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first ascent [TR] Northern Pickets - FAs on Middle Challenger and West Challenger 8/5/2009

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Trip: Northern Pickets - FAs on Middle Challenger and West Challenger


Date: 8/5/2009


Trip Report:

Mario, Sandy, Keith, and I (Seth) spent the first week of August in the Northern Pickets. We climbed two new routes:

* Middle Challenger, South Ridge, 1100', 5.7, 5 pitches plus 3rd/4th class terrain (August 5 2009)

* West Challenger, Birthday Route (aka East Ridge), 5.9, 6 pitches (August 6 2009)


On our Pickets traverse last year, we had some killer views of the West side of the Northern Pickets, which left us salivating about new route possibilities. In particular, a photo i'd taken of the South Ridge of Middle Challenger presented an obvious and appealing route. 1100' of vertical from toe to top in a wild alpine setting. A winter of staring at that picture, plus a little encouragement from Wayne (thanks Wayne!) got us motivated to head back in with some rock gear this year.


photo from July 2008 (note that by August the snow band has melted out)



We had more than the usual amount of pre-trip hand-wringing, with injuries, illnesses, family matters, road closures, and forecasts of thunderstorms all weighing us down. But on August 4th we were camped up at Middle Challenger col.


The next day we descended the col to the base of the ridge. The climb began at the toe with fun scrambling on the ridge crest.



Several steps down low presented climbing to 5.7 on cracks and ramps. Here is Keith belaying at the top of one step.



We drifted left of the crest as the climb became steeper, first scrambling 4th class terrain, then pitching out 3 pitches of fun mid-fifth class climbing back onto and up the crest.







Soon we were on top, enjoying the thrill of a vision becoming reality.



Mario (aka "Papa Pickets" on top)




Our attention turned to West Challenger the next day. From our col camp, the East ridge and Southeast face presents a compelling view, with steep slabs split by cracks, amoung outrageous scenery. Would it go for us? We debated back and forth. We decided to give it a go and find out.



I led a first 5.7 pitch on blocks and slabs to the notch at the base of the ridge. After some discussion at the base, Mario and Sandy decided to let Keith and I have a crack at it with the group's two light rock racks combined into one more sizable rack (thanks guys!).


The slab above looked inviting, like Castle Rock set in the Pickets.



I led the pitch, following perfect hand and finger cracks with occasional face moves. Higher and higher, wondering if the route would blank out. But it just kept going. A final fingertip traverse led to a belay on the ridge crest. Wow! I whooped with excitement. This 5.9 pitch would be three stars at any crag, before even factoring in the scenery. Keith followed it, and then basked at the belay notch.





Keith led an airy traverse on the crest, followed by another airy traverse left by me. Here is a photo by Keith of me starting that fourth pitch.



And Keith following it.



Keith led up a clean gully, setting me up for a 5.9 sequence out of an alcove, and then up blocks to the summit ridge. With our lazy mid-day start, we were now running low on time. Our turn-around time was 6pm, and it was... 5:55pm. We tagged the summit at 6.


Here is a picture by Keith of me at the summit.



We set a rappel route down the East face. Three double-rope rappels took us back to our boots and our good friends.



It was quite a way to spend my birthday. And as such, we named it the Birthday Route.


A great team, and a great time. And finally Miller Time at the Little Beaver dock.




Gear Notes:

Gear to 3". Light rack for the South Ridge of Middle Challenger; Medium rack for the Birthday Route on West Challenger.


Approach Notes:

Approached via Little Beaver and the Whatcom Peak traverse. Got quite a smoke show from the Brush Creek fire just West of Whatcom Pass.

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Just great! I had hoped these would be good! They indeed look great. Good for you guys, what a time you must have had, congratulations! Cant wait for the Milkshake Madness and your party Sandy. It should be quite busy this year!

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A long time ago I remember a friend talking about that cirque and describing it as a mini-Bugaboos or Patagonia. Maybe a bit of hyperbole but beautiful none the less. Congratulations, way to make it happen.

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Dox, sadly we brought no hexes!


As for the traverse around Whatcom, it was mostly on slabs and talus. On the way in we got up on the glacier, which was icy and broken. On the way back we skirted below it on slabs, which was quicker. I think the whole thing would be easier earlier season with a bunch of snow to kick steps in over the slabs and talus.

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Solid work on the FAs! We were in the N. Pickets at the same time as your team. We summitted Challenger about the same time you guys summitted (Thurs evening). My partner captured this image of the two of you:




The rest of his photos are here.

Edited by Scramblin' Jim

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Scramblin' Jim, i just got to look through your climbing partner Ethan's photos from your trip, very nice images ! (and looks like a great trip too)


I agree there are more good lines to be had out there on the "backside" of the Northern Pickets!

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That looks like a ton of fun...and I'm sure a fair amount of hard work as well. Very nice!


And check your PMs Seth

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