McClellan’s Butte 5162′

Ol’Mac looms…

If you are driving down the I-90 and spending more time looking out the window than on the road, McClellan’s Butte is hard to miss. It’s the big rocky spire, sorta looks like the Matterhorn from some angles.

Anyway, most rubbernecking hikers probably fall into one of two camps:

A: Man! I gotta climb that thing!

or…

Hanging out along the ridge
Hanging out along the ridge

B: There is no F$%#ing way you’d catch me up there!

Well guess what? Ol’ Mac’s Butte is a win-win!

The prominent rocky spire doesn’t disappoint those looking for an airy scramble, and allows some decent bragging rights the next time you’re rubbernecking down the ’90.

Alternatively, if exposed scrambling isn’t your thing, the Butte provides a challenging enough hike and great views from a slightly less lofty perch just below the imposing monolith.

THE NUMBERS

a4

Distance: 9-12 miles RT

Elevation gain: 3700′ ft (1128m)

Difficulty: YDS-1 hike, YDS-3-4 scramble

Licks to get to it’s center: The world may never know…

THE NAME

Spittin’ Image!

McClellan’s Butte is named for General George B. McClellan, a civil war era general and moustache aficionado which history seems to hold in mixed regard.

In 1853, George was here in the Washington territory surveying possible routes for the coming railroad.

Ultimately, he came to the conclusion that Yakima Pass near Tinkham Peak would be the best option for the rails, however no one else of consequence shared his opinion and Yakima Pass was never used.

McClellan’s efforts were however recognized, and his name was bestowed upon the butte, perhaps, some speculate, due to their uncanny resemblance.

Later Ol’ George even made an unsuccessful presidential bid against the incumbent President Abraham Lincoln.

In the end McClellan died of a heart attack in Orange, New Jersey at the age of 58.

 

Biggest trees on the '90!
Biggest trees on the ’90!

THE HIKING

We start out just off the Tinkham Road exit on the ’90. The trailhead is just a little way south of the interstate up a dirt road.

(There does however exist cheaters parking area further along the FS 9020)

milwlogo8

The trail briefly winds along through forest, then beneath power lines, meandering along old grades. Early along there is a split, either way you’ll end up at the John Wayne Trail (Old Milwaukee Road)

Heading west at the split along an old grade will take you along the “official” trail.

Reaching the Milwaukee Road, you’ll likely hear Alice Creek to your left and might see a bicyclist or two scoot on by, to continue up the butte trail, look to your right.

Off trail scrambling
Off trail scrambling

It’s within this next section that one can find the “old” trail which ambles past the Alice Claim , where one can view a handful of mining relics from an earlier era.

The next grade crossing is that of the FS 9020 (the cheaters parking area), not a lot to see here but a gravel road, and usually some parked cars. Press on!

You may have noticed by now that there are some pretty impressive trees along the trail. Somehow these giants were spared the lumberjacks unforgiving sawblade, while their less fortunate brethren are now only massive stumps.

These are some of, if not the largest trees along the ’90, so feel free to plop your butt down and view them with reverence and awe.

Lotsa big ol' trees
Lotsa big ol’ trees

The trail now begins to climb, and soon, at about the halfway point, the next and most dangerous landmarks will appear…

THE AVALANCHE CHUTES

As is evident from the lack of trees (or most anything but rock and snow) avalanches regularly thunder down these gullies when conditions are right for it.

Avalanches don’t always happen when you might expect!

Even during a nice, sunny spring day, so long as there is snow in the upper reaches, a slab of white death can break off and before you can say “Kalamazoo!” you’re history.

Just food for thought…. be aware!

Always check the Northwest Avalanche Center website for current avalanche conditions. (…and donate!)

Post thaw avalanche chute
Post thaw avalanche chute

Avalanches aside, these gullies can also be dangerous to cross for the unprepared as when they are snow filled they can be extremely steep.

Furthermore they can be undermined by flowing water and a simple posthole could potentially put you in the drink, or worse.

Carry the right gear, and know how to use it.

AHEM, BACK TO THE HIKING…

So after the avalanche gullies, the trail continues up and up.

Eventually you’ll round the south end of the ridge and sparse views of the FORBIDDEN lands of the Cedar River watershed will appear.

The trail does a large sort of U-Turn and soon you’re traversing the west side of the ridge.

The forbidden lands
The forbidden lands

(Note: this is a good place to jump off trail if you wanna scramble the whole ridge)

Here is a nice pleasant respite from the singularly upward direction of the trail prior to this, and with westward views and mountain meadows to boot!

Soon you’ll find yourself passing below the large rock walls of the ridge  before turning upwards, just below the summit block itself.

A steeper rocky section of trail is the last little bit to conquer before finding yourself at the landing beneath the imposing, monolithic block that is Ol’ Mac.

Ol' Harry up on the block
Ol’ Harry up on the block

THE BLOCK

As you will certainly see, the block is pretty exposed.

Climbing out onto it, you might think that exposed is an understatement when you discover that the block essentially terminates into oblivion, and any resultant falls from here would likely result in death, or worse.

Stay within your comfort zone, this isn’t a place to screw around.

That being said, the block isn’t technically difficult, and affords many hand and footholds that have been tried and tested hundreds of times before. (Never hurts to double check)

I read somewhere that at one time there existed an aviation navigational light at the top of Ol’ Mac, part of a system of lights that guided aircraft to Seattle.

“The Closer” ascending the block

In those times there was also a handhold and more of a path to the top. (At the moment my book collection is in storage,  so I’ll get back to you all about the specifics)

Along the scramble you can occasionally spy remnants of those days etched into the rock.

Once on the top you’ll be handsomely rewarded for your efforts (weather permitting) as you are standing upon one of the best viewpoints along the I90.

360º of unobstructed views!

ALTERNATIVE ROUTES

In Cascade Alpine Guide vol. 1, Beckey describes a couple different routes;

One of them is ascending to the summit ridge via the upper south slopes by way of the second avalanche gully as a moderate winter or spring snow climb.

This one I can vouch for, as a couple friends and I took it one spring without knowing it was really a route. The slopes here are steep, but if you keep your wits about you, the ascent to the ridge is a piece of cake. Some light class 3 scrambling is the worst of it.

Ascending the south slopes
Ascending the south slopes

Keep in mind however, there are a lot of loose rocks, and you are climbing directly above a fairly popular trail.

Another is the East Spur, which I gather is essentially taking the first avalanche gully directly to the summit, I’ve looked at it and intend to give it a try someday, appears to be a long class 2-3 scramble.

The NORTH BASIN is more of a climbing route, popular when the basin is snow filled. I have read that the rock near the upper reaches is pretty loose and crumbly and may have been a factor in a 2005 fatality along this route.

ETC…

McClellan’s Butte has a little something for everybody, and while a popular destination, thus far never seems too crowded.

Besides the summit block, the entire trail is YDS class 1, however, McClellan’s Butte, or any mountain should never be taken lightly; Steep Slopes, avalanche chutes, and George McClellan’s ghost are just a few hazards one may encounter while treading upon it’s flanks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The ’90 snaking across the land

 

There is often water available along the route, so bring a filter etc and fill up along the way.

Anyway, be prepared, leave it better than you found it, see ya there

Happy Trails!

Jack "The Bulge" at the summit
Jack “The Bulge” at the summit

GETTING THERE

Take exit 42 West Tinkham Rd. and head south, you’ll pass a WSDOT facility and a gated road on your right before coming to another road veering up and right to the trailhead. Sometimes this is signed, other times not. Either way it is a very short drive from the freeway offramp, so if you can’t find it, you probably went too far.

PASSES

nwtrailpass

Currently a NW Trailpass is required for parking.

 

 

References:

Beckey, Fred, Cascade Alpine Guide vol.1 Columbia River to Stevens Pass. The Mountaineers Books, 1973

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mt. Washington 4420′

Guess this must be the way...
Guess this must be the way…

As one of the first mountains one encounters heading eastbound on the I90, you’d think Mt. Washington would be one of the more popular hikes in the area.

Although it does see it’s share of people everyday I’m sure, it just doesn’t draw the crowds like it’s more famous neighbors Mt.Si and Mailbox Peak.

Fungi and Lichen
Fungi and Lichen

A few possible reasons for this are that it doesn’t really have it’s own trailhead, instead branching off of the Iron Horse trail and when viewed from the ground it doesn’t appear very spectacular.

The logging past
The logging past

It lacks an impressive summit block like Mc Clellans Butte or “The Haystack” and when viewed from just about any angle it really just looks like a non-descript lump of green.

Also at a scant 4420′, it seems like the runt of the I90 litter.

I’m guilty of it, I’ve driven by countless times and not really given it a second thought. I’ve passed it up for years, seeking more exciting and open looking mountain slopes along the road when the day-hike bug bites.

Well my friends, I was wrong. I said it, wrong. Turns out Mt.Washington is one hell of a hike.

Open views...
Open views…

Yeah, who knew, right?

Oh, and don’t let it’s unassuming demeanor and modest stature fool you, when the bell rings, this one comes out of the corner swinging!

The first part of the trail is an unrelent…. Let’s go back and start from the beginning.

Great Wall Junction
Great Wall Junction

We start off the exit 38, at the John Wayne trail/Twin Falls trailhead. There is usually adequate parking here and FYI, a Discover Pass is required. (Ranger Rick was handing out tickets when I pulled into the parking lot today)

Follow the trail up to the John Wayne trail and bear right, (westward) you’ll be looking for a trail on your left, heading up into the woods. You might be confused when you find it but, yeah, thats it. Hell of a trailhead, huh?

This is where I was going before…

The pond
The pond

It doesn’t take long before the trail starts beating on you with an unrelenting, steep grade, often capped with loose, jagged rock. This section of trail will devastate the legs of the uninitiated. The one encouragement I can give you is that this, at least in my humble opinion, is by far the most arduous section of the whole hike.

The world below
The world below

Along the way it passes a cut-off to Sallal (sic) Point. I haven’t yet visited the place so, no comment.

The thigh attrition finally begins to subside right around the “Owl Spot” lookout. Now, thats not to say the rest of the hike is cake or anything, but from here on out, I feel the worst is over. This is also your first real clear view of the world below. Take a breather, soak it in, you’ve earned it.

First summit glimpse...
First summit glimpse…

Not long after, you’ll catch your first glimpse of the summit….aaand it’s still a long ways away, keep the faith!

You’ll pass the Great Wall Junction which is an alternate route to the summit, or perhaps the tail end of a loop. I’ll talk more about it later.

Note the cliff in upper right
Note the cliff in upper right

The trail steadily becomes more pleasant, passing through open areas and affording views of the mountainsides. You’ll soon find yourself at a tranquil mountain pond and a fork in the road. It may appear that turning right here is a viable option, crossing the little creek and making a beeline towards the summit. This however, as I found out first hand, is not the case.

Bear left.

Mystery Gate
Mystery Gate

Not long afterwards you’ll encounter a strange gate. What is it’s purpose? Is it keeping us out or in? Is this the Canadian border? I’m still scratching my head. I have no idea what in the hell this thing could possibly have been built for. Whatever…

Logging debris
Logging debris

The trail now rounds the inside of the bowl between Mt.Washington and the high spot to the east. (Great Wall Peak?) Soon it begins climbing up Mt.Wa’s flanks though forest and talus. Rounding the bend you think you are almost there and then… crap.

Up and up, keep pressing on.

The trail crosses an old logging road before the final push to the summit.

Summit views
Summit views

As you wind up the backside of the summit, views open up to the south, Rainier, Rattlesnake Ledge, Chester Morse Lake and points beyond. Not much more than a stroll through the high meadows will bring you some even more commanding views from the summit.

Hungry birds
Hungry birds

Oh and a weather station, which kinda just lives there, and hungry birds, they live there too.

The Great Wall Loop


Going down can be as easy as retracing your steps back to the car, or you can turn it into a loop. I love a good loop, so lets go that way.

Perhaps when you were heading up the meadows, you noticed a lightly trodden trail heading down the ridge towards the southeast. It leads back to the last logging road the trail crossed.

Maybe too you noticed the open spaces across the bowl on your way up, or that little cliff above a flat spot over yonder. The logging road you crossed will take you over there. This to my knowledge is the Great Wall Trail.

The "Y"
The “Y”

You’ll follow it along the rim of the bowl. To the south side of the road you can’t help but notice the Cedar River Watershed’s no trespassing signs stapled to the trees, occasionally you may see red reflectors tacked to the trees on the north side.

Subtle clues...
Subtle clues…

Considering what it took you to get up here, this is paradise! Strolling along a flat road grade on the top of the world, you’ll probably dance a jig!

Jig your jolly self down the road a ways you’ll come to a “Y”, I don’t know where going forward leads, but taking the hard left and down will lead on along the Great Wall trail.

It gets better!

Soon huge views open up of McClellans Butte, Putrid Pete and many other I90 peaks to the east. The Change Creek basin appears like an abyss below, as the little logging road carries you along, across perilously steep slopes.

I90 corridor from the Great Wall
I90 corridor from the Great Wall

You might be thinking just who in the hell would have ever driven a truck on this!

“Tell em’ Large Marge sent ya…”

Mt.Washington from Great Wall Trail
Mt.Washington from Great Wall Trail

One thing to note here is that this section, due to it’s steep and open slopes could be potentially dangerous in adverse snow conditions. That is to say, looks pretty slide prone to me. Be sure to check: http://www.nwac.us/ for the current avalanche forecast.

Despite that, this in my opinion is the best part of this entire hike, ambling along a gentle grade, and being inundated by majestic views.

There is a kind of tricky part coming up in store for you though, as you’ll hit another junction.

One way switchbacks to the north, the other seems to enter low growing alder saplings. The natural tendency is to continue down the switchback, but upon closer examination one may see a small cairn near the dead end alder. This is the correct way down the Great Wall trail.

I wouldn't wanna drive it...
I wouldn’t wanna drive it…

If you turn around you may see a small sign which indicates that the trail down the switchback leads to Change Creek, which is another viable way back to the John Wayne trail, but not the subject of this review.

Following the route as marked by the diminutive cairn, the trail again enters old, steep, logging grade through young forest of alder and mixed conifer.

Change Creek Junction
Change Creek Junction

Eventually you will pass by a dramatic cliff which I think is the “Great Wall”. The trail becomes narrow here and there is a drop off, but nothing to worry about.

Continue on and before you know it you are back at the Mt.Wa-Great Wall Jct. All thats left to do now is head back to the car. Congratulations, you did it! Hopefully you displayed the right pass and won’t find a ticket waiting under your windshield wiper.

Conclusion


I greatly underestimated Mt.Washington for years, but now have discovered just what a gem in the I90 Crown that it really is. There is much to discover along it’s forested slopes.

The trail is often flanked by subtle yet imposing cliffs which really adds a certain atmosphere to this hike, some of which have interesting caves and grottos as well.

The Great Wall
The Great Wall

The views, I have to admit, are fantastic and even surpass those of it’s more famous neighbors (not going to name names here so as not to hurt any feelings)

While it is a physically demanding hike with steep, long grades and an 8.5 mile roundtrip while hiking the standard route, it doesn’t offer any technical challenges to get to the summit. Given enough time it should be attainable for most people of reasonable physical constitution.

The Great Wall
The Great Wall

Don’t make the mistake I did for years and just poo-poo Mt.Washington as you drive on by, seeking bigger and better things.

After all you might just be driving by your new favorite hike!

Happy trails, Harry Biped

Happy Trails!
Happy Trails!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baring Mountain 6125′

This isn’t a recent report, rather just some reflections and a general guide to one of the most recognizable behemoths off the highway 2, Baring Mountain.

Nik at the summit!
Nik at the summit!

The first time I tried to climb this beast, I wasn’t quite prepared. It was still early August 2012 I think. In most  of my other trips to the high country that summer, the snow was already long gone, and after all, the mountain didn’t look snowy…

USGS marker at the summit
USGS marker

So I’ll just take it from the top, the trip starts out at the Barclay Lake trailhead, which is really gaining in popularity, so parking can sometimes start a distance from the actual trailhead/kiosk/porto dumpers. A NW Trail pass is required to park at the trailhead, and vicinity.

Instead of heading down the Barclay lake trail, continue forward, over the gravelly berm and up what I imagine was probably an old logging road.

Here’s the trick now, you gotta keep an eye on the hillside to your right, sometimes the “trail” is flagged sometimes it’s not, really I use the term trail very loosely. Actually lets just go with route.

Looking across at Merchant Peak from "The Slog"
Looking across at Merchant Peak from “The Slog”

Eventually you’ll see the narrow boot swath near a rivulet coming down the hill. Things become immediately brutal from about this point onward.

It’s pretty difficult to describe the route with any great detail, sometimes there is a worn boot path, sometimes it disappears, I guess it’s best to say it goes up, and damn does it ever.

Looking down at Barclay Lake from the summit
Looking down at Barclay Lake

You are trying to gain the west ridge extending from doppel-lith that is Mount Baring, and unless you are a decent routefinder, it’s best to go with someone who has been up there before. Although there is only a bit of  light scrambling along the way, it’s a steep, often muddy, thigh destroying slog up to the ridge. Coming down can even be worse, especially in the fading light, not the kinda place you wanna be hiking down in the dark.

First view of "The Gully"
First view of “The Gully”

Once you finally gain the ridge, you begin heading east toward the summits. This part of the route actually has a followable trail along much of it’s length, and although there is elevation gain, after what you went up through to get up here, it feels like a walk through woodland paradise.

However, then steep gain starts again, this time switchbacking up and up, at one point you’ll pass the remains of an old camp, marked with a coffee can.

My ugly mug about to head up!
My ugly mug about to head up!

Eventually you’ll end up crossing into a large bowl and the alpine terrain finally begins to open up. The initial view is breathtaking, and possibly terrifying for some. After that long, long slog… you have the colossus looming before you. Really though I find this next bit less exerting, and I think it’s because the views are so vast.

Looking up "The Gully" in snowfree conditions
Looking up “The Gully” in snowfree conditions

I like trees, don’t get me wrong… but for me there is just something a little more rewarding and less tiring about sweeping, majestic views. Maybe it’s because you really feel like your toils are resulting in real distance gained, or maybe it’s because those airy regions have a pain killing effect, whatever the reason, on to our next section.

Baring the Sundial
Baring the Sundial

Depending on the time of the time of year you’ll immediately notice either a huge snow filled gully seperating the two summits, or a huge boulder and talus gully performing the same act. The first time I came here it was the former, but it was breaking apart and quick.

You’ll need an ice axe here. The moment I saw the gully, I realized this, and realized my journey was pretty much at an end. I decided to amble over just to check it out and have a little fun in the snow along it’s lower regions. However, the snow field was dotted with large pits, some fairly deep. Even with an ice axe, it wouldn’t have been the best time to try and scale the thing.

Climbing "The Gully"
Climbing “The Gully”

So…..I came back a month or so later and the gully was ice free! The talus scrambling wasn’t the best, lots of it loose and pretty steep, but made it up. At the notch there is a minor scramble to get onto Baring’s north peak. There is a trail here in place and really only light scrambling the rest of the way to the summit. I was surprised really, I thought it’d be a lot more airy and exposed. You can get all the terrifying heights and exposure with just one glance off the north face though.

It's a long way to the top!
It’s a long way to the top!

 

The next time I went up Baring was in late June, a friend of mine wanted to go and it was a beautiful day to boot. This time we were prepared with crampons and ice axes. The route was totally snow free by that time until you enter the bowl beneath the huge gully.

I gotta say, this is the time of year/conditions you wanna take this beast on…

Unusual batteries near summit... Aliens?
Unusual batteries near summit… Aliens?

The climb up the gully was so much better on the snow, and with the contrast of green trees and blue skies makes it just that much more satisfying. There is however an added obstacle that comes with snow being left on the mountain…

Pretty alpine trails
Pretty alpine trails

At the notch there is a snow wall instead of a scramble, and depending on the time of year this thing can be pretty damn big so I’ve heard. When we got there, it was dauntingly steep but not as tall as I have read it gets. We didn’t have too much trouble with it, but I’ll tell you it is most definitely perilous. It’s sharp grade would put you in a severe world of hurt or worse if it got away from you. Certainly not for novices.

After the snow wall the rest of the route is cake, even on snow. When we got up to the summit, the block had long been melted out and provided light scrambling to the summit.

Going up the snow wall
Going up the snow wall

There are not a lot of views like the one from Baring Mountain, especially like the completely vertical drop down to Barclay lake. Wave to all the campers! I get a kick at looking down at Der Baring store (a favorite breakfast stop) from over a mile above. It really is a spectacular perch.

Looking up the last section
Looking up the last section

Baring Mountain is a great trip for those that are starting to move away from the more trodden trails and want a more mountaineering sort of experience. It offers much, but also demands much, it is not for the timid or out of shape, but for the alpine hiker, it is an unforgettable experience.

Happy Trails, Harry Biped

Looking down at "Der Baring Store"
Looking down at “Der Baring Store”