Whitehorse (again)

Looking down route from summit

Looking down route from summit


Rising 6,000 feet just south of Darrington to its glacier-clad summit, Whitehorse is more prominent than its modest 6,800 feet would suggest. Also, with a trailhead on the valley floor, the climb involves over 6,000 feet of elevation gain. Were it not for the final glacier crossing and scramble, Whitehorse would stand along with Si, Sourdough, and Pugh as a classic western Cascades “workout peak.”
Hand after 2-hour shower

Hand after 2-hour shower

I had tried it on my way down to Seattle after a humid and rainy night, but ran out of time and energy after spending two hours being constantly drenched by wet brush, and another hour waiting for my hands to warm up above the brush-bash. In drier conditions on the way back north, it proved much easier.

Bridge where road is closed

Bridge where road is closed

Unlike the afternoon drive down, the dawn drive up from Seattle was quick and painless. Greater Seattle is becoming more like Los Angeles, with parking-lot traffic on the freeways at most times during the day. After parking in “Deliverance” country at the end of the Mine Road before Darrington, I hiked up the old roadbed, then turned onto the Niederprum Trail at the old sign. This old Forest Service trail climbs brutally 4,000 feet to “Lone Tree Pass,” which is not really a pass, and does not have a lone tree. Like many North Cascades trails, it now receives no maintenance other than periodic replacement of the trail register.

Old growth tree for scale

Old growth tree for scale

The workout portion was the same as last time, only drier; I ate a few handfuls of berries as I passed, nodded to the tarp at the camping spot where I warmed up last time, then continue to the pass. From there, the trail traverses the ridge, then makes a descending traverse around a couple of buttresses on the south side of the mountain. I saw a couple of mountain goats on this section, though nothing like the incredible herd of 20 or so I saw before. The trail basically disappears here, but I managed to find a few flags and some boot-prints making an up-and-down level traverse to broad scree chute below High Pass. The final section involves some especially unpleasant steep side-hilling across grass, which would have been treacherous had I made it there in the wet.

Glacier from High Pass

Glacier from High Pass

At High Pass, I finally saw the glacier and summit knob, which make Whitehorse more than just a “workout peak.” In my running shoe crampons, the crux of the route was an unavoidable steep section of almost-bare glacier that forced me to front-point and even swing my tool a few times as if I were ice climbing. Above this section, lower-angle snow led to the base of the summit rock. The early-season route supposedly climbs a steep snow tongue to near the top, but the snow had pulled far down and back, and even without the moat, the exposed rock looked unpleasant. Fortunately, there is a fairly obvious, moderately exposed third class route on the left.

Scoured slab and moraine

Scoured slab and moraine

The summit itself had an unacceptable quantity of flies, so I found a flat place to sit a short way down the south side of the peak. From my perch, I had a perfect view of the Three Sisters to the south, as well as Whitehorse’s brothers White Chuck, Pugh, and Sloan. Between me and the Sisters were a number of nicely-scoured white slabs, one featuring a perfect moraine left over from the glacier that had cleaned it.

I killed some time, then skipped back down to the car and continued my northward migration. As I now know, all of Canada heads south for the weekend. I had expected the unpleasant process of crossing the border to at least go quickly. It was still unpleasant — I will never get used to the standard semi-hostile questioning, even if I know what I am supposed to say — but this time it was preceded by almost two hours waiting in a line of cars. Worse, I was sitting on the west side of the car on a shadeless street on a 90-degree afternoon. If only that weather had lasted…

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