This is one of the man-mountains of the Washington Cascades. It is a laborious mountain to climb and as such does not get summited very often (maybe four parties per year). The mountain is located in the north-central Cascades 10 miles east of Glacier Peak
. After 8,760-ft Fortress Mountain
, it is the second-highest point on Chiwawa Ridge, which divides the Chiwawa River to the east and the Napeequa River to the west. Buck Creek flows around the northeast side of the peak.
The peak is a member of the Washington Top 100. Its actual height has been debatable, but general consensus goes with 8,528 ft. This is the height of the north summit, but the middle summit is probably a few feet higher. A small cairn on the middle summit must be discounted in determining its height. When viewed from the north summit about 200 yards away, this cairn may make the middle summit look higher. Certainly if you stand up on the north summit your head will be higher than the middle summit. There are actually five distinct summits on Buck: the west (8,254 ft), north (8,528 ft*), middle (8,528+ ft**), south no. 1 (8,360+ ft***), and south no. 2 (8,316 ft).
The mountain has two distinct personalities: the west/south and east/north. From the west, the peak is characterized as having broad open slopes and a permanent stretch of snowfields below the three main summit points. Of these main summit points, the south one is the most precipitous on the west side. The middle and north summits look like nothing more than bouldery ramps. But don't be fooled by these ramps: the other (east) side of these two summit points are very nearly vertical. In fact, the drop from the middle-north crest is at least 600 feet almost straight down on the east side. This makes for an airy summit block when sitting there signing the register knowing that at your back--not one foot from you fanny--is air, air, and more air. You can see right down into King Lake (5,920+ ft) far below. The North Face is even more precipitous than the East and drops 1,200+ ft in less than a 1/5th of a mile of horizontal distance from the slightly overhung north summit. The North Face (and East Face) is comprised of very dark black schist, and it is this darkened appearance that gives Buck its nefarious look when viewed from the east or northeast. Yes, there is usually no mistaking this peak from this side.
August 12, 2007 GPS readings:
* My GPS settled out at 8535 ft on the highest rock of the north summit.
** MY GPS settled out at 8559 ft on the highest rock of the middle summit.
*** I think the map is in error. My GPS read at 8420 feet on the SW Ridge of the south summit and I was still at least
80 vertical feet below the highest point.
There are two ways to approach this peak. The standard and shortest would be from Trinity at the terminus of Chiwawa River Road. The other way to approach the peak would be via Napeequa River Trail on the southwest side of the peak. The Napeequa approach is longer (starts on White River Trail and crosses over to Napeequa River by way of Boulder Pass) but it is seldom done. It could be a nice experience. Basically, to climb Buck from this side, you want to leave the Napeequa River Trail at Louis Creek and bear NNE uphill to the upper west slopes of the peak. You'll encounter low angle cliffs/slabs here and there on the upper slopes, but they're easily surmounted.
No climbs on this peak are straight forward, and some have been registered as down right dangerous. From Trinity, there are two less-technical summit routes: the Southeast Route and the circuitous West Shoulder Route.
Southeast Route: take the Buck Creek Trail 1.5 miles past the 3,200-ft Chiwawa River Trail junction, which itself is 1.5 miles from the trailhead. Not too long after crossing the Chiwawa River, leave the trail and climb alternately forested, brushy, and open slopes southwestward to 5,940-ft King Lake (see this picture
). Good camping at the lake. From the lake, you want to climb directly south to a notch on East Ridge of Buck. Cross over to the south side of the ridge and then contour around the next, less-prominent ESE Ridge to the low-angle southeast slopes. Once around the ESE Ridge corner, you basically want to bear WNW to the saddle between south and middle summits. From the saddle, cross to the west side and climb up either the middle or north summits (or both).
West Shoulder Route: this is the most common route to the summit. See West Shoulder from Trinity
A possible descent can be made all the way down Alpine Creek on the southeast side of the peak. There is reportedly lots of brush to deal with if you don't find the most prudent way down, but it is supposedly very feasible. Not recommended as an ascent route.
Rock routes: the Northeast Face has been climbed. This is an involved route that begins from King Lake. The route ascends the King Glacier below the East Face and angles up and right to about 7,900 ft. A steep snow gully/chute ends this route. At its top one can find class 4 and/or class 5 climbing depending on what completion one undertakes.
The North Face has been climbed too (probably only once). The original party found it extremely dangerous with much loose rock. They said the face was best avoided. Better to look at it from a distance than to be on it.
Permits are not really required in the region though one of those annoying Trail Park Passes may be requested.
When To Climb
The mountain could probably be climbed year-round provided you could get to the trailhead. The less daylight and the more snow you encounter the more time you'll need. The Trinity trailhead is at 2,800 ft. The White River trailhead is at 2,300 ft. The optimum time to climb the mountain would be from mid-June up to the first big autumn snowfall.
There are some campsites along the Buck Creek Trail here and there. Camping would also be available at King Lake. For the West Shoulder Route, a nice camp is located on the East Ridge of Mt. Cleator at about 5,800 ft. For slower parties wishing to summit Buck with time to spare, this would be an excellent camp. An even better camp but quite the schlep would be at the 6,600-ft pool at the Berge-Buck saddle.
Buck Mountain is located a few miles east of the Cascade Crest, as such it can sometimes receive the brunt of Pacific storms. On the other hand, the peak is far enough east as to avoid punier storms. In hot spring and summer days, thunderstorms may be more of a problem.