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[TR] Northern Pickets - Luna, NE Face Fury, Challenger 7/6/2010


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Trip: Northern Pickets - Luna, NE Face Fury, Challenger


Date: 7/6/2010


Trip Report:

Last week jeffh and I had an outstanding 8 days in the Northern Pickets, climbing Luna, the NE Face of Fury, and Challenger. For about the past 3 years I had been trying to put this trip together in June, with various partners enlisted, and always by setting some firm dates and watching the weather refuse to cooperate. This year Jeff and I arranged to leave as soon as we got the first decent long term forecast in June. As most folks know, this year that first great June weather window didn’t arrive until early July. Jeff was fortunately able to stay available, and we drove up from PDX on Monday afternoon, July 5, camping at Newhalem Campground before catching an early water taxi to Big Beaver Tuesday morning.


I’d been in the Northern Pickets several times, but never before July 20. I wanted to see the area earlier in the season, I wanted to climb the NE Face of Fury, wanted to cross Luna Cirque south to north after having done it a few times the other direction, and wanted to head out via Wiley Ridge after having come in that way a few years ago. Even though we ended up not being there a lot earlier (2 weeks) than I had been before, this year we definitely encountered much earlier season conditions. While I’m sure it will be melting fast, the overwhelming theme of the trip was snow – lots and lots of snow. Here and there I’ve added a comparison shot from an earlier trip (most from a July 20-27, 2006 trip with ckouba where we did pretty much this same loop in reverse).


We opted to spend the extra time the first day to get up into Access Creek Basin. It makes for a long day, since it starts with 11 trail miles before crossing Big Beaver Creek and heading up through brush and steep forest to timberline, but it gets a lot out of the way and makes for an easy second day to reach Luna Col.


Our first camp. The snow is a big help climbing up out of the basin.



After a leisurely start the next morning, we reached the col a bit after noon. My biggest surprise upon reaching the col was the amount of snow. Nothing looked at all like it had on previous visits. We hung out a while in the sun, then hiked the easy 45 minutes to the false summit of Luna before enjoying a relaxing evening at camp.


Jeff gets his first view of Luna Cirque



Looking at the Southern Pickets and Luna Col from the slopes of Luna Peak



A similar shot from July 2006



Looking across Luna Cirque to Challenger Arm from the false summit of Luna Peak



A similar shot from July 2006



And our first good look at our prime objective, the NE Face of Fury



The next day was essentially a rest day, descending 2200 feet on snow to Luna Lake. We broke camp at the col at the crack of noon, moved slowly, and arrived at the lake an hour later. Exactly the easy day needed before climbing Fury the next day.


Looking down on Luna Lake from above, both last week and in 2006





Crossing the outlet of Luna Lake to reach our campsite. This actually felt good!



Our site at Luna Lake



Our route the next day, up the lower Fury Glacier and across to the NE Face, and the same view from 2006





The NE Face of Fury doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention, probably less than the nearby North Buttress. I’ve seen a couple of summit register entries for the route from names I don’t know, Lowell Skoog once mentioned he and his brothers climbed it back in the day from a camp on Challenger Arm, Goatboy climbed it several years ago as a later season ice climb, and then there were these guys in June of 2003, who cleverly photoshopped their photos to make it appear that they SKIED the face after climbing it!


I had wanted to climb this route since first seeing it from the North Buttress in 2005. Jeff and I went in with minimal gear and with the idea that we would either have excellent conditions, or we would bail and do something else. We found a route that could not possibly have been in better shape as an early season snow climb. From Luna Lake we ascended the left margin of the Fury Glacier, then made the long, easy traverse across to the face proper. While the face can look intimidatingly steep from the other side of Luna Cirque, it’s really a very moderate and remarkably consistent angle, probably 45-50 degrees. While we found no steep or icy sections, there were some pretty amazing runnels to cross. The route actually takes a diagonal path up the face and requires you to cross one runnel after another. Fortunately, the snow was very consistent, even in the runnels, and we were able to kick great steps all the way. In addition to a standard ice axe, we had each brought a second lightweight Camp ice axe as a second tool. That proved to be a great choice and the conditions allowed plunging the tools pretty much all the way. Very secure, very fun, and absolutely incredible location. The exposure, with the long drop down into the cirque and Lousy Lake, was actually exhilarating with crampons and two tools. But it had to be just a bit nauseating to the skiers, especially with the ice runnels to deal with. Much respect to Ben, Jason and Sky!


Threading through a bit of debris on the easy approach up the lower Fury Glacier



The Fury Snowfinger. A very reasonable summit route and potential direct descent route



Jeff flaking the rope before we moved onto crevassed terrain



Finally out on the face itself. Jeff emerging from the first deep runnel



Jeff below me, and Lousy Lake WAY below him



Looking up at the upper face and the many runnels to negotiate



That’s about how I felt, too. Very near the top now.



Turning the final corner to easier ground near the summit



A Happy Camper tops out!



Make that two Happy Campers



We arrived on the summit to absolutely clear skies and amazing views of the Southern Pickets. Again, the amount of snow on top was a surprise. Normally the highest point on Fury is rock that is well above any nearby snow. This time the snow was higher than the rock. The comparison photo is from early August 2005, when I camped on the summit with my partner Michael Corroone. That rock immediately behind the tent was completely covered when Jeff and I were there. We couldn’t see it at all. The top of that tent would have been under at least a couple feet of snow.






Two more comparison photos, these looking down onto the upper North Buttress and upper NE Face





We made more than a token effort at digging out the register, but eventually realized it was a hopeless cause, and might not even be where I had last seen it. After and hour and a half of hanging out, taking pictures and soaking in the views, we decided to hit the road for camp. I was kinda lobbying for a descent via the Fury Snowfinger, making for a very direct return to Luna Lake. I know Lowell and his brothers did that and it seemed like a very efficient route down. But Jeff wanted to experience the SE Glacier route for later visits, and the cornices near the top of the snowfinger were impressive to say the least. So we took the long way home, which I really didn’t mind at all. It does let you enjoy the Southern Pickets for even longer, and it’s a good route for Jeff to have dialed for future Fury climbs. But it also turned out to be the only time on our trip that the high snow levels didn’t help us. The SE Glacier route has a few sections of fairly steep rock that are actually pretty easy to traverse due to lots of narrow ledges. Covered with snow, though, these areas were just very steep snow sections that demanded care. Very tedious and slow in a few places – more unnerving, really, than climbing up the NE Face had been. We didn’t follow the route all the way to Luna Col, but headed down to the lake at the first opportunity, arriving there 10 hours after we had left that morning.


A very well deserved rest back at Luna Lake



Our next day was a relatively easy crossing of Luna Cirque. While the cirque had been almost completely quiet ever since we reached Luna Col, the bottom of the cirque was piled fairly high with earlier avy debris. That day was really the first time we saw any ice or rockfall, mostly from a hanging glacier section below Swiss Peak. It took us a casual 5 hours, traveling on mostly snow, to reach Challenger Arm, where we again found heavy snowcover. We had planned on climbing Challenger the next day before starting down Wiley Ridge, but we decided instead to head up that afternoon. We left camp at 3 pm and were on the summit 2 hours later. No problems at all on the snow approach right now. We found tracks from either early that morning or maybe the day before, coming from Perfect Pass, but never saw the other climbers. Weather was perfect and we had great views back and down at our path of the past few days. Challenger climbed, all of our main objectives had been accomplished and it was almost literally all downhill from here.


Looking up at Challenger from our camp



Looking back at a route we were really happy to have climbed



Back across the cirque from atop Challenger, both last week and what it looked like in 2006





All the hard work is done and we have an easy few days to leave the range









We enjoyed a pleasant evening and the next morning dawned clear, but soon clouds started building and prompted us to get moving down the ridge a bit earlier than we had planned. Weather was definitely changing a bit. We had hoped for one more night up high with great views into the cirque, and moved camp about 3 hours down the ridge to a nice spot on the crest. Unfortunately, clouds continuously streamed in from the west and obscured all of the summits. We still had a very pleasant afternoon, catching lots of sun breaks, but never got the stellar views of Fury that we were hoping for to end our stay in the high country.


Our last really good look at Fury



Our last camp up high, down Wiley Ridge a ways. Those clouds stayed right there all day long!



That night the wind picked up and put the Beta Light to the test. I had picked the wrong side of the tent and spent most of the night getting pummeled and trying to brace the wall of the tent against the onslaught. Neither of us got a lot of quality sleep time. In the morning we stayed in the tent a while hoping to wait out the wind, but finally accepted defeat and quickly packed up and got down off the crest. Once out of the wind, we stopped for coffee and some breakfast, actually now with some light snow falling. My memory of Wiley Ridge wasn’t as sharp as I’d hoped (I’m getting a bit old…) and we took a while to find the top of the best timber rib to drop down to Beaver Pass. But it eventually went well and we were soon hiking down the Big Beaver Trail to 39-Mile Camp.


Leaving camp in a really cold wind, we pretty much had to toss on all the clothing we brought!



Lower on Wiley Ridge, heading down into the forest and eventually to Beaver Pass



After a bit of drizzle overnight, we started hiking out after a late morning. We had a noon boat scheduled and only 5 and a half easy miles to Ross Lake. It’s hard to imagine a more relaxing way to end such a great trip than walking through the silent and towering old growth forest along lower Big Beaver Creek. We had just enough time at the boat dock to foolishly jump into the incredibly cold lake, but it did feel good to think that maybe we lost a few layers of the sweat, dirt, suncream and DEET that had built up over the past several days.




Well, that was interesting. Now how quickly can I get the hell out of this lake?



Paying proper attention to Post Climb Nutrition



Jeff was an awesome and absolutely solid partner. It was his first trip into the Pickets, he had waited 3 years for this, and he totally appreciated where he was and how lucky he was to be pulling off such a successful trip on his first venture into the range. He’d gone in with very high expectations (mostly from listening to me for the past few years!) and felt that all of those expectations were exceeded. The Fury route was a step up for him in seriousness, but if he was at all intimidated he hid it well and was game for anything. We were in great spirits the whole trip, and I mostly remember just laughing a lot for 8 days. Really good times with a good friend, and as rewarding a Pickets experience as one could ask for.




We saw 2 hikers on the Big Beaver Trail on Day 1, and then saw no one until encountering a trail crew at Beaver Pass on Day 7.





Gear Notes:

30m half rope


Beta Light with betabug - There were enough bugs to make the netting insert worth the extra weight. We spent most nights with just the bug net up.


Ice Axe – We each had one standard ice axe and one lightweight Camp axe to use as a second tool on the Fury climb. Not really necessary for that route, but very handy for added security and we were glad we had them.


Crampons – We both own crampons that allow mixing steel fronts with aluminum rear sections, so we both saved a few ounces by using that combination. Worked very well for the conditions we had, although we would have been fine with just aluminums. We only used crampons on Fury.


Fuel - We took 2 large canisters for our Jetboil, boiling both mornings and evenings, and didn’t tap the second one until the last night. We had expected some snow melting, but were able to find at least a drip everywhere except Challenger Arm. And there we set up a solar thing with a sleeping pad and garbage sack, and had 6-7 liters just in the 3 hours we were off climbing Challenger.


Aquasocks – Don’t leave home without them!




Approach Notes:

Up Access Creek. Down Wiley Ridge.

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Thanks for a GREAT trip Donn! Not only were my expectations exceeded on this outing, they were blown away. What an amazing place to visit and I feel very fortunate to have gotten my first taste of it with an incredible climbing partner. Looking back, even the grunt up Access Creek wasn't that bad, but that might have more to do with the fact that for three years, I had been wanting to do this trip. I'll be sure to let you know how it goes the second time around. Also, thanks for taking the scenic descent off Fury so I would have a better idea of where to go in the future. I know you would have been able to enjoy your cigar hours earlier if we had taken the snow finger but hey, you can never really get enough of those Southern Picket views, right? Plus, think of all that extra side hilling we would have missed out on...


A few thoughts:

I wore tennis shoes on the 11 mile hike up and back on the Beaver Creek trail and loved every minute of it.

Ipod, (is it the 11th essential?)

No matter how cold the lake is, you gotta jump in. Completes the trip. Thanks for not telling me how cold it was after you jumped in first Donn.






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Looks like we were behind you a few days. Saw your tracks up to the false summit of Luna and on top of Fury, but no sign ins in the East Fury or Luna reg. The storm had obliterated your tracks up to the Fury summit so was wonering on the up. Did see some faint down tracks.. The Ne sounds like a nice alternate to the SE Glacier Route (was scenic and easy walking). Though that storm got us at 8000' on Fury for two nights and 6-9" new snow. BTW the Fury reg was on the rocks west side of the summit not buried, even after the snowfall. It was wired with green wire to the rock. Congratulations on a great trip.

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When we signed out we saw that two other parties had started in on interesting traverses, and were wondering how the weather was treating them. There were a couple warm days after we climbed Fury, so I'm not surprised that our tracks were gone, especially with the new snow. Damn, so that register was right in the open, huh? Maybe Jeff can make our entry when he goes back.


I hope your trip was a success in spite of the weather.

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Super awesome. Way good conditions up there. Thanks for the dibs to our ski descent. That was an interesting one with the runnels. The center guy was about 10-ft deep or more and the snow was crap. This year going through there in winter, I should've skied it then. It was 2-ft of powder!!!

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Nice report. Here are some pictures from the climb I made with my brothers Gordy and Carl and our friend Bryon Trott on July 22, 1980.


Here's what the face looked like the day after our climb. Notice how much more ice there was in 1980. We climbed the entire glacier and face starting at the bottom of Luna Cirque. We weren't really trying for a "complete" ascent. This was just the shortest route from our camp on Challenger Arm.




Here's a view up the glacier from low on the climb. Much of the ice in this picture no longer exists.




Here's a shot of Gordy leading the upper face. We were able to kick steps, generally, and didn't hit bare ice. We used ice axes only and didn't have second tools.




As I remember it, the summit was a snow crest, not bare rock. We descended the 1940 Fury Glacier route back to Luna Lake and returned to our camp on Challenger Arm.


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I think you're right that it did fall down.


This is the closest match I had to your climbing photo. You can see the brown rock band that seems to match the band directly above the lower climber in your pic.



Below on the left is a zoom on the towers from your photo, and on the right a zoom on the towers from mine. Looks like that leaner on the left bit the dust sometime in the past 30 years.




And your photo of the ice that existed on the face in 1980 prompted me to find the closest match I had to that shot, and also to scan Tom Miller's photo from 1956 (from his book "The North Cascades"). The scan is a poor one, but looking at the book I can see that the differences from 1956 to 1980 are not nearly as extensive as they are from 1980 to 2010.


My photo from July 2010



Lowell’s photo from July 1980



Tom Miller’s photo from August 1956


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Turning the clock WAY back, here's a photo taken by Othello Phillip Dickert in September 1936, during the first ascent of Mt Challenger. This must be one of the earliest pictures ever taken of Mt Fury. The 1930s were a rather dry period, I believe.




Compare with mine (1980):




And Donn's (2010):





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