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Hike/Climb Russian Butte (with Thompson Point and Revolution Point)
GPS Data: Map, Track, Waypoints
All waypoints were created enroute except RB_HUT which was created from the
GPS Stats and other info:
7/12/08 sat - Hike-climb Russian Butte with Mark S (Mesahchie) and Chris S (Magnum) and myself Chris (Omega)
For years I've been gazing across from the tops of Mailbox, Dirty Harry etc) at this very close by, spectacular, rocky crag of a summit. What's THAT!? So I find out it's Russian Butte - nobody knows much about it, no trail to the top, and Becky's guide mentions it mostly just to say it's hard to get to and to suggest a circuitous approach - ultimately this would be the way we go.
Becky's suggested route is at least 15 miles long, involves lots of bushwhacking, and does not call out to me. Surely there must be some seldom used climber trail that goes straight up that awesome looking northwest face... So I spend several days last summer exploring ugly forest on the lower, north flanks of Zorro Ridge thinking that if any trail exists this is where it would have to start. For my effort I find nothing but some old surveyor tape left by someone before me.
In the mean time, I'm still determined to get to the top and talk it up with everyone who will listen. Soon there are 7 or 8 of us who are interested and nearly as many suggestions for alternative routes! Chris (Magnum) really gets psyched and makes two attempts involving rafting across the Middle Fork and then trying to ford the Pratt. It a very late snow year and the Pratt has been roaring. Once he slips from a log into the icy river. He survives but he's read enough Jack London to know that it's time to retreat.
Three days ago Mark and Chris (Magnum) invite me to go up the Granite Lakes approach on Saturday and I'm in. Our only guide is Gabriel's trip report where he required 14 hours over two days. So Mark picks me up at 5AM, we pick up Chris (Magnum) and we're at the trailhead hiking at 6:30. We start at the Middle Fork Bridge on a secret trail that connects with the Granite Lakes Road/Trail. This shortcut saves three miles off the round trip if you start at the Mailbox trailhead. I call it "secret" because when I was exploring the area last year, I found it by accident and as far as I know, nobody knows about it. I haven't found any reference to it anywhere and from the looks of it, it hasn't been used for quite a while either. It's getting pretty overgrown - in fact I miss the left fork at 0.5 miles (waypoint RB_FK01) and we spend a few extra minutes groveling through the lowland jungle before I realize and correct my error.
From that fork onwards, the trail is good. Another half mile and it connects with the Granite Creek Road which is easy walking 2 miles to the Granite Lake cutoff. At 8AM it feels good, the air is crisp and still, the sky is blue, it's going to be a gorgeous day... when suddenly the forest to our left explodes in a huge crashing noise like a tree is about to come down... and it keeps getting louder and louder.... and then it's done. The trees are shaking but nothing falls. Chris (Magnum) says he heard thumping off into the distance... I guess that explains all the bear scat on the trail. Scared the crap outa me too!
At 3 miles is the fork with the picnic table. Right goes to Granite Lakes. We go left and up. The walking is pleasant all the way to Thompson Point at 5124 feet. At 3950 at a switchback to the left we pass the brushy entrance to the trail to Thompson Lake. It was also marked by surveyor's tape else we probably would have missed it. The road finally ends just a bit before the actual top near the Thompson hut, a cabin that is kind of a mystery. It's built like a tank, two doors each 12 feet off the ground, one tiny window that is boarded up. It's hard to tell if it's even being used or not. One thing's for sure, it has the best view in all of Washington. You can see Mt Rainier, Seattle, Issaquah, the Olympics, Granite Lakes, All the Banana Ridge "peaks" (Mailbox, Dirty Harry, West Defiance...), McClellan Butte, Kent, Defiance, Chair, Kaleetan, Bryant, The Tooth, Granite, Pratt, Mt Si, Teneriffe, Bessemer, Green, Glacier, Adams, Baker, Sloan, Thompson Lake, Gifford Lakes, pretty much the whole north and central cascades and oh yah... our first view of Russian Butte. In short, you can pretty much see everything that's important in Washington (well except for the Issaquah part ;) Spectacular!
Russian Butte is a really cool collection of cliffs and spires and summits that guard the hanging valley containing Gifford Lakes 2000 feet below us.
From here on, we have no trail and stay on or nearly on the ridge all the way to Revolution Point. It starts out pretty brushy but gets better. We cross the "gully" (waypoint RB_GULLY) mentioned in Gabriel's report easily on high ledges and then regain the ridge with just a small bit of scrambling. From here we have almost continuous snow which makes the going a lot easier.
At Revolution Point we stop to eat, take in the views and sign the register. This is the highest elevation of the trip (5454) and you can see the ridge running due north to Russian Butte. It doesn't look very user friendly and I'm concerned that I don't see any of the meadows mentioned in Gabriel's report. We hike, grovel, and glissade steep snow down to about 4600 feet on the east side of the ridge. Here we side-hill for 1.5 miles on on big snow patches, talus, (some) vine maple and open forest. This leads to the big talus slope below and east of the main summit. This is the "south east approach" (waypoint RB_SE_UP at 4450). We all (probably unwisely) pick our own lines up 3rd class ramps and sloping ledges. Eventually we rejoin on the left side where it is more vegetated but the angle and exposure is least. We gain the summit at about 4:10PM. Note - we stayed on rock the whole way up but it might work better to stay in the woods to the left until you reach the saddle below the summit. From here the scramble is very easy. As it is we're not interested in going down the way we came up.
The view is great of course but I mostly like being so close to all the nearby, massive, minor summits and spires. The Middle Fork Snoqualmie is 4000+ feet straight down. A car slows crossing the middle fork bridge and I wonder if they're looking up at us. We sign the register which, placed in 2004 has only 7 entries. Chris (Magnum) has brought along some Russian refreshment - 4 little bottles, one of which we leave for whoever follows us. Exercising uncommon discretion (for me at least) we decide not to imbibe till we get ourselves safely off the top.
We took longer than planned to get here so we don't stay long. Our descent
will be to the NE which Gabriel's report describes as "steep heather". It is
exactly that with steep snow and steep rock thrown in as well. We pick our way
down looking for a clear route to the south and I get to practice my self-arrest
at least twice. The problem here is that the south is blocked by a big rock
ridge. We eventually find a steep but short slot (waypoint RB_NE_UP at 4610
feet) through the ridge that saves us from having to drop several hundred feet
to go under it. We wrap our rope around a big evergreen at the top for a
handrail down this section but it probably isn't necessary. From here it's a
short traverse back to the talus field after which we mostly just reverse our
approach route. We did drop down a couple hundred feet hoping to find relief
from the side-hilling but there was none. We also avoided 350 feet of climbing
by circling around (east) and below Revolution Peak all on easy snow and talus.
Back at the fork to Granite Lakes (3120) it's now 10PM. Mark has secretly stashed... something... here... but we miss it in the dark. He walks back up the trail while Chris and I wait for a good ten minutes. Mark is motivated (???) and rightly so as he finally returns with three 20 ouncers of assorted ice cold beers! We are in heaven! We continue the descent by headlamp while the pain in my feet, through liberal application of malted medication slowly dulls to an ache. We're not in much of a hurry ;) reaching the car at 12:10 midnight.
Photo credits: Chris Marsh, Chris Schaening, Mark Scherer
Related Links and other references:
"Cascade alpine guide, climbing and high routes, Columbia river to Stevens
Pass" by Fred Becky
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questions or comments about this web site.