When figuring out the logistics of the car plant and access trails for climbing the NE Buttress of Slesse, I discovered a lot of ambiguities and confusion. Even though we prepared well, Clint and I still got lost up some logging road spur while trying to follow an outdated description of the trailhead for the Slesse Mountain trail. So, I drew up the above illustration, in hopes that it could clear up a lot of ambiguities. Click on the above illustration to enlarge. The route is highlighted in yellow. Hope it’s helpful. Oh, and the distances are in kilometers, in case you are wondering. It took 15 minutes to drive the 7.9km on the Slesse Creek Road, 9 minutes to drive the 8.9km on the Chilliwack Lake Road, and 14 minutes to drive the 6.4km on the Nesakwatch Creek Road. Note that this map was created in 2007, and so take this info with a grain of salt that grows larger with each passing year.
The route up the NE Buttress of Slesse Mountain (aka Mount Slesse). 2500ft of stellar climbing! (This photo was taken from the Memorial Plaque on the east side of Slesse on a hike the previous year).
In August, when my Californian climbing partner Clint Cummins drove north to climb in the Bugaboos with me, we had initially planned on climbing the NE Buttress of Slesse before he made his long drive back south. However, by mid-August the pocket glacier had not yet slid; we had decided not to climb Slesse unless the pocket glacier slid, in light of the unfortunate death of a climber earlier in the season from a calving chunk of glacier. So Clint drove home to California, and we put Slesse on hold for another year. However, when the pocket glacier slid at the end of August and a great stretch of weather appeared in the forecast, Clint and I revisited our plans to climb the Northeast Buttress of Slesse. Clint drove all the way from California, and off we went for another great climb together!
Due to the lack of water on the route (in the late summer the snow at the bivy ledge is melted), the early-autumn nighttime chill, and the fact that it is more enjoyable to climb with lighter packs, we decided to climb the route without a bivy. The day before the climb, we planted a car at the Slesse Mtn. Trailhead on Slesse Creek Road, and then drove 23 km to the trailhead for the Slesse Memorial Trail on Nesakwatch Creek Road. We pulled out our sleeping bags and slept beside the car near the trailhead. Having no alarms on our watches, we slept in an hour later than we had wanted to, but we still got an early start and we were hiking by 4:15am. After a stellar climb, we arrived on the summit a couple of hours before sunset, and by midnight were stumbling onto the Slesse Creek road where we had planted our car the day before.
The following page details our 20-hour car-to-car climb of the Northeast Buttress of Slesse, and of course gives lots of photos. The Northeast Buttress is well-known for its status as one of Steck and Roper’s Fifty Classics. It is certainly a classic climb!
APPROACHING THE CLIMB
The trailhead for the Slesse Memorial Trail, which is used to approach the NE Buttress. Thanks to whoever made the nice sign! Certainly makes this trailhead easier to find than the trailhead on the other side! The trail starts at an elevation of about 2000ft, and climbs first to the Memorial Plaque at 3600ft, and then beyond this to the Propeller Cairn at 4900ft.
Clint at a short break at the Propeller Cairn (a memorial to the crash victims of Flight 810). It took us 2.5 hours of hiking to get here. We filled up on water here before heading over to cross the East Buttress to gain the pocket cirque below the NE Buttress. There is an alternative approach that bypasses the Propeller Cairn and goes straight from the Memorial Plaque through the basin straight to the pocket cirque. This might have been a bit faster than going to the Propeller Cairn, but it was dark and we preferred to stay on a trail.
To get to the NE Buttress from the Propeller Cairn, traverse slightly downwards across glacier slabs to an obvious notch in the East Buttress (the notch is right-center in photo).
Slesse in morning light. The 2500ft NE Buttress is on the right skyline.
The pocket cirque. The pocket glacier had slid at the end of August. Over the years the pocket glacier has proven itself to be a serious hazard, since calving chunks have killed several climbers crossing underneath.
Clint crossing the pocket cirque. This photo was taken seconds before Clint was abducted by aliens beaming him out of the sky…
Nice light on a cool formation on a block of snow sitting on the polished slabs.
CLIMBING THE NORTHEAST BUTTRESS
The diagonal ledge (Class 3) that leads from the pocket cirque onto the buttress. This is the popular Bypass Variation that avoids the lower unaesthetic mossy pitches.
Steph on the Class 3 ledge. Behind you can see the remaining snow in the pocket cirque. This snow is on relatively flat ground so unlikely to slide.
Clint scrambling the Class 4 terrain just above where the Bypass Variation ledge meets the ridge. There is one short shrubby 5.6+ section.
Steph soloing the 5.7 runout crack, the first stiff climbing on the route. It’s really runout this way!
PITCH 1. We decided to rope up as the wall steepened. This pitch climbs flaky cracks and then a corner (5.8). Clint led this pitch, which continued to a belay behind and up from where he is standing in the photo.
Steph leading PITCH 2. This is low 5th-class bushy steps.
Steph climbing the arête at the top of PITCH 3. This pitch started with a 5.7 steep wall and ended on a fun arête. This pitch was part of the direct approach on the buttress, which is slightly harder than a variation to the right.
Clint starting up PITCH 4 (direct variation). This was a fun pitch of steep 5.8 cracks on the right side of the buttress in the photo. There were lots of knobs in a granite/metamorphic contact zone. As you can see in the photo, on this pitch Clint narrowly escaped being beamed up by aliens again….
The steep 5.8 cracks on PITCH 4 and knobby contact zone above. This was a stellar pitch. We didn’t find the 5.10 "thin wires" mentioned in the topo for this direct variation, but the direct variation (PITCHES 3-5.5 by our counting) was some of our favorite climbing on the route!
Steph climbing PITCH 5. This pitch had an amazing steep 5.9 lieback. More stellar climbing on the direct route.
PITCH 6. This pitch featured what the topo called a "strenuous 5.8+ lieback," but it wasn’t too hard (it was fun though!). This was a long pitch that brought us to the gigantic bivy platform. Some stellar climbing!
Shadow of Slesse below from midway through the climb.
This photo shows the gigantic bivy platform halfway up the route. The buttress in the photo that is lit by the sun looks like it could have some good climbing.
There was no snow remaining at the bivy ledge. But there was a tiny patch a couple of pitches above the bivy sites – enough for a pot of tea, perhaps….
Clint had led 5 of the first 6 pitches up to the bivy ledge. It was now my turn to have some fun leading (I ended up leading 5 of the last 6 pitches). This photo shows Steph leading the 600 ft of simulclimbing above the giant bivy ledge. This was class 4 to 5.5 near the crest. For the sake of numbering, of the simulclimbing is considered to be PITCH 7.
Steph leading PITCH 8. This pitch starts just right of a leaning pillar and climbs steep cracks and steep 5.8+ to a grassy belay ledge.
Steph leading off PITCH 9, which climbs a 5.7 rotten pillar and then wanders out right, up steep cracks, and then back left to a ledge..
Clint leading off PITCH 10. Fun 5.8 cracks lead past a bolt through a small 5.8/5.9 roof.
Steph leading off PITCH 11. This was fun and exposed 5.7 cracks and flakes past an alcove up a steep juggy wall to a ledge (you can belay in the alcove to reduce rope drag on the final steep moves).
Looking down PITCH 12 (and the entire NE buttress). This pitch was fun and moderate cracks and knobs, with many possible variations and what the topo describes as an "awkward 5.8 traverse" (although we didn’t find it too awkward). .
Steph at the belay just before PITCH 13, the final climbing to the top. The final pitch climbs solid 5.7 pillars to loose blocks on the summit ridge..
View of the North Cascades looking towards the Picket Range (Luna Peak at left center, Challenger to the right. This photo was taken just before the summit block.
Clint topping out on the loose blocks just before the summit.
Evening light to the west. We got to the summit at 5:30pm, with 2 hours of daylight to make it past the downclimbing and gullies to the trail.
This photo shows Slesse from the west. Overview of the descent: Probably the best way off the mountain is to descend the standard Southwest Route (Class 3 to 5.6). From a minor notch just S of the summit, downclimb 150 ft (Class 3) in a loose gully. Traverse to skier’s left and downclimb the upper pitch (5.6) of the SW route to the notch behind a giant gendarme (or rappel, but there are quite a few rope-eating flakes in this area). The rest of the descent is Class 3. Descend westward nearly to the bottom of the gully between the gendarme and the main summit. Then make an ascending traverse around the corner N (skier’s right) onto terrace; continue traversing N, downclimbing an open slabby gully a couple of hundred feet and then continue traversing N to the gully adjacent to the NW Face (below a prominent notch). Descend the gully to the trail.
Downclimbing the steep 5.6 of the upper SW Ridge route. We wanted to avoid rappelling since I’ve had bad luck of getting ropes eaten by flakes this year.
After the downclimbing, we descended this gully until a giant gendarme on skier’s left, and then traversed right (north) onto terraces, following a path of cairns.
The giant gendarme adjacent to the gully in the previous photo.
At the gendarme you traverse to the skier’s right (north) to a cairn (left-center in photo), and around this terrace to continue a northward traverse.
Steph on the traverse north on trail and terraces. The proper descent drops a couple of hundred feet down the first slabby gully and then continues traversing northward to the gully adjacent to the NW Face.
Clint on the traverse north to the gully adjacent the Northwest Face. There are cairns and signs of travel along the entire traverse.
We traversed ledges and trail until this notch adjacent to the NW Face, which is above the final easy gully that brings you to the trail.
Descend the gully below the notch. The trail is at the bottom of the gully. From here, its about 4500 feet down to the car. The trail certainly wastes no time with the last 3300ft (after the camp at the 5800ft alp).
Sunset as we made the final bit of the traverse to the trail. We were glad we did not have to do any of the trickier routefinding down gullies in the dark.
This is a photo of where the Slesse Mountain Trail comes out, 7.9km up the Slesse Creek logging road. There is a log and flagging in the corner of the parking area. The trail follows a roadbed for the 3km leading to the road. From the base of the last gully, it took us 4 hours and about 4500 steep vertical feet to get to our car we had left near the trailhead the day before. (Photo taken the day before the climb.)
Parking at the trailhead for the Slesse Mountain Trail. When we planted our car the day before, we were not sure we were at the right trailhead until a pair of hikers coming down from Slesse assured us we were in the right place. (Photo taken the day before the climb.)
Clint likes to take photos too, it’s great! Many of the photos in this trip report were taken by Clint. And thanks to Clint for driving all the way from California to climb Slesse with me, and for letting me have any booty we collected. Clint’s a great climbing partner!
(These photos were taken at the same time, just before the pitch leading to the giant bivy ledge. Turns out the time settings on our cameras were only 1 second out of sync. Once I climbed with someone whose camera was 13 hours out of sync, which made coordinating the shots a bit difficult!)
6000ft up and 5500 ft down, a long day….
Trailhead of Slesse Memorial Trail:
Base of the last gully on the descent:
Camp at the Alp (on the Slesse Mountain Trail):
Trailhead for Slesse Mountain Trail:
PITCHES AND TIMES
The following table gives the split times for our 20-hour car-to-car climb of the NE Buttress of Slesse. We had 13 hours between sunrise and sunset, and timed our climb so that we were always on a trail while it was dark. We decided that car-to-car is the way to do this climb, since it avoids an uncomfortable bivy, worrying about availability of water, and allows you to climb with lighter packs.
Leave Trailhead of Slesse Memorial Trail:
Arrive at Propeller Cairn:
Start up Bypass Variation ledge:
Start Pitch 1:
Start Pitch 2:
Start Pitch 3:
Start Pitch 4:
Start Pitch 5:
Start Pitch 6:
Arrive at Bivy Ledge:
Start Pitch 7 (Simucllimb):
Start Pitch 8:
Start Pitch 9:
Start Pitch 10:
Start Pitch 11:
Start Pitch 12:
Start Pitch 13:
Both on summit:
Reach trail at bottom of last gully:
Arrive at Car:
More on my website
This trip report is copied from my website, which has several other climbing trip reports and photographs from the North Cascades and elsewhere: http://www.stephabegg.com.