks from wet slides that had traveled way into the forest during previous days natural cycles. Unsure of if conditions would hold, we just progressed little by little and never had any major red flags.



From the middle of the face, we booted up about 800' to the ridge on firm snow, avoiding the pockets of deeper snow which hadn't shed yet.


At the ridge we realized we were a few hundred yards south so we wrapped around the northwest side to traverse to the notch before the summit block. We stayed on foot through the backside, which was a mix of pretty deep light power and some breakable making for challenging but safe travel. And regained the ridge just before the summit block.



Until now we had only encountered firm snow up high on the face, but testing around, we could tell this aspect of the face had softened perfectly, so our low hopes of a summit ski, quickly improved and we charged the last bit of the summit block to the summit. We hunkered down by a path of trees, not wanting to test our luck 5' higher on a potential cornice. After a quick rest we geared up and started the descent. I went first and made a few turns to the notch, before Ryan came by and boarded halfway down the face so I could shoot some photos. it was about 11:30 when we dropped in and the snow had softened perfectly.

Dropping off the summit


Ryan dropping from the summit



Looking down from the saddle


First turns after the saddle



Ryan Skiing the face from above




Ryan surfing some features part way down.


The face went on for nearly 3000' down to the creek at bottom and mellowed out for the last 500-1000' . From here was a relative quick ski back along the creek to the road and out the trail. We did have to cary skis once and deal with a bit of slide alder, but all and all a relatively straight forward exit.






Rough image of ascent and descent routes.



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Stories by Scott Heinz ( Medical Moose Labs)

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