Picket Range - Complete Enchainment AttemptDate:
On September 2nd Jens Holsten, Dan Hilden and myself (Sol Wertkin) began an 8 day attempt at the Complete Picket Range Enchainment. While we came quite short of our original goal, we were able to complete the 2nd ascent of the Souther Picket Range Ridge Traverse
(Bunker, Haley, Wallace 2003) and push it forward a bit to the North through Picket Pass, and over Outrigger and Luna Pk before exiting via Access Creek (15 summit in total).Day 1: The Three McMillan Spires
Day 1 is a true ass-kicker, gaining over 10,000 vertical feet, and unfortunately I had been here before, 2 years earlier
Blake Herrington and I had made an attempt at the Southern Traverse, completing 5 peaks before bailing out via fried nerves and weather via Terror Creek. We had fallen short of our intended itinerary on day 1 bivying between the East and West McMillan Spires. It was with this knowledge that I set the alarm even earlier this time around. As predicted, we approached as a weather system cleared the area and lucky for us an amazing high pressure window graced us for the remainder of the trip.
The days objectives: SE Face of Little McMillan 7,600 ft, East ridge of East McMillan 7,992 ft, and the East Ridge/Face of the West McMillan Spire 8,000 ft.
Though the packs were heavy, the views were incredible, the rock wasn't half bad, and the psyche was high. Myself celebrating the Triple Cumbre
We were happy to have completed our goal for the day, but undeniably worked from the long approach and rock climbing with such heavy packs. We settled into the bivy just as it became dark.Day 2: The East Towers Traverse to Inspiration Peak
We slept in until nearly 8 am on day 2 rationalizing that to complete such a big undertaking we would need to periodically recover. I began our late start pushing the rope on familiar terrain around the East Towers towards Inspiration.
I was able to gain precious time compared to Blake and myself's onsight attmept and within a few hours we were starting up beautiful stone low on Inspiration Pk's East Ridge.
Jens led on, scaling Inspiration's two beautiful crux pitches.
It was here, at the base of the 5.9 pitch on Inspiration, where, 2 years earlier, I had come as close to dying as I ever have in the mountains. A microwave sized block that Blake was stemming on came loose and crashed onto the belay ledge from 50 ft. I narrowly escaped by jumping barefoot off the ledge with just enough play in my tether to dodge the missle. It felt strange to be back at the scene of the incident and was a relief to climb on uneventfully.
The traverse over the E and W Summits of Inspiration 7,880 ft
was as aesthetic as ever.
But my oh my, where had the time gone? By the time we descended the W Ridge of Inspiration it was nearly 4 in the afternoon. On my previous attempt Blake and I had pioneered frightening new ground at 5.10R on our next objective, The Pyramid. Not feeling the need to launch into another late day epic on Pyramid we made the hard decision to bivy there and tackle it first thing in the morning.
We had fallen incredibly short of the first ascencionest itinerary (in which they had amazingly moved on through Pryamid, Dengenhart, and Terror to a summit bivy on the Rake), but felt it was a necessary decision considering the time of the day and the enormity of our objective.Day 3: The Pyramid, Dengenhardt, Terror, and The Rake
Our third day began with a more traditional alpine start and Dan took the lead and nailed it. Climbed The Pyramid the right way and it was a great route.Dan on the 5.8 crux of the East Ridge of The PyramidNear the summit of The Pyramid 7,920 ftMt. Degenhardt, 8,000 ft
, was an easy scramble and we kept trucking on towards Terror.
It was near the base of Terror where I had given Blake, "the look." The look that says, "dude, i'm done, it's over," and we had bailed. This time around I just focused on placing one foot in front of the other, and really didn't look ahead too much at the exceedingly intimidating East Ridge of Terror. We knew that Wayne and party had had a hair-raising experience scaling it's loose flanks so we just focused on finding the best path. And we did, and it wasn't so bad.Myself, leading our first pitch on the East Ridge of Mt. TerrorJens on the Summit of Mt. Terror, 8,151 ft.
While the ascent wasn't so bad, the descent sure was. Loose unprotected down-climbing characterized the descent and before long we were strung out on a steep face searching for anchors or a way to continue down. Eventually we found some very old pins, and rapped off into the col, a disgusting place, perhaps the loosest col of them all.
On the menu for dinner was the Rake, and Jens took the lead for the first and crux pitch. Loose climbing took Jens out of view and before long it was only his breathing and moans that we could decipher. I could tell the climbing was hard and that for the first time of the trip Jens was, "going for it." In the face of steep overhangs, Jens had set two OK nuts, equalized them and embarked on a 9+ traverse across "solid" edges, running it out 50-60 ft to a belay. Luckily for Dan and myself we were able to get intimate with some super-choss and keep the protection slightly more sane as we followed.
Endless simuling ensued as we traversed onto the true ridge of the Rake. The rock quickly changed and we climbed phenomenal stone around the East Summit. Jens climbing into the golden hour on the RakeDFH getting his follow onLoving itLate-night belay duty
Climbing at night, deep in the Pickets, high on the Rake, isn't the most relaxing endeavor. But things continued to unfold well. We wandered around many false summits and gendarmes and finally late into the night we heard a distant "monkey-call"from Jens and knew that we had finally arrived at the West Summit of the Rake, 7,840 ft. A short rap into the high col ended a long day. A wind-protected bivy we affectionately named,Ice Station DarkStar. We were in deep now.Day 4: East Twin Needle, West Twin Needle, and the Himmelhorn
We awoke to a crisp morning on day 4.
I started off the day wandering down the long west ridge of the Rake towards the Twin Needle Spires.Looking back at the Rake
As we approached the summit ridge of the E Twin Needle the rock got better and better.
Crescendoing with a wild pitch of 10- to the summit, 7,936.Jens leading through terrible rope dragDFH
Scary downclimbing (a theme for the trip) got us off the E Twin and we simuled up the West Twin.
The Himmelhorn, the crux of the traverse (10+), was wildly intimidating.
Jens got're done, finding the right path up the sheer north face.
We pushed on over the summit, down the backside, where two long rappels took us to a good bivy at the Ottohorn-Himmelhorn col. Day 5: The Ottohorn
We again woke up late, intending on first bagging the Ottohorn via it's 3rd class East Face, and then the Frenzelspitz. We were worked from the previous's day's climbing and moved slowly out of the bivy with quivering legs and throbbing fingers. Unfortunatly, our romp was not to be as new rockfall just below the summit proved too unsafe to tackle unroped.
Dejected, we turned around and headed back to camp. We rested for a couple hours, discussed the high proabability that the complete objective was not to be, and headed back up the Ottohorn, this time with a rope and rack.
Dan led us to the to summit via two quality pitches of solid 5.7.
We returned to camp and continued resting.Day 6: Outrigger Pk (SE Fury)
Though our fifth day had been predominatly characterized by resting we still awoke to day six tired, sore, and HUNGRY.
Our rations basically consisted of 4 bars and 4 GU's for breakfast, lunch and snacks, a Mountain House meal for dinner and a group instant potato meal as a second dinner/before bed snack, with some random sausage, cheese, and extras here and there. Somewhere in the ballpark of 1400-2000 calories/day.
While this works for the first few days, by day six you've burned through your reserves and you can't help but feel the effects as you start to metabolize your muscles.
Nonetheless, as we rapped off into the Ottohorn-Himmelhorn coulouir I began to formulate my, "let's keep going" speech to be delivered after we easily tagged the Frenzelspitz and effortlessly galavanted across Picket Pass. Jens, aka "Alpine Man" preparing to do work in the Ottohorn-Himmelhorn coulouir
A long double rope rappel onto the snow, led to another long double rope rappel, lots of downclimbing, and more rapping.
While we were at times just 10-15 ft away from tromping up the 4th class East Face of the Frenzelspitz, the late-season snow was laying the "smack-down" on our spirits with hard sun-cupped conditions and impassable moats. Nearly 4 hours after first rapping into the coulouir we crested the snow to solid terra-firma.
It was a strange mental space in that we were now deeper then ever, but at the same time, finally off of the demanding 5th class terrain of the Southern Range. Any wishes of sending the Frenzelspitz collapsed into the impassable September moat as did my Pattonesque speech.
What do you know, more sketchy downclimbing moved us up and over Cub Scout Pk, and onto Picket Pass.
On a route punctuated with many highpoints it was interesting to feel equally moved by the brush and sub-alpine trees of Picket Pass, our first major low-point in a number of days.
We hydrated and pushed on up and over Outrigger (SE Pk of Fury)7,757 ft. via aesthetic slabs, exposed ridges, and golden staircases.
Chossy downclimbing led us off of Outrigger onto the flanks of the SE Glacier of Fury, which we elegantly traversed down and onto a heather basin, beneath a large ridge connecting Fury and Luna Pk.
We reached running water and a fine bivy high on the ridge just a hour or so into the dark night. Day 7: Luna Pk
The next morning we awoke to sore bodies and breathtaking views. The effort of the past few days was layed out in front of us and we could finally get the feeling that we had accomplished something.
The beautiful high ridge route continued on and before too long we were ditching our packs and heading up to tag Luna.Great view of our route from high on Luna Pk, 8,331 ft
From Luna we descended and traversed steep heather slopes into Access Creek.Jens strung-out in the heather
We continued descending through the brush of Access Creek to the forest of the Big Beaver Valley and Luna Camp.Day 8: The Deproach
12+ miles of hiking found us in the heat of the valley and finally back to the car.
We had the great pleasure of celebrating our adventure with good friends who happened to be in the area.
I can't give enough thanks to the many folks who helped us out on this endeavor including Cheryl and Adam Mckenney of Leavenworth Mountain Sports, Jim Nelson of Pro Mountain Sports, Teresa Bruffey/Outdoor Research, John Race and Olivia Cussen of the Northwest Mountain School, Geoff Cecil, Blake Herrington, and of course Wayne Wallace.
Wayne's advice, psych, and willingness to let us give his project a go proved instrumental in our success. We were awed by his bold leads while on route and kept discussing that we couldn't imagine a more committing objective than solo on the Mongo Ridge.
On our final day of preparations we orchestrated a phone consultation with Wayne where we hurriedly jotted down notes in the drizzle of a Safeway parking lot as we picked his brain. This beta sheet proved quite valuable (I will scan it and post up).Gear Notes:
I plan to blog in detail about the gear we used for this objective in the near future. I will link the blog post here.Links:Jen's Blog: Always UpwardsDay 1 & 2 Day 3 Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7 Dan's Blog Colin Haley's original TR for the Southern Ridge Traverse AAJ: Walking the Fence Josh Kaplan's original TR for the Northern Enchainment (Kaplan, Wallace, 2005) NWMJ: Northern Pickets Enchainment
We sure do live in a special place to be able to embark on an adventure of this magnitude just a few hours from home.