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best of cc.com [TR] North Cascades - Southern Pickets - Southern Pickets Enchainment (Traverse) – Second Ascent 08/17/2018

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Trip: North Cascades - Southern Pickets - Southern Pickets Enchainment (Traverse) – Second Ascent

Trip Date: 08/17/2018

Trip Report:


Climbers/Scribe/Photos: Jeff and Priti Wright

Priti and I completed the Second Ascent of the full Southern Pickets Enchainment (Traverse) between 8/12/2018 and 8/17/2018 via the first ascensionists’ agenda (VI 5.10+, ca. 3 miles). Thirteen peaks in four days staying on technical terrain enchaining every peak in the Southern Picket Range from East to West. The Chopping Block was our 14thpeak on the last day à la Bunker-Haley-Wallace. We were lucky to have splitter weather the whole time except for our approach day which was non-stop drizzling and kept us from jumping on the rock right away.  We had previously attempted this climb during the July 4thweek earlier this summer but were stormed off at the base of Mount Terror.



View of the entire Southern Pickets from Mount Triumph.  Photo Credit: James Blackmon 


(1) Little Mac Spire, (2) East McMillan Spire, (3) West McMillan Spire, (4) Tower 1 summit of the East Towers aka "Don Tower", (5) Tower 5 summit of East Towers, (6) Inspiration Peak, (7) Pyramid Peak, (8) Mount Degenhardt, (9) Mount Terror, (10) The Rake aka "The Blob", (11) The Blip, (12) East Twin Needle, (13) West Twin Needle, (14) Dusseldorfspitz, (15) Himmelhorn, (16) Ottohorn, (17) Frenzelspitz, and (18) The Chopping Block


The Chopping Block is on the left.


  • FA: In 2003, this visionary line of 13 summits (Little Mac Spire to Frenzelspitz) was first completed by Mark Bunker, Colin Haley, and Wayne Wallace in an incredibly speedy 4 days car-to-car.



  • 2011: Dan Hilden, Jens Holsten, and Sol Wertkin completed 12 of the Southern Pickets summits (Little Mac Spire to Ottohorn), but were halted by an impassable moat under the South Face of the final bookend peak, Frenzelspitz (a lesson we borrowed to not take the snow approach). 




  •  2013: Jens Holsten and Chad Kellogg traversed 11 of the Southern Pickets summits (Little Mac Spire to Himmelhorn), and carried on to the Northern Pickets to do a mind-blowing Southern and Northern Pickets traverse.  Even though Jens humbly calls their climb an “attempt” since they left out three minor summits, their ascent was easily one of the greatest alpine achievements in the lower 48.





In the topos below, note the following color codes

-Blue circle: belays that we chose to take (all are optional, obviously)

-Yellow arrows: Bail options, or ways to enter/exit shorter segments of the Enchainment

-Green tent: bivy sites (note the comments)

-Red lines: Ascent

-White circles: Rappels

-White lines: Descent

Day 1

With our packs each weighing in at 28lbs, we hiked in to Terror Creek Basin via Goodell Creek through wet bushes and a light drizzle and bivied at the Terror Creek Basin High Camp. 



Day 2

As we roped up at the base of the start (Little Mac Spire) on Day 2, Priti glumly pulled two left-footed red Moccasym rock shoes out of her pack, but decided to keep going like the hardcore badass that she is!  We climbed from Little Mac Spire (5.8) through East McMillan Spire (5.6), West McMillan Spire (5.8), the East Towers (5.8) summiting Don Tower and Tower 5, and finishing the day with Inspiration Peak (5.9).  We had to climb up 1/3 of Pyramid to find a small snow patch for water and dinner. On our last trip in early July there was a lot of snow at the cols, so it was easy to find water.  There was a lot less snow in the cols in August, making finding water along the traverse very tricky, to say the least.  We filled our dromedary up every time we found snow. 

The smoke made the views hazy, but we could tell how far away the later peaks were, and how far we had to go.



The base of Little Mac Spire


The start of the technical climbing (5.7) on the face of Little Mac Spire




The upper ridge of East McMillan Spire



View looking West in July


View looking West in August


Upper face of West McMillan Spire



Starting up Tower 1










Priti is belaying below Pitch 2 (5.8 with a hand/fist overhang)





Inspiration Peak Summit is the impressive overhang on the left


Day 3

On Tuesday (day 2 of climbing, day 3 of the trip), we started out on Pyramid (5.8), and traversed over Degenhardt (3rd class).  We chose a steep face crack for the first pitch on Terror to start.  This may be the 5.8 start Jens and Chad did.  Starting further out left might go at 5.6.  After finding the piton rappel off Terror, we downclimbed about half of the Rake-Terror col before starting up a loose gulley on The Rake (skier’s right). The climbing didn’t feel too hard, and we must have avoided the 5.9 R climbing described by previous parties. However we didn’t make it to the nice bivy at the summit, instead hunkering down on a slopey grassy ledge for the night. Snafflehounds poked me in the face and jumped on my feet to start the night out. The meteor shower sparkled above us. In the morning, Jeff found his helmet strap had been gnawed through, his crack gloves stolen and the nut butter munched. Nothing a little duct tape won’t fix! 





Starting up the technical climbing on Pyramid Peak





Inside the crux chimney











Day 4

On Wednesday (day 3 of climbing, day 4 of the trip), we only climbed for a few hours doing lots of fun ridge climbing on the Rake (5.8) which took us to the best bivy spot of the trip: on top of the West Rake Summit. It was so nice, we decided to relax the rest of the day and camel up for the next day.



The choosy 4th class gully which exits the Terror-Rake col (about halfway down) on climber's right


The entire Rake ridgeline is pictured here.  Priti is on the initial ridgeline, heading to the Rake's deep, major notch (right of center).  Stay high on this initial ridge to get to a 5.6 traverse about even with the notch to get over to the notch.  Starting the traverse too soon may result in 5.9R climbing. The vertical ridgeline just left of the major notch is the technical crux.


The technical crux of The Rake.  This is the second pitch after getting to the major notch which takes you to the The Rake's ridge proper.  5.8+ ledges with small gear.


Starting out on the Rake's ridge proper.


Looking back at the Rake (Eastward) from the summit


Guns out!


Amazing bivy site!  Don't stop at the col (aka "Ice Station Dark Star"), but continue to this bivy after a short pitch.


Day 5

Thursday morning we woke up stoked for the Twin Needles and Himmelgeisterhorn. The Blip between the Rake and the Needles was a quick jaunt (5.6). In the descent gulley, Priti kicked a small rock down, which tipped a precarious car-door sized boulder over and core-shot our rope. She literally had two left feet!  We just climbed the rest of the way with 40m of rope out.

East Twin Needle (5.10a) had some of the best climbing on the trip, following an aesthetic line up the knife edge ridge, that looks like a gothic tower. There was a TCU that the previous party stuck behind a flake, and was reminded of the giant footsteps we were following. The last couple moves were extremely dirty though.  The left variation of the crux is much easier than sticking right.  West Twin Needle was chill 3rd Class. Then came Himmelgeisterhorn (5.10), the “Horn of the Sky Spirit”. The climbing was fantastic: engaging, with great position, and unique au chevaling! We climbed over Düsseldorfspitz, on the way to the summit of Himmelhorn.  We rappelled down the North Face of Himmelhorn with our 60m rope which worked out perfectly. 
Ottohorn took about an hour to summit and get back down to the Himmel-Otto col.  The 3rdclass route that Bunker-Haley-Wallace took is gone due to some fresh rock fall.  Instead of taking the 2 pitch 5.7 variation that Hilden-Holsten-Wertkin took, we attacked the fresh rock scar directly which was splitter 5.6 hand cracks for maybe 15 m to the ridge and summit.  In the fading light, we then headed over to Frenzelspitz (the final peak of the Enchainment) from the Himmel-Otto col, traversing along rock on the north side of Ottohorn.  The ledge/gulley traverse had the most heinous, scary, exposed choss. Luckily the climbing on Frenzel was pretty great 5.7ish. We made four fresh rappel anchors, starting with a runner on the summit block, two double-nut anchors, and another slung horn.  






5.8 ridge (vertical blocks)


The fantastic climbing on the technical crux of East Twin Needle.






Priti leading out onto the technical crux (and I mean technical!) - face climbing on crimps with small gear



Looking up and over Dusseldorfspitz.  Priti is belaying between Dusseldorfspitz (foreground) and Himmelhorn (background).


The crazy outcropping (Dusseldorfspitz) just East of the summit of Himmelhorn


Looking back down from the Himmelhorn summit at the belay.




Left to right: Dusseldorfspitz (the small spire along the ridgeline, just below the summit), Himmelgeisterhorn ("Horn of the Sky Spirit", also a small suberb of the German city of Dusseldorf), Ottohorn, and Frenzelspitz...three names taken from the label of a mustard bottle brought along by Joan and Joe Firey (kindred spirits and personal heroes of ours) during their first ascent of these peaks in 1961.  Ed Cooper, also on the trip, was "aghast" at the names chosen!



The magnificent Northern Pickets


Frenzelspitz, a perfect pyramid




Day 6

The last day we climbed the Chopping Block via the NW Route (4thClass) and hiked out via “Stump Hollow” to Terror Creek.




Mega thanks to Wayne, @solwertkin, and @jensholsten for their great beta, inspiration, and support.  Priti and I have been dreaming of this climb for years now since reading Alpinist 47 magazine’s expansive article on the Picket Range and being inspired by Jens Holsten and Chad Kellogg’s 2013 Pickets Traverse (of both the Southern and Northern Pickets, 10 miles) after we had just taken the @boealps Basic Climbing Class.  The next level of alpinism in the Southern Pickets may be to complete the entire enchainment in a day!  This seems like an entirely reasonable feat (especially for a soloist) given enough familiarity and speed.

Bivy Beta:

Primo bivies (East to West)

  1. base of West McMillan Spire descent (snow through the summer, nice bivy walls)
  2. base of Mount Terror, cross over ridge to North side - late season snow available
  3. on top of the Rake sub-peak (1 pitch past the “Ice Station Dark Star”) – lots of snow just a short scramble distance away along the Rake descent.  
  4. Himmel-Otto col (if no snow on the col, make one rappel toward Crescent basin to find snow)

Terrible bivies (East to West)

  1. base of East McMillan Spire descent (sloping ledges, snow early season)
  2. slabby ledge about 1/4 the way up the Inspiration West Ridge (exposed) 
  3. Pyramid-Inspiration col (no snow late season)
  4. grassy ledges down and climbers left when you first gain the ridge proper at the start of the Rake
  5. “Ice Station Dark Star” (as coined by Hilden-Holsten-Wertkin) which is the col after just rappelling from The Rake summit (snow early season, but rappel north late season to find snow down a heinous choss gully)…if no snow just at the col, then recommend continuing on to the Rake descent to find tons of easily accessible snow in late season
  6. Himmelhorn summit (no snow)

Gear Notes:

  • small set of nuts and some brassies
  • doubles BD UL Camalots .4-2
  • single BD UL Camalot 3 (for Inspiration East Face)
  • singles BD C3 000-1 (extra green 0)
  • single BD Camalot X4 Offset 0.1/0.2
  • single BD Camalot X4 0.3
  • singles Metolius Mastercam 0-3
  • 4 double-length runners with 2 Camp 22 biners each
  • 3 double-length runners with 1 Camp 22 biner each
  • 9 single-length runners with 1 Camp 22 biner each (can’t have too many runners)
  • 30L Patagonia Ascensionist pack (for him) and 30L Black Diamond Speed pack (for her)
  • Patagonia Micro Puff jacket (each)
  • Patagonia Alpine Houdini jacket (each)
  • Patgaonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Jacket (for him)
  • 2L MSR DromLite (essential!)
  • Garmin inReach Mini (love this little guy!)
  • Beal Escaper (for emergency bails)
  • Petzl Leopard FL crampons (each)
  • Petzl Sirocco helmets 
  • Petzl Sitta harness (for him) and Arc’teryx harness (for her)
  • Metolius Feather Nut Tool (each)
  • Camp Corsa Nanotech 50cm (each)
  • chalk bag, each (didn’t use)
  • tape gloves (for her) and OR Splitter gloves (for him)
  • x2: Mammut Smart belay device (not the Alpine Smart) + Grivel Sigma Wire D carabiner
  • 3 lockers for group: Grivel Tau K12L, Grivel Lambda HMS, Grivel Plume 
  • 60m 8.5mm Beal Opera rope
  • 15m 5mm cord (did not use ever)
  • 1 medium fuel canister
  • 1 small fuel canister (did not use)
  • Jetboil Sol stove
  • Safety ‘biner (each) – Edelrid 19g caribeener, Petzl Micro Traxion, short Sterling Hollowblock, Trango Piranha knife
  • Bivy setup (each) – Short Thermarest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad, Exped Air Pillow UL, Feathered Friends Vireo UL sleeping bag
  • 8.5ft^2 tarp by Hyperlite Mountain Gear
  • TC Pros (for him) and Moccassyms (for her)
  • La Sportiva TX2 (for her) and TX4 (for him) approach shoes
  • Petzl Reactik headlamps (each) + 3 extra AAA batteries + Petzl e+LITE headlamp
  • Other things: 1 long spoon to share, chapstick to share, small Joshua Tree sun stick to share, Kenu iPhone tether, lighter, whistle, duct tape, Thermarest repair patches, Voke tabs, Nuun, pain killers, 1L Platypus soft water bottle (for her) and 750mL HydraPak Stash (for him), warm headband, glove liners, 1 pair thick long socks (each), sunglasses, ear plugs, WRFA emergency form, small pencil
  • Dinner: 2 AlpineAire meals, 3 Near East Couscous boxes repackaged with small olive oil packets in ziplock bags, salt
  • Day food was mostly bulky, yummy snacks: vegan jerky, dried mango, nuts, Cheese-Its, sesame sticks, Gu, nut butter, etc

Approach Notes:
Excellent Approach trail Goodell Creek to Terror Basin. The descent from Crescent Basin is tricky


The luxurious tree marker where one descends from the ridge below "Stump Hollow" towards Terror Creek


Log crossing Terror Creek on descent


Edited by JeffreyW
Added Photos
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Holy Himmelgeisterhorn! 

We must now engrave thy names in the Choss Chalice alongside the alpinists of yore!


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Must give praise for both the climbing and also the effort put into the TR.  I am amazed that you could remember so much after such a long day.  seems like it would become a big blur.  great job!


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Amazing all around!  Way to realize such a big dream together!  Two left shoes over that much terrain.....ouch!  Impressive and inspirational!

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This sets the beta level to Abegg.  Impressive on many levels!  Way to keep it safe while sailing the sea of choss....

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Congrats and thanks for the detailed TR!  The gear list is a wonderful pot-pori of hardcore minimalism, "one long spoon to share", what if you lost it!?



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38 minutes ago, Bronco said:

"one long spoon to share", what if you lost it!?

The nut tool, c'mon @Bronco.  I actually had to do this on Sir Donald last month when I forgot to pack a spoon.  Not as bad as you'd think!

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Thanks everybody for the appreciation of the beta!  We made half of these topos after our first attempt, and brought the topos with us on the final attempt to make markups and corrections.   We recorded voice memos at the end of each day to capture the specific beta and routefinding.  Our hope is that more of this terrain gets traffic since most of it was high-quality technical choss with astounding position.  Any of the linkups of smaller segments of the Enchainment would be an excellent weekend outing.   Of course, it was a fun adventure to pick our own way much of the time!  Leave the beta sheets at home if you want extra adventure.  The approach into the Pickets is way too long just to go climb a single peak (been there, done that!).  Probably my favorite segment would be Terror-Rake col to Otto-Himmel col.  East Face of Inspiration was the single best pitch of the Enchainment imo.  The approach to Frenzelspitz was really scary (especially in the dark), and I wouldn't recommend it unless you're going for the full Enchainment.  Also, we still want to go back to also climb the Wild Hair Crack on Himmelhorn which looks incredible!

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4 minutes ago, JeffreyW said:

Wild Hair Crack on Himmelhorn which looks incredible

Thanks for the reminder!  It is still on the list.

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2 hours ago, JasonG said:

The nut tool, c'mon @Bronco.  I actually had to do this on Sir Donald last month when I forgot to pack a spoon.  Not as bad as you'd think!

Now that's extreme alpinism! :D


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Thanks for the amazing report! You said doing a blog would be too much work!? Ha!  Million dollar trip report. I had hoped that this climb would get into the minds of people here, it was so deserving, worthy, and has all of the elements of true, and lasting adventure. This is one of only a couple of personal new route/traverses that I felt worthy of proclaiming (too?) loudly. 

Way to see it fit into your dreams, and play a part in your parties amazing trajectory and story! 

Edited by wayne
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Good work, and good beta! I remember Jens and Sol and I talking about how this traverse will never get popular because of the choss and all, but I'm surprised it doesn't get done a little more often, seeing as how it's one of the more wild and crazy routes around. 

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On 8/31/2018 at 8:36 PM, Dannible said:

Good work, and good beta! I remember Jens and Sol and I talking about how this traverse will never get popular because of the choss and all, but I'm surprised it doesn't get done a little more often, seeing as how it's one of the more wild and crazy routes around. 

Honestly, I was surprised at the quality of the 5th class terrain.  There is so much incredible 5th class terrain, and the rock quality was surprisingly good.  We never had any random hand-holds or foot-holds break loose, unexpectedly (but perhaps we were just lucky on both trips).  We tread slowly and carefully, and any loose stuff was obvious (standard Cascades climbing).   There aren't too many places on the planet where one can get endless 5th class like this with such incredible purchase.  It definitely deserves more traffic!

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Well, I am going to have to digest this over a couple bottles of wine over the next weeks.  Whoa.

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Nature is much of a  canvas as it is a mirror. Well done. I'm so happy to see the psych torches lit, pass that shit along! I really miss those mountains and it's great to see a trip report just like the golden days on this website. Proud


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On 8/31/2018 at 6:37 PM, wayne said:

 I had hoped that this climb would get into the minds of people here, it was so deserving, worthy, and has all of the elements of true, and lasting adventure. 

East Twin Needle, Himmelgeisterhorn and Ottohorn are some of the most enjoyable climbing I've done any where! Doing the traverse from Terror to Ottohorn would be such a good line. 



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Very grateful for all the time you put into this trip report and thank you to @wayne @Colin @JensHolsten @Dannible @Sol for laying the groundwork and being so selfless in posting all your info here over the years. This is the site at it's very best. 

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So impressed with the feat of climbing and detailed reporting. So much moderate terrain yet I am sure little felt trivial. You two are a powerhouse. Thanks for sharing. 

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holy shiite muslims, i wish i had that sort of attention span n' head for details :)

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