Early Spring Climb of Olallie Butte, Oregon

After my scouting trip via snowmobile on Thursday afternoon, I decided to head back to Olallie Lake Scenic Area on Saturday to climb Olallie Butte. I have wanted to climb Olallie Butte in the winter for some time as I prefer snow and ice to dust and rocks. Olallie Butte is a shield volcano situated in the Oregon Cascades between Mt Jefferson and Mt Hood. At 7,215 feet tall it is the tallest peak between Mt Hood and Mt Jefferson. Most of it lies on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation land except for the Western flank where the trailhead is located. The forest service built a fire lookout tower on the summit in 1920, but it was abandoned in 1967. Remnants of the lookout still exist today.

Trail #720 (no longer officially maintained) leads 3.5 miles to the summit gaining 2,500 feet of elevation. Most of the trail is on reservation land, so technically it is not open to the public. Hike at your own risk (plenty do). The trailhead is off FSR 4220 a couple miles North of Olallie Lake.

Olallie Butte Trail Elevation Profile

The roads to Olallie Lake Scenic Area usually aren't snow free until June or July which is why I planned to snowmobile about 9 miles to the trailhead. The weather forecast for Saturday looked perfect with mild temperatures, calm winds, and a sunny sky. I hit snow just before 8 AM where I proceeded to unload my snowmobile and gear up for my adventure. The temperature was in the low 20's F. I cruised down the trail on my snowmobile and was climbing by 9 AM.

Snowmobiling to the Olallie Butte trailhead     Lots of snow on Olallie Butte

I parked my sled at the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail and started hiking from there. There was about 3-6 inches of newer snow on top of a hard layer. It was fairly easy hiking at first until the snow got deeper as I ascended the butte. Snowshoes would have been nice, but I pushed on. A little extra exercise can't hurt. I followed the trail with the help of my GPS for a little ways until it veered SW. I instead chose to climb a more direct route SE straight up to the summit. Above 5,000 feet in elevation I started to see snow on the trees. I also saw a rabbit dart in front of me. I love seeing wildlife in the snow.

Even more fresh snow higher up on Olallie Butte     Snowshoes would have been nice in all the deep snow

Most of the climb was in the trees until about the last 700 vertical feet. When I finally caught a glimpse of the summit, the views were astounding. And I had the whole mountain to myself.

First Glimpse of Olallie Butte above the timberline     Looking down Olallie Butte North towards Mt Hood
Wind blown exposed slope on Olallie Butte     Icy slope on Olallie Butte

Above timberline on the exposed slopes of Olallie Butte, the snow transitioned to ice. After nearly losing my footing, I put on my crampons and traded one of my trekking poles for an ice axe. With secure traction I continued climbing toward the summit, stopping briefly to take pictures and enjoy the view.

Cool textured icy slope     Closeup of icy slope
Looking down Olallie Butte at my footprints     Selfie with Olallie Butte summit within my grasp
Last stretch of North ridge on Olallie Butte climb     Looking West from high up on Olallie Butte

I arrived on the summit of Olallie Butte about 2 hours after starting, having climbed 2,500 vertical feet over 2.4 miles (I cut off over a mile of hiking by taking a direct route to the top). The trail heads up the West side of the butte, but my route took me up the North ridge.

Summit of Olallie Butte with remnants of old fire lookout tower     Looking North from Olallie Butte with Cascade volcanoes in the background

The remnants of the old fire lookout were visible on the wind exposed summit of Olallie Butte. With the sun shining and no cover, it felt very warm on the summit. It would be fun to spend the night during nice weather.

Remnants of old fire lookout tower on summit of Olallie Butte     Old fire lookout tower with Mt Hood in the background
Rock pinnacles on West side of Olallie Butte     Window in rock outcrop

The summit is basically a gentle saddle with two high points. The old fire lookout is on the North highpoint where views of Mt Hood and the Washington Cascades dot the horizon. Mt Jefferson and the Central Oregon Cascades dominate the views from the Southern highpoint.

Mt Jefferson from Olallie Butte     Closeup of Mt Jefferson
Mt Hood from across the summit of Olallie Butte     Mt Jefferson from frozen Olallie Butte
Selfie on summit of Olallie Butte with Mt Jefferson in the background     Mt Jefferson and Olallie Lake Scenic Area

I spent some time exploring the summit, taking photos and enjoying the sunshine. Once I had taken in all I could, I headed back down.

Frozen tree just below Olallie Butte summit     Foot shot from Olallie Butte with Mt Hood in the background
Selfie from Olallie Butte with Mt Hood in the background     Looking down the North ridge of Olallie Butte

I found my snowmobile right where I had left it. The snow had softened up in the afternoon sun, so the ride back was pretty fun. In a week or two, much of the snow I rode on will be nearly gone unfortunately. It's sad to see it go especially after such a pathetic winter. I have still managed to get 17 days of riding in this season so far. Hopefully I'll get one or two more before I put the sleds away for summer.

Selfie from Olallie Butte trailhead on my snowmobile     Snowmobile loaded up and ready to go home

Gear List

2013 Polaris 800 Switchback Assault Snowmobile
Osprey Variant 37 Pack
GMAX GM76X Helmet
Smith Phenom Turbo Fan Goggles
La Sportiva Batura 2.0 GTX Mountaineering Boots
Grivel G12 Crampons
CamelBak Antidote 70 oz. w/Drinking Tube
Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe
Foam Sit Pad
REI Taku Pants
Marmot PreCip Full Zip Pant
Mountain Hardwear Transition Jacket
Columbia Triple Trail Shell Jacket
Columbia Powerfly Down Puff Jacket
Head Digital Sport Liner Gloves
Outdoor Research Ambit Gloves
Marmot Big Mountain Gloves
Columbia Men's Fast Trek Fleece Hat
Petzl TIKKA XP 2 Headlamp
Altice Venture Rx Glacier Glasses
Olympus Tough TG-1 Camera
Lifeline Aluminum Sport Utility Snow Shovel
First Aid Kit
HighGear ATF8 Altimeter
iPhone w/NeoTreksGPS
Suunto A-10 Compass


garrett, Wed, 03/26/2014 - 15:25

Awesome report!

What is the steepest part?
Doable in snowshoes + without ax?

This one has been on my list to climb for awhile.

jloomis, Wed, 03/26/2014 - 15:37

Thanks for visiting LoomisAdventures.com!

The last 600 or so vertical feet are the steepest although most of the climb (by climb I mean not following the trail and just going straight up in a direct line) has a fairly consistent pitch.

As far as climbing in snowshoes without an ice axe... It depends on the conditions. When I went, the last 800 or so vertical feet was ice. I would not want anything but crampons and an ice axe in those conditions. Other times (especially as Spring progresses and it gets warmer) the snow is probably soft the whole way up. One could easily climb with or without snowshoes and just trekking poles the whole way.

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