Sulphur Mountain
September 7, 1997

Interested in hiking a trail in excellent condition (with the exception of a few easily navigable blowdowns), to stunning views with no crowds? Willing to work for those views? Then the Sulphur Mountain trail might be just what you're looking for! Not in any of the current trail guides, and getting only a brief 3 line mention in the back of the Beckey guide, there won't be crowds even on beautiful September days. The only reason Maren, Bill Sunderland and I could come up with for this trail not being included in any of the hiking guides is that the guide writers wanted to save (at least) one superb trail from crowds.

To reach the trailhead, drive to Darrington, then follow 530 north to the Suiattle River Road. Follow this road to the end - the trailhead is about 100 yards beyond the final parking lot (about 2 1/2 hours from Kirkland). Even though the trail isn't mentioned in any guides, it is marked on both the USGS and Green Trails map of this area. They seem to disagree as to the starting and ending elevation, but according to my altimeter, the USGS is closest, marking the trailhead at ~1600', and the end of the trail at 6200'. The trail doesn't give you much of a chance to warm up, starting steep and staying that way, but the path is takes is through beautiful forest, walking on soft duff, and with what a real estate agent would call "territorial" views. No sweeping vistas along the way, but forest without much undergrowth and brief glimpses west to White Chuck and Pugh. The first 3000 feet are the steepest, and the way isn't always up - there's a pretty little ravine with a bridge you drop into early on, and a few noticeable dips in the trail. At about 4600' the trail crosses a little bench, and the steepness drops off a tad for the next 1400 feet. With the steepness of the trail, I was quite happy that the was was through cool forest, even if it meant all the views had to be saved for the end. But what views! At 6000', 4400' up from the trail head, and not quite 5 miles yet, you walk up a final slope and look over the ridge to vistas made more stunning by the fact that you haven't been able to see more than few hundred yards the last 3 or 4 hours. There's a beautiful valley in front of you holding lonely Sulphur Lake, the true summit ridge of Sulphur Mountain directly across this valley from you, and the massive south face Dome Peak dominating the views north. Pause here to catch your breath for a minute or two, then continue up the final 200' to one of two small sub-summits. You're facing south as you walk up the final ridge to these small bumps, and as you finally are able to see over this ridge, Glacier Peak's entire north face spans the horizon in front of you - truly awesome! Lime Ridge extends west from Glacier Peak, and the Suiattle River valley is at your feet. Turning around, Dome Peak still dominates to the northeast, with the striking red ridge of Buckindy Peak to the northwest.

The views from here are as fine as they get, and you've already climbed 4600 feet in 5 miles. However, if the summit beckons (as it did for us) the trail turns into an easy to follow boot beaten path leading southeast from the viewpoints. I should say DOWN and southeast. You'll have to drop over 200 feet into a pretty little notch before continuing up to the summit. The notch holds a fine grassy meadow, and looks like it would make a wonderful, if dry, spot to spend the night. From the notch, in general follow the ridge line east. There is intermittent boot path and marmot trail up to some bleached white granite slabs. These provide for some easy and enjoyable boulder hopping, if you remember to watch your feet and not the views, and eventually drop again into the final notch before the summit. From there, there seemed to be many routes to the top - you can stay along the ridge line with some fun boulders to scramble up, or head a little further east for some very steep meadow walking. We meandered back and forth between the two choices, eventually arriving at the summit ridge, marked by a USGS plug.

After playing "Name That Peak", finishing lunch, and lazing in the sun for a bit too long, we started our downward race with the sun, the goal being to get back to the car before really needing to get out the headlamps. We left the summit at 4:30, and managed to arrive back at the parking lot just after 7:30 as the sun dropped below the horizon, doing what Bill termed a "multi-mile long controlled fall". Well, mostly controlled.

With the ups and downs of the trail, the day adds up to a little over 5700 feet of elevation gain, and about 12 miles of distance. A lot of work. However, we saw only two people on this fine September Sunday, and once we got to the ridge with the views, we had the entire world to ourselves. My eyes loved it, but my thighs were complaining through Wednesday!


Last updated: January 27, 2004