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[TR] Southern Pickets - Ridge Traverse - Little McMillan to Mount Terror 7/14/2013

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Trip: Southern Pickets - Ridge Traverse - Little McMillan to Mount Terror


Date: 7/14/2013


Trip Report:

Sitting at a desk in a flat state does a lot of different things to you. Working long days on the Oklahoma tornado recovery effort was making me fat, and also making me really want to get out and climb. Although I did actually get three days on the surprisingly good granite of the Wichita Wildlife Refuge, it wasn’t enough to keep me from gaining a few pounds or to quench my thirst for rock. Once I knew when I’d be getting back home I sent some emails out and assembled a crew that eventually got down to myself and Matt and we had adopted the rather ambitious goal of the Southern Pickets Ridge Traverse.


I’d climbed an easy route on West McMillan 5 or 6 years ago after getting lost in the clouds on the way to Inspiration and Matt had never been in the range. We loaded up the packs with 5-6 days of food and fuel, light bivy gear, a single 60m rope and a rack to 3 inches, and aluminum crampons and axes (microspikes for Matt) and headed out from Newhalem after picking up permits at the ranger station around 9 AM. The approach was pretty straightforward although hot once we finally broke through the trees. We chose not to drop down all the way to Terror Basin camp and instead made a traverse from just below the saddle on snow crossing above the small tarn and bee-lining it towards the base of Little Mcmillan.


IMG_2683.JPG - The first part of the traverse, McMillan to Degenhardt


P1040485.JPG - The fun approach trail.




I was starting the feel the ~7000 feet of gain so we stopped and I took a short nap at the nicely sheltered island slab of rock at the saddle above the tarn. We finally started simuling up the SE ridge of Little McMillan just as we dropped into the shade. Matt led off on easy terrain and I took over for a ropelength of 5.8 which felt a bit off balance with the pack and loose rock, but I knew I’d adjust to it. I stopped on a nice ledge not far from the summit and Matt took us over the top and along the ridge a short way to a single 30 meter rappel into the notch. Although we were starting to run low on daylight we didn’t see a good bivy option so we continued on over East McMillan (the first moves out of the notch were the worst) and down towards the saddle with West McMillan. Not perfect but we had a snow patch and were able to eek out two flattish spots on the slabs here just in time to get settled without headlamps.


P1040508.JPG - Starting up Little Mac.






P1040527.JPG - On the summit of Little McMillan






Morning came cold but clear (in the shade on the west side of the notch) and we quickly brewed up some coffee and oatmeal and got on our way. We opted for a short rappel into the notch proper to help with a crossing of an icy snow finger and then traversed the north side of the small gendarme in the somewhat tricky snow moat there. In hindsight we would have saved some time and frustration by just going over the gendarme instead of dealing with the icy moat. Soon enough though we were on the South Face/East Ridge of West McMillan and really enjoying the easy climbing but fun exposure there. We popped out right near the summit and had a snack before scrambling down and beginning the tedious process of getting through the East Towers.






For some reason we thought it would be fun to actually top these out so we dinked around with a short roped pitch on Don Tower, scrambled the north side moat and cool knife edge ridge of the second tower, roped up again for the third one, and realized we were really wasting time by the time we traverse on the south face of the ridge to the base of the fourth tower. Here I also started to feel really hot and tired and began to realize I may be coming down with the cold my girlfriend had had a few days earlier. We skipped the short scramble to the top of the fourth tower so I could rest, but still tagged the fifth tower and made a rappel into the notch finally at the base of Inspiration. I led up to the 5.8 pitch on the East Ridge where we decided to take it easy and haul packs for the two short steep pitches since they were fairly straight up. Matt styled the wide crack and hauled the packs while belaying me on autoblock. I enjoyed the stellar 5.9 pitch without my pack and soon had Matt up with the same hauling technique. A bit more simuling and we were smiling on the summit of Inspiration, although much later in the day than we had planned.


P1040552.JPG - The cool knife edge summit of the second tower


P1040565.JPG - Me leading the 5.9 hand crack on Inspiration




P1040584.JPG - Finally on the summit of Inspiration.


P1040588.JPG - Looking for the rap anchors.


It took a bit longer to locate the rap route down the west ridge than we expected having one steep scramble bit between established rappels with our single 60. Once we reached the notch we decided to bivy a bit earlier in the somewhat wind sheltered spot in hopes that I would recover some from my now flourishing cold. We enjoyed the sunset and were even able to get a couple of text messages out on Matt’s phone.


IMG_2755.JPG - Bivy at the saddle.


In the morning I wasn’t feeling much better but we decided to keep going and see what developed. The Southeast Rib of Pyramid was quite enjoyable once we interpreted the route description (head straight over the first gendarme then go left). I took us up to a small notch on the ridge below the summit and Matt led a final pitch right to the top with a fun 5.8 move. We moved on quickly (I may have dropped a C3 up there in my sickly state) and descended a bit before traversing towards Degenhardt. We did some unnecessary loose scrambling when we should have just stuck to the ridge crest, but soon made it to the top only using the rope for a single rappel down the west side.






P1040617.JPG - Popping up to the summit of Pyramid.


IMG_2766.JPG Terror and beyond from Degenhardt.


At this point I was really feeling it with whole body aches, fatigue, fevers and chills, and a sore throat. We were also noticing a few clouds forming in the distance and aware of the 30% chance of thunder storms forecasted from before we left. We continued slowly down the ridge and eventually made it to the flattish crest where the East Ridge of Mt. Terror abruptly juts up. Based on the now enlarging clouds and my poor state we made a team decision make camp here rather than getting into the more difficult territory beyond Mt. Terror and possibly getting caught by the weather there. It was only early afternoon though so after a nap and some food we decided to tag Terror without our packs.


Matt agreed to lead while I huddled and felt miserable. This technique worked for a bit until he threw a large toaster sized rock off at me (or maybe just accidentally brushed it with his leg). Fortunately even when ill I have cat like reflexes and I was able to jump clear as the rock exploded on the exact spot I had been sitting. I clearly could have taken a more sheltered spot but had been enjoying the sun; the shot of adrenaline got me up the pitch anyways and I managed to lead one more before Matt took us to the summit. The summit of Terror was a rather spectacular pile of balanced rocks every way you look; one wonders how the mountain remains standing. We actually found a summit register there (also on West McMillan) and noted about 10 ascents recorded since it was placed in 2011.


IMG_2772.JPG - Matt heads up the East Face of Terror.







We rappelled off an existing anchor and made it back to the ground with 4 single rope rappels and spent some time readying camp for what looked like a stormy night. Matt got out his aluminized bivy sack to attract the lightening and I made a makeshift tarp tent from my tyvek groundsheet and wondered why I hadn’t brought the silnylon tarp for a few more ounces. The night passed with several squalls and some lightening but nothing too severe and we both stayed warm and dryish in our shelters (actually I had to crawl out of my bag several times sweating but I blame the fever). Having learned from weathering the storm on Mt. Stuart last fall with less shelter, I moaned and crawled deeper in my bag when Matt woke me a bit after it got light and let the last couple of squalls blow by before finally rising for breakfast.






The weather and my body weren’t cooperating so we packed up and headed down the convenient snow finger straight from camp to Crescent Basin. We traveled on snow over the Chopping Block ridge and down into stump hollow, almost reaching the trees before the rain hit again ensuring us a wet brush bash as we tried to locate the Barrier descent path for the first time. I took my crampons off and then put them back on in the wet heather and pine needles and stumbled onwards and downwards really feeling like shit. Matt was not enjoying the slippery “trail” much either but we managed to keep up spirits and mostly find a faint path on the ridge crest. We followed this on and off as best we could down to around 3600’ where we found the path dropping off to the left and continued on faint traces. With a little luck and the two of us keeping a sharp watch we actually managed to follow the trail all the way to Terror Creek without any incidents or need for the rope. Matt found us a shaky log that I shamelessly crawled across and I again collapsed for a nap on the river rocks in the reemerged sun.


P1040712.JPG - Heading down the super convenient snow finger (likely totally gone now).


P1040717.JPG - Looking back at next years trip. Terror on the right.





While we hoped that would be it, it took us another 45 minutes or more of heinous bushwhacking to finally find the trail on the other side of the creek and significantly downstream of where we had crossed. Neither of us was in high spirits now but we grimaced and stuck together and finally made it back to the main trail, rested again, and hiked out. Not to let us out without a kick in the pants, the beers we stashed in the river were nowhere to be found with a significant water level increase from the hot weather and then rain storms. Matt came through with some emergency Fireball Whiskey at the truck that I figured was close enough to cold medicine. We had survived at least part of the southern Pickets and had a great time tagging 11 summits along the way.


P1040748.JPG - Lots of log sitting for me, I was spent.


After a couple of days in bed I dragged myself to the doctor and got some antibiotics which finally cleared things up. Although we didn’t get as far as we hoped and I was sort of miserable, it was still a great time with a great partner! We had fun doing half of the traverse and are psyched to come back next year and pick up where we left off with slightly lighter packs.


Major kudos to the (now) 3 parties who have completed this traverse (2 of those tagging the Northern part too). I would actually recommend this shorter traverse or a portion of it as a spectacular “everyman” trip for those who love moderate climbing, bivying high, and can handle a little loose rock! The McMillan spires alone make a fine traverse with an easy descent and if I were up there again for Inspiration I might tack on Pyramid as you are right there in the notch too. I think the east face of Pyramid could be rappelled without too much difficulty or you could continue on to Degenhardt and descend easily to Crescent Basin.


Tons more pics here: https://picasaweb.google.com/104708573545176184583/SouthernPicketsTraverseWithMatt?authuser=0&feat=directlink Images by both of us posted.


Gear Notes:

For the portion we did we were happy with a single 60m rope and roughly a single set of cams to #3 camalot, a couple link cams, nuts, and slings. We took a couple ball nuts instead of pitons, neither was needed. Rock shoes and approach shoes. Aluminum ice axe and crampons were necessary, I think Matt wasn't totally happy with the microspikes for the amount of snow travel we did but they worked. I had a half pad, and half bag plus a belay jacket which worked fine but I wished I had a real tarp when it rained. We weren't super conservative with the stove and a large fuel can lasted us 2 dinners and breakfasts and snow melting for two days with the MSR Reactor, should have collected more water from drips during the day. I ended up with way too much food but we left a bit early and I wasn't eating well being sick.


Approach Notes:

Hike in Goodell Creek ~4 miles and turn right, go up hill 6000' feet. Steph Abegg's Picket Range site was quite helpful: http://www.stephabegg.com/home/tripreports/washington/northcascades/pickets

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Way to persevere! Between snow for walking and snow for meltwater, early season looks like a good way to go.

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Way to persevere! Between snow for walking and snow for meltwater, early season looks like a good way to go.


Yeah, early season is definitely the way to go on this, much easier than stumbling through scree. We didn't make as much use of water en route as we should have but some of those nice snow patches are probably long gone by now. I can't wait to get back in there to do the rest of the ridge past Terror. It looked awesome, and intimidating!

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