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Bluebird
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PostWed Jul 31, 2019 11:34 am 
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Elephant Butte:

I bought the Cascade Alpine Guide about 10 years ago and deeply enjoyed reading about the peaks I’d explored only as a hiker thus far. A short entry near the back caught my attention-- the Elephant Butte/Stetattle Ridge route to the Southern Pickets. Elephant Butte sounded so remote and interesting, perfect for my interests. Maybe even not too hard for me! I read a few trip reports online, didn’t find much and this made me even *more* interested, despite the reports of unplanned bivvies, horrible bushwhacking and clinging to cliffs. I discussed it with a friend who had climbing experience and he unequivocally told me it was “way too hard” for me. Well, okay. I made it my goal instead to make it to point 6495 on the Stetattle ridgeline, made a late spring snowshoe attempt that fell short several years ago. Jake and I went out that way again this March, camping on point 6495 and snowshoing to the North Stetattle (6732) summit. It was absolutely stunning, totally renewed my interest in Elephant Butte. This weekend Jake and I decided to give it a go…biggrin.gif

We were already familiar with the ridgeline (winter) route as well as the trail. The somewhat peculiar Summitpost entry for EB recommends taking the winter route even in the summer, and I had read other TR’s where they simply climbed up Sourdough Creek… but we took the trail to Sourdough Creek Camp, hiked to the privy and then started a bushwhack up the mountain. The bugs were heinous here, I thought Jake was going to have a freakout when they started flying in his nose and mouth. Yuck. Some open forest terrain, some less so, then finally open thick meadows where we could see the class 3 section on the ridge that is a narrow snowy knife edge in the winter. We scrambled up it and continued on the ridge.

Sourdough Camp
Sourdough Camp

There’s intermittent trail along the ridge and occasional cairns, but it’s choose your own adventure time with plenty of opportunities to ask the question “Am I cliffed out here?” on a granite slab. With good route finding you can walk the whole way to North Stetattle (Point 6732) without requiring your hands, but you’ll probably scramble a bit. It is absolutely gorgeous terrain with views in every direction, tarns, grassy sections, slabs and loose rock to enjoy. Lots of camping options. We found water near the Sourdough/Stetattle junction in couple of large tarns, in Sourdough Creek, near Point 6303, between 6495 and North Stetattle and beyond North Stetattle on the ridgeline.

Stetattle ridge
Stetattle ridge
ridgeline camp
ridgeline camp
southern pickets
southern pickets
tarn below Elephant Butte
tarn below Elephant Butte
ridgeline tarn with Mt Prophet in the distance
ridgeline tarn with Mt Prophet in the distance

After a nearly 7k gain day carrying an overnight pack, I was ready for some relax time so we settled in to a beautiful campsite near tarns west of North Stetattle. Lots of options here and plenty of water. Some bugs but the breeze kept them mostly at bay. Sunset was spectacular and so are the views in this area. I was captivated by Elephant Butte…

camp with a view
camp with a view
Elephant and Luna at sunset
Elephant and Luna at sunset
north stetattle from the west
north stetattle from the west

The next morning it was on to the Butte!


I was so excited to finally be going to EB! We continued down the ridge, skirting south of the last high point. You could probably stay farther left here but we continued down towards the 4920ish elevation pass between North Stetattle and EB. At the lowest terrace of meadow, just where you start to cliff out, we headed left. We’d read TR’s reporting this as a heinous bushwhack, but perhaps we were just lucky because it wasn’t bad. Starting from some huckleberries at that lowest meadow terrace is a faint path, or set of paths that are probably game trails to avoid the cliffs. It’s not obvious, but if you know how to find trails you will find it. We continued down these steep duffy bushwhacky faint game trails without much trouble and ended up just above the pass. At one point, the trail is peculiarly well defined.
wow, huh, the one place this trail is well defined
wow, huh, the one place this trail is well defined

The lower end of the game trail is marked with cairns, but the upper end is not--- perhaps because there were no rocks? Our feet were pretty wet after all this meadow and bushwhacking but otherwise, approach shoes were just fine for this.

We crossed the gap and I noticed a faint steep entry into the forest on the other side, just south of where we popped out. I went up, finding another faint trail that ended at a small open meadow. Perhaps this is a “trail” to the unnamed lake? I didn’t see continuing trail here, but also didn’t look for it. We didn’t want to take the Routes and Rocks route via the lake, so we trended right instead. Here is a maze of cliff bands and steep meadows. Hopefully you examined the route options when you were admiring EB from Stetattle Ridge, but if not, you can muddle your way through it without requiring any true scrambling with some route finding.


Rather than scrambling the reportedly class 3-4 ridgeline above us directly to the summit, we trended left to a broad bench, passing plenty of water. From the bench you can pick your favorite traverse options, we did a low there and a high back and both work fine. Just depends on if you like steep heather sidehilling or rock hopping. We liked the rock hopping better and found it faster for us.

Although multiple gullies appear to lead to the summit, we went to the saddle between EB and Hippo/Rhino and then up/down/up/down more gorgeous slabs, meadow and past a couple small tarns and snowfields to the summit of EB. We loved the summit views. Just incredible! We spend the night bivvied on the summit, enjoying a gorgeous sunset over the picket range and then stars so deep you can look into the universe.


The registers (two) had few entries, average of less than 1 party per year since it was placed by Fay Pullen in 2008. It had been over a year since the last party signed in. Older registry bits were also there, quite wet and weathered. Jake was able to read a 1978 entry from John Roper (the year I was born!). He dried out all the paper in the registry thoroughly and we moved the entire registry, including one of the old tubes into a secondary, more waterproof container-- my ½ liter nalgene. Here are all the documents found in the registers in an effort to preserve this information.


Took almost the same route back other than a high traverse around EB and then probably a different route through some of Steattle Ridge (so many options, I’m sure we strayed from our original path). The bushwhack back down to Sourdough Camp was mercifully brief, we decided it was definitely less work than continuing on the ridge to the Lookout and then taking trail. 80 minutes knee jarring minutes after popping out on the trail, we were back to the car. Our knees definitely noticed that we had descended about 9k that day.

Total route as we took it is about 30 miles and over 13K elevation gain/loss. Over 10K of this gain is to the summit of EB, about 2500+ gain on the return trip. Our time was 10-12 hours each way carrying overnight packs. We took plenty of breaks for snacks, water and the occasional “nap”. So, doable in one day, but it would be pretty heinous. IMO it’s a full “day trip” from North Stetattle to EB. Don't underestimate the strenuous nature of this trip. biggrin.gif
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Gimpilator
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PostWed Jul 31, 2019 12:07 pm 
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Nice trip!  Love it up there.   up.gif

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https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCw7tyvnbUagAxIxEuJE5Udw
http://www.summitpost.org/user_page.php?user_id=25744
http://www.peakbagger.com/climber/ClimbListC.aspx?cid=2650&sort=elevft&u=ft&j=-1&y=9999

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cascadetraverser
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PostWed Jul 31, 2019 12:44 pm 
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👍🏻
I think I heard about this one!! Well done; fabulous place...
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RichP
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PostWed Jul 31, 2019 3:04 pm 
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Good to know there's an alternate way to the top. I've been saving this one and may give it a try later in the summer.

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Without obsession, life is nothing. John Waters
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awilsondc
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PostWed Jul 31, 2019 3:37 pm 
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Nice to see you two make it up there!  That's quite the haul to get that one.  Well done!  up.gif  up.gif  up.gif
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raising3hikers
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PostWed Jul 31, 2019 7:14 pm 
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can't help but always stare at that pk going W on highway 20 above diablo lake.  Nice work!

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Eric Eames
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ozzy
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PostWed Jul 31, 2019 7:29 pm 
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What a gnarly trip! rocker.gif  Damn i didnt know EB was that hard to get to! Thats goin on my long ever growing list lol. Good job yall cheers!

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Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer. -Arnold
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hikerbiker
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PostThu Aug 01, 2019 5:38 am 
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Great report! I skied your exact route in March of 1990 during a period when my friends and I were working on FWA's.  This was the only one I did solo. Thanks for the elevation and distance data; I feel better about being totally beat when I got back to camp at the beginning of the ridge!  The rock step at the beginning of the SE Ridge was only maybe 50' of rock followed by massively overhung cornice the rest of the way to the summit.  I rated it 4th class because I didn't have a rope though the rock was good.  Great pics too smile.gif
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Bluebird
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PostFri Aug 02, 2019 1:31 pm 
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I appreciate the comments, guys! It's really a stunning place, absolutely my best night in the wilderness and first summit bivy, so good! And 4g service on the summit for Jake, hah!

I was somewhat concerned that posting about EB online would increase traffic to the area, but I think the price for admission (the hike in!) is steep enough to keep most people out. I hope this helps someone who was already considering a visit plan their trip better. I know I personally was scared off by the TR's I read 10 ish years ago... turns out that that sections I was worried about weren't so bad after all <3
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Jake Robinson
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PostFri Aug 02, 2019 2:31 pm 
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It really was a great trip, thanks so much for getting me out there. I do have one gripe with you though: you never complain! So while I'm swearing about the bugs, whining about my ankles or my sunburn or what have you, you're just smiling and saying something like "we're so lucky to be here right now." So maybe complain a bit more, yer makin' me look bad  wink.gif

Dropping to the 4950' notch at the head of Torrent Creek was way easier than we expected. Stefan's report has great beta, I highly recommend bringing it along. On the E side of the notch, the easiest passage is on the S side. The W side is choose your own adventure through cliffs. We found it very helpful to study the W side of the notch from the E as we were dropping down. From this vantage we were able to pick out a route that worked really well for us; class 2 and not too much brush. We chose not to follow the R&R description to go past the lake and instead followed Stefan's directions, this worked well for us.

Overall it was a lot more effort than I thought it would be, you really have to work for it.
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Matt
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PostFri Aug 02, 2019 7:26 pm 
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That's a tough one to get.  Congratulations.

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“As beacons mountains burned at evening.” J.R.R. Tolkien
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Eric Hansen
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PostFri Aug 02, 2019 8:00 pm 
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Bluebird and Jake. Thanks! Fabulous report. I've been aware of EB for years and your report only makes it more tempting.

"Stefan's directions" refers to what? Edit. Got it, just found his TR
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Bluebird
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PostFri Aug 02, 2019 9:47 pm 
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Jake Robinson wrote:
I do have one gripe with you though: you never complain! So while I'm swearing about the bugs, whining about my ankles or my sunburn or what have you, you're just smiling and saying something like "we're so lucky to be here right now." So maybe complain a bit more, yer makin' me look bad  wink.gif

Not sure I have anything to complain about when I have an interesting adventure, beautiful scenery and excellent company. I don't mind bugs, sunburn, bruises, choss, bushwhacking, tedious traverses or counter elevation. <3  moon.gif
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Zloi
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PostSun Aug 04, 2019 6:52 pm 
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This sounds like the kind of quintessential adventure that Cascade climbing is all about. Congrats on some well-earned summits.
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Brushbuffalo
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PostMon Aug 05, 2019 4:56 pm 
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Jake Robinson wrote:
We chose not to follow the R&R description to go past the lake

You are. fortunate to have more beta to go by these days. Indeed,  although we didn't climb to the summit of EB, when we pioneered the Stetsttle Ridge route while exiting after our complete N to S Pickets traverse in late summer 1967,  we had nothing to go by, not even a 7.5 min. topomap if I recall correctly.( just areal photos).  In rainy foggy conditions, when we would come to a gap we would split our party of six into pairs and go scouting. Upon reconvening we would decide on the best goat trail reported. The wet brush without a trace of  man- made path made it especially interesting.  What a true adventure. We had no idea how to proceed but with Rowland and Dwight leading, we knew it would go.
Good times!  I'm really soft and spoiled now.

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Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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