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[TR] Mount Challenger - Eiley Wiley Ridge 08/17/2020


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Trip: Mount Challenger - Eiley Wiley Ridge

Trip Date: 08/17/2020

Trip Report:


3rd time's a charm....


After a failed attempt in July 2019 (Via whatcom glacier) and getting stuck in a whiteout on Whatcom peak with thunderstorms moving in....

...and a cancelled attempt July 2020 with a forecast of non-stop rain and snow, we finally had a window to try Challenger via Eiley Wailey.

We made a third attempt on “Wilakin-ghaist” almost 161 years (and a week) after it was first sighted by swiss born engineer Heinrich Custer (Reading “A Range of Glaciers: The Exploration and Survey of the Northern Cascade Range” by Beckey is a great way to get stoked for the climb!)

For late season we opted for the Eiley Wiley approach and researched the stories of those who went before.  

Many thanks to those who posted before with their beta on the legendary Eiley Wiley schwack including Manacus, ncascademtns, gum, David_Zeps, Ian Lauder, and others.

We found the following maps to be the most helpful and accurate for the traverse route of Eiley Wiley (forgive me, I didn’t keep track of who posted them, but thank you):





Day 1 - Ross Lake boat ride to Big Beaver and on to Beaver Pass camp for a ~16 mile day.  Chugged two liters of water between each campsite (39 mile, Luna, Beaver Pass) in the heat and listened to a tree fall at Beaver Pass and the distant rockfall up Access Creek and Luna Basin.   

9 hours Big Beaver to Beaver Pass



A glimpse of Challenger from the trail.  Eiley Wiley ridge on right.

Day 2 -  The Eiley Schwack.  Fearing yellow jackets, thorns and other horror stories we brought hearty bushwhack gloves and appreciated them.  Having read several trip reports of this schwack, and now having done it two different ways, I can safely say there is an easy way to do this with minimal bushwhacking.  Instead of telling you about another story of cliffing out, branch belays, new vocabulary, and slips and tumbles, I’ll describe what I think is the best route.  


If you look on the USGS map there are two clear drainages that shoot straight down the ridge east/west towards Beaver Pass.  Most of the climb should take place on the spur between these two drainages.  


The USGS map shows the drainages you want to be between (but the shelter and campsite locations are incorrect and actually south of the start)


IanLauder’s trip report was almost perfect with this one (thank you!)


Except that the climbers’ trail doesn’t cliff out, it was just hidden to the north


This aerial imagery shows you the drainages and their position relative to Beaver Pass campsites.  Ignore the side trips of exploratory bushwhacking. 



Directions uphill:  

From Beaver pass campsite, go north on the trail ~100-200 feet and then turn west towards the ridge and bushwhack downhill across the Beaver Pass drainages until you gain the Eiley-Wiley slope.  Your goal is to get on the spur that rises between the two drainages.  Once on the spur, the approach is nice open timber for ~700’ gain.  The spur is ~100 yards wide and you can see the drainages on either side as you go up in the timber.


Looking down the open timber

At approximately ~4300’ you will hit a cliff.  Go right (North) around the cliff and locate a climbers trail up and around it.  


Continue through open timber until ~4880’ where the spur cliffs out again.  Look right (North) again for a boulder drainage ON THE SPUR.  Not the main drainage further to the north.  Work up the boulder drainage until ~4950’ where the boulder drainage pops out on a little clearing hillside on top of the cliffs.  This is where the climber’s trail begins and goes until ~5180’ where you find your third cliff set


Looking down the boulder drainage


 Here, go around the cliff left (south) and transition off the spur to the left (south), into the drainage where the climber’s trail continues up the drainage, and up left (south) onto the next spur until you reach the heather meadows at `5600 and end at a small campsite.  


Please enjoy this handy dandy map of the route UP:




Once above the bushwhack.  We enjoyed the alpine, heather meadows and stopped for lunch.  


4 hours - Beaver Pass to 5600’ meadows.  



The climber’s trail leads to the eastern headwall of Eiley Wiley Ridge and puts you at the top of a large steep heather/grass gulley that begins the heather traverse. 


 The general goal is to traverse a series of spurs on the south side of the main ridgeline around the 6400’ - 6200’ level.  







Along the way to Eiley Lake (~6126’) you’ll discover the most beautiful cascading pools trickling into a waterfall.  This is the first water we found from Beaver Pass.  I carried 4 liters to get here and was parched.


These pools are some of the most amazing I’ve seen with a great view of Luna and the cirque.  One pool even has its own drain like a bathtub into the next pool.  


End of Eiley/Wiley meadows at 5600’ meadows to pools - 5 hours.


We made camp on two spots at Eiley Lake an hour later.  Total travel time Beaver Pass to Eiley Lake ~10 hours.  No water from Beaver pass until the pools.




Day 3 - We opted for a 0300 wake up with a 345 departure from Eiley lake in pouring rain and navigated past the saddle to Wiley lake and up the eastern slopes of PT 7374.  Crampons were needed on the exposed ice of the slopes.  We found the notch recommended on the south side of PT 7374 and had no trouble getting through the notch.  Once through, stay high and go north to the other side of the peak where heather benches await that drop down to Challenger saddle.  Don’t drop all the way down the loose rock gulley.



the notch at PT 7374



west side of the notch at PT 7374, go down ~40 feet and then traverse north on rocky ledges


Whatcom Glacier and Whatcom




Challenger Glacier from Challenger Arm


Reached Challenger Arm by 0800

We pushed up in the rain, whiteout, and were able to ascend Challenger Arm and past the bergschrund without incident.  I punched thigh deep through one crevasse.


The snow arete/knife ridge to the summit block was very sharp, but we were able to walk it all the way to the end.  A picket was essential here.



The snow arete leading to the summit block



We reached the summit block from Challenger arm in less than two hours and scrambled over to the base of the rock pitch.



After clipping two pitons and placing a nut, my partner couldn’t find any foot purchase on the wet rainy rock at the crux.  After a slip or two, we decided we had pushed our luck enough, climbing in the rain and whiteout clipped to a piton that was likely pounded in 40 years ago with little chance of rescue should things go south.  “I climb to go home” is my motto, and just getting to this point was truly an incredible experience.  We called it a summit and safely descended.







the weather improved slightly and for a brief moment I saw the summit from afar.  It was also at that moment that my partner had to self arrest near PT 7374 and I set loose a very large loose boulder behind me.  It was becoming apparent we were not welcome.  




Wiley lake seemed welcoming enough….



...for a dip


However on the way out, traversing the outflow of Wiley Lake, I heard a large cracking sound and immediately jumped off the snow area I was on only to find it collapse into the lake.



I now know what a collapsing snow structure sounds like


We made our way back to Eiley Lake camp to call it a 12.5 hour day camp to camp and crashed.  


Day 4 - Return traverse along Eiely/Wiley ridge.  Crossing the steep heather in howling wind and rain with heavy packs was the hairiest part of the trip.  Routefinding was difficult and there are many places where a slip would lead to an unpleasant tumble.





a rainbow awaited us at the end of the ridge.


The Eiley schwack back downhill was vastly different than going up, as everything was wet.  If you can do this bushwhack dry, it is highly recommended.  I know it sounds obvious, but it was such a vastly difference experience.




A roaring fire at Beaver Pass dried us out just in time for more rain and simultaneous air mattress failures.


Day 5 - the long walk out back to Big Beaver for the boat ride home.  9 hours out.  We encountered four parties headed in to Luna on our way out.





FYI, National Park trail crews were out working the Big Beaver trail as we were out there.  They have done a fantastic job clearing brush all the way to Beaver Pass.  They haven’t touched Little Beaver yet, and didn’t last year either when we were there, so it’s likely still an overgrown mess.  Many thanks to their hard work.  


A true cascade experience in BIG mountains.  

Gear Notes:
5 nuts, runners, pickets, glacier gear

Approach Notes:
Early season - Whatcom Glacier Late season - Eiley Wiley
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Fantastic trip report with great beta!  Climbs like these are what you remember for a lifetime.  The weather out in that area changes so fast.  I got lucky doing this climb by way of Whatcom Pass a couple years ago.  The weather was looking nasty right up until two hours before go time, and then like a sign from God, the clouds parted and the conditions went to perfect.  It's the journey and the struggle that makes the climb.  

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Basabei wholeheartedly agree.  Henry Custer was just the earliest documented.  I also referenced the peak's Native American name, "Wilakin-Ghaist" (according to Beckey) which we uttered in awe.  


Thanks for the kind comments.  It's nice to be able to give back to the community that continues to inform my climbs and paths.

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