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[TR] Challenger - Easy Ridge-Perfect Pass 6/10/2015

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Trip: Challenger - Easy Ridge-Perfect Pass


Date: 6/10/2015


Trip Report:

Summary: Mark (mneagle) and I successfully climbed Challenger over three days (June 10-13), persevering through bad weather, navigation issues, and low food supplies. Challenger delivered the goods, a classic North Cascades challenge! For those wanting to go up this year, the Imperfect Impasse was perfectly impassable this year due to low snow conditions. Fortunately, it is possible to descend only ~500' on open talus and then cross the Impasse, rather than bushwhacking the full 1000' to the true base of the Impasse. Also, the bergshrund below the summit of Challenger is easily crossed now.


Details: I've climbed with Mark a few times over the years after we met on CC.com in 2008 and did a whirlwind trip in Yosemite. Our trips are usually filled with plenty of suffering, and lots of climbing. Mark lives in Colorado but was having a sleepless week attending a sleep conference in Seattle (he's a doctor). To climb Challenger, we chose the Hannegan Pass-Easy Ridge-Perfect Pass route, the shortest option possible that fit our three-day timeframe.


On Wednesday we drove up to the Hannegan pass trailhead to bite off some of next days' mileage. Mark didn't have much time at the conference to get food together, so we stopped by REI in Bellingham. In total, I think he got 3 freeze dried meals, maybe 8 packets of gu, and a smattering of bars. "Mark...are you sure that's enough food?" "Sure, it'll be fine." Doctors, not sure how they do it!


After getting to the trailhead at around 8 or so, we hiked 4 miles and bivied at Hannegan Pass. The next morning, we reluctantly descended all of our precious elevation, 5 miles down, down, down the Chilliwack River to the start of the climbers trail up to Easy Ridge. Wait, where was that climbers trail again? Somehow we missed the obvious trail heading off the main trail to the right. After unsuccessfully searching around for the trail a bit, we decided to just bite the bullet and bushwhack straight up Easy Ridge, which sounded like a good idea at the time. We forded the Chilliwack River and plunged into the forest. For 2000' we found the best that the Cascades has to offer: steep slippery duff, forested cliffs, bushes, trees, bushes, and more trees and bushes. Thoroughly scrapped and beaten, we emerged onto the meadowy bliss of Easy Ridge several hours later.


Easy Ridge was, well, mostly easy. We hiked along open heather slopes up and down various knolls, amid small pools reflecting the spectacular mountains around us. There was only one steepish bit of snow leading up to the summit of Easy Peak that we put crampons on for. Near the end of Easy Ridge, we started descending towards our next obstacle, the Imperfect Impasse. We decided to camp in an open basin before the impasse rather than solve this problem with heavy packs on.


The next morning (Friday) dawned with us in a cloud. "I think it's a marine layer, it should just burn off." So we geared up traversed over heathered benches to the dreaded Imperfect Impasse. With high hopes of easy passage, we neared the Impasse, only to find a heinous looking slit in the mist, with 50' dead vertical walls leading to snow at the bottom. Must be the low snow year! In all the pictures I've seen, the snow allows passage to the 3rd class scrambling on the other side. With heavy hearts, we turned and faced the dreaded 1000' elevation drop proscribed to circumvent the Perfect Impasse.


After about 500' of descending, we spied an easy way across the Impasse, saving us the remaining 500' of bushwhacking. Here's the beta: go down open talus along the Impasse to near the start of trees/bushes, scramble easily down a nose of rock to the bottom of the Impasse, and then scrabble 50' up a steep gully of compacted dirt. Once on top of the dirt gully, we headed up steep terrain (some 3rd and 4th class scrambling here) until attaining easy talus leading to Perfect Pass. At this point it started snowing on us (some 'marine layer'), so we hunkered down for an hour or two until the weather started to improve.


At Perfect Pass, we roped up and headed on a high traverse across the Challenger Glacier, and were soon graced with partly sunny skies, giving us our first good views of the day. Thinking we had Challenger in the bag, we headed up several hundred feet of 55 degree hard snow to a rock summit...from which we saw the real summit a quarter mile away. Doh! No matter, we sped over and were at the base of the final summit rock step in 30 minutes. Mark made quick work of the 5.7 step, using only the three solid-looking fixed pitons for protection, and there we were, on the spectacularly airy summit! Hard won!


After that, it only remained for us to reverse everything we had already done. Down from Challenger, down to the base of the Imperfect Impasse, back up to camp, up and down and up and down Easy Ridge, down to the Chilliwack River, up to Hannegan Pass, and then down to the car.




Camping at Hannegan Pass



Bushwhacking up to Easy Ridge



Pools along Easy Ridge



Climbing up to Easy Peak



The Pickets!



Looking towards Challenger from camp






The Imperfect Impasse



Headed across the Challenger Glacier



Climbing up to what turned out to be a false summit



The final summit block



Rapping down



Easy views on Easy Ridge



Looking back at Challenger



Easy on the eyes


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One of these days I'm going to have to go out to Easy ridge on a backpacking trip, so scenic. Thanks for the report!

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It was an incredible trip. Thanks for your psyche on this John. After mostly climbing in Colorado and Utah for the last few years, I had forgotten just how brutal the cascades can be. Note, if you accidentally climb to the 2nd summit in the fog, this is what you will see but don't worry, it's an easy traverse:





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Awesome! Probably a good idea to go early this year.

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Approach beta:


After descending from Hannegan Pass, finding the correct spot to cross the river is key. The right spot to head towards the river is at a well trodden trail the breaks right at a spot close to the river currently marked by a large cairn we built. It looked like the FS had disassembled the cairn before us, so it might not be there. The branch is about 1/2 mile before US cabin camp, close to the river and at a spot with a rocky shore on the opposite side. There is currently a poor tree crossing about 200 feet farther down from where we crossed. Once across, the trail leaves the rocky shore from the upstream end of the shore. There is a large cairn here and the trail is large/obvious. If you make the approach without finding this trail, you will suffer severely. Good luck.

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Good to hear the schrund was crossable. We were in the first week of last August and it was an 30 ft overhanging slush gap. climbing around with a 35 m rope, one picket and a 100 lb 14 year old to belay me did not seem like a good idea. We came in from Wylie-Eylie. I have also done the 1000 ft impass variation. I wonder if you could have done the impass with better visibility? I only learned of it after my giant detour 20 years ago. I thought is was just a rock step and traverse and not in the snow? more beta needed before I try that way again. We also had an old climbers trail all the way up the Easy ridge. Not really any bush wacking just steep NC terrain. Good report and wise of you to go early. Cheers

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