Darrington climbs are located in or near the edge of the Boulder River Wilderness in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The Clear Creek and Squire Creek valleys have been mined and logged, but many big trees remain. The area is not only beautiful, but rugged and remote.
Be prepared: Cell phone coverage is poor and emergency help is far away.
Approach hikes range from twenty minutes to two or three hours on rough or un-maintained trails, and may include stream crossings, brush, and scrambling. The rock is generally solid but, as with any exfoliating granite, large flakes can and do peel off from time to time. Though rare, such an occurrence could kill someone. On this generally low angled rock, falls will result in the climber being scraped or banged against the rock.
The area is rainy, even for Western Washington, and some climbs may take two days or more to dry out after a rainfall. On hot days, the white granite intensifies the sun so that climbers may want protective clothing in addition to sunscreen and extra water. Bugs can be bothersome, generally mid-season.
Style and Equipment:
Outings here are multipitch, on granite slabs, walls and aprons, generally two to ten pitches in length. The rock is so solid that, while cracks and flakes are commonly used for protection, entire pitches ascend unbroken slab or knobby face where bolt protection is the only option.
On most recommended routes there is adequate protection to prevent disasterous falls from the crux moves, but sometimes the leader may see no obvious route ahead and may have to suck it up and go on, hoping to find unseen protection or other sign of the route somewhere above.
Long falls are possible and careful judgment is required. While this may be unnerving, the climbing is very rewarding and, beyond just being a great place to climb, Darrington is an excellent training ground for alpine rock routes where slab climbing and rounouts are not uncommon.
Lead racks should include everything from tiny stoppers to large cams and nuts, though active camming devices are generally more secure than nuts when placed under overlaps or behind flakes.
Over the years, pitons and bolts have been upgraded on many routes but they still cannot be completely counted upon and standard precautions should apply (of course).
Up to twelve quick draws may be required on some leads, and long runners are useful for reducing rope drag, tying off bushes, or setting up a retreat. Two ropes are needed to rappel almost any climb in Darrington, and “walking off” is generally a poor option.
The Clear Creek road (forest road 2060) is open as of April 2015. According to Forest Service designation, the current main road after a fork about six miles from the Mountain Loop Highway is a spur road, FS 2065, and this road too is in good shape to the Eightmile Creek trailhead about six and a half miles from the mountain loop highway.
The road beyond the Eightmile Creek trailhead has not been maintained for fifteen years, and it becomes increasingly brushy as you pass the approaches to Comb Buttress, just beyond Three O’Clock Rock. Few will want to take their vehical anywhere near the former trailhead for Green Giant Buttress, in the headwaters of Copper Creek. The left fork at that six mile point is somewhat drivable for approximately a mile although it has not been well maintained and most street cars will not make it to the “trailhead” for the Granite Sidewalk approach to Exfoliation Dome.
The Squire Creek road (forest road 2040) is open as of april2015. The road presently ends where it is blocked by a massive slide that came down from Jumbo Mountain in 2003, about two miles short of the former Squire Creek Pass trailhead.
The approaches to Darrington climbs range from twenty minutes for some of those closest to the road to two or three hours or even more for some of those more remote. The only crag served by a maintained trail is Three O’Clock Rock and even this one, although easily approached by local standards, is not a good candidate for sandals because the trail is pretty rough.
These roads are under constant threat of closure due to a lack of funds but, overall, they are in good shape. A July 2013 inspection of culverts and drainage systems revealed very little problems and the road beds have held up very well for several years without a grader. A concrete bridge just over 5 miles from the Mountain Loop Highway on FS 2060 has plenty of life left in it. There are two spots that have required road repairs in the Spring on 3 of the last 6 years.