Driveway Butte

Most of the time when I go peakbagging, I usually get where I’m going but I’ve certainly had a few peaks that have required a second attempt. Then there was North Twentymile in the Pasayten, which due to fires and other reasons took me three attempts. Monument 83 also took me three attempts since my first idea was to try to ski there in sub-zero temps* and my second attempt I simply ran out of time to hurdle hundreds of downed trees.

*Ya, I still need to write THAT story because I spent 2 nights camped in my Jeep in -20°F. There was so much ice inside my Jeep I was not only surprised she started but also surprised she didn’t short circuit when the ice melted and created a waterfall into the dashboard. I can’t believe both the Jeep and I survived. 

The biggest repeat fail peak for me though? Driveway Butte, a former fire lookout site just outside Mazama. 

Over the years I’d managed to collect four strikes on this one, incredibly frustrating since it’s not even that crazy of an outing! It’s a stout 4.5 miles up that’ll certainly test your legs, but it’s a fairly straightforward hike, which made it all that more maddening.

To recap my storied history with this one…

Strike 1: August 2012. Thunderstorms forced me to turn around halfway up. 

Strike 2: April 2014. I went too early in the season and hit unexpected deep snow I wasn’t prepared for. 

Strike 3: July 2017. I tried later in the season but nearly cooked my dog on a day that was much too hot up there. We turned around.

Then the icing on the cake? 

Strike 4: July 2020. When I moved back to the Methow this year I had Driveway in my sights and unbelievably learned nothing from 2017. I tried to take Hudson up there at the end of July on a way too hot day. We turned around.

So finally, at the beginning of August, Hudson and I had a successful attempt on Driveway Butte! Was it worth the multiple failed attempts? Absolutely!! In fact, Driveway might be one of my favorite summits in the Mazama area and one that I’ll do again, hopefully without four more failed attempts in between.

A little bit about Driveway.

Back in 1931, Driveway Butte was home to a unique slant-walled cupola cabin. In 1938, a more traditional 30-foot L-4 cab tower was built but both structures were destroyed in 1953. I sure wish that slant-walled cupola was around today!

As is the case with most former lookout sites, the views from Driveway are big. Although the views of the big North Cascades peaks like Silver Star and Gardner are better from other summits like Doe and Fawn, Driveway offers a stunning view all the way up the Lost River Valley into the Pasayten as well as a unique perspective of the impressively steep Goat Wall far below.

Hiking to Driveway Butte. Finally!

The trail to Driveway Butte starts from near the Klipchuck Campground about 12 miles west of Mazama. The only warm up is on the short stretch of trail from the parking lot to the Driveway Butte sign, then the trail wastes no time going up. The first 2 miles climb roughly 2,000 feet up the east side of Delancy Ridge along a series of switchbacks. 

The southern exposure makes it a very hot, dry, dusty hike, so going early in the day is smart. Even smarter is earlier in the season, when balsam root covers the hillside and puts on a beautiful show. May and June are probably the most ideal time for this hike, though the north side can potentially hold snow earlier than that, as I found out in April 2014. 

As you climb higher, Silver Star comes into view and gives you a nice distraction from the climb. Nearing the top of the ridge, Indian Creek might provide a few refreshing trickles on a hot day, but late in season it’s not more than a drip, so bring plenty of water for the climb. As the trail crests the ridge, it enters a burn zone and even on a hot day, it usually becomes a bit cooler on this section of trail. Little Drive peak is just a short half mile detour from the ridge crest and can be a nice bonus peak. 

Entering the burn area, Little Drive just to the right.

It seems like once you’re in the burn area you should be close to Driveway but alas, it’s still 2 miles away with more climbing. Though the stretch through the burn zone is less steep, it can be brushy and soggy in places with a few downed trees to hurdle, so it’s not particularly fast. I would recommend pants to save yourself from some extra exfoliation. 

The trail most of the way is well defined and McGee Creek provides refreshingly cool water all season long, a nice reward for the earlier dusty climb! Eventually the trail turns to the north across open meadows and up a final, steep climb to the summit of Driveway.

The summit is expansive and looking down at Goal Wall from this vantage point is really impressive. The fire lookout foundation blocks are still there, as are a summit benchmark, some nails, cables, and ceramic insulator remnants. 

Hudson and I stayed on the summit over an hour, lounging, enjoying a picnic, and thoroughly soaking up the views. I mean, it took me five tries to get here, so there was no way I wasn’t enjoying the heck out of this one!

Driveway definitely isn’t a walk in the park. This one is what I call a sneaker, a hike that seems relatively straightforward but will kick your butt, especially on a warm or hot day.

If you’ve never been up to Driveway, it’s a fantastic former fire lookout summit. Put it on your list, bring your climbing legs, and pack a lunch to stay a while and enjoy the views. Oh, and also watch your step down low in the summer. It’s not uncommon to find rattlesnakes, though they’re typically not aggressive unless you give them reason to be. They’ll give you fair warning, but keep an especially watchful eye out if you’re with a dog.

Date Climbed: 8/3/20
Distance (RT): 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,030′
High Point: 5,982′