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Ascent of Helen Buttes on 2015-04-19

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Bob Bolton -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Duane Gilliland
Date:Sunday, April 19, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Helen Buttes
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:5560 ft / 1694 m

Ascent Trip Report

We met at the trailhead at noon and were hiking at 12:25 PM. The Cow Heaven Trail was well-graded, well-maintained, and in cool forest as it relentlessly gained almost 4000 feet to timberline. We were not yet in mid-season shape and we all coincidentally were trying new backpacks. By 5 PM we had reached snowy terrain in meadows and a nice campsite area at about 4260 feet. I did a recon a bit up the trail but no better flat spots were available. Our area had some tiny streams of running water and just enough snow-free patches to pitch our tents, so it made a logical camp.

The next day we were hiking by 7:30 AM, and with only 1200 feet to gain we anticipated an easy summit day. However, the snow was soft and unconsolidated, and we either had to posthole or put our inexpert snowshoe skills to the test on tree wells, steep slopes, and brush. Also, there were countless ups and downs along the ridge, including brushy sections, cliff bands, and other obstacles. So our progress was slow.

The weather was perfect, a pleasantly cool clear spring day. I led us on the route I recalled from my 2013 attempt, where I turned back at the lower SW Butte. This led along the long ridge, then up a steep rocky fin to the SW Butte false summit. From there we dropped down a bit to the basin on the NW slopes of the SW peak, scrambled up a heathery/rocky slope to a shoulder, and then dropped down steep, open snow slopes to the main "Buttes Col". From there we followed the crest of the ridge directly up to the final summit of the higher NE Butte, scaling a few annoying and brushy class 3 sections. We arrived at 11:45 AM, after over 4 hours if travel. So much for a quick summit jaunt.

The 360-degree views of the North Cascades were, of course, awe-inspiring. We rested and started down at 12:15 PM. At the Buttes Col we considered bypassing the lower Butte by crossing below its SE face, which looked very tempting. But the GPS track from a previous party showed that their route lost 500 feet down from the Buttes Col and regained 300 back to the ridge, so it seemed best to retrace our steps. So we mindlessly plodded back on our outbound postholes and snowshoe tracks.

At camp by 4 PM, we were tired, but reluctantly packed up. I alone had to be at work the next day, so I left alone at 4:30 and buzzed on down the easy trail, arriving at my car by 6:10 PM, losing 2300'/hour on the hike out from camp. Bob and Duane followed at a more leisurely pace.

This area does not appear to get much traffic or use. We only saw one other party the entire weekend, a couple of women dayhikers high on the Cow Heaven trail. Hikers do need to gain about 4000 feet on the trail before the views really open up, so I guess the pretty waterfalls and nice forest are not enough of a draw despite the easy access and good condition of the trail. And the rugged terrain on the ridges to the Buttes is seemingly for die-hard prominence-baggers only.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5940 ft / 1809 m
    Total Elevation Loss:5940 ft / 1809 m
    Round-Trip Distance:13.4 mi / 21.6 km
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Ski Poles, Snowshoes, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5540 ft / 1688 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 5140 ft / 1566 m; Extra: 400 ft / 121m
    Loss on way in:400 ft / 121 m
    Distance:6.9 mi / 11.1 km
    Route:Cow Heaven/SW Ridge
    Start Trailhead:Olson Creek Rd  420 ft / 128 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:5540 ft / 1688 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 5140 ft / 1566 m; Extra: 400 ft / 121m
    Gain on way out:400 ft / 121 m
    Distance:6.5 mi / 10.5 km
    Route:Cow Heaven/SW Ridge
    End Trailhead:Olson Creek Rd  420 ft / 128 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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