I had been stalling on committing to weekend plans until Thursday night when I got a 10pm text from Andrew telling me to drop what I was doing and join him and Stephen for Maude and Seven Fingered Jack. I also saw a post from Mike on FB saying he was considering Whitechuck Sunday. Mike’s great. And here’s the bonus. I had Mike’s cooler and box fan from a party weeks earlier that he was kind enough to leave behind since he left while there were still people here. Dude. Can I join for Whitechuck, and I’ll bring your stuff too? Heck yes!!
Elevation gain: 2100ft (6,989 highest point)
Weather: 70’s and sunny
Commute from Seattle: 2:30
Did I Trip: Almost ate it right below the summit but no one saw
Whitechuck had been on my list FOR YEARS but it’s such a short hike I was always reluctant to drive longer than the hike would take. And I had heard so many polarizing things about these “white slabs” from people that I wasn’t sure I wanted to go solo. Being the opportunistic hiking parter I am, Mike doing Whitechuck was the perfect incentive to go. We met up around 7:30am, aiming for the trailhead at 9am so we wouldn’t have to swim through dewey brush, which the trail is famous for. Around 7 I messaged Mike, voice-to-text while driving. Shit. Mike. I’m so sorry. I forgot the fan and cooler. I know I know I had one job, I’ll drop them off in North Bend I swear. I was kicking myself. This is like when I forgot to return Alexis’s power washer like actually four times until finally she said I’m coming to your house to get it. I wasn’t letting that happen again.*
The road to the trailhead was in GREAT shape. There was one steep section to go up and down that may give some 2wd cars hesitation, but none of the rutted potholed hell we had envisioned. And the views are phenomenal on the drive! Holy crap! It’s going on my list of places to camp if I’m ever injured.
The trailhead is notorious for smashed windows and car break ins. A car pulled up behind us and we started wondering. Suddenly Mike laughed. I don’t want to stereotype but… it’s a Subaru I don’t think they’re going to smash our windows. He scattered some junk in the front seat to make it look as unattractive as possible and we started hiking.
The trail first goes through brush, then open forest, then meadows. Bite size pieces of tons of different terrain. We were perplexed by the peaks to the North of us, it’s a perspective I’ve never had of the Cascades. We eventually figured out that Mount Chaval looks awesome from this angle. I whined about my sore legs from the prior day. This would be a good hike to get blood pumping, that’s for sure.
Suddenly beyond the meadow there’s a rock wall in front of you. And that’s not even the true peak. The trail wraps around the hillside south of it, taking you through wildflowers to a steep, dusty, rubbly trail where we caught up with some of the folks who owned one of the other cars at the trailhead. We passed them and immediately got off route scrambling up some slabs that we were sure had to be the slabby section until we found a trail through the heather above. Also those slabs were black not white. Ok, not at the infamous slabs yet.
At multiple points, the heather trail diverged into two which both met up later. We avoided scrambling the ridge proper though I hear it is enjoyably spicy and stuck to the trail on the south slopes of the mountain, following the narrow tread through wildflowers and rocky outcroppings with insane views. It’s a classic Mountain Loop trail, reminiscent of the upper slopes of Pugh or Sloan. We must have taken a thousand pictures between the two of us, me clocking in around 250 and Mike accounting for the other 750.
We finally came across some awkward sloping white slabs covered in kitty litter. Okay, THESE must be the slabs. They certainly were negatively sloped, with no way around them. It was really only a few steps but it is definitely awkward. Beyond that, it was more trail to the notch, which had the most legitimate scramble move on the whole hike in my opinion. From there it was a short walk to the summit, where you are standing at the confluence of two enormous river valleys looking at ridges and ridges of peaks in every direction. The position of this peak is absolutely insane. The day prior I had sworn that the Chiwawa area/Entiats were my favorite part of the cascades. But now I was thinking no, it’s the Mountain Loops.
The group next to us had three huge joints. I laughed. No way could I smoke that and then descend that mountain. Well I mean you all know my last weed experience. Behind us, a dog or maybe two made the scramble move at the notch. I couldn’t even watch because I didn’t trust that the pup was going to stick the landing but of course he was fine. And the final group.. well that’s where things got interesting. They were paragliders!
We descended from the summit, staging a few photos. marveling at views. There is a wealth of logging history here and you can see it on the slopes, the marks of old roads and the borders of where the forest had been logged and then regrown. Back at the saddle, the two paragliders were suiting up. We sat down to have a snack, and eventually the topic came up… what if we just waited to see what they did? Do you… do you want to just hang out and see what happens? We weren’t in a rush. Mike messaged his girlfriend to explain why his inReach wasn’t moving, and we chilled out. The paragliders, Chandler and Kevin, were discussing wind cycles, direction, laying out the glider in different spots to find the best angle on ground that wouldn’t snag the strings. The strings are absolutely tiny, like less than a millimeter thick, and there are seemingly hundreds of them. The whole system seems extremely fragile, yet it can carry you through the air for miles if you plan it right.
We ended up waiting and watching for over an hour. I wondered if we were being rude by watching, but it was fascinating. When’s the last time you watched something with childlike wonder? The risk analysis and decision making was beyond anything I’ve seen with my low grade rock climbing. I learned that wind comes in cycles, like how surf comes in swells. You feel a breeze pick up and then die down, that’ll happen a few times and then there’s a bigger lull between cycles. The breeze would just tease the glider, ruffling the cells a tiny bit but not lifting it. When the breeze was finally strong enough that the glider first fluttered my heart fluttered with it. And after endless tries laying out the glider differently, it lifted up a few feet, Chandler pulled the strings taught and got it ~10ft in the air, and he said I’M GOING FOR IT and in a split second ran and jumped off the edge of the mountain. We jumped up and whooped and cheered. First flight off Whitechuck ever! Unbelievable.
That left Kevin, who put Mike and I to work after a few unsuccessful tries at catching the breeze. We helped lay out the glider, tried holding it up to catch the air, clearing small rocks and heather twigs that were snagging the strings. I felt like a kid helping an adult delegating simple tasks but the kid’s just so excited to be useful it doesn’t matter as long as they’re doing something. Omg, I’m touching a glider. A parachute. Look at these strings. Look at how insanely light this fabric is. Look how the cells eat the air.
After maybe an hour of trying, the wind started to shift and come from the opposite direction. After the sheer joy the instant Chandler took off, it was tough feeling the wind slip away as Kevin tried to catch a gust. He finally decided to call it and packed up while we headed down, thanking us for the chatting and the help. Back at the car we gave some blueberry muffins that Nicole had baked to the woman picking up Kevin (I can’t explain how good the muffins were, they were the best blueberry muffins I have EVER had) and headed back to town. Driving through Darrington we saw Chandler laying his chute out in a field and honked, he waved though I have no idea if he actually recognized us or not. We never actually talked to him, just Kevin after he had taken off. We were just so stoked still on having had the chance to watch them take flight and see how the entire operation worked.
My half day trip had turned into a full day, but I have no doubt that was a once in a lifetime experience. Totally unexpected, filled my insatiable curiosity, and I was glad Mike was down to just chill and see what happened too. Turned out Kevin had some FAs on ice routes in the area I had read years ago when I had more ambitious climbing dreams, and had switched to paragliding as his climbing slowed down. Still getting after it and chasing adventure, just with a different sport. My future probably isn’t paragliding, but I am sure I and most of the climbers I know will have similar pivots someday. And never say never… once upon a time I swore I’d never rock climb and here we are. I swore I’d never blog and you’re reading it. I’m not sure what’s next but I’m not going to rule anything out.
*I did successfully return their cooler and fan the following weekend. Just so you all know. But there might be a risk of loaning me things if you don’t live within a mile of me.