White Chuck Mountain (6,989') Evening Ascent
Just some of my thoughts
I'm always caught with amazement on how the mountains can be so surprisingly unpredictable. Generally speaking, the experience is never the same. This one attribute can prove to be good, but sometimes this can be a bad thing. Nevertheless, this is what keeps me coming back. This sweet mystery in knowing that I might experience something new, something fresh, something that will change me and something that I will never forget. But is it really the mountains that are surprisingly different or maybe it’s the journey that’s always keeping me at the epics edge?
I’m convinced that the Journey is the destination. I’m still trying to figure out what this all looks like. Knowing what little I know, I’m always willing to try the same thing more than once. For in knowing that the destination (i.e. Mountain) might be the same, the journey to reach the top has a high chance in being fresh and new. With all this said, my journey truly is my destination. I just haven’t arrived yet, for this untamed and thrilling ride is far from being over.
White Chuck Mountain Seen From Mt Pugh
Planning The Adventure
I sent a text message to my buddy Gimpilator the morning of September 22nd, 2010. I asked if he was game to get off work early that day and climb a mountain. Here in Washington State we have experienced a lot of worthless weather this summer. The weather this day was supposed to be pleasant, but it was mid week and I was at work. I got this last second itch to be in the mountains. This happens a lot!!! Gimpilator responded that he could get off early and we started to make plans.
We went back and forth over a couple peaks we had in mind. We began to determine drive times, ascent times, forecasted weather, good trails to come out after dark, etc… We narrowed it down to two peaks we both hadn’t done before. The third peak considered was a mountain that Gimpilator wanted to really do, but I did it the week before. That was White Chuck Mountain. At first, I didn’t want to repeat this mountain for awhile considering how many other great peaks are in our area that I haven’t done yet.
As we headed north on I-5 we got word that the road was closed to peak option #1. This gave us option #2, which really wasn’t anything special. I knew that Gimp wanted the 3rd option pretty bad. However, he is the kind of guy that’s not going to push something that he wants, but rather something the whole team wants.
In knowing all this, I looked over at him and said, “Let’s go climb White Chuck Mountain buddy!” The reason he wanted it so bad was the fact that it stuck out as such a beautiful, prominent peak. It’s a peak that he has viewed for numerous years from other close by summits.
White Chuck Mountain seen this spring from North Mountain
I’m the kind of guy that gets pretty stoked when I know that my climbing partner is excited and content. Gimpilator was for sure thrilled!!!
So we kept driving until we got into Darrington, WA. We took a left at the main light and headed north out of town. We then took a right on the Sauk Prairie Road. Then we took another right at about 1.5 miles on Dan Creek FSR #24. This put us on a series of logging roads for many miles. I love this drive because it breaks out into high alpine views while you are still driving. Soon we got to the trailhead just below 5,000’. This is pretty high in elevation for a drivable trailhead around these parts.
We started hiking around 3:30pm.
Gimpilator heads into the dense evergreens
Gimpilator had been here once before, but turned around in the gully due to very wet, slippery conditions.
Here I'm heading up the trail. The north sub peak of White Chuck is visible here.
Another big reason I wanted to do this peak again, was the fact that it was a whiteout last time I was on the summit. I said that I would come back on a day that had views. This day was beautiful and clear, but things started to change.
The trail along the ridge before the talus basin
We made quick time and we were soon to the talus slopes before the gully. This took us about 45 minutes from the trailhead.
Gimpilator almost to the gully.
As we started to near in on White Chuck, the clouds dropped down and covered the upper portions of the summit. I joked and said that this mountain always holds in clouds and that I was probably going to get another whiteout condition on the summit.
We continued up the gully and traversed to the right on slippery boulders. The faint trail switchbacks back and forth on steep heather and steep, loose rock for awhile here.
Coming out of the gully you get a great view of the sub peak
Steep heather slopes with the White Chuck River 5,000' below
The views out to the west were pretty good. The clouds were staying high enough to give great views of all the peaks to the northwest spanning to southwest.
Still, the summit was engulfed with dense clouds. We got to a saddle between the main summit block and the sub peak. From here you can go to the left along a ridge and view the glacier. When I was up last time I didn’t get to see this. It was very exciting to see something new.
Looking down at the glacier
The summit was still socked in with clouds at this point. We headed back and traversed right more on a series of exposed ledges. The major crux is a section of down sloping rock with loose gravel on top. A slip on this section would be fatal. You would have a short down sloping slide, then a very long fall off the cliff band. We went slowly here, making sure every step counted. Good handholds were hard to find.
Gimpilator on the crux
Down Sloping Rock
Most of White Chuck is a scramble and it averages with class 2 – class 3 throughout the ascent. You can really feel the exposure for most of the climb and it never really lets off. Once you past the crux, you follow some narrow and loose ledges.
Loose Rock Exposure
This goes for awhile until you get to a notch. We down climbed the notch with some exposure on both sides to a narrow flat saddle. If you have a large pack, it can get hung up on this spot. It’s pretty tight, as we hugged the solid rock dropping down to the notch. If this spot is icy or wet, I would not personally attempt unless I had a rope.
Gimp down climbing the notch
Once out of the notch it was only a hundred feet ascent to the summit. Of course it was cloudy and there were not any views. We had a couple peek-a-boo views of Thornton Lake far below. This added a bit of excitement to see something else I didn’t see the week before.
Far, Far Below
The temperature dropped, so we put on some warm clothes. This was our call to head home. We signed the summit register and started to head down. It was just a bit after 5:30pm. I had fun because I was in good company, but a little bummed that I didn’t get any views. On the drive in earlier, it was so clear and sunny. I wasn’t disappointed, because I knew mountains can be this way.
This is about the moment when the mountain’s awestruck wonders decided to show up.
As we headed down, the sky began to clear toward the west. The clouds started to lift just enough to see the evening sun along with all the awesome layers of peaks. The western skyline began to burst with brilliant colors. The evening sun loomed over Three Fingers and Whitehorse Mountain in a fashion I have never seen before.
The sun was in perfect relationship with a team clouds to form the most striking sun beams I have ever seen. Gimpilator and I were completely blown away. It was such a heavenly sight that we didn’t want to descend down, but we knew that time was working against us. Those perfect, magical moments fade so quickly. Too quickly.
White Chuck Mountain is not a peak you should descend in the dark. There are many areas that your footing placement is very important. We continued down at a slow pace because of the amazing views and also the steep, loose exposure. Every couple feet we would stop and say, “Dang look at that… wow… that’s crazy!!!”
Three Fingers Mountain
The mountains constantly put a smile on my face. It’s amazing how they are always different every time. You never know what you will get. This time it was remarkable, next time it might be a blizzard, but every time it’s always good with my soul.
Looking into the sunset
We made it out fine and without injuries. The last bit of trail through the trees was enjoyed with our headlamps. This will be a trip I will always remember. It blows me away how much fun you can have in just a couple hours in the mountains. We got back to the truck around 7:30pm and headed home.
Not a bad day after work.