This is an absolute classic route, one of the 50, moderate, with excellent climbing, exposure, and adventure. It is not to be underestimated though, as it is also very remote and requires a certain amount of detailed planning and luck with the weather. It has been climbed in a day, but most parties do it in two nights and 3 days. Day one is to get there, arrange the shuttle and hike to the propeller cairn or wooded knoll, day two for the climb, and beginning of the descent to the forested knoll above Chilliwack-Slesse FSR, and part of day 3 for the hammer down the trail and back to the car. There is an optional bivouac ledge, big enough for several people and unroped walking with a permanent(?) snow field at the top of pitch 18 (approximate). There is an excellent topo available on naclassics.com
(edit note: this site is no longer active, here's an alternate provided by J.Roatch: lamountaineers.org/NAC/browser...
, and Kevin McLane's Alpine Select covers all of the bases. I will provide only a brief description of the climbing here, along with access information.
The ramp from the Bypass glacier avoids the first 6 or so pitches of the NE Buttress Direct (5.10C)
From the top of the Bypass ramp, the climb generally follows the crest moving back and forth, and going around a prominent gendarme. Many variations are possible. It is a mix of 4th class and moderate (5.7-5.8) 5th class climbing
At approximately pitch 14, there is a 5.10A variation that stays on the crest. The actual route is right of the crest after a short traverse, in a prominent left facing dihedral. It follows this up for 3-4 pitches to the Bivvy ledge. We did the 10A variation, following slings close to the crest. It is not well traveled and the climbing was less than enjoyable, unless you like long runouts on gear placed in mossy cracks! The climbing out of the bivvy is 4th class for about 3-4 pitches. The last 6 pitches (above the large bivouac) were the best climbing. In all, we simul-climbed about half of the route.
From the propeller cairn, to the summit, took us 12 hours. We had perfect weather the whole day and simul climbed about half of the route. Water was available from several streams on the approach, runoff on the glacier bedrock, and again at the snowfield on the bivouac ledge. We each carried two liters. Kevin McLane's guide describes the glacier crossings as having a degree of difficulty out of proportion to the climbing above, and we were fortunate that they had slid. Crossing the glaciers would have added several hours to our time.
Descent: There are a couple of options described in the guides, but by far the easiest one is to descend to the Chilliwack-Slesse FSR parking lot, located 8KM from the main road. From the summit, at the top of the climb is a small bowl. Traverse to the far side of the bowl and look for cairns dropping down to the first rappel. The way is not always obvious, but cairns are present, so keep an eye out. Make several rappels, interspersed with rightward traverses until you are above the col, and below the finish of the climb. One last rappel allows access to the faint trail heading southwest towards a prominent ridge that descends very steeply to the forested knoll. We arrived here about 10 PM, 4 hours after summiting and by headlamp. The trail from here descends quickly(read: very steep) but is more obvious as you get lower. Eventually, you will reach the old road bed, by a memorial, and from there it is an easy 3KM walk to the parking lot. Water from seeps and springs was available here.
Except for a couple of folks hiking up to the Memorial, we did not see anyone else for 2 days.
Access to the route is via Nesakwatch FSR, as described in Mt Slesse area section. Make sure you have placed a car, mtn bike etc at the parking lot at the top of Chilliwack-Slesse FSR if that is your exit point. It is about 20-25 KM from there back to the trailhead, so if riding a bike is your choice (it was ours) plan accordingly, and hope you don't draw the short straw.
From the trailhead, or wherever your car can no longer take the punishment, start walking to the short spur(the right hand road from the TH proper) road and a bridge that crosses Nesakwatch Creek. We missed this, and continued up the main road to a faint trail dropping down to the creek. When we were there, there was a cairn marking it. The trail was fairly obvious so we weren't the only ones to go that way. The main trail does see some day use to the Slesse Memorial Site (a large plaque) and even up to the propeller cairn. We dropped down and crossed the creek, climbing the opposite side back to the better (and actual) graded trail. It then switchbacks gradually up to the Memorial. From here, access to the NE Buttress Direct leaves straight ahead across the cirque, crossing under the bypass glacier. With the memorial at your back, look for a faint trail following an overgrown road that moves up under the bottom of the wooded knoll. For a while you are beating through the heavily overgrown trail. Eventually the road opens up. At this point,start looking for cairns to the left which mark the start of the final climb up the wooded knoll. You have to scramble up the bank to continue on the trail. Our first try, we walked passed this. Pass through a shallow drainage and climb up to the propeller cairn at the edge of the Slesse Glacier. Approach time is about 3 hours from the TH. There was plenty of bear scat along the way, just to keep things interesting. As noted, water was available from several small streams.
McLane's guide describes access to the NE Buttress from below the Propeller cairn, but this still requires a short yet treacherous traverse of the Slesse Glacier. As the glacier had slid, we continued up to the cairn and crossed the bedrock, which proved to be easy going. The goal is a wooded ridge on the far side of the glacier, and an obvious gully that provides access to the Bypass Glacier. Drop down the the other side of the ridge to the Bypass Glacier, and angle up towards the back right corner of the bowl either on bedrock or ice and snow if the glacier has not gone. Climb the ramp to its end, and the start of the route.
We carried two 60M 9.2mm ropes, with a alpine rack (BD .5-3.5 extra .5 .75 1 2 and 1-4 metolius) one set of stoppers and 16 slings of various length. We also had lightweight crampons and ice axes, bivvy sack and sleeping bag, two liters of water each and rain gear. No stove etc; iodine for water purification, no filter, and a few candy bars and high energy finger foods.
BETA PHOTO: Allen Sanderson following the 5.10+ pitch encounte...
The next day, morning at the forested knoll on the...
BETA PHOTO: NE Buttress Route Approx. location of the first ra...
Above the bypass ramp, with the cirque below. The...
Looking down on the Bypass glacier bedrock
BETA PHOTO: Cross over descent looking north. The crossover ru...
Chaz and John at the summit.
At the summit. The descent starts on the far side...
On the Bypass Glacier bedrock, with the wooded rid...
Washington State. Name that mountain....
Leading up out of the bivvy ledge. We simul-climb...
Looking back down to the bivouac ledge.
North ridge of slesse looking south from the cross...
By George Bell
From: Boulder, CO
Feb 25, 2008
Theron Welch has a recent trip report of this climb, including photos and a movie. There is also a 1986 trip report on my web site
By John Steiger
Sep 3, 2008
A topo for this also can be found in Jim Nelson’s and Peter Potterfield’s “Selected Climbs in the Cascades” (vol. 1), although it doesn’t show the direct start. We (Allen Sanderson and I) found the Nelson/Potterfield topo adequate for our August 3-4, 2008, ascent, although its lack of info for the direct start resulted in us doing some fairly stiff climbing that was probably unnecessary. After scurrying up the lower angle rock between the occasionally calving pocket (or “bypass” glacier) on the left and the Slesse Glacier on the right, we took a line left of the toe of the NE buttress that began in an easy looking, clean open-book that dwindled into a slab under a steep bushy corner. Our first pitch climbed this, traversed right under the bushy corner to another corner, surmounted it (around 5.9), then worked right to a belay behind a tree next to a vertical line of bushes. Our second pitch climbed the vertical line of bushes, moved left to easier ground and another vertical line of bushes, until it was possible to step left again to a nice-looking, relatively shallow left-facing dihedral. The top of the dihedral proved to be the crux (5.10+ with pack), protected by micronuts, but it put us on 4th class terrain that eventually joined the regular route. (Both the pitches were very long). Whatever we did seemed to have been climbed before, but it doesn’t appear to be the same start that George Bell and partner did in 1986 (as evidenced by the photos on his website) nor is it the same start described by McClane (and rated 5.10a) in his 2001 “Alpine Select” – neither of which we were aware of before our ascent. I'll post a photo of the 5.10+ pitch we did with the photos John Bradford posted for the route description and let someone else figure out what we did.
One other note: The Chilliwack-Slesse FSR was gated at the turnoff from the Chilliwack River Road, and it looked permanent. Future ascents intending on returning this way probably should plan on a longer walk out than described above. Other August 2008 trip reports can be found at cascadeclimbers.com.
From: North Vancouver, BC
Jan 23, 2010
As of 2009 the Chilliwack-Slesse FSR was gated and closed by the Canadian military.
Yes, I too was surprised that we have a military.
This isn't bad news though. The Crossover Pass descent is getting used a lot now and should become easier to follow with traffic. And this means no extra car/bike, and a faster trip overall. Thanks to Jeremy Frimer for his hard work on clearing a trail here.
It's not that tough to complete the entire route in a day, from car to car, with an early (pre dawn) start. We soloed until the first 5.8 pitch, and from there it was only 13 pitches to the summit.
On the descent, make 2 single rope rappels, then head skiers right. There are more rap stations but some class 4 downclimbing avoids any rappels. For the crossover pass descent, use Jeremy's excellent topo (thanks). See summitpost for a copy
The descent is long, but we ended up back at the car by 8PM. We hadn't expected this, and ended up carrying unneeded bivy gear up and over the climb.
To be safe, wait until the bypass glacier slides (this seems to happen by mid August).
By Peter Spindloe
From: North Vancouver, BC
Apr 7, 2011
Thanks for that J.Roatch, I've added the link to the description.
Jul 28, 2013
The Road on the south Side of Slesse is no longer gated. This is as of Feb' 13. According to a RCMP officer with an assault rifle, there is no intention of locking the road up again.
Aug 1, 2014
Merran Fahlman and I did this route in July 2003.
We left a car at the end of the descent.
We camped on the logging road, got up at 5 and were walking at 6. We topped out around 4 PM and were back at second car around 9. My mistake was heading too far right at one point and climbing 2 pitches of 10+ which took forever (anchors). One should stick to ridge proper. All our beta came from McLane's Alpine Select and worked well.
Our rack was doubles of camalots from .3-#2, 1 #3, and a bunch of slings. I had 3 litres of water. We used the simulclimbing system that has tiblocks and the second riding a grigri and we were able to crank. I imagine we could have cut an hour off our time if I had managed to not get lost. Next time I do it I will bring a treeking pole for the way down (if I don't do the crossover pass thing) as the descent-- 4,500 feet straight down, with no water-- is murder.
The description above of 3-day ascents seems a bit much-- one should be able to blast this in a day (esp now that crossover pass descent has been done). However it would be pretty cool to watch sunrise from the top!