whitehorse mountain - 6840' - whitehorse glacier AI2
On Friday this past week, my friend Chris and I ascended Whitehorse Mountain via Lone Tree Pass. He had just moved up to Renton from Las Vegas, which coincidentally is where I am also staying right now, so it was easy to simply pick him up at 3:30AM and off we went in my van to Darrington. Upon reaching the trailhead a couple hours later, we saddled up and got moving at 5:45am up the wide and gentle old road. I decided to only bring leather hiking shoes and microspikes, hoping the snow would not be super icy at the top. We also brought a thin 60 meter rope and a picket to make a rappel from the summit if we needed to. The hike up the trail leading up the lower NW slopes through the forest was quite pleasant, and was flagged quite a bit too making it easy to follow in areas where the slide alder had bounced up. When we hit 2600 feet, we emerged into the open slopes, and luckily this is where we hit consistent snow because this area would be full of slide alder in a months’ time. With good snow coverage though, and being early enough in the morning, we were able to follow tracks from a party that headed up the day before, and on firm snow all the way to Lone Tree Pass which we reached about 9am. The snow never exceeded 40 degrees on this whole ascent to the pass, and most of it was in the 25-30 degree range. We made a point to look out for wet slides when we were descending.
Once at the pass (elevation 4950 feet), we took a 5 minute break and turned left, following the tree covered flat ridge east for 15 minutes or so, then making a traversing descent about 350 feet to round the buttress and begin the long, gently ascending traverse towards High Pass. Thankfully, this entire slope is west facing, and was still mainly in the shade through the 9 o’clock hour and firm enough to warrant putting on my spikes, and Chris to put on his crampons. The final 400 feet to High Pass was a bit steeper, enough to replace the trekking pole with an axe (40 degree max). We reached High Pass about 10:45am and took another 5 minute food/drink rest and examined the remaining route. The tracks from the previous day were clutch through the gentle, snow loaded upper slopes as it was beginning to soften up since we were back on northeast facing slopes. We made quick work gaining 600 feet on gentle snow and to my amazement, nothing appeared to have recently slid in the upper bowl. 200 feet below the summit the snow angle increases back to 40, then 45 degrees but bucket steps made it really easy (thank you!). About 30 feet below the summit the steepness increased to 50 degrees, then the final 10 feet hardened to 55 degree ice. Since Chris had crampons on he solod through it to the top and fed me a few feet of rope for me to have a safety belay while I pulled myself up without much purchase with my microspikes. It would have been doable to solo with the spikes but not a necessary risk since it only added 5 minutes for me to tie in.
On the summit, which we reached at 11:45am, we had very commanding views of the entire Darrington valley, the Mountain Loop highway Peaks and the North Cascades. However, the view of Three Fingers just across the way to the south stole the show! We relaxed on the warm (but breezy) summit for 20 minutes and enjoyed the views. I placed the picket I brought into the bomber snow on the summit and we made one 30 meter rappel, which was nice because I have downclimbed steep snow more than enough in my climbing days and it’s a little stressful sometimes. Once back on easy terrain, we were quick to return to High Pass, then when we started the return traverse, the snow became considerably softer, so much so that I opted to put my snowshoes on. Chris unfortunately didn’t have any and suffered mid-thigh postholing and the occasional knee deep sink. Once we returned to the ridge and back in the trees, the snow was much firmer with easier travel. We ran into a couple who were starting to dig a tent platform along the ridge near Lone Tree Pass who planned to make the remaining ascent the next day. I wished them good luck and shared some beta.
The rest of the descent down from Lone Tree Pass involved some running plunge steps, flying leaps and boot skiing (ie. FUN) and by 4pm we were back at the trailhead where beers awaited our good fortune. Despite not climbing a mountain since early January (yes, this was my first climb in 4 months!) I was pleasantly surprised to make a reasonable round trip time for 7000 feet of gain. I guess I am not too old yet haha. I am excited for what lies ahead this summer in the Cascades, since I will probably be hanging around WA a lot for the rest of the year since all my international trips for 2020 have had to be postponed due to the beer virus. Thanks Chris for the excellent day out! The photos below were taken by Chris: