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McClellan’s Butte – 8/13

Posted by joeabbott on October 10, 2008

 I have a few notes from hikes and climbs I’ve done this year that I’ll be posting. Not sure how far back I’ll go, but I have a reasonable backlog from this year so I’ll post those. Here’s one I hiked on 8/13/2008.



OK … returning to this topic as I had earlier tried to get up McClellan’s Butte but had failed. I’ll blame the snow on the trail, improper gear, and a mist-shrouded summit as all contributing to my turning back just after the trail rounds the back side of the mountain. Or we can just agree that I was a coward. J But a coward who returned for another try!!


Last night I was looking for an after-work hike. I had barely broke a sweat in the past 10 days since returning from Oval\Courtney\Star Peaks and was looking for a little something to answer the question: am I just well-rested or have I started to lose a bit of my “go”. I also got a new pair of boots and rather than try them in a sane and reasonable way, I thought I’d give them something just a touch longer than, say, Tiger. On top of those you can add my weathering off episode from earlier and they all combine to McClellan’s Butte as my after-work hike.


I left the trailhead at just after 5 and knew it was a bit over five miles to the summit. The ~3700’ in elevation gain didn’t bother me but I was concerned about the length … I’m not a happy camper over distance but I’ve been getting better this year so I figured I’d easily get to the car before dark. What I failed to include into the equation was that it’s getting darker earlier and earlier each day.


When I was packing for the trip at home I just rammed my “hiking box” into the car. It contains all the stuff that on one trip or another has found its way into my pack or onto my person. I then tossed in a jacket and my very small hydration pack.


The hydration pack has a sleeve for a water bottle and then enough room for just a little something more. With tight ramming I can get a first aid kit, some food, and my wallet\keys. Unfortunately, I wanted a jacket with me, too. So I sacrificed the first aid kit. It’s a simple trail to the top, I always (so I tell the wife) back off if the going gets tough, and I hadn’t heard anything that suggested I’d need the kit for this trip. The summit ridge\block was still a question mark but, as I said, I’m happy coming back other days if necessary.


Anyhow, I started out.


The first thing I noticed is that the boots I had behaved a lot differently on trail. Earlier in the season, with my 20% REI coupon, I got a pair of Lowa Renegade boots. They’re lightweight hikers and I loved ‘em. Out of the box they were perfect and I wore them on every hike and climb so far this season. Unfortunately, I blew out a seam in the Enchantments and had to returned them. I got another pair of the Renegades and they worked fine up Tiger but on Star I sheared a lug off the sole near the back. Two failures was too much so I got a more durable pair of boot: the Asolo Powermatic 400 (? Who the hell named this boot?)


Anyhow, the new boot is a bit bigger, weighs more, and is very much more rigid. As a result, my foot might hit a protruding rock on the trail and rather than the tread and footbed conforming around it, I’d just step up and my foot would want to pivot on the rock. Took a bit of getting used to, but I did like the effortless support. That said, the footbed itself didn’t feel as comfy and I thought I’d be fairly footsore at the end of my 10+ miles.


Up the trails and over the roads I went. Once getting past FR 9020 I entered the darkened trees along the trail and it felt a bit cooler. It’s a proper “woods” (dark, cool, a bit moist) and the trail is in great shape so I made OK time.

At about the hour mark I was surprised at a couple things. First, I badly needed to change out my bandana as I had thoroughly saturated the one I was wearing. Second, I was surprised I wasn’t closer to the top. I figured I was a bit more than half way but 3700’ in gain usually doesn’t take me as long as this was taking. I’m guessing the distance is a bigger factor than I thought it would be. Even then, I must be slower than I give myself credit. J Finally, I was surprised that I had a hot-spot growing on my heel.


I took care of the bandana and rested a bit but wanted to move on a little more before I readjusted my socks. As you will recall, for the first time in a very long time I had left my first aid kit back at the car and didn’t have anything to properly treat my feet.


After starting again, I almost immediately had to stop and look at the feet. They seemed OK but that spot was already getting very tender. I figured I was half way and decided against turning around. I have a big climb this weekend coming up and another at the end of next week; I was hoping to use these boots. While I didn’t want to wreck my feet, they needed to toughen up a bit. Bad attitude but I’ve been hiking since before boots “just worked” and was a long-time believer in that you don’t break in your footwear, you break in your feet. Sadistic attitude but it kept me pointing uphill this time.


I started up and walked funny until I could get into a groove that allowed me to move more normally. I noticed most of the snow was nearly gone from the front side of the mountain, with only a small snow arch that I had to duck under on the way up.


It seemed a lot longer to get to the corner to the backside of the mountain than I recalled. Could be the sore foot, could be that I was tired, or maybe it’s just long. Regardless, I was very happy to see the vast majority of snow as gone from the backside and just a few muddy spots to hop over or around and maybe two or three snow patches. It was easy cruising.


The distance from the corner to the place where you head up to the summit ridge was a lot farther away than I expected it to be. Very surprising. And as it feels like you are slowly losing a bit of elevation, it’s a little disheartening, too.


Once you do start going up it’s no nonsense until the summit block. When I hit it, I just kept my head down and walked up. While the ridge falls away steeply to your right and feels very “knife edge” on the left, there are easy foot placements the whole way up. It’s probably class 3 and I don’t think I used my hands even once. The rock looks rotten but I never had a step move under me. (note: having returned, the summit block could only be considered “class three” if it were wet, icy, and or a bit more dangerous. In normal conditions, and with good balance, you can walk up and down unaided by your hands).


At the top I saw that it was 2 hours exactly from leaving the car and I sat, panting and admiring the views. Quiet a wonderful place to spend a little time. Unfortunately, the bugs are voracious and I could only last about 20 minutes before I had to flee.


Now that part is scary. Going down is OK but going down and swatting at mosquitoes is not. I sacrificed myself up to the insects while I concentrated on the steps down and walked off the ridge and down the trail.


Going back was fine but by 8:30 I wasn’t out yet and it was seriously dark in parts of the woods. It was light enough in the open but the trees were thick enough to obscure a lot of the ambient light. I was nearing the “get your headlamp out” time when I started crossing roads and realized I was in the final parts of the trail to the trailhead. Even then, it was darker than I would have liked it and managed to get down at about a quarter to nine or so. It was now dark … the kind of dark that my parents would call me in from when I was a little boy: still light enough out there for me but they thought it was time to come in. And this time I did get in.


I changed out of my wet hiking gear and back into my work clothes, called the wife to let her know I got off OK, and smiled knowing that I not only came back another day for McClellan’s Butte but I knocked her off. Not bad.

The hot spot on my right foot did manage to form a closed blister and is a little tender. Overall my legs are sore but I’m still taking the stairs up and down … they’re not that bad. Looks like, for me, ten days of leisure is a little too much leisure. J


If you haven’t tried McClellan’s Butte you should get out to Exit 42, take a right as you get off the freeway, and follow the signs a half mile or so to the trailhead. Could hardly be easier and the rewards in terms of accomplishment and views are significant. Just remember to take a headlamp and some mole skin.


Here’s a topo map and GPS trace of the route. I found this on:



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