From I-5, 40 miles north of Seattle, take the Arlington/Darrington exit #208. Head east on Hwy 530 approx. 26 miles to Mine Rd. (aka 387th Ave. N.E.) turning right on the paved road toward the mountain. After 5/10 mile continue on the now gravel road taking two left forks.(Note: Road closed 1/2 mile from hwy 530 due to unsafe bridge. You can still walk across. See "Road Update" on main page.) This road becomes increasingly rougher as it goes up the hill but should be easily navigable with care by most two-wheel drive vehicles. At 1.8 miles from the highway the road levels out and there's room for a half dozen cars or so at the trailhead. This is forest trail #953 also known as the Niederprum trail and also as the Whitehorse Mountain trail.
The trail trends steeply uphill through a very old (100 years or so?) second growth forest peppered with the gigantic springboard notched stumps of the original forest giants. This is the only part of the trail where there are actual switchbacks and apparently some occasional maintenance. After half a mile and 26 switchbacks the trail enters the old growth forest and becomes increasingly narrower and steeper as it relentlessly weaves it's way more or less directly up the mountain. The second half mile is still a pretty good trail but rougher - though it does show some signs of recent minor maintenance. At about the one-mile mark (trust me - it seems like much more!) you'll enter a clearing where the trail crosses a boulder field having climbed about 1,500 feet in that first mile. After the clearing it gets much more interesting. Unfortunately, someone has recently blazed the trees from this point on. We need to find this guy and take his axe away!
Climbing now at a rate of about 2,000 ft./mile you pass many old growth giants: Cedar, hemlock and a few firs. One double trunked cedar that's grown into an adjacent Hemlock and looks to be more that 15 feet through can be spotted uphill a few dozen feet from where the trail enters the forest after the clearing. There are also 3 or 4 four-foot (or more) diameter trees across the trail you will have to duck under to pass. The trail is rutted in places but can be fairly easily followed until the first good bivy spot/view point at about 2.3 miles and 4,100' elevation. You'll need your best tracking skills to continue for the next few hundred feet, winding your way through the low hemlock and cedar trees. Virtually none of the brush and small trees have been trimmed along the route so the route is more like an animal trail than anything else. Just pay attention to the ground and you will see the more or less obvious path through the small trees. Traverse along the slope on a 150-degree heading toward Lone Tree Pass. (Basically SSE - don't try to spot a "lone tree": it's actually a group of three, and they're not at the pass, just in line with it from some vantage points - photo of this later). Continue to the left at Lone Tree Pass taking the trail uphill avoiding the animal trails that are sometimes more evident than the "real" trail. The trees are again blazed for the next mile or so past Lone Tree Pass so it's hard to get lost.
About 3/10th mile past the pass and at 4,915' you will cross the only flat meadow of this whole adventure. This looks like it would be a great winter bivy spot being sheltered from the wind by the trees yet affording spectacular views of the summit. (See pic: "Whitehorse summit from the meadow.") On 9/26/03 I surprised a group of three mountain goats here. I entered this meadow with my camera at the ready on 7/28/04 but no luck. There is one obvious fork a few hundred yards farther: Take the right hand one and angle downhill.
The "trail" goes from bad to worse for the next mile and a quarter dropping down and climbing back up repeatedly as it traverses the slopes heading to High Pass. There are a scant few plastic ribbons tied to trees and a few cairns but basically just pick your way along the slope until you see the unmistakable pinnacle marking the summit side of high pass. (See pic: "Mini Trango"). Stay to the left up the talus on a rough trail and you will eventually get to High Pass (6,029 on my GPS). Drop down a few feet and cross the glacier bearing toward the obvious summit to the right. On my climb of 7/28 I could hear loud sounds of much flowing water beneath me on an unbroken expanse of snow so this ice field is obviously potentially dangerous. Indeed, at one point I broke through with one foot to my great dismay only saving myself with a firm planting of my ice ax to save a fall into a deep crevasse. At the high point of the glacier there is a very steep knife-edged snow finger pointing directly toward the summit that must be navigated. (See pic: "I've come this far, and now this!?") Crampons and an ice axe would be of help here and I've got to say this was a big challenge in running shoes. At least I had the ice axe and was able to dig sound steps up the slope. The biggest problem is how to get across the gap between the snowfield and the summit pinnacle in order to scale the final pitch. This can be done without climbing aids but I would not recommend it nor will I do it again! One of my brothers is an experienced technical rock climber and he says this looks more like something in the 5.5 range rather than Beckey’s description of class 3/4. It is unnerving and a fall would be unacceptable. The glacier on 7/28 had pulled from three to about six feet away from the cliff face necessitating a jump to the rock face. The penalty for failure would be a fall into the gap between the cliff and the glacier. I tossed a rock down and I could hear it falling for quite a while.
There are pretty good holds on the final pitch and the photo ops are fantastic from the summit. This looks like metamorphosed sedimentary rock and is tilted up at about a 30 degree angle towards the east. The fractures are fairly sharp and angular so the holds are pretty good with only a little loose rock on the face. The Mountaineers maintain a summit log and the sparse entries verify my solitude statement: No one had signed in the eleven days prior to my climb of 7/28. This log tablet is dated June of '03 and I'd say that there are enough pages for it to last another twenty years.
The summit ice cap/snow field is steep enough to require at least an ice axe even during summer climbs. Climbs in any other season will require crampons as well to navigate the long and steep traverses. The first two thirds of the climb is on a steep north facing slope that will hold snow well into the summer in most years. The final pitch is only about 60 feet but it's still somewhere between a class 4 and a 5.0 +/-, so ropes will be necessary for a safe final summit attempt. There are several nylon straps in place on the summit rocks to assist in the down climb.
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