Russian Butte from the West
I began looking for the best route up Russian "kicked my" Butte a few years ago. One TR I found for a "scramble" route up the West side ended with the terrified party descending down the East side. They had scrambled Bessemer Mountain
, and found that to be easier. (The midforc.org server isn't responding. I think that is where I found this account.)
After climbing Preacher Mtn in '07
, I added Russian Butte to my top 10 list. The route from the East side looked very doable, but to make it a reasonable day trip, you had to either cross the mighty Snoqualmie, or hike quickly SW along the river all the way down to the Pratt. My beta on the trail along the Snoqualmie wasn't very promising, so I planned to give it a try some year in September before the rains started.
When I got an email from Hollywood informing me that he and JB were turning commie, and planning something socialist, I was somewhat skeptical. What had changed? Well, Brett had gathered some valuable beta from nwhikers
. The trail to the Pratt was in reasonable condition, so it was time to pull the trigger on this trip!
From Seattle take I-90 East past downtown North Bend to Exit 34. Turn left at the Stop. In 0.6 mile turn right onto SE Middle Fork Road (#56). Drive 12 miles to the Middle Fork trail head, and turn right into the parking lot.
Trip Report and Route Description
GPS track of route, about 19 mi, 4500' gain
After crossing the beautiful foot bridge
across the Snoqualmie Middle Fork, head down river along a brush-free trail. There are a couple of places where you might get off it, but the correct route is nice. WP 003 marks the Rainy Cr log crossing
. Take a right fork, and then a left that leads to the log. Luckily I saved the way-point so we could easily find it on the return. (At least it seemed like a good plan at the time.)
We made good time on the trail, and our party of three turned into an expedition when we caught up with Jan and his four dogs. Jan pointed out a couple of turns to keep track of on the return hike. When approaching the Pratt River, there's a place where you can go left and climb a bit, or right and stay level. A large tree has a "Big Trees Trail" sign with arrows pointing both ways. Jan had made this trip many times, so it was like having our own expert guide. He recommended going right.
The next stretch of trail became covered with lush ferns, but still no brush. The TR with the good trail beta has some nice pics of the Pratt temperate rain-forest
. We cruised to the Pratt River Giant, and were surprised to encounter no brush.
Jan led us to WP 006, a dry log crossing across the swollen Pratt. The first log led to an island, and the second, an old-growth log, to the West side of Pratt. Without this log crossing, I think it would be best to head up the Pratt trail farther. Jan didn't cross with us, and set up his camp.
Immediately after getting off the last crossing log, we found ourselves in the middle of a nasty thicket. I think trying to work farther right would have been a better choice. The going was very slow for the next 10-15 min, but soon things went better, and we made steady progress to WP 009. We stopped for lunch, and I contemplated whether the glass was half-full or half-empty. We had covered a lot of ground, but had gained little elevation, still being almost 4000' below the summit.
After seeing how high the Pratt was flowing, I think we all had some doubt that we would get across, and we would have been willing to turn around. However, once we were across, it was clear that our turn-around time would be when we reached the summit. The weather forecast was very good, the terrain wasn't technical, and we had headlamps. Our main objective was getting back across the Pratt before dark.
We ascended through open forest, and it was nice to finally be climbing. We were soon joined by Jan, and this assured us that we were on route again. Continue up, generally following a minor ridge feature. The wiggling in our tracks is mainly due to GPS inaccuracy in the forest. Eventually you climb up onto the little East ridge that forms just above the number "7" on the map. There's a little bench at 4000', where we rested, and you could camp.
Jake, a large golder retriever, was lost, but we assumed he would join the other two dogs that stayed at 4000'. Only Julius continued on to the summit.
Starting the traverse on our descent
We made a rising traverse on snow, working around to the NE side, avoiding steep rock on the East face.
Rock wall just North of the summit
As we approached the summit area, there was a short wall below the summit. We ascended to the left, and found snow that went to 40-45 degrees. We assumed this is the "steep heather" area mentioned in other TR's. It looked like the right could have been a bit easier, but it was unclear whether that would lead back to the summit.
We topped out and soaked in the views. After seeing this summit from Mt Si, Mt Teneriffe, and Mailbox Peak many times, it was very rewarding to be standing on top of it. I must admit I am a fan of big Buttes!
Final steps to the summit from the East Our descent path to the West
Brett scouted out the possibility of going down on the other (West) side of the wall blocking the summit. He announced that it looked good, so after enjoying the summit for a leisurely 16 minutes considering it was after 4:00 now, it was time to complete the second half of our trip. Julius whimpered a little bit on the steep snow, but his custom crampons performed very well. The steepness soon moderated, and we were back to the traverse that would lead back to the 4000' bench, and the dogs.
We were relieved to see Jake resting on a snow patch. As we approached, he only had the energy to open his eyes to acknowledge our presence. His head and tail remained lifeless on the snow--not a good sign. Jan needed to stay with Jake, and sort out what to do. Two days later, he gave us the good news that he and all of the dogs made it back safely. Jake spent Saturday night on the mountain by himself, and on Sunday morning Jan was able to get him down.
Our route from WP 009 back to the log was a little different than the descent, but we nailed the approach to the log, and spent no time searching for it. Safely on the other side by 9:00pm, we hoped getting back to the car would be a mere formality, given the quality of the trail.
Just a few minutes later, we were hopelessly stuck in another thicket!! What just happened? We had veered a bit too far to the left, lured in by an old railroad grade. Our GPS'ers were only reading to about 200-300' accuracy, but we figured out we needed to go right. Climbing through stickers and over downed trees we finally got back to the trail. We missed a left fork that would have retraced our original tracks. The right fork added an extra 100-200' of elevation gain, but led back to the "Big Trees Trail" sign.
We made good time in the dark, until getting off route again near a place Jan had warned about that morning. After 20-30 min of searching, we were back on the trail. Now we were approaching the Rainy Creek log crossing, but had managed to get onto another trail closer to the river. The log wasn't in sight, and again, our GPS'ers weren't reading accurately enough to make it clear which way to go.
Brett suggested that we sit down by the creek, and think through our options. I would have been happy to walk through the creek at that point, but we still had a ways to go, and finding the correct trail would get us back to the car much faster. After thinking about our options, we agreed on which way to go, and voila!, there was the crossing log and trail!
Now it was just a formality to get back to the car. The next time, camping, or an earlier start would probably be a good idea!
Although my GPS track isn't very accurate, I estimate the trip was about 19 miles, and 4500' with ups and downs.
leave car 7:49am
on summit 4:22pm
leave summit 4:38pm
arrive back to car 2:31am
car to summit 8:33
on summit 0:16
summit to car: 9:53
total time: 18:42
I think we could have saved 2-3 hrs by always staying on route. Excellent route-finding combined with an earlier start make this trip still fit as a "day trip." I assumed that my second attempt would be via another route, maybe going over Revolution Peak. However, seeing that snowcave took 16 hrs for the South route, fording the Middle-Fork and climbing this Eastern route may be the easiest way.
We encountered no 3rd class rock in early June. Based on other TR's I think it's somewhat likely you would encounter a bit of it later in the season.
Ice axe, or claws on your toes. The snow on the NE side (the "steep heather") goes 40-45 degrees. We carried crampons, but didn't need them on a warm day.
External LinksHere's our TR
nwhikers.net TR on trip to the Pratt River Giant
Some of our beta, looks like Snowcave's route