South Spectacle butte eluded me due to exhaustion and poor food planning on a previous adventure in 2021 where I climbed Dumbell, Greenwood, Seven Fingered Jack, and Mount Maude in one go. After seeing it from Freezer Pass on that adventure, I knew how far it was to start the climb and planned to tackle South Spectacle Butte alone this time.
From the parking area for the Phelps Creek Trail to the turn-off for the Leroy High route, it was only an hour and a half's walk for me. At a low ~275 ft of elevation gain per mile, anyone ready to head into the basin to tackle this peak should be able to make quick work of it. Plus, the Phelps Creek trail is well-maintained, making it an excellent mindless warm-up for the trail to come.
After the Phelps Creek trail, getting into the Leroy Basin is much steeper at around 1200 ft per mile, so if you can make the trek in the evening or early morning, it will make your day much easier, especially during a hot summer day. I made the mistake of traveling in the heat of the afternoon. Because of that, I went through nearly 5 liters of water in the 6.5 miles into Leroy Basin.
Despite the Leroy Basin trail being marked unmaintained, it is well-trodden from the feet of the hundreds of hikers and climbers that have come before you. So, navigation should not be an issue.
I arrived late in the day, and since it was a holiday weekend, finding myself a camp was a chore. There were a few spots buried deep in the trees I managed to come across, which made it a nice piece of solitude from the crowded main Leroy Basin camping areas. Plus, I ended up with a spectacular view of 7 Fingered Jack and Mount Maude to enjoy along with a hot meal. I advise arriving early, especially on holiday weekends, to secure a good camping spot. The basin provides access to 4 major peaks and several popular backpacking routes, so it can fill quickly with campers.
Unless you plan to walk your pack up to the Ice Lakes area the first day on South Spectacle Butte is a straightforward tromp into a gorgeous basin.
I woke up early for the climb on day two before the sun rose into the sky. The first objective of the day if you camp in Leroy Basin will be the Leroy High Route . Though this section has some cairns to follow, it is less apparent than the route into the basin. There are several spots where trails diverge, and after my previous experience of walking this route, I chose to stay down low since it is the better-trodden of the ones I could locate.
Once the track reached Freezer Pass, the cross-country navigation began for the day.
The Ice Lakes basin is littered with small trails. Some head to campsites, others to the lakes. Though I ran into some scrambling sections, I could walk around them to find an easy route to Upper Ice Lake's north end. From there, I dropped down a dry stream bed that led to the west shore of Lower Ice Lake. I then worked my way around to the north side of the lake to find the faint remnants of the Ice Lakes Trail . While it did not appear to have received maintenance in several years, its remnants are still easy to find. Once located, I used it to drop ~200 ft of elevation to this spot on my GPS 48.13219, -120.77903
From there, I began the traverse east toward the South Ridge of South Spectacle Butte. From where I started traversing, it was steep and alternated between scrub and rock. The srub was very slippery, and the rock was all very loose. I attempted to work my way up the hill several times to locate some more accessible terrain, but with the way the rock formations are along the entire traverse, the mountain forced me to keep at right about the 6,600 ft level on my GPS. There is no easy way to work across this hill.
Two other climbers were working their way towards me from below at one point, and to avoid kicking rocks down on them, I moved down to be parallel with them since every time I committed to a step in the rocky areas, it sent debris towards them. So, if you are traveling in a group, keep a decent amount of space between you and your partners and stay in a line formation to avoid injuring each other.
The most challenging portion of the initial traverse to the South Ridge on South Spectacle Butte is a small stream bed that washed out at some point. To get down into the stream bed, I had to scramble down a rock formation strewn with loose clay and scree. Despite having my favorite approach shoes on, I felt myself slipping constantly on the rock as I attempted to work gingerly toward the bottom of the stream bed. Once I achieved that, there was an equally tricky, slick, loose ascent to get back out the other side. Despite the entire traverse being relatively tedious, this stream bed was the one part that caused much real difficulty for this section of the day.
If you are passing this spot and running low on water, fill it with the small stream flowing through. I still had a liter, but I decided to fill it out of caution. I am glad I did because it was the last water I located for the remainder of the ascent.
After working my way across the traverse for about an hour (maybe a little more?), the hill slowly flattens into a basin separating the spectacle buttes from each other. The main Route for South Spectacle Butte is directly to the east. However, there is another route that I thought I might attempt that goes from the saddle between the two peaks. Other trip reports I read stated that the west ridge starting from the saddle is around class 4. But looking at the ridge from the basin, there are a few sections I felt reticent to try out for myself. So, instead, I continued working towards the base of the Southwest Ridge route.
After leaving the basin and gaining around 400 ft of elevation, a small ramp of scree and talus finally allowed me to gain the ridge.
Finally, I was on the climbing route. Mission 1 accomplished.
The lower section of South Spectacle Butte's Southwest ridge was a simple walk. The rock is loose, but there was very little exposure. So, It made for an excellent break from the side-hilling on the initial traverse for the first few hundred feet of gain.
The day got more interesting once I hit the scrambling sections on South Spectacle Butte about 400 ft up the southwest ridge. Regarding hand holds, I would not rate anything on the climb above a 3. However, there are some very steep spots where Cairns are the only guide for where to go. Since many of them blended in with the surrounding rock, I was navigating myself sometimes, only to breathe a sigh of relief once I found the next rock pile around a corner.
Below several of these areas, there is quite a lot of exposure, which would make me want to push the overall rating on this climb into the four range. Researching it, I have seen others rate the ascent of the southwest ridge anywhere from 2-5. So, with that in mind, just expect it to be whatever you experience if you take a stab at South Spectacle Butte.
Despite being a holiday weekend, I was lucky enough to have the summit all to myself for almost 30 minutes. The entire climb felt like a type 2 suffer fest. But I certainly enjoyed it after returning to camp and reveling in the accomplishment.