This is by no means the route of the faitour, though some of the more hardcore among us might consider it that way. They'd say if you don't go up the North Face then you are cheating. Well, the Dry Creek Route is no pushover either. The route features a river crossing (hopefully on a log), an open-forest and dry creekbed approach, routefinding issues in the lower basin, a steep couloir that's avalanche-prone (especially in winter and spring), a rocky headwall to gain the notch above the couloir, a scrub pine brush bash up the South Ridge, steep snow traverses (if early season), and an expansive open summit. The route has a lot of features.
Park at milepost 27 on the Mountain Loop Highway. (This milepost is one of the few on the road; it is on the south side of the road near a long bend.) Currently (as of April 2004), there is a log stretching across the river near this milepost. It was the only log we saw for many hundreds of yards either way. To get to this log, first hike 60 paces up the road (east) from the milepost then bear straight downhill to the river. The log is about eight inches in diameter, 60-80 feet long, and resting close to water level. A funky hoick is required to get up onto the roots from the bank w/o stepping in the water. The first twenty feet of log is across water that's about 15 feet deep. Because of this, you might wish to not walk this part. If you should fall off you won't touch bottom! Instead, you can either walk on your hands and knees or scoot on your butt. The middle third can be walked or done on hands and knees (the water is not as deep as you are tall but you still can't touch bottom with your balance poles). The last third is walkable up onto the opposite (south) bank. The water is shallow enough to touch bottom with your balance poles.
In the forest on the other side of the river, follow plenteous orange and pink tagging on a shallow ridge that forms west of the river where it turns slightly south upstream of the log. The ridge soon departs the river then parallels Dry Creek (which really is dry; the water flows under the surface). Continue on with almost no bushwhacking to where the tagging leads down to the gravel and boulder streambed of Dry Creek. Follow the dry bed south to where it opens up on the east side of the mountain.
The Lower Basin
Some have had trouble negotiating the lower basin cliff band. Conditions in winter and spring may be different than in summer and fall. In winter and spring the gullies leading up through the cliffs may be snowfilled. Later in the season when the snow has melted out the gullies may be impassable. The most feasible gullies are on the right (north) side of the lower basin. These gullies lead toward the towers of the NE Ridge. A prominent waterfall plunges down on the left side of the basin. You could try your luck over yonder but no gaurantees.
Here is what we did:
There was large avalanche debris pile of snow coming far down the basin almost to treeline. We walked up this debris pile to a low-angle toe of rock coming from the right. Going around this toe, we arced back around to the right (north) then crossed back over the toe higher up (mild brush for 50 feet) to get to the next gully over (the next gully to the north). This gully was snow-filled for us. It probably won't be later in the summer. The gully starts out fairly wide. A fixed rope was found hanging down from the slopy rock wall on the right. In a few hundred yards the gully narrowed and turned right a few degrees. The gully then opened up turning left. We took it all the way up to the base of cliffs below the NE Ridge.
From the upper right side of the lower basin (below the NE Ridge cliffs), traverse open talus or snow slopes south to the base of the obvious couloir coming down from between Big Four's Main and South peaks. Ascend the gully to its head surmounting rock outcrops as necessary (probably on the right side). The couloir opens up at its head into a minor basin hemmed in on all sides by cliffs and uneven terrain. The standard route climbs up to the notch at far left (just north of the South Peak). A steep gully or snowfinger leads to a small cave whereupon a rightward Class-4 traverse and climb on red slabby rock (possibly wet) gets you to the South Ridge of the Main Peak. If you can, try to climb up to the upper notch as the transition from lower notch to upper notch along the ridge requires outrageously tight squeeze climbing through evergreens for about 100 feet.
South Ridge to Summit
Scramble up the Class-3 ridge to below the summit. One or two more evergreen thrash sessions are required along the first half. The route then angles right to the obvious saddle east of the summit ridge. We had to do a super-steep snow traverse for about 30 feet but this snow will probably be gone later in the season. From the saddle, turn left (west) and finish the climb (Class 2).
Scramble back to the upper notch. Squeeze through the evergreens to the lower notch. Set up a rappel at a tree (one 60m rope is sufficient; can maybe use a shorter rope too) and rap down to the gully/snowfinger below the cave. Downclimb the couloir and reverse the remainder of the route. With rappel gear, there are variations but it is probably best to go down the way you came up (if you can).
Maybe a small alpine rack (no need for a lot of pro), 60m rope for rappel, ice axe, crampons maybe, helmet (rock is not all that secure).