Whitechuck Bench & Old Sauk Trails

Kim was free and we chose to head to Darrington and then on to the Whitechuck Bench Trail. The trail was devastated by the 2006 and 2006 storms. Much of the second half of the trail fell into the river. The trail has finally been reconstructed to the east end. We were not planning on hiking the whole trail. We headed north at 7:50 am. By 9:20 am we reached the trailhead just a mile off the Mountain Loop Highway on the north side of the Whitechuck River. By 9:30 am we were on the trail. It was a rare sunny November day. With no clouds it was cold too. Just above freezing when we started. This is a trail with no great objective. No summit, no lake, and often away from the river. It does have a very green forest.

We hiked the trail in 2008. It had logs and branches down and it ended at a spot near the river. We walked around the flat area near the river then looked for more of the trail. It had fallen into the river. After looking around a bit we gave up and headed back. This time we would be able to go farther. The overnight freeze and morning sun provided some very good photo opportunities. This has been a very good fall for mushrooms but they have mostly disappeared farther south. They are still doing very well in this forest. Hundreds of mushrooms were seen. Many different varieties too. Lots to see and photograph.

This trail has minimal elevation gain. A good route for young or old or just those looking for a pretty easy hike. We made slow progress up the trail. Pockets were especially cold and we had leaves covered with frost to see. Kim is very good at spotting very small mushrooms on logs or stumps or mixed in with moss. There is a whole lot of moss in this forest. Most everything is coated in green. We had constantly changing lighting conditions over the course of our hike. Some lighting was great in the morning and some better later on. We could barely see Sloan and Bedal Peaks in the morning with the glare from the low sun. Coming back the view was much better.

One patch of icy leaves littered the ground. This spot was much colder than around it. I could have taken a hundred photos but we did not have that much time. So many colors with many darker leaves too. We reached the one bridge to find it in fine shape. Black Oak Creek was running well. The bridge was covered with leaves and a bit slick. The trail reached a spot near the creek where the forest thinned. The sunshine was very warming. A short side trail went to a spot right above the river. We decided we would stop there for lunch on our way back. On the 2008 trip the trail was largely obliterated beyond here. We had come about 1.5 miles.

Now the trail is in fine shape. After continuing upstream the route switchbacks to the right and begins to climb. The new route is higher and farther from the river. Hopefully it will not collapse into the river any time soon. This is all new tread. Brand new tread. We continued on to another creek crossing. This one has no bridge. It would not be too difficult to rock hop it though the water is getting a bit higher. We chose to turn around at this point. This is 2.3 miles along the 6+ mile trail. Heading back we found more mushrooms and sights to see. Back at the river spot we found a log near the ends of a vertical drop off to the water below. Sitting in the sunshine with the river right below was a great spot. It was 12:15 pm when we stopped.

We met two hikers just after we turned around. That was it so far. Almost total solitude right off the Mountain Loop Highway on a sunny November day. One of many trips where I see very few other hikers. As nice as the lunch spot was we planned to add a short hike on the Old Sauk Trail on the way back. By 12:10 pm we packed up to head back. The hike back did provide much different lighting so we did have a number of photo stops. Not as many as on the way in however. The views of Bedal and Sloan Peaks without the morning glare were outstanding. I love the look of the first early snowfall on the peaks.  This is an excellent angle to see those peaks. We met two more folks in the last quarter mile. I was not at all surprised that Kim had spoken with them a week earlier on a nearby trail.

It still felt like the mid 30s back at the shaded trailhead. It is a short drive back to the Old Sauk Trailhead. In fact there are two trailheads and a signed roadside parking spot to reach the south end of the trail. The trail used to be a route along the Sauk River from a north trailhead to the point it came out to the highway. In 2013 a new gravel loop trail with another parking lot was opened. This includes a spur to the river. The 1.3 mile loop connects to the other ends of the old trail. That is the  part we hiked. There was one car in the lot when we arrived at 2:20 pm. Still early afternoon but less than three hours before sunset. The loop has a whole lot of moss and greenery. More mushrooms too. We took our time with a stop at the Sauk River. Another good low elevation trail that is snow free most of the winter. We did see three groups on this short trail. More than we saw on the Whitechuck Bench Trail. The colors were really spectacular. Many more photos were taken.

It was 3:20 pm when we finished. A group of three adults and one baby were by the highway. We saw them on the hike. They started at the eastern end but were not sure about the way back. We took the driver back to his car. It was getting late and cold to hike back. The drive home was easy. No slow downs at all. Kim was home right near dark and I was home not too much later. After a more strenuous hike the day before this was a great easy trip with some great scenery. Kim always manages to point out things that I miss. This trip was about 6 miles total with 400' of elevation gain. For the weekend I hiked 17 miles with 3300' of gain. I have two hiking goals each year. To hike 800 miles or more and gain 200,000'. I reached the second one several weeks ago and this trip put me just over 800 miles for the year. My ninth year of 800+ in a row and 14th overall. 2018 is now officially a great hiking year for me.

Strange Fungus
A White Version
Mossy Goodness
Low Cloud Layer
Sunshine On Trail
Nice Hair Ice
Hair Ice II
Lone Mushroom
Red Berries
Bunch Of Mushrooms
Black Mushroom
Bright Yellow
Another Tiny Mushroom
Big Orange Mushrooms
Looking Up
Pinkish Mushrooms
Dark Bedal & Sloan
Whitechuck Mountain
One In A Million
Black Oak Bridge
Looking Skyward
Bright On Dark
Turkey Tail Fungus
First Of Many Leaves
Orange Leaf
Darker Leaves
Icy Green
Nicely Lit
Bright Border
Trail Arch
Kim At Work
Twin Mushrooms
Whitechuck River
Red Mushroom
Lunch Spot
Lone Leaf
High Above River
Moss Everywhere
Tiny Shrooms
More Varieties
Mossy Log
Bedal & Sloan Peaks
Bearhead Fungus
Old Sauk Trailhead
Excellent Color
Gravel Trail
Sauk River
Kim & Ground Cover
Moist Mushrooms
Strange Mushroom
Darkening Colors
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2018