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John Guilford's Hikes

White Chuck Mtn on 1991-10-19

Date: 1991-10-19

Location: White Chuck Mtn

People: (including myself): Jay Wardle, Joe Tarantino

			Real Alt.
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
Down:		6:00
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 him). 

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 turnoff. 

Footnote from 94-09-17:

Regarding the 4-way intersection.  The above description is difficult to understand.  This is what the road looks like:

	       . ******>
	      * .	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. 

See 2002-09-07 for a more detailed description of an alternate approach starting from just north of Darrington on FS 24. 


[ PIX1 ] Jay climbing down to the narrow neck just before the summit. 

[ PIX2 ] View from the summit looking through clouds. 

[ PIX3 ] Joe, John, and Jay on the summit. 

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