Sauk, N. Fork, Washington, US
|Usual Difficulty||IV+ (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||187 fpm|
|SAUK RIVER AB WHITE CHUCK RIVER NR DARRINGTON, WA|
|usgs-12186000||1000 - 2000 cfs||IV+||00h21m||1030 cfs (running)|
This short run just outside of Darrington is one of the true gems of the Skagit River system serving up a mile and a half of continuous boulder garden rapids. On a clear late spring or early summer day, the scenery is beautiful and the river is absolutely stunning set against the backdrop of impressive peaks as you look back upstream into the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
You can do one quick run--a good option if you're enjoying other activities in the National Forest or just want to crank it up a notch after a run on the main Sauk--but more typically folks arrive planning to run a couple laps. The run can be described as technical class IV+ with a couple of sections that push class V and that's especially the case as flows increase. Scout carefully for log hazards and be prepared for several depending on what the previous season's storms have flushed into the river channel. You will likely be able to maneuver around most of them if you know where they are, but be prepared for a portage or two. The run contains more pin hazards than many of the other class IV+ runs in the Cascades and this is therefore not a place to bring the playboat. The other issue is the continuous nature of the run which could quickly turn rescue situations epic if you had to chase down gear.
From the put-in beach it's an easy launch into the pool below a big boulder garden rapid that can be run if you want to hike your boat through the woods upstream of the beach access. From the put-in pool slice your way through the next boulder garden downstream and grab an eddy on river left above Where's Scott Drop. This rapid offers a couple alternatives and the option you choose will likely depend on flows: you can take the left slot and head back towards the center for a nice boof move, ride a strong jet down the center, or take the third option down river right that sends you up against a large boulder. It's not a bad idea to check this drop out before the run if you've never seen it as it only takes a minute or two from the put-in down the fisherman's trail on river right. That way if you blow the eddy you'll know what's coming up.
From this point on the river tears through a series of long boulder garden rapids, with the biggest rapids about midway through the run. If you're feeling on edge at the start, the road is never far away on river right. Most of the drops are fairly straightforward to boat scout, but make sure you have your next eddy clearly identified and have someone make a quick check for wood when necessary. At medium flows, you should find decent eddies between sections of boulder gardens. The run eventually tapers off to class III for a little ways and then you have a long pool with a generous eddy on river right before the river disappears off to the left at an obvious horizon line marking the lead-in rapids to North Fork Falls. Make sure you know the take-out as you don't want to risk plunging over the falls. Those who are curious can hike the short trail down to the falls.
From the main intersection in Darrington turn onto the Mountain Loop Highway (FR 20) and head up along the Sauk River. The pavement ends shortly after crossing the Sauk 9 miles out of town. Continue up the dirt road and 15.8 miles from town at Mountain Loop Highway mile 37.8 turn onto the North Fork Sauk Road (FR 49). Heading up this road to mile 1.2 you will pass a small pullout at the trailhead for North Fork Falls and at mile 1.3 there is shoulder parking for a couple cars on the outside of a curve in the road. This unmarked access is the take-out and requires a hike of about 5 minutes down to the river; you should find yourself at a pool just above the lead-in rapids to the unrunnable North Fork Falls. To reach the put-in, continue up the road to mile 2.9 where the river comes up against the road at a nice eddy with beach access. Although you'll see the river through the trees in a couple places on the shuttle, this access is the first convenient to the river and is also an informal riverside camp site. If you pass the Lost Creek Ridge trailhead (trail 646), then you've gone just a bit too far. If it's early or late in the season and you want to get a road update, you can call the Darrington Ranger District (360-436-1155) and ask about road conditions to this trail or check the current conditions report. This is an easy shuttle to jog (only 1.6 miles) if you only have one vehicle.