Dayhike to McClellan Butte
Mount Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest
9.0 miles roundtrip with 3700′ gain
July 15, 2017
Maggie had a wedding shower to attend on Saturday, so I had the day free to do whatever I wished. It had been a while since I just went for a hike up an I-90 summit. McClellan Butte towers over I-90 as you drive to Snoqualmie Pass from Seattle and I have been eyeing it for a while. A steep hike, the summit is said to have some exposed class 3 scrambling to get to the summit.
I hit the trailhead at 7:15 am and there were about a half dozen other cars in the parking lot. The trail starts off at a pretty low elevation – 1600′. It meanders through the woods before crossing the clearcut for the I-90 powerlines. Before climbing steeply you also cross the Iron Horse Trail and a forest service road just before mile 2. Rumor has it you can shorten the hike and park all the way up here – but why would you want to do that? The trail steepens soon after crossing the road and starts to switchback up the Northeast side of the mountain.
The trail breaks out into the open at the bottom of avalanche chutes through this section and I really started to work up a sweat here. At about 3500′ elevation the switchbacks end and the trail makes a steep traverse of the East face of the mountain. I really felt the steepness of the trail and the morning sun through this section as I passed through the open avalanche gullies. There was only one patch of snow left that I did not have a problem skirting around. Some hikers with less sure footing may like trekking poles to help themselves balance through this section. I passed a group of three on the way up through this section and they were the only people I saw before the summit.
At about mile 4 (elevation 4700′) the trail begins to wrap around the south side of McClellan and on this clear day, the views of Mount Rainier and the Cedar River Watershed really started to open up. The grade of the trail mellowed out here and worked its way into the shade as I wrapped around to the west face. There were just a few patches of snow through here that should not pose a problem to anyone. After one short steep section of trail, I was up to the base of the summit scramble. I waited for a guy to come down while enjoying the views. Once he was down, I made my way up. The first part of the scramble is the most challenging. It is pretty easy class 3 scrambling, but I can see how it would be pretty treacherous if the rocks were slippery. The rocks felt pretty solid so a helmet for rockfall seemed unnecessary to me. On this day it was a breeze and I made it to the summit at 9:30 am.
There were two groups of two on the summit when I arrived, but it is a large area with plenty of space. I lounged around on the summit for a while until I had it to myself. The drop off to the Northwest of the summit is quite impressive. I had views of the Olympics, Seattle, Mount Baker in the distance, all over the Central Cascades, and spectacular views of the North side of Rainier.
As usual the scramble down from the summit kept me on my toes a little more than on the way up but it was not too bad. I left the summit at 10 am and arrived back at the trailhead at noon. I saw many more people on the way up then on the way down, but it never felt that crowded.
I would highly recommend this hike if you want a good, steep workout with a scramble and summit views at the end. If you are just looking for a nicely graded trail with views along the way then I would recommend looking elsewhere.