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John Guilford's Hikes

Whitehorse on 1989-09-10

Date: 1989-09-10

Location: Whitehorse

People: (including myself): Gene Obie

Well, I just got through the most grueling hike I've been on yet.  Sunday a friend of mine and myself went up Whitehorse Mtn in the Cascades.  We expected it to be a long, tiring hike, but it ended up worse (no we didn't quite make it to the top, we ran out of time).  It was the first "mountaineering" hike I've been on.  By that I mean there really wasn't a trail up to the top.  The established trail only goes up to someplace called Lone Tree Pass.  After that, you are left on your own to the top.  A friend of Lynn's from work is into climbing and had written out a map and directions (along with estimated times - which turned out were quite a bit more optimistic than what we could do).  What makes it grueling is this: although Whitehorse is "only" 6852 high (note: Mt. Washington=6288 ft), you start off at the trailhead at 800.  Thus you have a net gain of 6000 ft (a bit over a mile = 5280ft).  Another thing is that the terrain is pretty nasty to go through (which kills time and energy).  This is basically what the directions said: go up the Niederprum trail (details omitted).  Near the top (of the trail, that is), the trail fades away into a boot track (places where other people have walked, but not really a trail).  Continue east under cliffs then climb and go over Lone Pine Pass.  Descend the other side 100-200' through trees and then traverse east above a small pond until you pass the obvious subpeak.  Ascend the gully (possibly snow filled) 500' and cross back over to the north side.  Traverse and climb the glacier keeping high (to avoid crevasses).  The top 50' is rock again.  (It goes into some details on getting onto the rock which I'll omit).  Here is what we did: The first 3.5 miles grinds up 3600ft.  There we picked up this boot trail (which wasn't very bad), skirted the cliffs and headed up towards the pass.  That ended up being another steep grind (next to no switchbacks) until we popped over the top.  Due to the lay of the land, you couldn't really see the top until you got close (you saw what looked like the top, which kept moving further away as you got closer).  It wasn't until we got to the top and turned around and looked that we saw how high we climbed.  BTW, the views up there are fantastic.  It was a clear day and we could see the whole valley, Mt. Baker, and the whole North Cascades.  I expected a fairly easy traverse on the back side (compared to what we had just gone up) based on the description (or lack thereof) we had.  WRONG.  It was more like bushwhacking across a mountain.  The boot track looked like it headed off along the ridge, so we followed that instead of descending (as per instructions).  This got yuckier and yuckier (climbing over logs, through brush, etc).  The "trail" seemed to turn and descend several hundred feet (which we were somewhat loath to do, knowing we'd have to make up the altitude) to skirt one of the sub-peaks.  Going out, we really didn't follow the track.  It was easily lost and hard to discover again once it was lost.  I kept thinking, "There has to be a better way." We thought, maybe there is a real trail further down (which we would have found if we had descended at the pass).  We went further down and it looked like it got steeper and more rugged until you got to the valley floor.  It turns out that "bushwhacking" across the mountain side was the correct way.  You just had to live with all the hassles.  Unfortunately, this chewed up some time (but not all that much, actually, although it seemed like it).  We thought it would take up for ever to get to the next pass over to the glaciers.  About the time we were thinking of giving up (thinking that we'd never have time to get there) we came out on a "meadow" that ran all the way (at a 45 degree slant and somewhat up hill) to the rock slide.  We figured we could go until 2:30 and still have time get out before dark.  The meadow was tough going in that the terrain was still not smooth (a number of deep gullys to go over) and lumpy (rocks and hillocks) which you couldn't see due to the tall grass.  We got to the bottom of the rockslide/scree/talus and debated grinding up that.  Imagine, if you will, after all we've been through, looking at 1000' of 45 degree slope with loose sliding rocks.  We finally said, "Screw it, we've come this far, we want to see what's over the pass).  We ground up it (slowly) and got to the top.  On the other side was the glacier (and a real good view).  Where we were, the glacier was almost flat (which made it a real pleasure to walk on for a change), although it rolled off and dropped pretty shear if we were to go towards the edge.  We could see all the way to the peak from there.  It looked like the easiest part of the climb ahead (although it got some what steeper nearer the summit).  My friend estimated we could make the peak in 20-30 minutes, although I thought it looked deceptively close, and with ourselves being as tired as we were, I though an hour was probably more realistic.  It was moot, since realistically, we had to turn back (and set up a good pace) to get out by dark.  We left the glacier at 3:15 (considerably later than 2:30).  The glacier didn't look very fearsome.  The crevasses were pretty low.  I had carried up my rope (all 8.7 lbs of it) and ice axes.  I don't think we would have needed the rope, although the ice axes came in very helpful during the rest of the hike as a walking stick/third leg.  We turned around (and also by surveying where we had come across, decided that the correct path was pretty much the one we had followed (baring some of our searching) and that there wasn't an easier way back).  All this climbing and descending was taking its toll on our bodies.  My knees survived just fine (I think due to exercising and all the hiking I've done recently), though my friend has hurting pretty bad by the time we got down.  My major casualty were my big toes.  For whatever reason, it seems that on the down hill (all 6000' ft of it) my feet would slide forward a bit and my big toe nail would take some impact (although I clipped them the day before). I think the constant little impacts bruised the toe under the nail.  There were (and still are, somewhat) pretty sore when we got down.  It was a thirsty trip down.  I had only brought one container of water, my friend, two.  We ended up drinking a lot of this one the way up.  Going down, we rationed it (mostly swishing some around the mouth and trickling it down the back).  We used more water than expected due to the hike being longer (12 hours), all the sweat from the climb and difficult terrain, and the hot sunny day.  Even with our "rationing" we ran out half way down.  By the bottom (which wasn't too fun - going down, down, ever down, with sore legs and feet, parched throats, trying to beat the dark), we both had sore throats due to dryness. We beat dark by about 15 minutes we figure.  There was no way we could have made the summit and got out by dark.  If I try again, it will have to earlier in the year when the days are longer.  When we finally got back to the pickup, there was only one thought on our minds (besides collapsing into the seats), and that was to go to the little store down the road for a couple of pepsi's.  I realized I had to beg on my friends generosity since I hadn't brought my wallet (I wasn't driving, see?).  He said, "Oh oh", pulled out his wallet and found $1.  He had spent all his money getting gas the day before.  We dug up enough change to get two pepsi's (which sure tasted good), but that killed any plans to get dinner on the way back home.  We stopped at home and got a bit cleaned up (and I retrieved my wallet) and we went out for pizza.  We were still so thirsty, that we ordered a pitcher of pepsi to split between the two of us (which we had no trouble finishing).  It turns out that that was a mistake on my part.  I drank so much pepsi, that I got so wired on caffeine that there was no way I was going to sleep (groan - and I thought I was so tired that caffeine wouldn't have any effect).  I ended up tossing and turning until after midnight before falling asleep.  Oh, well, live and learn. 

Afterward: actually, I don't think it was the caffeine that did me in, since after the hike up to Three Fingers, I didn't have any caffeine, and still had trouble sleeping.  I think we should plan on more than 12 hours for this one.  We started hiking a little before 8 and got down about 7:30, which was just as it was getting dark.  It was a gorgeously clear day, you could see forever from the top (although Whitehorse itself blocked most of the view of Glacier peak, and Three Fingers probably blocked the view of Rainier).  At the top of the Niederprum trail, there is a beautiful knoll that would make a nice place to take a break and catch the sights.  It would make a decent destination in its own right. 


[ PIX1 ] Top of Whitehorse's glacier. 

[ PIX2 ] Glacier overlooking Darrington. 

[ PIX3 ] Gene on the glacier. 

[ PIX4 ] John on the glacier. 

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Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015