I'd been thinking about climbing one of the avalanche slopes on the SE side of McClellans Butte for awhile now. I've gone up the regular trail quite a few times and have climbed the NE couloir a bunch of times although stopped at the base of the rock face as it's mixed climbing above that. So i got in touch with a couple of friends and suggested this route. Patrick and KP were all in so off we went. I suggested bringing steel crampons and an extra ice axe or ice tool as i expected it to be steep and pretty frozen.
We started at the upper TH and made our way easily to the base of the route. We had already put on crampons as the trail was icy and now took out our ice axes.
Going up was moderately steep and then got very steep, probably 50 deg. Leveled off a bit but then got very steep again.
At this point we started getting hit with what i would estimate as 30 mph winds from the side. Not very pleasant being on a 45-50 deg frozen slope in high winds. We were front pointing for much of the route and daggering our ice axes. Never took out the 2nd tool but it was close to needing it. However, while on this face we got hit by a small slide which came at us very fast as it was a few inches of light snow on a frozen surface. Saw it coming and dug in the pick of the axe. When i looked up KP was gone, turned around and she was about 15 feet below me in arrest position. about 30 seconds later we got hit by another small slide and again we dug in and it passed over us. It was more dangerous to downclimb so we continued up where we met Patrick. We were pretty close to the top at this point and eventually we made it to the base of the summit block but decided not to do it as it looked too dangerous without a rope and protection.
Using caltopo we overlayed our route on a slope map which certainly verified what we were feeling.
Dropped off the other side to put on some more clothes, get some food and water in and down we went on the standard trail albeit under lots of snow. All in all a pretty enjoyable but somewhat scary outing.
Hey, Ira -- that's a steep route. In my younger years I once scrambled that way with a friend in the summer, dry rock. About 2/3rds of the way up we regretted it and just tried to find the easiest way up to the ridge line. So I'm impressed you tried it in winter.
The finish on the NE Couloir route is usually less technical that it looks, if you exit left onto the ridge at the top, instead of directly up. Usually not more than a few 3rd class moves, though the second step has big exposure down that NE side. I've skied the couloir from the top several times, though the last time I was up there the snow was very weird at the top, so we downclimbed to less steep terrain.
Props on climbing the NE Face. Given the funky snow pack right now, I wouldn't have done it myself. But then Messner was told he'd die trying to climb 8000 meter peaks without supplementary oxygen. As someone once told me, there's a fine line between being bold and being stupid.
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