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[TR] North Pickets - Mongo Ridge (Tower 1) 07/01/2022

Jake Johnson

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Trip: North Pickets - Mongo Ridge (Tower 1)

Trip Date: 07/01/2022

Trip Report:


A Rainy Week in the Northern Pickets + A Night on Mongo Ridge




Jake Johnson – Fort Collins, CO (writer of this TR)

Emilio Taiveaho - Saxapahaw, NC

Adam Moline – Olympia, WA (A new resident to Washington, so hit him up if in need of a SOLID partner in the mountains)



July 1st – 9th, 2022 in the Northern Picket Range of North Cascades National Park. A week of managing early season snow conditions and weather. Lofty goals were adjusted, and we fought the good fight - accomplishing as much mountain moving as we feasibly could and learning all the lessons the mountain would teach.

It’s easier to write a report about triumphs in the mountains and, perhaps, its more interesting to read of successes as well. For this reason, I considered not writing and sharing this report. However, I do feel that the lessons learned and experiences had are worth sharing. Also, given that it was the toughest trip I’ve ever been on, I needed an outlet to express my gratitude for my climbing partners (best friends) that got me through it.

Planning our trip had its challenges – 3 different calendars to coordinate, two of us needing to fly in from out of state, requesting of PTO, etc.. These challenges culminated in the need to get the dates for this trip on the calendar early. Unfortunately, this plan lacked flexibility as we learned that we’d be dealing with a lot of rain and snow during our week together.

Our objective was to climb the entirety of Mongo Ridge, and while we did not complete that goal, we did accomplish what we were ultimately there to do: to suffer well in the mountains when required, and to thrive in and enjoy the mountains when allowed.


Itinerary (not the planned itinerary, but the reality of our week):

Day 1 – Evening hike up Big Beaver Valley

Day 2 – Hike to and Camp at “Cliffside Camp” below Luna Col

Day 3 – Ride out storms, no movement

Day 4 – Advance to “Ridge Camp” below the ridge between Luna and Fury

Day 5 – Climb East Fury and Tower 1 of Mongo Ridge, bivy on Tower 1

Day 6 – Retreat from ridge and bivy on East Fury

Day 7 – Return to “Ridge Camp”

Day 8 – Summit Luna Peak and descend to Access Creek

Day 9 – Hike Out

          A screenshot of Adam’s Strava map. He didn’t start his watch until day 2.




Adam, Emilio, and I first climbed the West Peak of Mount Fury in July of 2020. It was then that we first saw and studied Mongo Ridge, the southwest ridgeline of West Fury. At the time, the only ascent was Wayne Wallace’s legendary solo climb of the ridge:

Then, in July of 2021, Jeff and Priti Wright climbed a variation of the route (traversing below the ridgeline after the main towers and bypassing the “Rooster Comb” and “Pole of Remoteness” features):

The beta provided in these combined reports gave us the confidence needed to make Mongo Ridge the primary objective of our 2022 climbing season.


Day 1:

I was fortunate to be able to coordinate with my job to visit a customer site near Seattle on Friday. When I wrapped up with work, Adam and Emilio picked me up and we were off to Ross Dam Trailhead.

Emilio had flown out a few weeks earlier, and the two had kept busy getting ready for the trip by climbing some sub-peaks near Rainier, traversing a portion of Sawtooth Ridge in Olympic, as well as running Mt. Olympus in a 14 hr push with Adam’s wife, Monica. They had dealt with early season conditions and weather in each of these endeavors, so we had good indication of what to expect in the Pickets.

Our hike up Big Beaver was beautiful, but uneventful. We were happy to take advantage of the clear weather while we had it and eat up some of the approach miles. Lots of deadfall in the last miles of our trail walking slowed progress significantly. We stopped for the night, shared a small meal, and settled in for a comfortable night’s sleep.

          Hiking into the night on the Big Beaver Trail


Day 2:

A straightforward crossing of the Big Beaver River and solid route-finding made for steady progress up Access Creek. We surprisingly encountered far less bushwhacking in Access Creek, compared to negotiating the blowdowns covering the Big Beaver Trail the prior evening. I slipped off a slick log while crossing over Access Creek and took a dip up to my thighs. I moped about my wet feet, which is funny to me now – as they wouldn’t really be dry at any point for the next 7 days.

          Breaking out of the trees in upper Access Creek


          Switching into crampons for the climb up and out of the valley


We worked quickly to move up the snow gully to escape the Access Creek valley before the sun hit the slope too much; slopes that were getting baked in the morning sun were releasing a good amount of snow and rock. Topping out this gully has always felt like a portal to me; entering into the surreal dimension that is the Picket Range. We got our first looks at what we would be working with for the week: vast amounts of snow with 30ft cornices and lots of weather shrouding the high peaks of the range. We didn’t waste much time planning our next moves, as a good amount of weather was forecasted. Luna Col appeared to be completely snow covered, likely making the camping there less than ideal. We dropped down a few hundred feet to the flowing water that drained from the col. Here we found some ground that wasn’t exactly flat but had most of the other qualities needed for surviving and waiting out a storm. It was a sloping ledge on a cliff above an avalanche shoot; we dubbed it “Cliffside Camp”.

          Our Cliffside Camp beneath Luna Col


As a group we had 2 lightweight tarps and we each had Outdoor Research bivys. Emilio and Adam shared a tarp that they strung over their bivys. I wrapped myself in the other like a taco, trying to tuck my gear under its protection as well. The rain came and went, and then came again. We were able to make some food in the breaks in the weather before settling in for the night.

          Adam and Emilio’s angled sleeping setup at Cliffside Camp


          The view out of my crude trekking pole / tarp setup at Cliffside Camp


The storm that night was the most intense of the week. Wind, rain, thunder, and of course the thunder of rockfall. My tarp got whipped about by the wind, and all my gear got pretty wet. Adam and Emilio each awoke in the night to find they had slid several feet downhill from their original positions.

Day 3:

I realized it had become lighter outside, but the change from night was minimal from the depths of my tarp covered bivy. “How you guys doing?” I yelled from my cocoon. “Pretty wet but also plenty dry in places, too” responded Emilio. Always an optimist..

          Trying to stay comfortable through a long day of being horizontal


Again, we seized opportunities were the weather let up to stand and stretch and refortify our setups. Nearly all hours of the day, however, were spend horizontally. Our objective felt far away, and it certainly wasn’t lost on us that we needed to be closer to be able to take advantage of a weather window if we were presented with one. Every now and then the whiteout would clear enough for us to see the ridge at the far side of the snowfield we were camped above, and we plotted our line to make it there, but beyond that we had no idea of what we would be navigating. We practiced patience as best as we could and told ourselves that all this rest would be beneficial to us in the coming days.

          A stretch break in the day


More rain and wind came through the night, although not as intense as our first night here.

Day 4:

Somewhere around midmorning the weather let up to a point where I was inspired to crawl out and investigate our surroundings. It was frustrating to see blue skies in multiple directions, and even get some direct sunlight, but never really get visibility in the direction we needed to travel. Eventually we caught a break and gained a visual of the ridge we were headed towards. We quickly packed up our wet gear and set off. It felt amazing to move our bodies and cover some ground.

          Crossing a cool snow bridge shortly after leaving Cliffside Camp


Easy snow walking and some classic, loose Cascade ridge scrambling and we arrived on the ridge at a spot that should have provided a view of our route the remainder of the way up to East Fury. When we rounded the corner, we were unfortunately met with more whiteout conditions. Additional incentive to advance no further was provided as the mountain sent some more rain our way.

Luckily, this camp - dubbed “ridge camp” – was much more comfortable. We were able to crawl under some thick brush to spread the tarps and set our bivys which helped tremendously in protecting us from the wind and rain. We used breaks in the weather to gather water, then cooked some food back under the protection of the tarp.

Overall spirits were high; we all had some base layers that were dry enough to stay warm through the night, and sleeping bags weren’t soaked. We also knew weather would be an issue these days and felt we had some buffer in the week to allow for it. We slept solidly, knowing that tomorrow had been forecasted to be the clearest day of the week.

          A comfortable tarp shelter at Ridge Camp


Day 5:

We woke up to a 4:30am alarm, and quickly confirmed that the weather was as predicted. YES! Clear early morning skies, with an ocean of clouds below us in the valleys. I’ll never get over how beautiful the peaks of the North Cascades look rising above the clouds.

          Ocean of Clouds as seen from Ridge Camp on morning of Day 5


          I caught Adam in modeling mode after he set up a timelapse on his phone


We understood that a lot was riding on this day in terms of setting ourselves up for success. We packed up all our gear and made quick progress navigating the snowfields and glaciers up to East Mount Fury. This was our first chance to get a look at the peak and our route up it; a lot of snow. I worried for Emilio, who had opted to do the trip wearing micro-spikes on his boots, rather than crampons, but he moved smoothly. We avoided what we felt was most of the hazards by traversing westward to gain the ridgeline to the south of the peak, then scrambling a mixture of rock and icy slope north to the summit.

          Headed up Easy Fury. Still in a cloud, but the clearest view of it we had yet!


          A steeper section of snow heading up to East Fury


On the summit we stashed any gear that we felt we could do without. Adam used his InReach to get an updated weather forecast for the second half of our week – not great news: at least some rain each day. Because of this, we stashed less than originally planned, bringing along the tarps and heavier jackets. I was able to stuff my bivy, a light sleeping bag, camelback, and a bunch of snacks in my 15L daypack. Adam and Emilio carried their larger packs with similar setups inside.

We descended off the summit to the west, and then plunged down the gully to the southwest that leads towards the base of Mongo Ridge. We each had capacity for 4L of water, and finding a suitable place to fill up proved to be a challenge - and a time suck. Eventually we crossed the last bit of snowfield to the base of the route. Here, a real mental crux presented itself: one of Adam’s crampons broke clean in half. He also noticed a crack forming in the other. We were about as far from the car as we would get, and given the amount of snow travel, this was a huge blow.

          Adam’s broken crampon. He also noticed his other crampon was cracking in the same spot


A flood of negative thoughts crept into my headspace: How would this affect our ability to make the return trip? Should we just call it now and turn back?… Adam interrupted my spiraling thoughts – “I’d rather climb the route in rock shoes than climb back up the snow with one crampon”. That was it, no more discussion. I do think that for each of us, there was an unspoken understanding: things would need to go perfectly on the climb if we were going to be able to pull it all off.

We negotiated the moat without much issue, then scrambled up 4th class to the left of the 5.6 chimney taken by the Wrights and Wallace. When we arrived at what we believed was the 5.8 overhang taken by Wallace, we roped up and I led up over the short section of overhanging features to easier ground. Wallace had cut left here and gained ridgeline – mostly 4th class to the top of Tower 1. I saw that line, but had absolutely nothing to build an anchor and bring the guys up to me at that spot. The rock was polished smooth with virtually no cracks or blocks. I told myself I’d climb a bit higher until I could build a real anchor, and then we’d find another way to traverse left. Unfortunately, I had to stretch the 70m ropes until I could sling a solid block and bring the guys up safely. I weaved significantly to keep the climbing on that pitch at 5.8-5.9. The guys more or less climbed straight up the line and reported harder moves.

          Emilio belaying me up our first roped pitch


I was worked. I felt I had protected the pitch well, despite a serious lack of options, but there were a lot of heady moves that physically and mentally drained me. The rope drag bringing the guys up was some of the worst I’ve ever experienced, so belaying added to my fatigue. There wasn’t much talking at the top of that first pitch. We were all aware we were off route and climbing far harder than we needed to on this first tower. We briefly discussed coiling the ropes and attempting the traverse left to get to the ridgeline – we unanimously agreed we weren’t in the right headspace or position on the mountain for that. I sent upwards, trying to work left, but was forced up a series of grassy chimneys over the course of several pitches. Forcing a roped leftward traverse would have meant insane rope drag. In total we climbed 5 pitches ranging from 5.6-5.9 until we met the ridgeline nearly at the top of the tower.

          Wallace’s original line (recommended) in Yellow. The Wright’s line in Red. Our line (not recommended) in Blue.


          Adam and Emilio belaying me up one of the last pitches to meet the ridgeline


A short conversation atop the tower confirmed what we were all thinking: Attempting the entire ridge wasn’t going to be a responsible move if we wanted to make it home on schedule. Our timeline had been behind from the beginning, more weather was ahead in the forecast, we didn’t know what Adam’s broken crampon would mean for our hike out, and one of our radios had turned on in a pack earlier in the week and was now quickly losing its charge - making communication challenging. We felt confident in our ability to retreat from where we were at but going further would require us to be perfect in our climbing efficiency and route finding for the rest of the ridge, get lucky with the weather, and – even then – potentially need to hike out from East Fury in one massive push in order to get out in time. With no great bivy options at the base of the climb, we agreed to spend the night on Tower 1, then descend the tower and climb to East Fury in the morning.

          Scrambling the last bit to the summit of Tower 1


          Emilio at the summit of Tower 1. Tower 2 to the far left, looking up at the impressive Tower 3


It was bittersweet. The climbing had ultimately been super fun, and I felt that I had protected the guys well with bomber anchors on each pitch (a worry of mine going into the climb). I had also by this point completely overcome any imposter syndrome that I felt before starting the climb, and felt very competent and ready for the harder climbing that lay ahead on the ridge. It just wasn’t meant to be, for this week.

If you ask Emilio, sleeping on the ridge was the best sleeping of his life - in every way. For me, it wasn’t all that comfortable, but it was a pretty darn cool place to get some shut eye. Adam found a little nook at the base of some shrubs to crawl into, while Emilio and I shared a small ledge. We settled in, to the lullaby of the local Townsend’s Solitaire.

          The ledge Emilio and I shared for the night


          Adam above his sleeping nook


Day 6:

I had no indications that I ever did truly fall asleep, but somehow morning did come much sooner than expected. We had dealt with some rain in the night, but luckily nothing too severe. When we got up, we had some visibility so we quickly packed up and started scrambling down the ridge. It was frustrating to realize how much time we had wasted by not getting on the ridgeline immediately. Rain came and went throughout the morning as we easily downclimbed most of the route, utilizing a few rappels where wet rock presented a concern.

          Adam on a rainy rappel off Tower 1


Once we were back on the glacier, we made slow steady progress back up to East Fury – some moments in freezing rain, then 30 seconds later in direct sun and unbearable heat. The closer we got to the summit of East Fury, the more it became consistent rain, until we were in a complete whiteout on the summit.

          Adam’s attempt at holding his broken crampon in place, and bracing his cracking one


          Cloudy towers as seen on the ascent back up East Fury


          Adam and Emilio entering into a true whiteout near the summit


Here we faced a tough decision. It was only about noon, so we had plenty of time to descend back to our Ridge Camp. However, we were all a bit worked – cold and shivering and running on little sleep. Additionally, the whiteout conditions presented a real challenge for navigating the Fury Glacier. Our other option was to bivy on the summit of East Fury. We had done this before, in 2020, but it hadn’t been such wintery conditions then. We also were hesitant to try to get a camp setup in the rain and risk getting our dry(ish) clothes and sleeping bags wet. We ultimately decided the best thing to do at that moment was to be patient and see if we could catch a break in either the rain or the whiteout before making a move.

          Huddling for warmth under the tarp near the summit


After 4 hrs of shivering, huddled together under the tarp, we caught a break in the rain that allowed us to switch into some dry clothes and crawl into bivys. Just in time too – as hard rain began to come and go into and throughout the night.

Day 7:

Emerging from the shelter of my bivy in the morning was a real mental crux, to say the least. No direct rain, but still whiteout conditions with plenty of cold moisture zipping through the air. We hastily packed our things, bundled ourselves up, and headed down from the summit. Walking took some getting used to; my legs were stiff, I was bundled up far more than I was used to, and the rock and snow were both icy and slick. I slipped on some rocks immediately within the first few moves and stumbled onto some sharp rocks. That woke me up.

          View from the bivy ledge in the morning


          Low visibility early in the morning


Continuing to move down the mountain, we utilized the gps on our watches and, often times, faint tracks from our ascent. Emilio lost his footing on a steep section in the early going and quickly slid downward, disappearing out of sight into the fog. He expertly self-arrested, and then traversed horizontally until he was back on course with us. Somewhere along this descent, Adam’s other crampon also broke (in the same fashion as his first did).

          Carefully negotiating the glacier on the descent


A positive that kept us smiling was coming across what we believe to be wolverine (maybe very large marmot?) tracks in the snow. We eventually climbed low enough that the thick fog broke up a bit and we could see the remainder of our line back up to our Ridge Camp. We stopped along the way to collect our first water since we had started up the ridge 48 hrs earlier.

          Wolverine? Marmot? Tracks near the summit of East Fury


Upon returning to Ridge Camp, we rebuilt our cozy tarp shelter, and used breaks in the rain to collect water and make food. The sun would occasionally shine on us, triggering a race to get wet clothes, sleeping bags, etc... out to dry. Fury and the Southern Pickets always remained shrouded in thick cloud cover. We eventually began to thaw our fingers and relax our minds. Our mountain living became a bit less focused on basic survival, and we nursed our bodies in an effort to get back to a point where we could enjoy our remaining experience as much as possible.

          A massive overhanging cornice near our Ridge Camp


Day 8:

Sunlight flickered on the tarp, as we allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit. At first, thick fog lined the valley floors but as we stretched our waking bodies, we watched as the sun and wind began grabbing chunks of that fog and shooting them up the mountain slopes until they became clouds surrounding us in the sky.

          A nice bit of sunshine and our cozy Ridge Camp


          A rare glimpse of the Southern Pickets through the fog



We descended the snowfield back towards our Cliffside camp from earlier in the week. Emilio and Adam glissaded a good amount of it, enjoying the moderate slope. Again, we experienced the insane temperature differential when cold winds under cloudy skies (requiring our shells and some layers) would rapidly transition to full sun cooking us (and a frantic shedding of layers).

We trudged up to an elevation just below the gully that would drop us into Access Creek. Here we dropped our packs and doubled back, racing up towards Luna Col. Adam and Emilio pulled ahead of me, cruising with the freedom of being pack-less. I was content to enjoy the climb at a slightly more leisurely pace and take some photos of them ahead at a distance.

          Moving quickly beneath giant cornices at Luna Col


Once we got to Luna Col, we dropped crampons and axes, and scampered up Luna. We were just below the cloud ceiling, with all the other major peaks of the Pickets consumed in cloud. Gentle rain would come and go, as it had all day, but nothing too intense. It was an amazing scramble that made us really appreciate our last moments of the trip spent high in the alpine.

          Adam and Emilio ahead of me on the Luna Peak ridge scramble


          The North and South Picket ranges, masked in clouds as they were for most of the week


          Summit group selfie


On the descent we encountered some friendly White-Tailed Ptarmigan before relacing the crampons and plunging and sliding back down the mountain to our packs. I think Adam probably broke some sort of speed record, running and sliding and leaping for joy from Luna Col back to our packs in about 2 minutes.

          White-Tailed Ptarmigan


          Emilio and a distant Adam flying down from Luna Col


Our attitudes became more serious - but perhaps not enough - as we shouldered our packs and began the descent of the gully into Access Creek. This gully is the technical crux for folks climbing Luna Peak, and it has taken lives. I went first, kicking steps for the others to follow. Emilio was struggling with snow balling under his micro spikes and he slipped and caught himself several times. Eventually, he determined he was confident enough in his stopping power to glissade. He started slow, but quickly gained more speed than he bargained for. He dislodged a football sized rock in the snow as he zipped by, and the two flew down the steep gully together – bouncing off small bumps as they went. I watched this unfold with a surprising sense of calm. I knew he was in trouble, but also that he would hang in there, digging his axe into the snow with everything he had, as long as it would take to stop. I’ve seen Emilio stop himself in some wild slides many times – both in practice and in real scenarios, but this one was the most impressive. The issue with his stopping was that the rock he has dislodged now caught up with him. He looked up and I could tell he had no idea what was coming at him; snow caked his face and glasses. The rock hit his hand and sent his axe flying down the mountain. Luckily, he maintained his footing.

Emilio let out a mountain whoop and yelled “Man, I love the mountains!” As Adam and I quickly descended towards him, we caught him trying to bury the bloody snow around him with clean snow. “Where’s that blood coming from?” I yelled. “I’m fine” he replied... Adam and I did a quick cognitive assessment and determined that he didn’t have a concussion. The blood was coming from the back of his hand, where icy sections of snow had taken a good amount of skin off as he was self-arresting. We slowly made our way down the remainder of the gully.

At the bottom, we nursed the hand with clean stream water and Neosporin, then covered it with Gauze, climbing tape, and a crack climbing glove. I tested his mobility and the sensitivity at his fingertips. Everything was ok, spirits were still high, but we were definitely humbled. I think we all were feeling like the most challenging sections of the trip were long behind us, but the lesson was proven - every part of mountain moving requires our full focus. It was an important lesson, and it will certainly stick with us.

          Emilio and his rock, a bit of blood still visible where he buried it


          Emilio’s hand. All in all, not too bad


The hike out Access Creek began with an encounter with a huge and angry (or maybe just frightened?) marmot. Adam was out front navigating the boulder field and spooked it back right at me and Emilio. It charged beneath a rock and popped up about 5 feet from Emilio. “Hey man!” Emilio yelled at it. This thing (in my memory) was about the size of a small golden retriever. The marmot ducked under a rock and popped back up a few feet from me. “HEY!” I’ve done my fair share of yelling off bears, and Emilio and I have had some intense encounters with agitated moose, but this huge marmot’s boldness, size, and its disappearing and reappearing act had us frazzled. We backed out of his area, and he was content to let us walk off. A bit further down we camped in some old growth and got some great sleep.

          Emilio discovered he had a very cool heel flap of skin upon removing his boots on the final day


Day 9:

We awoke, stretched, and ground out the easy trail miles back to civilization. We met the trail crew working hard in the early morning to clear the deadfall on the trail that had given us so much trouble on our hike in. Once back at the car, we feasted on stale chips and hardened cinnamon rolls. A stop at our favorite post-Picket burger joint, Skagit Valley Burger, and we were soon back to Adam’s place in Olympia.

          Shameless gluttony



Final Thoughts:

They say a climbing trip should have 3 goals. 1) To come home safe. 2) to come home as friends. And 3) to come home successful - In that order. So, in that regard, we accomplished our top two goals. They also say, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need”. This trip wasn’t exactly what we had expected or hoped for, but it certainly gave us what we needed in terms of pushing ourselves, learning about ourselves, and learning about the mountains. It also gave us a good amount of beta, and a good amount of confidence for when we return again, hopefully very soon.

Gear Notes:
Doubles of Small cams, a #2 and #3, set of nuts

Approach Notes:
Lots of Snow

Edited by Jake Johnson
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Wicked TR, glad you survived gear failure and the typically crappy early season conditions the Pickets can deliver! 

For future reference, high summer often starts about 7/12 (based on decades of weather data). As you've learned, weather is everything in the Pickets, and a "chance of showers" is almost always worse than expected.

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Thanks for posting. This is a very good report.

Those of us who've been to the Pickets can relate to what you've described. It is one of the wildest places I've ever been, and it feels good to be thoroughly humbled there. Adapting your plans to unexpected obstacles is par for the course there. Glad you all came out without serious injury.

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Great report you guys! You’ll be interested to know that just a couple of days after your attempt, my friends Sam and Lani were able to do The Ridge and the Pole. They found one of your cams and used it extensively. Lani has started a report on Instagram. Again great work up there I’m glad you have your priorities right, Wayne

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On 7/15/2022 at 9:56 PM, wayne said:

You’ll be interested to know that just a couple of days after your attempt, my friends Sam and Lani were able to do The Ridge and the Pole. They found one of your cams and used it extensively.

We didn't realize we had left a cam but upon further examination of the rack, one does appear to be missing! Must have been left behind accidentally somehow - glad they could clean up our litter and make use of it!

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