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#1156561 - 09/06/17 03:47 PM [TR] Mt. Challenger - Challenger Glacier 9/2/2017
Bronco Offline

Registered: 02/16/01
Posts: 3555
TRs: 15 Photos: 131
Loc: Port Gardner, WA
Mt. Challenger August 31-September 4

With an illness, work and family obligations, I wasn't able to get much training in this spring and summer but Juan and I continued to plan for a long Labor Day weekend attempt on the northernmost Picket, Mt. Challenger. This would be my first venture into the Pickets and Juan's seventh, dating back to July 1987. I had taken 15 years to come around to paying the price of admission to get to this range. After researching the various approaches, we agreed on Hannegan Pass/Easy Ridge, as it didn't seem to have as much off trail travel as others or the boat schedule to complicate the already daunting logistics. I like planning as part of the climbing experience and spared no efforts in making sure to dial in my kit and understanding the approach details.

A few days prior to our departure, the NCNP rangers posted a conditions report that the regular glacier route was out due to a crevasse that spanned the entire upper glacier, and that accessing the bottom of the glacier from Perfect Pass required a rappel that would be very difficult to reverse on the way out. This was doubly disappointing and we talked about alternative objectives. We ultimately stuck with our original plan and hoped we could (i) easily access the glacier from Perfect Pass, and (ii) find a bypass, either from Middle Challenger or by an end-run on the east (left) edge of the big crack as described in this helpful TR:

Day 1 - Upbeat and highly caffeinated, Juan and I swooped into the Glacier Ranger station and secured the proper backcountry permits, but only by agreeing to not remove rocks or flowers from the park. The friendly ranger did, however, authorize us to use the pit toilets along the way if we felt the urge. Lucky us! With that, we were off again, Juan still wondering how we could possibly be carrying adequate food and gear with our mere 39 lb. packs. He reminisced about the "good old days" when you wouldn't dare go into the Pickets with fewer than 70 pounds, including much wool, leather and cheese. I quietly shuddered like the modern "weight weenie" that I am.

At the trailhead, we encountered two Border Patrol trucks driven by three burly, uniformed and fully armed LEOs, none of whom appreciated Juan's lawyerly questions about their purpose and agenda. After our final gear swaps, we headed up the trail not 15 minutes behind the officers. Juan asked every party we encountered whether they'd seen the Border Patrol agents. They had not. The PoPo had simply vanished! My theory is they set up an ambush for Canadians sneaking into the U.S. Juan thinks they were counting Americans seeking asylum due to the latest North Korean and/or Trump antics. We may never know.

We found the cutoff to Easy Ridge at about nine miles, and I promptly took the first bee sting of the trip just before we crossed the Chilliwack River (crocs helpful here). We began ascending the old trail at about 3:00 just to make good and sure we'd saved the worst of the hike for the peak of the day's heat. This trail is in good shape considering it was decommissioned years ago. There are a few blow downs but it's easy to follow. Being late summer in the Pickets there are plenty of bees, two of which attacked Juan's ankles. On the flip side, the blueberry season is in full swing. Cresting Easy Ridge in the early evening, we needed to find a decent source of water and so continued up the ridge past dried-up tarns, sweating buckets but replenished by massive amounts of blueberries. By 6:30, we'd located a nice camp at 5,500 ft with great views and nearby trickles from two large snow patches. One of the things I appreciate about late summer camping is the longer, cooler nights. The Milky Way was out in force and we slept well. Except for Juan, because of my snoring. But that's his problem.

Day 2 - We had a casual start up Easy Peak, awed at the route from Mt. Blum to Mt. Challenger in JasonG's TR from a month ago. It's unbelievable how much difficult terrain they covered in seven days! We enjoyed the nice trail all the way to the old fire watch site on Easy Peak, at which point the trail becomes intermittent until you eventually drop from the ridge toward the lower flanks of Whatcom Peak. Working carefully through the talus and aiming for the toe of the buttress, we spooked a mountain goat before reaching the Imperfect Impasse at 1:00.

We located the high traverse, quickly agreed that our wives and children would not approve, and opted to descend, cross low, and climb up the other side. Fortunately, there's a large snow deposit that enables a crossing at 4,350ft instead of continuing all the way down to the reported end of the Impasse at 3,800ft. Unfortunately, we took a right-of-center route up the mossy slabs and into trees that included a mantle/seal flop 5th class move onto the top of a rock buttress with considerable exposure. This was followed by more steep terrain, thick brush and plenty of expletives. Feeling every bit our age, we stopped for a few minutes to top off water and catch our breath at the creek before tackling the final 1,100ft to Perfect Pass in the hot afternoon sun. We were relieved to pull over the pass and find a pristine camp with a trickle of water from a snow bank close by.

Juan immediately scouted a possible glacier access point while I gathered water and cleaned up camp. Frankly, I didn't have the energy to do any more walking after the 10-hour adventure to get to Perfect Pass. Juan reported back that our instincts were correct: You can walk directly onto the glacier by simply making a rising traverse out of camp toward the upper glacier.

Day 3 - With Juan's masterful route finding on the glacier, we traversed below the nunatak and over to Challenger Arm. From there we zig-zagged around a crevasse and walked the lip of an older collapsed crevasse to the far eastern (left) edge of the glacier, where we found a fat, maybe 45-degree snow arÍte that lead straight onto the upper glacier. With two pickets we employed a running belay for this section. From the top of the summit ridge we traversed more snow to the broken rock below the summit block. Given all the work to get to this point, the short 5.5 crux pitch was a welcome reprieve and sporty in boots. Taking turns on the true summit, we took in the expansive views and snapped some photos. We also noted five plumes of wild fire smoke to the east. The descent was uneventful.

Back in camp after eight hours on the move, Juan performed surgery on his feet while we dried our gear and enjoyed the afternoon warmth. Later, the moon rose right out of the summit of West Challenger providing an incredible sight. Sleep did not come too easily, however, as we each silently contemplated the next day's work to get around the Impasse.

Day 4 - With morning duties out of the way, we broke camp at 8:00. While topping off with water at the creek near the Impasse, we carefully re-read our printed route descriptions. Descending between the Impasse (on our right) and the stream (to our left), we opted to stay right of center, i.e., closer to the Impasse. This avoided the rock feature at mid-height that we'd encountered two days earlier and it worked perfectly. Once down and across the Impasse we savored a nice stop before beginning the climb to Easy Ridge.

In the expansive talus field below the ridge, we encountered a muscular male goat perhaps the same one we?d spooked two days earlier. Juan promptly dubbed him "Deez Nutz". Likely attracted to Juan's four-day odor, the big fella positioned himself firmly between us and Easy Ridge. When we moved toward the ridge, he moved closer to us. I noted that the hair along his neck and spine was standing straight up and explained to Juan that because it is "the rut" or mating season for goats, he may not be easily dissuaded. With less than 25 yards between us, we convinced him to let us pass, unmolested. He slowly clomped away, perhaps feeling dejected by Juan's lack of interest. Shortly thereafter, Juan found the remnants of a mylar "Happy Birthday!" balloon that had floated there from parts unknown.

Upon gaining the ridge we noticed that the previously distinct plumes of smoke had morphed into what appeared to be one massive fire, incredible to see. We believe this is the Diamond Creek Fire.

Back at our first night's camp on Easy Ridge, Juan changed the bandages on his feet and we contemplated continuing on. With some debate, we agreed to descend to the Chilliwack. At 4:00 we headed down the hill pausing frequently for blueberries, and eventually camped along the river bank, on the Easy Ridge side.

Day 5 - Although Juan justifiably expected to sleep in, I rudely awakened him at 6:05 as I burst out of my Dutch-oven-of-a-bivi-sack and loudly proclaimed "Man, what's that stank!?" He was so not amused. Following breakfast we crossed the river and reached Hannegan Pass by 11:30, before it got too hot and smoky. At 1:50 I unlocked my truck and by 3:00 we were ordering pizza at the fabulous North Fork Brewery in Deming. All in all, we'd experienced a satisfying trip to a secluded and beautiful part of the range and, despite certain misgivings, managed to climb a remote and hard-to-reach peak.

Hiking along Easy Ridge

Challenger Glacier from Perfect Pass

Camp at Perfect Pass

Sunset over Shuksan

Looking West across the Challenger Glacier

Alpine Gomer power snacking after crossing the snow bridge

Snow Arete to access the upper Glacier with crevasse of doom below

Juan climbing the arete

Me following

Extreme Alpinism

Challenger Summit

Down climbing the snow arete

Moonrise over West Challenger

Two depleted Alpine Gomers leaving Perfect Pass to deal with the Impasse again

Happy Birthday to Juan

Diamond Creek Fire from Easy Pass on 9/3/17

Morning Tai-Chi (should probably switch to decaf)

Log Art

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#1156562 - 09/06/17 04:20 PM Re: [TR] Mt. Challenger - Challenger Glacier 9/2/2017 [Re: Bronco]
Bronco Offline

Registered: 02/16/01
Posts: 3555
TRs: 15 Photos: 131
Loc: Port Gardner, WA
translator still no worky, I even pasted it from my word doc to email and then copied and pasted that to the translator. laf

Edited by Bronco (09/06/17 05:07 PM)

#1156563 - 09/06/17 05:19 PM Re: [TR] Mt. Challenger - Challenger Glacier 9/2/2017 [Re: Bronco]
Juan Sharp Offline

Registered: 09/07/09
Posts: 72
TRs: 0 Photos: 1
Because this involves technology I'm of zero use here.

#1156564 - 09/06/17 05:50 PM Re: [TR] Mt. Challenger - Challenger Glacier 9/2/2017 [Re: Juan Sharp]
JasonG Offline

Registered: 10/12/00
Posts: 2794
TRs: 107 Photos: 1811
Loc: Mount Vernon
Way to get it done guys! That is one of the best summits in the range, no question.

I think Porter can help you if the typical workaround isn't doing it. Connected you all via email....


#1156565 - 09/06/17 07:21 PM Re: [TR] Mt. Challenger - Challenger Glacier 9/2/2017 [Re: JasonG]
olyclimber Offline

Registered: 09/19/03
Posts: 25324
TRs: 47 Photos: 895
Loc: In Love with You
Great TR my dudes! Any formatting errors are mine, fyi. Had to paste the dang thing directly into the database and reformat it.

#1156566 - 09/06/17 08:51 PM Re: [TR] Mt. Challenger - Challenger Glacier 9/2/2017 [Re: Bronco]
bellows Offline

Registered: 08/11/08
Posts: 152
TRs: 29 Photos: 315
Loc: Seattle
Way to get it done! Entertaining TR and quality pics.

#1156567 - 09/06/17 11:12 PM Re: [TR] Mt. Challenger - Challenger Glacier 9/2/2017 [Re: Bronco]
Whatcomboy Offline

Registered: 12/30/05
Posts: 213
TRs: 14 Photos: 79
Loc: hwy 542
Very nice. Now that is a climbing trip to remember

#1156574 - 09/07/17 04:21 PM Re: [TR] Mt. Challenger - Challenger Glacier 9/2/2017 [Re: Bronco]
dougd Offline
old hand

Registered: 01/03/07
Posts: 852
TRs: 5 Photos: 17
Loc: Spokane
Congrats fellas.

If I wasn't quitting climbing, this would be a worthy objective...

The older the violin, the sweeter the music...

#1156577 - 09/07/17 07:54 PM Re: [TR] Mt. Challenger - Challenger Glacier 9/2/2017 [Re: Bronco]
Summit_Rolos Offline

Registered: 06/19/01
Posts: 73
TRs: 7 Photos: 130
Loc: Seattle, WA, USA
Nice work gents! one of my favorite summits for sure.

#1156580 - 09/08/17 09:25 AM Re: [TR] Mt. Challenger - Challenger Glacier 9/2/2017 [Re: dougd]
Bronco Offline

Registered: 02/16/01
Posts: 3555
TRs: 15 Photos: 131
Loc: Port Gardner, WA
Originally Posted By: dougd
Congrats fellas.

If I wasn't quitting climbing, this would be a worthy objective...


I recommend you get this one before you hang up your crampons. It is a lot of walking but at least you have several miles of uphill travel both coming and going.

#1156582 - 09/08/17 12:23 PM Re: [TR] Mt. Challenger - Challenger Glacier 9/2/2017 [Re: Bronco]
DPS Offline

Registered: 10/13/00
Posts: 4092
TRs: 19 Photos: 64
The Pickets - so hot right now.
Dispensing piss poor advice for since October, 2000.

#1156591 - 09/08/17 03:30 PM Re: [TR] Mt. Challenger - Challenger Glacier 9/2/2017 [Re: DPS]
Juan Sharp Offline

Registered: 09/07/09
Posts: 72
TRs: 0 Photos: 1
The Pickets - blood, sweat and bees.

#1156629 - 09/12/17 08:33 AM Re: [TR] Mt. Challenger - Challenger Glacier 9/2/2017 [Re: Bronco]
Trent Offline

Registered: 04/24/04
Posts: 171
TRs: 14 Photos: 170
Loc: Stanwood
Thanks for the great TR! Way to stick with it and get 'er done!
Walking is SO underrated!


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