Whitehorse Mountain - Northwest Shoulder, November 2000
Inspired by Whitehorse Mountain's towering position overlooking the town of Darrington and motivated by the unusually clear weather that November, Chris and I embarked on our first "early winter" climb. With unnecessarily heavy packs, we soon reached snow and followed an obvious boot track that lead us up over the trees and along a traverse under some cliffs. We reached a point where the tracks forked. A quick recon of both tracks yielded (1.) impassable cliff and (2.) uphill tracks that simply stop. Realizing that we were going to have to rely on something other than simply following a boot path, Chris and I made the obvious decision and started climbing up through the knee-deep powder. I was having difficulty reconciling the route with the description in the Beckey guide and encountered increasingly deep and steep snow as we made our way up a narrowing gully. We were nearing the top of the ridge, pulling ourselves up the steep powder using any branch or tree available when to my relief I noticed some orange flagging tied to a branch. Lone Tree Pass I presume! Chris and I hiked along the ridge a short distance before stopping to bivy for the night.
We were only briefly disturbed by WSU's crushing defeat by the UW as heard on the shortwave radio that night and quicky drowned our sorrows in the whiskey that I so generously schlepped all the way up to camp. Our subsequent conversation spanned various topics but inevitably settled on some little known trivia about Whitehorse Mountain. For several months in 1998, a Bulgarian fugitive eluded the law on the north-side of the mountain. He occasionally broke into nearby cabins to steal canned food, and, though he never hurt anyone the townspeople eventually had had enough and demanded that he be apprehended. He lost a foot to a vicious police dog in the process, and consequently won a lawsuit for his suffering. A bizarre tale indeed!
The route then descended the ridge on the other side and exited the forested slopes for a long ascending traverse up a steepening snow-covered scree slope leading up to a small gully and finally High Pass. We reached the false summit and in the interest of conserving daylight hours for the descent, we opted to forego the short trip to the actual summit. The days were already much shorter than we were used to and it was already becoming clear to us that it would be dark hours before we would reach the trailhead.
We hurried down from the summit, packed our bags and descended back down from Lone Tree Pass. Soon thereafter it became dark and we negotiated the icy darkness with care. We reached a section of trail cut into the hillside that was glazed over with water ice and with some icy exposure below. A fall meant serious consequences. Chris carefully skirted the edge of the trail seeking purchase on bits of exposed rocks and dirt. I chose to avoid the trail entirely and made a rising traverse up the slope until loosing my footing in the loose dirt and sliding on my knees all the way back down to the trail. Fortunately I had moved beyond the icy sections and only reopened scabs that I inflicted on myself doing the exact same thing on the hike in. The trail seemed endless, but eventually we reached the car and soon we were on our way home. One day I'll come back and tag the true summit, perhaps via the Whitehorse Glacier direct!
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