OverviewBig Chiwaukum (USGS Chiwaukum Mountains)
Big Chiwaukum is the highest in the Chiwaukum Range, but sees only a few visitors each year. Peaks to the south that are closer to the Frosty Pass/Ladies Pass trail, such as Snowgrass Mountain, Ladies Peak, and Cape Horn receive much more attention. Big Chiwaukum isn't even marked on the USGS quad. The triangulated Point 8018', is a little south of the actual summit.
According to Beckey a route from Deadhorse Pass to the summit is feasible, but no other details are given. With that in mind, I planned to ascend to the summit from Deadhorse Pass and descend the west slopes towards Grace Lakes and the Wildhorse Creek Trail. I knew this would be a full day with perhaps 17 miles and 5500' of elevation gain. I completed the trip in about 11 hours. In retrospect, I got little help from Beckey and should have done more homework, such as reading the excellent report from Paul Klenke from the SummitPost website.
The first 2.5 miles on the Whitepine Creek Trail went quickly. There has been some recent trail work and most of this section is in excellent shape. Heading south on the Wildhorse Creek Trail, I ascended to about 4500' on trail that had been logged out, where the second creek marked on the quad crossed the trail. Shortly after that, I left the trail and headed southeast, then east up the ridge-line that includes Point 6181'. Where this ridge blends into the slope below Point 7534', I continued traversing and ascending to eventually reach scenic Deadhorse Pass.
Easy class 2-3 scrambling on the ridgecrest or on its east side lead to a flat shoulder at about 7700'. Here I dropped onto the east slopes, grudgingly giving up elevation and continued south on easy talus and snow slopes until almost directly east of the summit block. Some pretty steep rock remained above and no easy scramble route was apparent. This was the point of the day where I was questioning Beckey's "feasible" route via Deadhorse Pass.
After searching out a series of scrambling options, I eventually crossed the range to the west side via a Class 4 notch, perhaps only 100 feet north from the actual summit, but separated by an overhanging knife edge of Class 5 rock. Reaching the notch meant that I would be able to complete my intended loop route by descending down the west slopes, but I still was hoping to find a route to the top. I descended about 100 feet down the cliffy west slope, then made a turn south to enter a different gully system that appeared to lead back towards the top. Klenke rates the top portion class 3+. A small sitting spot next to the summit register calmed my nerves a bit before continuing my descent. Given a second opportunity to climb this peak, I would opt for ascending via Klenke's documented route rather than coming up from Deadhorse Pass.
I wanted to reach the first water that was available, so I descended in a southerly direction on the west face as I gave up elevation on loose Class 3 slopes. By scrambling in and out of numerous shallow gullies, I was able to reach the flats of Upper Grace Lake. Had I known of the advice in Klenke's report, I would have stayed higher, closer to the south ridge in order to travel on easier slopes.
To reach Lake Grace I followed a western trending ridge located just north of Lake Grace. This lead to easy slopes to descend south into the lake basin. From here, I headed northwest following open slopes, then west down steeper terrain to the Wildhorse Trail at a spot (est. 5200') almost directly south from Point 5761'.
After hours of scrambling and cross-country travel, the trail always seems so wide and welcome. I still had 7-8 miles to go and lots of elevation to descend. It was a relief to reach the Wildhorse/Whitepine junction, with the best and easiest of the trail conditions coinciding with the portion closest to the trailhead.
Charlie Hickenbottom, Wenatchee, 8/2/07