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[TR] Southern Pickets - Little Mac to Inspiration 7/14/2017

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Trip: Southern Pickets - Little Mac to Inspiration


Date: 7/14/2017


Trip Report:

Apologies this TR is a little late, it's for two weekends ago (July 14-16).


Jon and I had been interested in checking out the Southern Pickets traverse for a while, so we made a plan to go for it and see how far we got. Turns out not very far, but we still had a great three-day weekend and summited a number of wild peaks.


3 AM Friday morning our alarm went off in the Goodell Creek parking lot and soon we were off for the Pickets. The trail is very nice and easy to follow, even seeing it by headlamp and for the first time. After a couple hours we arrived at a large clearing with big cairns marking the split between the Terror Basin and Crescent Creek Basin approaches.


After a few hours of hiking, we got our first view of the Southern Pickets:




A few hours later, we arrived near the base of Little Mac and took a rest on a heather bench. Here we refilled water and cooked up some salty miso soup and noodles to stay hydrated for the rest of the day. John put on his clown makeup:




Soon we were starting up Little Mac. Jon opted for a pitch straight up the south face to join the crest of the SW ridge. In retrospect we should have hunted around for an easier start as the climbing was sustained 5.8 and we hadn't warmed up to our heavy packs yet. After gaining the crest I led out and we were able to reach the summit in one long simul block, first traversing heather benches and then following solid rock along the ridge crest:




From the summit of Little Mac we traversed east to a sub-summit with a slung block in good shape. One rappel brought us down to the notch between Little Mac and East Mac, then Jon took us up East Mac in one simul block, following a weakness in the SE face. On the summit we got an awesome view of the peaks ahead:




We downclimbed the west ridge of East Mac (class 3) and then, from the notch between East and West Mac, followed some 4th class scrambling around the N side of a small gendarme, as described in Beckey.


From there, Beckey describes the route as class 4 to the S corner of the E face, then following a diagonal crack-chimney system across the SE face. Noticing some fresh rock scarring to the left of the S corner of the E face, we ended up climbing straight up the corner, which is not recommended and involved steep 5.8 climbing on stacked loose blocks. We are still not sure if the rock scarring is on the route Beckey describes or if his route continues further left past what we could see from our vantage. Here is a picture showing me below the S corner, and the rock scarring to the left:




From the summit of West Mac we scrambled down the W ridge and found a nice bivy near the base.


We woke up at 5:30 to very cold and windy conditions. Eventually we were able to get some food down, pack up, and start scrambling towards the towers between West Mac and Inspiration.


Here is the path we took through the towers, from East to West.

Tower 1: We took Beckey's described route to the top: "a clockwise spiral, beginning on the E ridge." The backside of tower 1 is loose class 2 scree.

Tower 2: Easily bypassed on the North side, again as described in Beckey.

Tower 3: Bypassed on the S side and downclimbed the slabby W side. On the S side, there was one awkward move around an overhung boulder but otherwise a nice ledge to traverse on.

Tower 4: Also bypassed on the S side. It required a bit of zig-zagging up and down to find pro while crossing small ribs.

Tower 5: Belayed a pitch straight up the SE arete. This was well protected and fun 5.8 climbing. From the top of the tower we belayed a short pitch down the W side to a slung block where we rappelled.


Before starting up the next section we decided we would bail after Inspiration. The heavy packs (40+ lbs!) and route finding were taking their toll and I knew I couldn't keep up the pace we would need and still climb safely. We knew we could probably make it to Terror, but once we decided to bail a nice hike out from Terror Basin on known terrain sounded much better than the unknown brush of the Crescent Creek descent.


Having made that decision, we relaxed and took our time enjoying the nice climbing on Inspiration:




The descent was less nice, but not as bad as we feared going into it with no beta beyond the first few raps. We hiked down the glacier and found a nice camp in the slabs. Over the night clouds moved in and we woke up totally socked in. Glad we weren't up on the ridge! A lucky decision that made for a much more comfortable 3rd day and pleasant hike out.


On the way out we saw these NPS contraptions monitoring the trail. Anyone know what these are about? It definitely had some sort of camera on it:




Lessons learned

- Our packs were too heavy which really wore us down over time. With steel crampons, normal ice axes, a 70m single rope, a heavy stove (whisperlite), and extra food, we had a lot of room for improvement.

- Route finding makes you slow: onsighting the traverse would be quite an accomplishment. For most people I think it is a route that will require multiple attempts.

- The Southern Pickets are a real treat!





Gear Notes:

approx. doubles from 0 master cam to #2 c4

15 nuts, anticipating leaving some for rappels. We never did.

5mm cord, again anticipating making rappel anchors.

11 single-length slings, 7 with one carabiner and 4 with two carabiners

2 double length slings, both with 2 carabiners

70m single rope. Would strongly consider a doubled over twin next time.

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Trail cameras??!! What the hell? What say you North Cascades Rangers? Is Big Brother watching us?


Oh, and that is a really strong effort! Thanks for the report!

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...and Jon (my husband), freshly back from climbing Mt. Triumph this evening, went straight to the bookshelf and started dreaming of the southern pickets again. :D

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Nice work.


Maybe it's a motion-activated camera to look for rare wildlife. Or to spy on climbers. Did you test it to see if it clicked when something passed in front of it.

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Great TR and a wonderful adventure!

I came down the same trail the same day (7/16), but didn't notice that camera going either direction, probably because I was too tired. I'm sure it's to monitor critters. You saw the big pile of bear poo a mile from the trailhead?

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