Northern Picket Traverse / 橫貫北尖樁

I enjoyed my two short visits to Luna Peak and West McMillan Spire last year. So I wanted to spend more time in the Pickets. Together, my two partners and I devised an itinerary of the peaks we all agreed to climb. But we added more time for a relaxing Northern Picket Traverse.

Mount Challenger the almighty
Mount Challenger the almighty

See more trip photos here.

Northern Picket Traverse at a Glance

Northern Picket traverse = Mount Challenger + Phantom Peak + Crooked Thumb Peak
橫貫北尖樁=挑戰者山+幻象峯+歪拇指峯

Access: Eiley Wiley Ridge 
Round Trip: TBD
Elevation Range: 1600′-8207′
Gear: rock and snow
GPS Track: available

Logistics Overview

July 29 – August 6, 2017

OverviewDay 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5 > Day 6Day 7 > Day 8 > Day 9

Day 1 – Saturday, July 29
Water taxi – Ross Dam Trailhead to Big Beaver Campground
Big Beaver Trail to Beaver Pass Campground
Night 1 – Beaver Pass Campground

Day 2 – Sunday, July 30
Eiley Wiley Ridge high traverse
Night 2 – Challenger Arm

Day 3 – Monday, July 31
Mount Challenger
Night 3 – Lower Crooked Thumb Glacier

Day 4 – Tuesday, August 1
Night 4 – Point 6148

Day 5 – Wednesday, August 2
Phantom Peak
Night 5 – Upper Crooked Thumb Glacier

Day 6 – Thursday, August 3
Crooked Thumb Peak Climb
Night 6 – Land of the Rats and Colossal Boulders

Day 7 – Friday, August 4
Crooked Thumb Peak Summit
Night 7 – Upper Crooked Thumb Glacier

Day 8 – Saturday, August 5
Eiley Wiley Ridge low traverse
Night 8 – Beaver Pass Campground

Day 9 – Sunday, August 6
Exit


Day 1

Water taxi + Big Beaver Trail

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5 > Day 6Day 7 > Day 8 > Day 9

Starting the Picket Traverse by water taxi
Starting the Picket Traverse by water taxi

See more trip photos here.

The Preface on Northern Picket Traverse

This traverse was the most extended trip for me to be off the grid. And I’ve since added the nine days without a proper shower to my list of new experiences. The constant craving for non-freeze dry food, countless scrapes, and bruises was among the many memorable things. Above all, the question of “How much longer?!” always lingered inside my head.

And of course, the trip wouldn’t have been complete without the occasional arguments or bickers over trivial matters. But we all tried our best to laugh things off in the end. So, in turn, I was grateful for my partners to keep me sane and keep me going.

Lush
Lush

See more trip photos here.

Ross Lake Resort Water Taxi

The first part of the approach included a short and enjoyable boat ride to Big Beaver Campground. Then it was a 13-mile, long trek to Beaver Pass Campground. But I was happy to have worn running shoes on the Big Braver trail.

Two parties on their way out were the last people we saw until the last day of our trip. Then we arrived at an empty Beaver Pass Campground in the early evening.

Day 2

Eiley Wiley Ridge high traverse

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5 > Day 6Day 7 > Day 8 > Day 9

A little teaser of Luna
A little teaser of Luna

See more trip photos here.

Northern Picket Traverse on Eiley Wiley Ridge

Scrambling up the steep southeast ridge with nine days worth of supplies was brutal. So I mostly rest stepped my way up the slopes. The terrain eventually opened up after climbing 2000′. Then the breathtaking views instantly took our minds off the heavy packs. Mount Prophet, Luna Peak, and Chilliwack peaks all came into view at the 5700′ lookout. I was looking forward to seeing a lot more!

We followed a climbers’ trail below the 6200′ ledge. Then it eventually dwindled at 6600′. Shortly, we bypassed Little Beaver Peak on its steep and slippery south face. So we could get down to the southwest pass at 6520′. But the broken ridgeline at 6920′ above Eiley Lake forced us off the ridge. We first went down a south-trending gully. Then we bypassed the lake from the southern shore adorned with moraine deposits. We had vast views of the Northern Pickets and the Chilliwack peaks.

Chilliwack peaks on the Picket Traverse
Chilliwack peaks on the Picket Traverse

See more trip photos here.

Mount Challenger of Northern Picket Traverse

We bypassed Point 7049 and then went around Wiley Lake on its south shore. Then we maintained an average elevation of 6800′. Soon, we climbed up steep snow to the east shoulder of Big Beaver Peak. Our maps showed gentle contour lines. But the steep south face of the peak was not conducive to traversing.

But instead, we went down the steep talus north of Big Beaver Peak. Then we followed the snow slopes down to Challenger Arm at 6700′. Beautiful views of Luna Peak, Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, and Whatcom Peak filled the rest of our evening. This campsite was first of our many stops on the Northern Picket Traverse.

Day 3

Mount Challenger

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5 > Day 6Day 7 > Day 8 > Day 9

Good morning
Good morning

See more trip photos here.

The Morning on Mount Challenger

The next morning, we roped up and traveled southbound on Challenger Arm. Then we reached the 8000′ col north of the summit. Some reports mentioned the problematic bergschrund before the col. But we were able to bypass it on climbers’ right without issues. Soon, we arrived on the pass and stashed our gear. Then we climbed one steep ice pitch up to the arête. It was right before the summit block.

We stayed in the rope and then traversed over the arête. Then we hopped on rocks and scrambled to the base of the summit block. Rock shoes came in super handy for the 50′ pitch up to the rappel station. Along the way, we spotted the two age-old pitons mentioned in reports. A short and exposed scramble put us on the summit shortly.

The looming Hozomeen
The looming Hozomeen

See more trip photos here.

Mount Challenger Summit Plus Challenger Glacier

Right then, we noticed wildfire smoke creeping in from the Ross Lake area. Little did we know, the pollution had traveled down from Canada. It was the onset of the Canadian wildfires. We went back down to the col after a short visit on the summit.

Crevasses on Challenger Glacier forced us to descend the arm to 7200′. Then we were able to travel west safely. A rising traverse bought us to the west col of Mount Challenger Middle Peak. Here, a buttress separated the two adjacent gullies. We took the one on the right and rappelled. But we just barely made it onto snowfield over a receding snow finger.

Lower Crooked Thumb Glacier

After some scouting, we found a campsite by lower Crooked Thumb Glacier at 6800′. It offered excellent sunset views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. But this evening would be the last time we saw the faraway mountains and valleys.

The overnight wind gusts drowned out the buzzing sound of my clock. I had set it for 1 AM to take night photos. But when I took a quick look outside and I didn’t see any stars. Then I realized that the smoke we saw this morning had entered the area. So I went right back to sleep.

Day 4

Point 6148 Camp

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5 > Day 6Day 7 > Day 8 > Day 9

Morning of day four
Gusty

See more trip photos here.

A Windy Night Came a Smoky Morning

Wind gusts sustained throughout the night and into the dawn. So Anne and Dave, who shared a tent, flattened theirs to reduce wind resistance. Surprisingly, my solo tent resisted the constant pounding by laying down sideways. So I didn’t have to do anything. But by the time we started walking, we had lost much daylight from waiting out the wind.

Slowly, we moved our campsite higher up to 7300′. Afterward, we all agreed that we needed more time to climb Crooked Thumb Peak. But we didn’t want to sit around and waste more time. So instead, we used the rest of the day carrying over to Point 6148. The high point southwest of Phantom Peak would give us a head start to tackle the peak in the morning.

Day 5

Phantom Peak

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5 > Day 6Day 7 > Day 8 > Day 9

Trench diggers
It gets steeper

See more trip photos here.

Phantom Peak of Northern Picket Traverse

For me, the crux on Phantom Peak was the steep snow right as we entered the mountain proper. However, my “skier” partners were more comfortable getting through this part. Glad I had decided to bring ice tools for the trip. So they came in super handy. A steep snow finger at 7200′ extended down into the south gully.

We roped up and protected with pickets. Then we moved onto the rocks by the reported bergschrund. The rest of the climb on the incredibly exposed terrain turned out to be quite enjoyable. The ridgeline progressively became pointy with every foot gained. So we set up a hand line on the false summit. Then one by one, we prusiked a short distance to the top.

The picket fence on the Northern Picket Traverse
The picket fence on the Northern Picket Traverse

See more trip photos here.

Ghostly Views on Phantom Peak

The summit rock was only wide enough for one person to straddle comfortably. So that was a whole new level of intensity and airiness. We took turns photographing and signing the register. Then we carefully downclimbed back to the false summit. Views certainly would have been much more spectacular without the smoke. The curvature of ridgelines appeared ghostly under a thick layer of haze. Then there was Luna Peak in the background. It looked like a castle in the sky.

Soon, we were getting back down to the snow. Then we roped up again and protected with pickets through the crux. Right then, a couple of loud thumps from underneath set us on edge. So we moved more quickly into the main southwest gully and exited. After a long break at camp, we used the rest of the day returning to Crooked Thumb Glacier. Then we used the rest of the evening preparing for the next day’s climb. Crooked Thumb Peak awaited.

Day 6

Crooked Thumb Peak Climb

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5 > Day 6Day 7 > Day 8 > Day 9

Crooked Thumb Peak north ridge
Crooked Thumb Peak north ridge

See more trip photos here.

Crooked Terrain on Crooked Thumb Peak

The snow approach was much steeper than I had expected. It was perhaps the steepest with the most exposed sidestepping for me. Every careful step tested my will power. But it was even trickier getting from the top of the snow finger up to the rocks. It required some acrobatic moves. I was out of my element. And I couldn’t wait to get back on solid ground soon. Once again, I thanked my reliable ice tools for getting me through this section safely.

We spent most of the morning in the northwest gully. The rocks came in all types: the good, the bad, the ugly. The climbers’ right would have been a better choice. But we realized that on the way down. By the time we got to the north col, it was already past noon. But we were able to see the rest of the route finally. The north ridge was steep and choosy. It also had lots of boulders that looked like they could tumble at any time. So we belayed through the ridgeline.

Sunsetting on Northern Picket Traverse
Sunsetting on Northern Picket Traverse

See more trip photos here.

Land of Rats and Colossal Boulders on Northern Picket Traverse

We had planned to bivy below the summit ridge if we didn’t reach the summit before the turnaround time. At the “Land of Rats and Colossal Boulders,” we finally called it. Then we camped right above the reported vertical ledge crux. At dinnertime, we watched the hazy sunset as we sat boulders. Then we turned in shortly after darkness fell.

We settled into our sleeping quarters under the moon. Then we got a surprise visit from the pesky mountain rats. I was on edge all night long because of it. This climb was my first time encountering these critters. I stayed awake most of the night to keep them away from my belongings. So I barely slept. On the other hand, my partners slept through most of this. Pure talent!

Day 7

Crooked Thumb Peak Summit

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5 > Day 6Day 7 > Day 8 > Day 9

Our camp on the snow
Our camp down below

See more trip photos here.

Crooked Thumb Peak Summit

The next morning, we started moving at the crack of dawn. So we could get through the 10-foot vertical crack. We would have liked to scramble most of the climb. But the choss and constant rockfalls had us think twice. We first belayed our way through to the summit notch. Then from there, we climbed straight up to the summit block. We felt comfortable enough there. So we unroped and scrambled the last 30 feet up to the summit.

Views up here were even worse than Phantom Peak. As time went on, more smoke had moved into the area. So we only stayed a short time on the summit. Soon, we were going back down the mountain. Down in the northwest gully, we rappelled in the direction of anchors left by other climbing parties. However, some of them didn’t feel stable at all. Yikes.

The ghostly view on Picket Traverse
The ghostly view on Picket Traverse

See more trip photos here.

It took us a while to descend the steep snow at the bottom of the gully. But we managed to get back to the campsite shortly after darkness fell.

Day 8

Beaver Pass Campground

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5 > Day 6Day 7 > Day 8 > Day 9

See more trip photos here.

We had a long day ahead of us. So the plan was to move as far on Eiley Wiley Ridge as possible. We took a different approach in getting back up the west col of Mount Challenger West Peak. So we scouted out the gully on climbers’ right.

At the bottom of the gully was a chimney with a right squeeze. But this way ended up being a much better option. So after David first went through the tight space, he then lifted our backpacks with the rope. Then Anne and I proceeded to climb through the narrow passage. Afterward, we continued to scramble up the rest of the way to the col. So glad that it worked!

Back at Challenger Arm, we took a lunch break by the rocks with small pools. None of us cared much for the descent from Big Beaver Peak on day two. Because of this, we opted for the low traverse through lower Challenger Glacier. The route worked out fine, but we would’ve liked to have more snow coverage lower on the glacier.

Outro on the Picket Traverse

Half hour till sunset, and we finally made it back to the 5700′ bench above the southeast ridge. We had initially talked about spending the night on this bench. However, we decided to use the rest of the daylight and descend the last 2100′ back to Beaver Pass Campground.

Sections of the descent were incredibly steep, so we took time to negotiate cliff bands in the dark. We rolled into the campground past 11 PM, and one of us passed out immediately. The two of us got some food into our system and then crashed.

Day 9

Big Beaver Trail + Water taxi

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5 > Day 6Day 7 > Day 8 > Day 9

See more trip photos here.

Hiking Back to Ross Lake

The morning came too soon. However, we were all happy to have spent the night back at the campground to get a head start. We briefly chatted with another camper hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail and then went on our merry way.

The 13-mile hike back to the dock went by quickly through talking and storytelling. Along the way, we ran into another hiker, also hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail. I followed him on Instagram last year when he was working on the Pacific Crest Trail. I immediately recognized him by his long facial hair and his signature oversize-frame glasses, small world!

Back to Highway 20

We got back to Big Beaver Campground two hours before the scheduled pickup time. So we relaxed by Ross Lake for a while. But even the lower elevation couldn’t escape the fire smoke. So the visibility reached as far as the eastern lakeshore. We enjoyed another short and enjoyable boat ride back to the other side.

Now, all that remained was the one-mile, uphill hike back up to the Ross Dam Trailhead. It was the icing on the cake at the end of a long journey.

See more trip photos here.

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5 > Day 6Day 7 > Day 8 > Day 9

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.