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[TR] 11 Day Pickets Traverse - New route on W Fury (IV, 5.6) 9/15/2014


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Trip: 11 Day Pickets Traverse - W Fury - "Scorned Woman" (IV, 5.6)


Date: 9/15/2014


Trip Report:

After enjoying an amazing 7 days in the Pickets last summer with my high school friend Matt, we made plans to join forces for another trip this year. This time we would head in via Little Beaver to Whatcom Pass, carry over Whatcom Peak, descend to Perfect Pass, carry over the rarely-climbed W Challenger, traverse to Pickell Pass, carry over Swiss and the West & East Peaks of Mt. Fury, descend to Picket Pass, carry over Himmel-Otto Col, descend to Crescent Creek Basin, climb Twin Needles and Degenhardt, and exit via The Barrier and Terror Creek. This was obviously a full agenda, but based upon our successes last year I figured this would be a challenging yet rewarding adventure. It turns out I was sort of right.


In an ideal world, we’d be able to complete this trip in 7 days. Matt told his contact we’d be out for 7 days, but that it was possible to be held up by weather for an additional 2 or 3. But this is the Picket Range, a place where plans and reality seldom agree. Leading up to the day of departure, I intently listened to the weather forecast, using all available resources. The last forecast I got before our departure indicated weather was going to be excellent for the first four days of the trip, then moisture would be moving in for a day or so, then it was to clear again. Weather at that time in our trip would definitely cause us to return late, so we both decided to pack for 9 days just in case.


By some stroke of luck, my friend Mike H informed me that my friends Don B, Carla S, Mike C, and Brett D were going to be heading in to climb Luna Peak on Thursday AM. I contacted Don and asked him if we could share the boat ride up lake. Don was glad to have us on board, and we would all be saving money by filling the boat to capacity. So it was settled – meet at 0815 Thursday at the Ross Lake boat dock.


Matt and I met in Federal Way that morning since I was visiting with my parents in Dash Point. Before meeting the boat at Ross Lake, we dropped off Matt’s car at Goodell Creek, our intended exit route. It took a little more time than we thought to handle all the logistics, and we wound up having to sprint down to the lake to be there right at 0815 sharp. But we made it! Before long, we were being dropped off at Little Beaver landing, and our adventure had begun.


Day 1 – Little Beaver landing to Twin Rocks Camp

15 miles, 1100 ft gain, 500 ft descent


With heavy packs, we set off up the dark, forested valley. Wild mushrooms greeted us frequently, and Matt found a few Chanterelles and Oysters. They looked delicious. We arrived in a deserted Twin Rocks Camp a bit tired from the heavy packs, but eager to get above tree line and happy to find a place to bed down for the night. We saw nobody between Little Beaver landing and Twin Rocks Camp.


Day 2 – Twin Rocks Camp to Whatcom Pass

4 miles, 2500’ gain


I was able to get a weather forecast in the morning that reinforced the one I heard before we left – weather moving in by Sunday night. As we made our way up to Whatcom Pass, the trail became brushier and fairly overgrown. At one point, the trail goes right at a creek crossing, but we missed it and crossed the creek. Immediately after crossing the creek, we saw the flagging upstream on the opposite side. We crossed the creek again back to the trail, but not before getting wet feet from rock hopping on slippery rocks. We stopped to try to dry our boots for an hour or so, and it helped a bit, but feet were still damp. By the time we got to Whatcom Pass, we decided to stay there so we could use the several hours of available daylight to dry out our socks and boots. We did not want to go into this trip with wet feet! Given our itinerary, we would ostensibly be on Fury on Sunday night. In light of this, we aimed to get to Pickell Pass on Sunday, a relatively safe spot to sit out the weather.


Day 3 – Whatcom Pass to Whatcom Peak summit via N Ridge, and down to Perfect Pass

2.25 miles, 2400’ gain


We awoke to beautiful blue skies and no wind, and we got started from camp around 9AM. We made our way up the N Ridge of Whatcom Peak, which was mostly rock with just a small amount of snow remaining (entirely avoidable). The climbing steepened a bit and there were bits of class 4, but for the most part it was exposed class 3 with marginal rock. Before long, we were standing on the summit enjoying the views we came for! Alan Kearney had signed the summit register that morning. In the register, Alan wrote that he was up there photographing the Challenger Glacier as part of an effort to depict glacial recession in action. He will be putting these photos up on his website and comparing them with photos he took in the 70’s. You can check that project out at http://alankearney.com.


After savoring the views for a while and enjoying the warm temperatures and brilliant sunshine, we descended to Perfect Pass in perfect boot-glissading conditions. It took all of 10 minutes to get there.


In camp early, we decided to lounge around and relax. It got hot that afternoon and we sought shade to cool down. As the evening wore on, the moon rose behind Challenger making for excellent photo opportunities.


Day 4 – Perfect Pass to W Challenger summit to Pickell Pass

4.5 miles, 3000’ gain


From Perfect Pass, we headed up the ridge to the glacier. Along the way, we encountered a memorial plaque commemorating the men who died on Firewood One on a SAR mission on the way to Redoubt Peak on September 11, 1980. It was interesting and sobering to see the crash site and find bits and pieces of helicopter on the way up. The setting is sublime. Heather and rock intertwine with small ponds that give way to dramatic views of jagged N Cascades peaks. May these men rest in peace in this beautiful little slice of our world.


The Challenger Glacier is fairly broken up right now, and getting to the true summit of Challenger would be interesting (but not impossible as some recent reports suggest). Still, we weren’t aiming for the true summit of Challenger, we were aiming for the rarely-climbed West summit. Getting to the base of the W summit involved some careful crevasse avoidance and end runs and cramponing on hard ice with aluminum crampons, but it could have been worse.


The route to the summit of W Challenger is best approached from the South to avoid a sketchy, rubble-filled gully on the N side. From the base of the rock it’s about two or three pitches of low to mid fifth class climbing (loose) to reach the summit. On top, we found the original summit register Kodak can with the Fred Beckey first ascent page still in it – all in perfect condition. What a treat.


Rappelling back down the route involved delicate avoidance of loose rock and creative anchor-building skills, as the existing anchors I found left something to be desired.


Continuing on, we descended through a notch between Middle and West Peaks to the glacier below, and traversed the W side of the Northern Pickets over to Pickell Pass.


Days 5 & 6 – Tentbound at Pickell Pass


Sunday night it started to cloud up, and by Monday morning we were in the soup. Visibility was nil when we awoke Monday morning as expected, and it was COLD! I had forgotten how cold it can get in September in the N Cascades. With our route ahead going over W Fury, we needed good weather, so we were prepared to sit it out for 2 days. It didn’t rain at all on Monday, but on Monday night into Tuesday it torrentially downpoured all night with freezing rain. When we awoke Tuesday morning, we had a sheet of ice on our tent. Fresh snow adorned the N flanks of the surrounding mountains. We needed Fury to be without high winds, we needed to have good visibility, and we needed the route to be free of ice-glazed rock. Until these three conditions occurred, I was unwilling to venture forward.


During our stay at Pickell Pass (one of the most remote points in the lower 48 states), we saw nobody. However, we did have an odd-looking airplane fly over us less than 200 vertical feet above our heads. The plane came from Picket Pass, flew low over Pickell Pass, and continued to fly low out towards Challenger and flew directly into a large cloud and disappeared. We didn’t hear any explosions, so hopefully he made it out OK.


Day 7 – Pickell Pass to Swiss Peak


Wednesday morning dawned clear but windy. I would say winds were sustained at 30 gusting to 45. We were cold sitting around in all of our clothes at camp. These were not ideal conditions for being in the mountains – let alone climbing Fury – and so we felt the safest choice was to wait it out and see if the winds would subside. We knew we needed to contact someone back home to let them know we were OK, but we could not get cell phone reception to do so. We were concerned that people would be worried about us back at home, but we didn’t really have a choice.. we were at the very minimum 2 days in from the nearest road. We had a discussion that morning about changing our itinerary to exit via Access Creek, mainly due to uncertainty about the condition of Himmel-Otto col and the need to get out to the road faster so we could contact our loved ones before they could notify authorities of our late arrival.


By about noon, the winds had calmed down enough and the sun had been out long enough to warm up the atmosphere a bit and give us the confidence we needed to continue on. We had listened to the weather forecast that morning and it indicated that warm temps were on their way back and it would be clear for the foreseeable future. So with that, we packed up camp and headed up towards Fury.


I had done an E  W Fury traverse with Fay Pullen in 2009, so I was familiar with the route between the peaks and over to Luna Fury Col, but wasn’t sure about the route up from Pickell Pass. There is a W Ridge route reported by others, and I wanted to get up and take a look at it from Swiss Peak so I could see what we were getting into. So with that, Matt and I climbed Swiss and looked over at the route, and to our dismay the entire N side of Fury was coated in ice and snow. This would make climbing dangerous with our aluminum crampons and light axe, and so we decided to try and find another [new] route. By this time, it was already 3:30PM and we only had 4 hours of daylight remaining. Instead of trying to get up and over Fury today, we would play it safe and camp below the summit of Swiss Peak and get an early start on Thursday morning on a new route I had spied from Swiss Peak. I did not know how involved this route might be, so I wanted to give us all the time necessary. It turns out that was a smart choice.


We bivvied at ~7500’ that night in the basin below Swiss Peak under clear, starry skies. It got so cold our water bottles froze completely solid. I would guess temps dipped into the mid-20s.


Day 8 – Swiss Peak to W Fury Bivouac


We awoke early to a very cold morning. We got a little bit later start than we wanted to as it was difficult to get moving in the colder-than-expected temps. Besides, we wanted a certain snow section on route to soften up before we got to it, as our aluminum crampons would be sketchy on the ice-hard snow. We started up a steep section of mid fifth class rock that eventually laid back to class 3-4. The route then crossed a steep (65 degree) snow finger, before entering into more steep rock just prior to gaining the crest of Mongo Ridge. From the crest, we descended into steep, loose gullies on the opposite side (class 4) that we opted to climb instead of the crest with our heavy packs and rather meager rack. From here, the route is a bit of a blur but we stayed right of the crest of Mongo Ridge, climbing over several very exposed towers along the way to the summit. In all, our route involved about 1000’ of climbing once we left the snow leading up to the col between Swiss and Fury. I would rate our route Grade IV, 5.6.


As it was getting late in the day, we bivvied atop a very exposed tower on the crest of Mongo Ridge, about 200’ below the summit of W Fury. What a spot! I slept tied in, Matt opted to forgo the anchor. Throughout the night, I could hear a snafflehound in the rocks below me and plastic crinkling.


I again tried to get cell phone reception that night, but could not.


Day 9 – W Fury Bivouac to camp below E Fury


When morning came around, Matt found that the little snaffle had stolen his headlamp! Strangely, all of our food remained untouched.


We got going around 8AM from our bivy spot, and carefully made our way over to the summit among loose rocks. We signed the register on W Fury (Fay and I were the last to sign it in 2009), and continued on towards E Fury. It took Fay and I roughly 3.5 hours to traverse the ridge on our 2009 trip, so I was optimistic that Matt and I could climb it in roughly a similar amount of time. What I neglected to factor in was that we had a couple of things conspiring against us. For one, we had to ration our food because we were so overdue. This meant stretching 9 days worth of food into 11 somehow. As a result, we were both extremely low on energy. Also, we were carrying heavy packs. My pack going into this trip was about 75 pounds. While climbing Fury, I would guess it was at least 60. This made for extremely slow going. We eventually made it over to E Fury, but it took about 5.5 hours. By the time we got over to E Fury, we were tired. I tried again to get cell phone service, but I couldn’t get it. Not even a text message would send, despite my phone showing I had 3 bars of reception.


That night we camped about 1200’ below the summit of Fury on some slabs.


Day 10 – E Fury Camp to Luna Camp


We were now in a mad dash to get out to the trailhead before a rescue could be called on us. We left camp and made our way down through Access Creek and out to Luna Camp. I saw a Blackhawk chopper flying over the Pickets and wondered if they were looking for us. We arrived at Luna Camp about 7PM after about 10 hours on the move. Hiking the trail 17 miles out to Ross Dam was not an option until daybreak.


Day 11 – Luna Camp to Home


We awoke early and continue our march out to the lake, hoping to flag down a boat on a busy, sunny September day on Ross Lake. About ½ mile from the lake, we encountered an NPS ranger who asked us if we had seen any bedraggled climbers. I said, “you guys aren’t looking for us are you?”. She held up a picture of both of us and that’s when we knew they were. It turns out Matt’s Dad (rightfully concerned with our late arrival) called the Ranger Station. They made the decision to send out two choppers, a ground team, and the ranger we ran into near Ross Lake. Crap.


In retrospect, Matt and I both dropped the ball on this one. We should have been better at communicating our plan to our loved ones and to each other. My parents (who I usually leave my climbing itinerary with) are in India right now, and could not be contacted. Had they been contacted, I know for a fact my Dad would have said not to send out a rescue. I was carrying a PLB on this trip (a Res-Q-Link) and unfortunately that little tidbit of information was never relayed to the NPS. If they had known that I had a PLB, they would not have sent out a rescue. The problem is, I self-permitted for this trip because we had a boat to catch and a car to drop off, and I never contacted anyone at the ranger station personally. Had I spoke to a ranger at the time I permitted, I probably would have mentioned the fact that I had a PLB with me.


I regret having valuable resources wasted on us. I understand the NPS is working with limited resources, and I feel terrible that this situation occurred. Still, it is a lesson learned and next time both Matt and I will better communicate our plans to loved ones (that are actually inside the country).


This is the first time I have ever been overdue from a climb. It may not be my last, but next time I will have a better plan in place to prevent something like this from happening again.


Thanks to the NPS and everyone involved in the search, and especially Kelly Bush who called my climbing partners seeking information and who went the extra mile to find us. She retired last summer, but still does some orchestration of rescues and other work for the Park. Her expertise and knowledge will be sorely missed.




Mt. Challenger from the approach to Whatcom Pass.


Matt hiking up the Little Beaver Trail to Whatcom Pass.


Meadow below Whatcom Pass.


Mt. Challenger and Whatcom Pass Trail.


Matt hiking above Little Beaver Valley.


Matt stops to appreciate the view of Mt. Challenger.


Moon rising over Eiley-Wiley Ridge.


Little Beaver.


Mt. Challenger from our camp above Whatcom Pass.


Sunset from camp.


Alpenglow on Challenger.


Matt hiking up to the N Ridge of Whatcom Peak.


Matt takes in the views.


Whatcom Peak and the Whatcom Glacier.


Matt on the snow arête on the N Ridge of Whatcom Peak.


Matt scrambling on Whatcom Peak.


Matt scrambling.


Looking down the W Face of Whatcom Peak.


Matt on Whatcom Peak.


Boot glissading down to Perfect Pass.


Baker & Shuksan from Perfect Pass.


Challenger at dusk.




The moon rising over Challenger.


A pond near Perfect Pass at dusk.


Matt at sunset at Perfect Pass.


Matt scrambling up to W Challenger.


Matt looks into the headwaters of Baker River.




Near the memorial site.


The N Cascades.


Matt and Whatcom Peak.


Looking into the headwaters of Baker River.


Triumph, Despair, and Pioneer.


Little Beaver Valley and the Challenger Glacier.


Matt ascending Challenger Glacier.


Matt on W Challenger.


Matt on W Challenger summit.


Matt rappels on W Challenger.


The top of the Challenger Glacier.


W Challenger.


The notch.


Matt downclimbs below the notch.


Matt rappels below the downclimb below the notch.


Matt walking down the S Challenger Glacier.


The S Challenger Glacier.


Matt and the Challenger massif.


Sunset at Pickell Pass.


Spectre and Swiss.


Looking down Picket Creek from Pickell Pass.


Mongo Ridge and W Fury.


Spectre, Swiss, and W Fury.


Matt and camp at Pickell Pass.


Matt hikes above the Goodell Creek headwaters.




Mongo Ridge.


Our bivi below Swiss Peak.


Looking into Goodell Creek from our camp.


Matt climbing a crappy gully on W Fury.


Interesting rock.


One of the several towers along the ridge.


Matt looking tired.


Dusk over E Fury at our bivi site.


Matt at the tower bivi.


Looking down from the tower bivi.


Matt rappels.


The S Pickets.


Matt just below the summit of W Fury.


The register.


Looking back towards the upper ridge.


Luna Cirque.


Matt appreciates the N Pickets.


The S Pickets from the summit of E Fury.




Matt descends Fury Glacier in late season conditions.


Crevasses were not small.


Luna Lake.


Matt on the ridge between Luna and Fury.


Matt looks down on Luna Lake.


Huckleberries were prime!




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Enjoyed this TR. Great write up and pictures. Thanks for posting.


Looks like we almost crossed paths. I rode out that squall, Tues/Wed am last week on Easy Ridge. It was cold, I remember waking up shivering at one point...


The blueberries/huckleberries were thick over 4k...




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Matt had an overstuffed 60L pack with crocs and crap hanging all over the place. I had a Bora 80 loaded to capacity. That part was less than fun, but everything else was pretty sweet.


Yeah the berries were great above 4k. Matt picked like 2 liters full of them and put them in aluminum bottles. He put them in his oatmeal and even made burritos out of them.


Wayne, we did not get on the Pole.

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Nice. I'm sad but not surprised to hear the rock on W Challenger is crap.


By taking a 75 pound pack into the Pickets you must surely win the masochist of the year award. Congrats!


And don't beat yourself up over the rescue. I've yet to hear of a Pickets trip that went entirely according to plan.


BTW, what's your preferred source for alpine weather forecasts? The NWS mountain forecast I'd been using had a page with freezing levels but it doesn't seem active now. Thx.

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Wayne, I am not sure about pitch 93, but I do know you are completely nuts to go in there and solo that thing.


I can probably come up with something for the route at some point. For now I will say the route starts from the snow at ~7400', takes a mid-fifth chimney followed by a steep, scrambly pitch (loose) to the Mongo Ridge crest. From there, we downclimbed 200' into a deep chasm and climbed solid class 4 and low 5th to another notch (~400' gain). From there, we stayed on the crest itself or just to the right of it. There were also 2 dihedral pitches that looked amazing that I wasn't sure would go until I saw the top of them. 5.8ish and solid with what looked to be good pro. That would have avoided the downclimb we made. Our bivy was at a very exposed notch on the crest of Mongo Ridge about 300' below the summit.


Our suffering was offset by ample(ish) provisions.


@Seth .. we looked at that route and it did look amazing. That whole side of the mountain is bad ass and there should be more climbing on it. The rock is so different on that side of the mountain than on the W Face.


@Rad .. My mountain weather source is the Washington State forecast discussion (Google it), the UW MM5, and the NWS.

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Looks like a great trip and great photos! I've been pondering a trip in the pickets for sometime now...


Regarding the late return / emergency response, I would highly recommend the Delorme InReach Explorer...allows you to send and receive text or emails via satellite and it is also a PLB and GPS in a single unit... I've used one this summer and it is exceptional.

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Looks as though I just missed you. Thanks for letting people know about my ongoing one-man human-powered photo project of our Cascade Glaciers. I'll be adding photos from last summer and this year to my glacier blog titled: LOCAL ICE: Photographing Cascade Glaciers Before They Disappear. The blog is at: http://alankearneyphotography.blogspot.com The above photo of the Challenger Glacier was shot in 1992 and in 2014. Red arrows show the snout of the glacier and where more rock is exposed. Hope to see you out there someday. Alan

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Great trip! I was in that area in August but the weather was much more befuddling and we had to alter our plans too. Tried Challenger from the NE but as you pointed out the glacier was pretty cracked up and we ran into major bergschrund/visibility issues. Also had to forego an attempt at Fury because we ran out of time. Heavy packs + not enough food + steep travel + interesting weather = Fun in the Picketts!




trying to find a way around the schrund on Challenger



looking south from Luna Peak

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