Mineral Butte

After two weeks of no snow the white stuff returned to the Cascades. About 9 inches fell along the crest. Suzanne had the idea of a snowshoe trip which neither of us had done before. I was not at all familiar with Mineral Butte which made it even more appealing. We met in Seattle at 7:30 am and were soon heading for US 2. At Index we turned off and headed up the NF Skykomish River Road. About 9 miles from the highway we turned off on the unmarked road which immediately crossed the river. The road up Silver Creek turned off quickly. We continued straight ahead. Reports suggested the road was drivable to the first switchback at about 1450'. At that point a thin snow just covered the road and we parked. By 9:05 we were on our way.

The road turned out to be drivable well beyond the switchback. There were a few big but not deep puddles but otherwise it is in fine shape. At 1850' we were more than a little surprised to see a Subaru sedan. At just over 2000' we passed a Ford Explorer. Just how popular is Mineral Butte? A crowd is the last thing I expected in late November. The road did finally deteriorate for driving but remained just fine for hiking. By the time we passed the last car the snow was cranking up to blizzard intensity. Huge flakes began to fall. All the trees and bushes were completely caked with the recent snowfall. Visibility out was nil but the close in view was really very beautiful.

Like on other snowshoe trips this fall the snow was light and not much like normal Cascade Concrete. Although it was getting deeper it was still easy to slog through. We did find that the trees (alder?) lining the road were weighted down with snow and blocking the way in many places. We stopped at about 2900' to put on snowshoes. The earlier hikers had laid down snowshoe tracks which made progress much easier for us. Soon we met a lone snowshoer coming down. He mentioned two other's still heading up. At least we would have someone to break trail ahead of us. A few minutes later we met two more coming down. They gave up at 3200'. It turned out that they were with hiker #1 and there were still two people ahead of us.

With only two people setting track it became harder for us. Still, it was much better than none. At about 3600' we caught up with the leaders. Soon after they turned off on a road to the left which entered forest. We stopped for a food break. As we started up again we saw two more guys coming up the road. Our side road quickly ended and we followed the leaders' tracks into the forest. The guys behind us caught up as we caught up with the leaders who stopped for a break. The newcomers, Suzanne, and I headed higher.

It turned out that one of the guys heading down met a friend who was coming up. Dave #1 took the opportunity to turn around and head up again with Dave #2. Dave #1 had done the trip years earlier and he was in charge of navigation. He did an excellent job of keeping us on track in the deepening snow. We exited the forest onto another road and followed it up to over 4000' where we entered forest again. So far the route was not that steep and we made consistent progress. The ridge did become narrower and steeper as an easy snowshoe became a snow scramble.

We had a few steeper sections which required using tree branches to pull ourselves up. Most of the way was still very reasonable. At about 5000' we reached a flat spot on the ridge. Above was a steeper open slope of fresh deep snow. It was now nearly 1:30. Time was a concern. Although the fresh snow was over an older crust it seemed to be well anchored. Dave and Dave decided to continue up but Suzanne and I decided we had made it far enough. Although only about 250' from the summit Dave was making very slow progress as he "swam" up the snowy slope. It could well take more than a half hour to summit if we could at all. Visibility was almost non existent.

We started down and within a few hundred feet we met the other group. They were continuing up but not at all sure they would summit. Once down off the steeper ridge the well packed trench made for easy travel. We dropped all the way down to where the six of us first met to have a late lunch. This was just before we would leave the forest and get back on the road. It was about 27 degrees at 5000' and not much more where we stopped. While high clouds still covered the summit area we could occasionally see down into the valley and across to other peaks.

The only problem on the way down was again running the gauntlet of the snow weighted branches across the trail. They did not impede progress too much but I had a lot of snow dumped on me and more than a few branches slap me in the face. It looked like about 4 inches of fresh snow had come down and we kept snowshoes on to well past where we put them on. We reached the car at 4:20 with just a little light to spare. Less than 10 minutes later Dave #2 arrived. It seems that Dave #1 did summit. He took 45 minutes to climb the last 250' and descend. The other two turned around lower than we did. Eight people started up the road this day and one person made it to the top.

While much more crowded than I would ever have guessed, all the feet packing down snow allowed us to get much higher than we could have on our own. I don't think I would enjoy walking the road in the summer but it is a very nice road and forest snowshoe trip. I'll have to come back on a clear day to see just what the views are like. For the day we traveled about 11 miles with 3500' gained.

Getting Started
Snowing Hard
Hanging Branches
Blocked Route
Lots Of New Snow
Leaving The Road
Into The Forest
Daves Are Ahead
Tight Squeeze
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Photo Page 2

Trips - 2005