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[TR] SOUTHERN PICKETS - Vacation of Inspiration and Terror 7/18/2015


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Trip: SOUTHERN PICKETS - Vacation of Inspiration and Terror


Date: 7/18/2015


Trip Report:

Ever since I sprained my ankle on the approach to Inspiration peak in August 2014 and painfully hobbled out to the car, I knew I had to be back to this legendary and remote place.


The place where reality and expectations do not line up, where terrain traps constantly weigh on your mind, the place that just does not let it go until you finally escape it…If you escape it. Fun and scary, wet and cold, never monotonous and always abusive: there would be ice, snow and rocks – solid and loose, moats, screaming barfies, the Aleutian stares, the disbelief stares, rock fall, ice fall, death gullies – we got it all this time. In the New Climate of Eternal Summers, no less.


Back in August 2014 and dreaming of my return:




Dan McNerthney joined me on this trip. It’s been a while - 30 or so years ago – since he has been to the Pickets.


Dan and Pat McNerthney on the approach to Inspiration (early 80s):




This time he was eager to check out the Stoddard Buttress on the north side of Mt. Terror. John Stoddard was his long time partner BITD who put up a solo FA of the buttress exactly 31 years ago: AAJ-Stoddard




Day 1.

After getting the O/N permits for Terror and Crescent Creek basins, we blasted off the Goodell Creek TH with the monstrous 8 day packs in the marginal Wx forecast.


After 4 uneventful miles along Goodell Creek, the main highway to the Southern Pickets begins here:



Finally above the T-line:



First view of the Inspiration group:



At the Terror basin campsites:



Thickening clouds and the last view of the Pickets for the next few days:





Day 2.

Rain, hail and lightning T-storms. Not that you expect anything else. One of our most pleasant days in the Pickets but it’s an acquired taste.


Tent-bound. My tent that never leaked before, did leak this time.


“If you are ever seduced by the wilder and more dramatic charms of some remote, glaciated, major league range, you risk finding yourself incarcerated in a tent, a hostage of the elements, for days…” (Eiger Dreams).


The Aleutian stare:



The sunglasses apparently work great in the lightning T-storms:



Infinity stream:







In spite of the deluge, I ventured outside for a reckon of the “path” to the Terror creek from the Terror basin (last year we did get cliffed out after downclimbing west too soon and ended up soloing some cl. 5/waterfalls – not recommended). I did get cliffed out again this time but backtracked and came across a cairn 1/4 mile away that marks the location for downclimbing the easy benches leading to the Terror Creek crossing. The cairns are a rarity in the Pickets, and one got to respect them.




Day 3.

Raining hard until 2 p.m. The barometer pressure is dropping – not a good sign.

In the afternoon we succeeded to move the camp higher up to the Terror Glacier Icefall below West McMillan Spire.


What a wild spot:





Room with a view - Triumph:



The good thing was this wild spot has a Verizon reception so I was able to get Wx updates from a friend (thanks Bob!). The next day update was for “mostly sunny and 20% chance of precip”. How cool is that?




Day 4.

Attempt of the East Ridge of Inspiration.


This was “mostly sunny and 20% precip” on the Terror Glacier. Back to the tent.





Day 5.

East Ridge of Inspiration – 18 hrs camp-to-camp.


The New Climate of Eternal Summers took its toll on the glaciers everywhere in the Cascades, i.e. expect longer travel times or turn around.


Our circuitous approach (red) and deproach (yellow). The peak is so close but so far.

For the approach, we dropped down on the rock below the Terror gl. Icefall, traversed over to and up the ice ramp (steel crampons!) leading to the shelf between the first and second ice shelves, end run a bunch of crevasses before reaching the moat for the East ridge “approach”:



Finally, some sunshine in the morning felt good for a change:




The normal start of the “approach” to the notch for the East ridge is now blocked by waterfalls. As all of you know, I love climbing waterfalls but only if they are frozen. Too bad - not this time. We chose a dry but harder start to the right; through the roofs and up on the big ledge (40 m pitch).


Dan is changing into the rock shoes after the moat start on P1 of the “approach”:



The second pitch of the "approach" involved 10 feet of loose downclimbing into waterfall, crossing waterfall and getting on the clean and dry white arête to the right (55 m pitch). A good pitch, although I was bitching a lot at the time.


Dan is coming up the second “approach” pitch:



At this point we merged with the standard Cl. 4-easy 5 approach (grass on the right) which was loose and wet.


Finally, we are at the notch for the ridge proper at noon. It is about time the clouds would close in and I instinctively begin to search for the hideout caves. There are a lot of those caves on the East ridge.


The second “5.8” pitch from the notch up the ridge proper now has a loose sharp flake on the left hand start which is ready to come down any time. We did not get rid of it but someone should. The right hand start is solid but harder (10a).


Dan on the ridge proper:



Looking down on the Azure lake and our tent 2000' below:



Dan on the crux P3:



Terror and Northern Pickets from the east ridge:




2 more easier belayed pitches and 2 pitches of simul-climbing on the beautiful ridge crest followed to the summit.


On the summit at 4.30 PM:




The descent down West ridge and the west ridge approach gully was a bitch with a single rope: 13 rappels (two - through waterfalls and suffocating mind-boggling slots) plus downclimbing. It took us freaking forever. It seemed like the most rap stations are set up for the double ropes, while we had to leave gear and tat to replace/build the new ones. Finally we touched down the moat at dusk.


The rope gets stuck in the moat and it took us an hour to free it. Every single thing on that descent was coming together nicely.


The Terror Glacier Icefall at night is not a welcoming place. Really. We were shooting for the second ice shelve and I am fairly sure it is where we ended up. More elevation gain and more wandering with headlamps around crevasses, seracs and moats very close to the Barrier and more downclimbing to the rock bands and then finding our way towards West McMillan Spire. The tent was successfully located at 1 AM.




Day 6.

I sleep in until noon and there is more rain on the way in the PM.

Bob texted me the good news about high pressure coming in for the next 3 days and encouraged to move into the Crescent Creek basin.




Day 7.

“The next 3 days” is a vague term as the rain never stopped until 2 PM the first day. We did however move (or more precisely, “crawl”) over the upper Barrier crossing to the Crescent Creek basin that day. What a retarded idea on my part. I feel the upper crossing should be specifically reserved for those doing Degenhardt-Terror group traverse only. It is a total suck. Not only this crossing is blocked by moats and has more elevation gain on the Terror gl., it is a steep death couloir on the other side (Crescent Creek Basin) without snow.


Dan jumps into the moat off the Terror glacier and leads a wet steep cl. 5 pitch to the left of the standard crossing:





We then re-connected with the easier grassy ramps heading right and merged with the regular cl. 3 route with the abundance of the rappel slings.


Once on the top of the Barrier, the real shit show begun. We did a 30 m rap off the slung boulder into the slot – do not touch anything in there or else it will come down on you or your partner. The most solid parts in the slot are the walls. After some horrendously loose and adrenaline releasing downclimbing, we transitioned and soloed the snow couloir (1000’): 65 deg at the top descreasing to 45 deg at the base. The couloir was nearly 2 feet wide at places with collapsing snow bridges and with a waterfall running underneath and along the sides of the slot. Good luck with that and do not die.


Mt. Terror is finally around the corner so we traversed over to the rock band below its south face and pitched in the tent on a flat boulder next to a waterfall.


Killer sunset views at the Crescent Creek basin:








Day 8.

Stoddard Buttress, Mt. Terror.


We woke up at 4 AM, and headed over to the Himmelhorn-Ottohorn couloir at 5 AM. I know, I know it is late, but I was traumatized by the Barrier just a few hours ago and could not possibly get up earlier. Despite the ball-bearing and ankle-wrecking terrain (tape the ankles, tape the ankles!) as we traversed below the Rake, Twin Needles and the Himmelhorn, this was probably the best part of the approach that day.


Dan heading up to the base of the couloir:



That thing is mean and time-consuming in the current conditions. It reminded me of the CJ couloir on J-burg, but way sketchier at the top.


My facial expression says it all:



When snow/ice at the top transformed into thin jumbled flakes, we roped up (another one of those Pickets “approaches”) and Dan led a sketchy mixed pitch on the left vertical rock wall of the couloir almost to the notch.


After two rappels on the other side and sketchy downclimbing in between, we are finally down in the moat of the Mustard Glacier - vertical alpine ice with the cornice at the top:




I was really happy to have steel crampons, boots and two axes for this one. After I crawled over on the glacier, I rigged a haul off one axe and a Ti-bloc (that step was not very conducive to the approach shoes Dan was wearing) and tossed him my Aztarex which along with the rope successfully get stuck in the moat – the recurrent theme on this trip. Once the Aztarex was recovered and we reunited on the glacier, we headed down on hard snow and blue alpine ice while end-running the crevasses and holes.


At about 6400’, we started traversing over to Terror below the Twin Needles and the Rake: some rocks benches, crossing a million of ridges and waterfalls, downclimbing slabs, more steep snow traversing and downclimbing, plus one steep cl. 5 belayed pitch along the way – in the rock shoes. Tedious and slow. The exhaustion sets in.





The Buttress comes into view. About time – it is 1 PM at this point. In the meantime, I get myself stuck in the Cl. 4 crappy gully which falls down and takes me with it. “It is how people die” crossed my mind as I begun tumbling down the slope. Not sure how far. Probably, not far since I slowly emerge above the rubble like a ghost. Thank gawd, there is no blood anywhere. Which is a good thing, because you really really want to have two functional pairs of extremities to climb the buttress.


Dan is not happy: “John! John, you are f-ing nuts!”

Or may be not, as I bet 31 years ago John did not climb his buttress in the New Climate of Eternal Summers.




We cross the final snow slope that quickly changed into the slow ice slope as we approach the buttress. The base of the buttress is wet with water run offs everywhere. And it is painfully late: after a 9 hr debilitating “approach”, we are about to start a grade IV route at 2 PM. Not awesome.

Climbing was pleasantly easy at first and we simul-climbed to the notch until the first prow blocked the way. Following the rappel, we got to the ledge below the light grey face dividing the Stoddard Buttress and the North Buttress.


We were wigged out by the “approach” and somehow did not pay attention to where we were supposed to merge with the crest again, so we continued up on the clean grey face for a few pitches as it looked more obvious to us albeit had the hardest climbing we did that day: 5.8 – 5.9 with 0 - 3 pieces per pitch. That seemed to go on forever.


Here is the line we took:




Typical face climbing:




Merging with the buttress proper at the top:




The sun however was merging too - with the horizon, as we finally got our asses to the base of the false summit block:




Scored the existing bivvy site next to the snow slope for a few cold hours of “sleep” – a good example of how the New Climate of Eternal Summers changes a grade IV into a grade V:




Terror sunset:






Day 9.

Summit of Terror.


I did not realize that the false summit – the true summit transition is contrived and I am still not positive we got it right.


First pitch on the false summit block in the morning from the bivvy site:




Pitch 2 – a left traversing pitch - stemming (5.8-5.9) through the towers


Pitch 3-4 – mid 5 simul climb on the left trending loose ledge system, and the dead end


200’ class 2 on very loose flakes traversing right to the base of the prominent tower


Pitch 5 – clean face and the roof (5.9) to the top crest of the false summit


Cl. 3 downclimb to the first notch


30 m rappel to the second notch (connecting with the west ridge)



Looking down on the Mustard gl. below:




Cl. 3 to the true summit of Terror.


On the summit:




The Terror summit register is not very crowded, I wonder why:




The descent of the cl. 3 West ridge went surprisingly smoothly until the notch. The orange death gully back to the base of the south side however was the exact opposite: 7 horror show rappels on the rotten rock through waterfalls and loose downclimbing back to the snow.


Happy to survive the Terror:






Day 10.


Descent to the car at the Goodell Creek TH – 12 hrs.


We slept in, packed up and headed to the base of the grey ramp


leading to the saddle to the left of the Chopping block on the rolling boulders, avalanche snowfield, heather slopes. Back on the top of the Barrier (the low crossing, I presume, and way more reasonable than the upper crossing) to some sweet bivvy sites but without water.


Crossing the “Stump Hollow” to 5200’ was the most enjoyable part of the descent but you really want to locate that “trail” on the crest of the ridge. And stick with it for as long as you can. A few steps off that “trail” and your life gets real bad real fast. Somehow, we had a 300’ discrepancy (3800’ – 3500’) between the altimeter and a phone GPS and missed the junction for the steep switchbacks leading down to the Terror creek crossing. Had to backtrack the bushwhack for an hour, oh well.


The log crossing at 2100’ cannot longer be used, but 100’ upstream we just waded through the Terror creek. Crotch-deep, not bad really, but footwear is strongly recommended.


The “trail” on the other side was mostly a hint of it, the going was slow but the orange surveying tape we occasionally stumbled upon was very appreciated.


Final escape from the Pickets (still 4 miles to the car) - back to the same junction where we started 10 days ago but no smiles this time:







Gear Notes:

Alpine rack to #3, doubles #1 and #2 C4.

Beal 8.1 mm x 60 m double dry iceline

Steel crampons

Boots/approach shoes


Approach Notes:

Goodell Creek TH

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Awesome. That brings back some cold, wet memories.


There is nothing easy about the Pickets. Nothing. But perhaps that's what we like about it.


I think if you go on a normal snow year and go earlier in the season you might have a better experience.

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