OverviewLet us shed some much needed light on a Dark subject... (an aside: how exactly does one shed light?)
Dark Peak is one of those procrastination peaks for those "fools like me" climbing or attempting to climb the highest 100 peaks in Washington*. It's not so much that the peak itself is difficult to climb, but that approaching it is such a pain in the butt, like a hemorrhoid. The peak resides in what might be called the Stehekin Triangle, a 125 square-mile island of big peaks bounded by Lake Chelan on the east, the Stehekin River on the north, Agnes Creek on the west, and Railroad Creek on the south. The triangle contains six Top 100 peaks, two of which I still have to climb. The shortest and most commonly used approach for these peaks is to take the ferry or plane up Lake Chelan to Lucerne or Stehekin and proceed from there. Approaching from a road you could drive to would take too much time, so you might as well pony up the cash for the taxi service, which does not involve ponies, mind you.
The mountain itself is quite beautiful (at least from the north) and deserves more attention. And yet, with more attention, the bushwhack to get to it would be removed and the solitude would be reduced. On the north side, draining to Swamp Creek, is the significant Dark Glacier, which contains enough crevasses to make things interesting. The peak's east side drops precipitously to Company Creek and cradles a western lobe of the Company Glacier. The Company Glacier is most often associated with nearby Bonanza Peak--the preminent mountain in the area and a spectacular sight to toss your eyes at from Dark's summit. A high ridge connects the two peaks. This ridge can be traversed to Bonanza's West Peak. See here for a trip report for this traverse (Blake Herrington and Tim Halder).
Running west then north from the summit is a high ridge of crags known as the Anonymity Towers, most of which have not been climbed. Mark Allaback and John Roper climbed the northernmost crag and the diminutive but impressive Dark Fin Tower in August 1986. Farther out along the ridge is the piercing spire of Needle Peak (7,880+ ft). The Northeast Ridge of Dark Peak continues over to Mt. Lyall (7,892 ft).
* Dark Peak ranks 56th on the Bulger List (the list most Top 100 peakbaggers work on) but, due to its modest 264 feet of prominence, does not appear on the clean 400P list. No matter, for, either way, Dark Peak is a worthy objective.
Getting ThereFerry and Plane Service
The standard route requires one to take the ferry or plane up Lake Chelan to Stehekin then ride the shuttle bus up the valley to the Agnes Creek Trail, which you hike to camp. The next day you would climb Dark. The third day you lick your wounds (whether succesful or not, you'll have wounds) and go home or stick around to climb some other impressive peaks in the area. Have a go at Agnes Mountain, the Ama Dablam of the Cascades, if you can find a way across roaring Agnes Creek.
The ferry (Lady of the Lake) leaves Chelan and Fields Point at the southeast end of the lake and makes scheduled stops in Lucerne and Stehekin and other stops to pick up/drop off hikers as need be. The Lady of the Lake is a service that actually provides three different size and speed boats. The slowest boat leaves the southeast end of the lake in the early morning and takes about four hours to get to Stehekin. The other boats are faster but more expensive. For shedules and rates, it is best to consult their website above. For 2005, the slow boat costs $33 round-trip + parking fees ($6 per night, I think).
The plane (Chelan Airways) leaves Chelan at more reasonable times in the morning and can even be scheduled to fit your arrival/departure needs. The flight to Stehekin takes 20 minutes. Compared to the four hours for the slow boat, this is great. But of course, there's no free lunch, so the cost is more ($89 one-way or $139 round-trip in 2005). Hey, at least they only charge $5 per night to park. The plane dock--it's a float plane service--is right next to the boat dock.
To get to the Chelan boat and plane docks, you need to drive north on Alternate-U.S.-97 (west side of Columbia River) from Wenatchee. To get to Chelan from other directions, consult your gazetteers. The docks are located on the south shore of the lake off of Alt-US-97 about a mile-and-a-half west of the city center. If coming from Wenatchee, the docks are about a mile past the community of Lakeside.
Note that you can even charter a float plane from elsewhere (Seattle, for instance) to fly to Stehekin, but that will flatten your wallet even more.
Stehekin Shuttle Service
The Stehekin Valley Ranch provides transportation up and down the Stehekin Valley Road to the current end of the road. The shuttle departure from Stehekin Landing coincides with the arrival of the slow boat (or at least it should). It runs continually all day but only leaves Stehekin Landing about four times a day. Here is their 2005 schedule.
You could also thumb a ride from a local. You'd be surprised at how busy the road is.
The shuttle will drop you off at the current end of the road, which at present is at a barrier just beyond the ranch. Locals may drive you a half-mile farther past that barrier to a washout. This washout is intended to be fixed in July 2005, after which transporation will be available all the way to High Bridge 2.5 miles beyond of the ranch. High Bridge is where the trail to Dark Peak starts (the Agnes Creek Trail).
Note: Bring cash for the shuttle. The cost of the shuttle is $5 (down from $6 last year) for a one-way trip up or down the valley. It pretty much costs you $5 every time, whether you need to be transported 10 miles or one.
Agnes Creek TrailNote that this section of the trail coincides with the Pacific Crest Trail.
From High Bridge (1,700 ft), walk across the "high bridge" and up the road to the first switchback (400 yards from the bridge). On the left is the Agnes Creek Trail (signed). The trail first drops down to the creek to cross it on a good bridge. The bridge marks the boundary between North Cascades National Park and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. After the bridge, the trail makes eight or nine annoying switchbacks without gaining much elevation (the same idiots who built the Cascade Pass Trail must have built this stretch). In approximately 2 miles the Glacier Peak Wilderness boundary will be crossed (GreenTrails erroneously calls it the Glacier Creek Wilderness; more idiots at work). In another 3.5 up-and-down miles Fivemile Camp is reached (2,200 ft). For fast, competent parties this would be the best place to camp for Dark Peak if Dark is your only objective. Good water is available where the trail crosses Pass Creek just before camp. If you walk north down to Agnes Creek a little to the right of the abandoned West Fork Agnes Creek Trail, you can steal an unobstructed view of Ama Dablam. From Fivemile Camp all you get are tree-obstructed glimpses of it.
Another 3 miles up the trail is Swamp Creek Camp (2,800 ft). The camp, to my observations in deep gloaming, is on the other (south) side of Swamp Creek. The abandoned Swamp Creek Trail is just beyond the creek crossing and is signed.
Red TapeThere is no red tape for this part of the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Leave No Trace ethics should be prescribed to. This would include red tape or green tape or yellow tape or orange tape or multi-colored striped tape to help guide your way back through the brush. DON'T FLAG ROUTES THROUGH BRUSH!
When To ClimbDark Peak can be reasonably climbed from May to October. In early season, snow may amply cover brush in Swamp Creek (the worst brush is in the 3,800-4,600-ft range). Moreover, the brush will not have leafed out thereby affording long sightlines through it. The glacier's crevasses may be hidden or bridged in early season too. This could be a good or bad thing. The final ridge traverse to the summit could be dicey in early season if there is a lot of snow. Cornicing should be expected. By late-June I expect the final traverse will be bare rock. Later in the year the crevasses will be more evident thus avoidable but the névé may be icy. There will certainly be less post-holing. Bugs will be more of a problem in the heat of summer. All told, I think May would be most excellent. Yeah, dude!
CampingSeveral Campsites are available off of Stehekin Valley Road, including at High Bridge (just up the road from the bridge). Once on the Agnes Creek Trail, camping is available at Fivemile Camp (~5.7 miles from High Bridge) and Swamp Creek Camp (~9 miles). If you'll be wanting to get closer to Dark in Swamp Creek for your camp there are two good places: the lower basin (waterfall basin) at 4,300 ft and the upper basin at 5,000 ft. The former takes 2-3 hours to get to with heavy packs from the Agnes Creek Trail. The latter will take another hour or so from the former and involves a steep climb up the forested headwall.
Mountain ConditionsLocalized Forecast