Dakobed Traverse: White River to White Chuck River
From May 25 to May 28, Nate and I skied the Dakobed Traverse from White River with an alternate exit up and over Glacier Peak, down the Kennedy Glacier, and out the White Chuck River. We were unsure about the state of the White Chuck River Trail since it was wiped out by flooding 20 years ago and never officially repaired. We were pleasantly surprised to find quick travel with minimal brush and just a few blowdowns to navigate. This exit is certainly longer than the standard exit down Lightning Creek but I think it’s worth considering since it adds some incredible skiing on the N side of Glacier Peak and makes the Dakobed into an E-W traverse of the Cascades.
Day 1: White River to Boulder Pass (10.2 miles, 4,200’ up, 400’ down, 6.5 hours)
We were very fortunate to have the help of our moms so we didn’t have to set up a massive car shuttle between White River and White Chuck River, which are about 4 hours apart on opposite ends of the Cascades. Nate’s mom dropped us off at the White River Trailhead in the early afternoon and we made good time up the White River Valley then cut up onto the many switchbacks of the Boulder Creek Trail. The trail was in great condition with an easy ford at 4,100’ and consistent snow starting at 5,000’. Thunderstorms threatened but only gave us a small drizzle. We made camp on a nice rock at Boulder Pass just before sunset.
Day 2: Clark to Tenpeak (11 miles, 6,600’ up, 6,800’ down, 10 hours)
We woke up at 4am and headed up the Clark Glacier which looked surprisingly thin for this time of year. We ditched our packs in a wind scoop at the end of the E ridge and booted up to the summit carrying our skis. There was a nice patch of snow leading about 100ft from the summit and then an easy walk to the top. The views back down the White River and out along the rest of the Dakobed ridgeline were incredible. We skied SE off of Clark, picked up our packs, and continued skiing a counterclockwise spiral around the mountain and down the Richardson Glacier with some great steep corn at the bottom. We climbed up the Richardson Glacier under the hot morning sun and spotted the tracks of a wolverine kit or large marten. At the col we considered climbing the E ridge of Luahna but the line was too melted to ski and it was already getting hot so we continued down the Pilz Glacier instead. We made another short climb to the top of the Butterfly where Nate and I decided to split ways for a second. Nate was dealing with some knee pain that was aggravated by the left-hand sidehilling that makes up almost all of this traverse. Not wanting to lose elevation unnecessarily, he skied a high traverse around the Butterfly while I skied a great corn run down into the lower basin and then climbed back out.
I caught up with Nate near Neyah Point and we scoped out a ramp leading down into Thunder Basin. Our original plan was to follow this ramp then traverse steep S-facing slopes to access the N side of Tenpeak. Unfortunately we were way too late for the S-facing slopes to be safe so we bailed and skied great corn down the Moth Glacier to the bottom of the N Face of Tenpeak. Looking down into the headwaters of the Suiattle, we were concerned that we would soon be facing a long traverse around Tenpeak with slide alder, granite, and waterfalls. Fortunately the traverse wasn’t quite as melted as it looked from above and the travel was fairly easy. This section is already well past its prime but should remain passable even without snow.
We camped on a knoll under the N Face of Tenpeak with views of the Honeycomb Glacier and the headwaters of the mighty Suiattle. Nate and I agreed that it was one of the best campsites we had ever stayed at with plenty of rocks to lounge on, a water source, and incredible ambiance. Thunderstorms built all around us that afternoon but it seemed like we were always in a patch of blue. I loved looking out onto the headwaters of the Suiattle, pondering its unique position, sandwiched between Glacier Peak on the W and the crest of the Cascades on the E. How the river tries to go east, then the crest pushes it north, and then it finally winds its way out to the west side of the Cascades and merges with the Sauk on its way to the ocean. It’s strange to have such a wide, flat valley in the very middle of the range and it’s not hard to imagine that valley being filled with one of the largest glaciers in the Cascades back in the day.
Day 3: Glacier Peak Kennedy Glacier (13.8 miles, 6,600’ up, 6,800’ down, 11.5 hours)
We woke up at 4:30am to clear skies, skied a traverse onto the Honeycomb Glacier, and made the long flat climb to its head. Along the way we passed the tracks of mountain goats and a wolverine heading over the col into Lightning Creek. We skied a traverse to Glacier Gap where we joined with the standard S side route on Glacier. We skinned along the ridge and booted some sections that had melted out. At one point we stopped to melt snow and could see our breath despite it being very warm out - must be some sort of geothermal activity here? We continued up the standard route and ran into 3 parties coming down: a skier + snowboarder, 2 climbers, and 2 skiers. They were the only people we saw on the traverse.
The S side route was in great condition until the top of the Cool Glacier. We roped up to cross a broken section where the Cool and Suiattle glaciers meet. Above the Cool Glacier there was some pumice booting and then the summit couloir was quite dusty and sun-cupped. We topped out just after noon and quickly transitioned to skiing. Massive thunderstorms had formed in the eastern Cascades hours prior and now the clouds were starting to develop on the westside as well. We knew that there would only be a short window of visibility and really didn’t want to get stuck in a big thunderstorm on the top of Glacier so we went as fast as we could.
We skied a steep roll onto the head of the Chocolate Glacier and then booted up a short step to the top of the Kennedy. The Kennedy is a steep and convex glacier with cracks spanning most of its width and a large ice cliff in the middle. Looking at satellite imagery, it was hard to find a line that would definitely go. To start, we skied a steep pitch just right of a rock cleaver. The face rolled over dramatically below us, ending in a huge serac. It looked like there would be a line through it but blindly committing to that rollover was terrifying to both of us. Instead, we spotted a line on the other side of the cleaver to our left. We traversed above a large crevasse and then made a small jump over its western end. We cut back right and then left again through somewhat broken terrain and finally made it below the ice cliff. Looking back, the line we had originally scouted looked like it would go but it would require some very steep skiing above a massive serac - a bold onsight. We skied down to the right margin of the glacier and through a gap onto the Vista Glacier. We took a short break as the clouds engulfed us, stoked to have made it down the glacier. The combination of remote setting, perfect snow, and consequential routefinding made it one of the most memorable lines of my season.
We traversed across the Vista Glacier, down the left side of the Ptarmigan Glacier, and then booted a short section of pumice to the head of Pumice Creek. We skied down the left side of the creek all the way to where the PCT crosses it. It would have been possible to ski a good bit further down the creek but this would likely lead to some heinous bushwhacking at the bottom of the valley. Instead, we followed the PCT northbound, skinning a bit, then hiking. When we rounded the corner into more W-facing terrain we found a snow-filled bowl but we were too lazy to put the skis back on. Instead, we post-holed our way across the bowl and up to a nice point on the ridgeline between Fire Creek and Pumice Creek just W of the PCT where we camped for the night.
Day 4: White Chuck River Exit (13.1 miles, 300’ up, 4,600’ down, 7.5 hours)
We woke up at 5am, fully engulfed in the marine cloud layer. We decided to start the day with some skiing down a steep W-facing forest bowl. Snow cover was minimal and there was a lot of side-stepping through the forest to connect patches of snow but we were able to ski down to 5,000’ and then transitioned to hiking down the ridge. This ridge was one of the biggest question marks of the trip but it ended up being very easy! We found beautiful old-growth forest with minimal brush and even a faint hunting trail at times. The travel felt way easier than the small section of the PCT that we had hiked the day before, which was full of snow patches and blowdowns. We hiked along the Meadow Mountain Trail and then joined the White Chuck River Trail, spotting a grouse chick, owl, and a big frog along the way. The trails were in excellent condition and we could even smell some freshly cut logs along the way. We continued along the Old White Chuck Road and then a couple miles down the White Chuck Road to meet my mom where the road is gated about a half mile before the washout at MP4.
(1) Avalanche lilies, (2) Clark Glacier sunrise, (3) Nate on Clark Glacier, (4) climbing Clark with White River below, (5) summit of Clark with Glacier, Luahna, and Baker
(1) Clark and the Richardson Glacier, (2) Butterfly Glacier, (3) Camp under Tenpeak, (4) Skiing Moth Glacier above the Suiattle, (5) Camp with thunderhead over Glacier
(1) Honeycomb Lake, (2) Skinning the Cool Glacier, (3) Wolverine tracks, (4) Steep turns off the top of Glacier, (5) Summit of Glacier and the Chocolate Glacier Headwall
(1) Nate skiing the Upper Kennedy, (2) Our line down the Kennedy, (3) Stacked blocks, (4) 8s on the Kennedy, (5) Vista Glacier with Glacier behind
(1) Ptarmigan Glacier and Milk Creek, (2) White Chuck River, (3) Col above Pumice Creek, (4) Pumice Creek, (5) Sunset from camp