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West Butte - Northeast Face

5.6 A4 X, Trad, Aid, 300 ft (91 m),  Avg: 0.3 from 6 votes
FA: Rumored to be the Sterling Fire Dept. 1909
Colorado > Pawnee Grasslands

Description

I do not recommend this climb for anyone that does not love obscure climbs and loads of manky choss. The mud on the technical pitch is rotten, dangerous, and crumbles under the slightest touch. A free ascent is impossible, requiring aid techniques to be used. The original pieces of "gear" are a century old and have eroded severely making them extremely unreliable. A fall would almost guarantee a quick trip to the ground (warranting the A4+ rating). Also, the anchor possibilities to belay and rappel are poor at best.

With that in mind....

Approach the West Butte via the standard trail. As you pass below the imposing south face, make sure to look up and be amazed that this whole tower is held up by mud. Leave the trail on the east side of the formation and do an ascending traverse around the north side. As you ascend, look for the obvious weakness in the lower cliffs and work up towards it. When you get close, the original pins will come into view on a NE face.

Ascend the steepening and unprotected mud cone (extremely unstable and follows very eroded chipped steps) to gain access to the vertical wall. Make several scary aid moves up the slightly overhanging wall to gain a small ledge. On the ledge, mantel up to the slightly higher shelf and perform a dangerous leftward traverse on small mudhorns to reach a "belay stance". Bring up your second while imagining your anchor is much better than it actually is. From here, perform a delicate scramble up through more loose terrain to reach the slopes below the summit cap. The cap's weakness is on the west side and pick whichever way you want to reach there. Try not to think about the descent too much because it will ruin your stay.

To descend, merely reverse the route and pray as you rappel on the worst anchor I've ever trusted.

Location

Look for the line of pitons up the NE face.

Protection

Only pro are ancient (100+ years old) pitons eroding out of the mud. We placed one nail (literally a 10" nail) for the ascent and placed 3 nails as a belay/rappel anchor.

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

Photo credit to John Longnecker. 1968.  Approximely the 5th ascent.
[Hide Photo] Photo credit to John Longnecker. 1968. Approximely the 5th ascent.
The "anchor" we placed Jan. 2011.
[Hide Photo] The "anchor" we placed Jan. 2011.
Here's an idea of the pro.  This was not the worst pin.
[Hide Photo] Here's an idea of the pro. This was not the worst pin.
Photo credit to John Longnecker. 1968.  Approximately the 5th ascent and last known ascent.
[Hide Photo] Photo credit to John Longnecker. 1968. Approximately the 5th ascent and last known ascent.
West Pawnee Butte.
[Hide Photo] West Pawnee Butte.
This is by far the best piece.
[Hide Photo] This is by far the best piece.
"Good" gear on route. Pray one doesn't fail while you're on it or you're screwed.
[Hide Photo] "Good" gear on route. Pray one doesn't fail while you're on it or you're screwed.
Summit of the west with the east behind.
[Hide Photo] Summit of the west with the east behind.
Rappelling the opposite side. The anchor is 2 pieces of rebar pounded into the ground.
[Hide Photo] Rappelling the opposite side. The anchor is 2 pieces of rebar pounded into the ground.
Thinking light on the 100 year old pins.
[Hide Photo] Thinking light on the 100 year old pins.
Mud season is in.
[Hide Photo] Mud season is in.
Noah leading the pitch. A sharp eye will indeed see an ice ax sticking out of the mud.<br>
[Hide Photo] Noah leading the pitch. A sharp eye will indeed see an ice ax sticking out of the mud.

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

J. Thompson
denver, co
[Hide Comment] Whoa.

Cool.

josh Nov 4, 2011
Patrick Vernon
Grand Junction, CO
[Hide Comment] Agreed, coolest thing I have seen on MP in a long time! Nov 4, 2011
Andrew Shoemaker
Olympia, WA
[Hide Comment] Way cool. What an obscure route! Would of never thought the Pawnee Buttes were climbable. Dec 10, 2011
Noah McKelvin
Nomad
  5.6 A4 X
[Hide Comment] I agree. I don't recomend this. The lead was terrifying. 5.6 ish moves above gear that is horrible. But if you have to get to the top. This is the way. Bring an ice axe (Seriously) and a few 9 inch nails just in case. Nothing else! Pitons or any rock gear is useless. (I brought it all and used none.) Dec 14, 2011
Simon W
Nowhere Land
[Hide Comment] With enough ascents, this thing will probably clean up and become a polished, mud-pile classic! Aug 3, 2014
[Hide Comment] Simon W, either that or it will just slowly crumble away. Jan 17, 2019
Gus Anderson
Estes Park
 
[Hide Comment] I’d say the A4 rating is a bit dramatic. Pretty terrible route but a good day out if you have enough spliffs and whiskey. Jan 6, 2023