Spiral Butte, Elevation 5,900ft
December 23, 2001
Ben, Troy, (Charlie's tracks)
Spiral Butte seen from Twin Peaks. Our climb is in green and part of our ski descent is in red. Dog Lake is outlined in blue. This photo was taken one week later when Charlie and I skiedThe Y.
Spiral Butte is located 2-3 miles east of White Pass. I'm surprised that it doesn't get skied more often due to it's proximity to the resort and more importantly, it's short distance from the highway. The slope is south and west facing so it is difficult to find a good base. When it does get enough snow it is likely to avalanche leaving a worthless debris ski. However, I highly recommend it as a short ski or snowboard if and when it does form. Winter access is provided by a pullout on the south side of Dog Lake. From there the way is obvious.
Troy and I met up at White Pass on our way home for the holidays. I kayaked Yellowjacket Creek Saturday and Troy skied the pass. We both spent the night in the back of our trucks. For me, packed powder and grooms wasn't worth the $36 ticket either day. I slept in Sunday and convinced Troy to ski Spiral Butte with me. Charlie had apparently skied it a few days prior so I figured that it would be easy to follow his tracks since it hadn't snowed for awhile. There was also an inversion layer on the eastside so I figured that we might ski powder since things had stayed cool. Neither assumption proved correct.
Indecision led to a late start. We didn't get to the pullout until 11am but we were packed and hiking within minutes. There wasn't much traffic so we walked the painfully flat quarter mile along the highway. Charlie's tracks were easy to find where he climbed the bank and continued into the flat forest. It wasn't long before we started to climb. After we broke free from the trees we noticed some of Charlie's turns as well as the turns from two others that appeared to be struggling. We made fun of the gapers until we realized that a crust had formed. No wonder they couldn't turn. Nevertheless, we continued hoping that we could do better with our fat skis and helmets.
Charlie had taken a conservative line up the trees and although we punched through from time to time, his bootpack saved us a lot of effort. I stopped about halfway up for some photos and water. It looked like we might break free from the clouds but it was too soon to tell.
Troy nearing the halfway point. The pullout is hidden in the clump of trees between the highway and Dog Lake.
Troy heading for the chute, hoping it will clear.
Charlie's track became difficult to follow as we entered the chute. He started on the right side but traversed left a short ways up. The trees on the left were safe from avalanches so we followed his tracks as best we could. However, the trees on the left were also steep and unconsolidated making our ascent wastefully slow. We decided to stick with it mostly because I was in the lead and having fun. Traversing back to the chute would have saved us a lot of time and energy but on a climb as short as this, who cares?
Troy climbing the steep, unconsolidated trees.
We eventually reached a rib below the summit. Things got even funkier here. Among other things, we ended up having to take off our packs to duck trees, leap drifts and squeeze through a rock chimney.
Our hopes came true on the summit plateau. We welcomed the sun's warmth and appreciated the views.
Troy on the summit plateau.
The summit consists mostly of trees. The west facing slopes that we climbed provide the only view.
Our biggest decision was were to ski. Charlie's tracks led to a rocky chute that neither of us wanted to ski. There were other ways to access the chute but we figure it would be crusty having climbed a portion of it on the way up. We decided to ski the south facing trees hoping the shade had preserved the powder. I took a photo of the Charlie's chute before leaving. I was impressed with his line and the fact that he did it solo.
Charlie's chute. You can see his tracks on the right. He even managed to make a few turns in the rocks.
The south facing powder was quite pleasant at first but it wasn't long before we hit the crust. At that point we decided to traverse back to our climbing route because we didn't want to end up too low.
Troy dropping into the south facing trees.
The snow turned to garbage about halfway down but we managed some good turns all the way to the road. The consistent crust wasn't that bad but we'd hit patches of powder from time to time and letting our guard down proved to be painful. We made it back to the pullout with a few bumps and bruises. The short drive back to Yakima was not a concern. Instead, we wondered how long the powder up high would last.