John Guilford's Hikes
White Chuck Mtn on 1991-10-19
People: (including myself): Jay Wardle, Joe Tarantino
Start: 10:50 4280
Lunch: 1:00 5200
Bottom Gully: 1:30 5400
Summit: 3:10 6989
Leave Summit: 3:30
Bottom Gully: 5:00
We were going to try and get one more good hike in this year before the
weather closed in. The weather report wasn't the best - morning clouds
with some afternoon clearing - but the weather was supposed to get worse
later - rainy and colder starting Monday. We left my house at the expected
time and things went down hill from there. We were going to take the road
on the east side of the Sauk south from Darrington. When we got there we
were surprised to see a "Dead End" sign on the road. We followed it a bit
(as the map showed that that was where we wanted to go) until we came to
where the river washed it out last year. We turned around and went back
through Darrington and down the west side of the river to the White Chuck
campground, crossed the river and headed north. According to the Forest
Service map, we wanted to go north on 22, southeast on 24 and eventually
get to 2435. On the way, just after a branch in the road, we passed a hand
lettered sign saying 2435 and White Chuck trail that pointed in the
direction we were going. We kept going and after many turns and gaining
much elevation we decided that we weren't where we thought we were. After
consulting the quad map, we figured out where we were and where we wanted
to be (which, obviously weren't the same place). We back-tracked down
(doing the equivalent of going over one of the passes (we went from 5000ft
back down to 2400 and then back up to 4200)) to that turn just before the
sign. The sign didn't point in the correct direction - it lied. The
correct choice was to turn before the sign. As a note: if you cross Conn
Creek (which has big metal do-hickey upstream to catch debris) you've gone
too far. Turn around and take the turn before that. The correct road is
labeled 2436 on the road and 2435 on the FS map. We finally got to the
correct place. [See correct approach at end of description] There was a
hunter there (it being deer season), but he left as we were getting ready
(which is just as well, I wasn't real happy about being out in the woods
with a bunch of people drinking beer with high power rifles looking for
things that move).
Unfortunately, the clouds were so low that we couldn't see the mountain so we
just started off. Becky's description reads "Hike through open forest
adjacent to upper Black Oak Creek to a meadow (20 min) near the foot of a
steep wooded slope leading into a talus basin W of the mountain. There is a
climbers path at the left of the brushy slope that greatly assists
progress." We hiked along the creek for a while until we came to something
that could be called a meadow with a steep slope next to it. With the low
clouds we couldn't see what was beyond the slope. We couldn't find the
climbers path and beat ourselves up the slope. At one point I was going up
a steep pine needle covered slope when my feet slide out from under me and
I was flat on my stomach sliding down hill. I found that you can't dig your
toes into this stuff and I was wondering how far I was going to go and what
was below he when I hit Jay's foot (placed securely to stop me - thank you
Jay). I probably slid about 10 feet. No damage done, but it was an
interesting experience. We finally got up the slope and discovered (!)
that it was a ridge that fell away on the other side (elev 4800). This
isn't where we wanted to be. After consulting the quad map, we decided we
must have gone too far to the south and climbed the wrong ridge. We were
about a mile from where we wanted to be. We didn't want to climb back
down, and traversing the side of the ridge would have been a nightmare so
we bushwhacked along the top of the ridge (not too bad of going) until we
got closer to White Chuck where we had to traverse north across yucky
slopes and trees. It had been intermittently misting on us and all the
brush was real wet (as were we by this time). For quite a bit of the
traverse, it was a good thing for the blueberry/huckleberry plants. They
made good handholds to keep you from sliding down the slope. Often it was
the case that if the bush broke, I would have gone for a ride. Once my
feet slipped out and the only thing saving me from a slide was the bush (I
lay flat on my back, arm over my head hanging onto the bush - that one hurt
a bit). We finally came to a small creek and found evidence of a path next
to it. We decided that this was a good time for lunch. From here we could
see a talus slope leading up the the cliffs on the west face of White
Chuck. Occasion breaks in the clouds revealed tall cliffs. There was some
talus leading up to a gully, but it looked like the gully went straight up
into more cliffs. After lunch we followed the climbers track toward the
mountain and north along the talus. The apparent path then switched back
to the south. I figured that we were still below the cliffs and expected
it to switchback to the north but it kept going heading for that gully we
saw earlier. I still thought that we wanted to be further north, but the
others convinced me to continue on the track since it HAD to lead somewhere
(I was thinking that maybe it lead to a technical route, but I was giving
up hope of making the summit by now, since we started late and took a
tortuous route to get to where we were). The track led to the bottom of
the gully and continued up. It was real steep (a couple places we had to
wait for the guy ahead to get a bit beyond due to the danger of falling
rock - which was very real danger since there was loose rock everywhere).
From what we could see in the clouds it continued up the gully which (at
least in the near term) looked climbable. We continued up for a ways
(about 3/4 the gully as it turns out) where the track left the gully for
some heather shelves leading out to the south. We followed shelves and
gullys south gaining altitude. With out the boot track to follow, it would
have been a lot more difficult to find the correct route (although the
correct route isn't unique). We'd occasionally loose it and find it again.
A couple times we'd come along a junction where we'd opt for up and south.
The shelves weren't bad although they all sloped down hill and led to
cliffs. I don't think I'd want to go there with snow (Becky advises, "the
gully and shelf system are snow covered in early season, exposure prompts
the use of the axe and rope." It wasn't real dangerous, but it also wasn't
inconceivable that if you tripped and started sliding that you could go
over the edge. Closer to the summit it got worse. You were never directly
over the big drop, but several places you got close to a lower drop in
which you'd have a good change to continue to bounce and slide until you
did get to the big one (its not the fall that bad - its the sudden stop at
the bottom :-).
At one point the clouds lifted and gave us a view of the summit. "Hey, that
isn't that far away!" I didn't know how long the hole in the clouds would
last, so I got a couple of quick pictures off rapidly. The map that Becky
has shows a small bit on the ridge line - we never did that - we just
traversed up. Just before the summit, there is a small notch that you have
to navigate. This involves climbing down about 10 feet of rock (good hand
and foot holds) and crossing a narrow neck (with notches leading to cliffs
on either side) and then ascending steep heather slopes (easy) to summit.
Joe just climbed down and across the neck, while Jay and I eyed it more.
After some debate we decided to be weenies and dig out the rope. We
fastened it to a knob and were going to use it for support during the down
climb. I was just going to use it to hang on to, and Jay suggested getting
into the body rappel position. I tried that, but found horrible obnoxious
to climb rock that way and went back to just using it to hang onto. The
rock was easier to use and I never did really use the rope - the rope just
got in the way. Jay came last, and he, too, started off in the body rappel
position (it was his idea after all) and quickly gave it up too. A few
minutes later we were all on the summit. The clouds had been clearing
rapidly and we had some real good views from the summit. To my surprise, we
could see all the way down to Rainier (which showed up quite clearly) up to
beyond Baker. We hung around the summit for a half hour eating a snack and
taking photos. My anxiety level was rising as I wasn't real happy with the
thought of the descent. Going down is harder than climbing up, and, even
though I knew it wasn't that dangerous, I wasn't real happy with the
thought of descending sloping shelves with loose rock over tall cliffs. We
climbed back down to the notch, crossed the neck and climbed back up the
ledge. Again, the rope got in the way more than anything. We packed up
the rope and headed down. The way down wasn't nearly as bad as I (in my
anxiety) had feared. I just went slowly as I didn't want to start sliding.
Going down we noticed more of the boot tracks. It looks like there are
several routes along the top (including going all the way to the saddle
above the gully before descending). A couple times we found that we
started following the wrong track and had to go back (as we wanted to go
back down the same way we came up). Once, we got most of the way to the
saddle, so we continue on to view the glacier on the north flank of White
Chuck. In my imagination the gully got steeper than it really is and
climbing down that wasn't bad either (I had been thinking that we might
want to rappel down that, but that was clearly not the correct choice).
Some of the shelf work was slow going where you had to go down the sloping
shelf (making sure that you didn't start sliding), but we all did it
without incidence. From the summit and most of the shelf we could see the
road and where we parked (and the car). It really didn't look that far.
If you had a parasail (and the guts to jump off the cliff), you could have
been down in no time.
We got down the gully and started following the boot track out (we, for
sure, were NOT planning on going out the way we got in!). This went down a
slope for ways (sometimes sharing with a creek). Nearer the bottom we lost
it and couldn't find it again, so we just cross-countried it (taking a
compass bearing of where the car was just to be safe - it wasn't a hard
direction to follow since we wanted to hike directly into the setting sun).
We figured that the creek we where near was one of the forks of the Black
Oak (which splits just east of the road, although the quad doesn't show
it). We continued down through quite a bit of soft wet terrain (and got
some good views of the cliffs back through the trees - the further you got
from the gully the more impressive the gully looked - from the trees, I
wouldn't have predicted that we could have gotten up there - I have some
pictures, but I doubt that they will capture the full effect). We ended up
getting out at the same place we started, which was a mild surprise. We
never did find the meadow that Becky originally describes; we saw a number
of clearings, but none that were obviously what he referred to.
The timing of the end was perfect. We got out to the road just as the sun
was setting. The coloration on the cliffs on White Chuck were pretty neat
and worth a few photos (the moon was there - a bit far to south - but I got
some pictures of that too). A few minutes later, you could see the shadow
climb the face as the sun set. If we were just a tad later we would have
missed it. I had brought some pop with me which we left in the car. Since
it was supposed to be a cool wet day, I didn't bother with the cooler - the
result was warm (pretty warm actually) pop. Oh well. I guess I should
have brought the cooler and just left the ice out.
The correct was to approach the mountain is to stay on the north side of
Black Oak creek (instead of crossing it and heading south like we did).
You want to stay in the relatively flat area between Black Oak and Conn
creeks. What we SHOULD have done, since we didn't see where the mountain
was, was to take a compass bearing and follow that. That would have kept
us from climbing that ridge - isn't hind sight wonderful?
All in all, it was a good hike. The weather ended nicely, we made it to
the top, and the timing worked out fine. We made it to the top in 4 hours
(even with our detour) while Becky gives the time as 4-5 hours (we debate
whether his time is supposed to be one way or round trip). The trip down
the shelves took about as long as the trip up the shelves, which wasn't too
surprising. This is not a hike for novice hikers. I would say that you'd
want to have some experience scrambling and route finding before trying
this. This was the first hike I've been on where there were no trails for
any of it. Difficulty-wise, I'd say that the terrain is more difficult
than Whitehorse, but it is a LOT shorter too. Whitehorse takes more time
and energy. A quad map for this hike is IMO essential. There weren't many
bugs - a few when you stopped down by the forest (e.g. lunch), but they
were just annoying and weren't biting. There wasn't much snow (TG)
although we saw a few patches. Joe is into rocks and said that there were
a lot of interesting rocks along the way (some of which made it home with
APPROACH: After some more research, here is the (hopefully) final approach:
Go south from Darrington along the Sauk river. [If they fix FS22 an
alternate (and shorter route) would be to cross the Sauk just north of
Darrington and go south on FS22 for 7 miles.] At the White Chuck
campground, cross the river and head north on FS22 about 4 miles to FS24.
Turn east on 24 and go 4.1 miles to 2430. Take a right onto 2430. In
about 1/2 miles, take the right onto 2435. In another 1/2 mile, turn right
on 2436 (heading south) (if you pass Conn Creek and the iron grate, you've
gone too far - go back and take 2436). In 3/4 mile turn left onto 2437
(heading north). In about 1 1/2 miles go through a virtual 4-way
intersection (the main road takes a right 90 degree turn, stay on that -
the left branch continues in the same direction as the original road and
comes first - the right branch is about 50 ft later and heads in the
opposite direction from the original road). The road ends about 1/2 mile
further. Note: the Forest Service map and the Gazeteer are not drawn
correctly - use a quad map for reference. Both of them (as well as the
quad) show a road leading off of 2435 north of Conn Creek that eventually
can lead to the 4-way intersection. We looked for and never found this
Footnote from 94-09-17:
Regarding the 4-way intersection.
The above description is difficult to understand. This is what the road
* . The main road turns right at the intersection.
* . The two cross roads come off during the turn.
* . Continue on the main road as it turns to the right.
Footnote from 2002-09-07:
The road to White Chuck is closed permanently at this intersection.
The gravel road does continue as a left hand curve that curves around to the
northwest and begins to descend. If you find the road descending gradually,
then you've gone too far. At the curve is a pull out with a dirt berm.
This berm (and the ditch behind it) block the old road to the base of
White Chuck. One can park here and walk up to the old "trail head" which was
marked (on 9/7/2002) by stones in the road laid out in the shape of an arrow.
for a more detailed description of an alternate approach
starting from just north of Darrington on FS 24.
Jay climbing down to the narrow neck just before the summit.
View from the summit looking through clouds.
Joe, John, and Jay on the summit.
Please send comments or corrections to
Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015