2017/7/29-8/6 – Northern Picket Traverse / 橫貫北尖樁

The almighty
The almighty

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Picket traverse = Mount Challenger + Phantom Peak + Crooked Thumb Peak

Logistics Overview
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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

Water taxi ride
Water taxi

Photos from this trip can be found here.

After two short visits to Luna Peak and West McMillan Spire last year, I was eager to get back this season and spend more time in either of the two ranges. Together, two partners and I devised an itinerary dependent on peaks we were interested in and agreed to climb. We factored in more time for a relaxing traverse.

Longest trip for me to be off the grid, and nine days without a proper shower had since been added to my list of new experiences. Constant craving for non-freeze dry food, countless scrapes and bruises were a few among the many things that became memorable. The question of “How much longer?!” never ceased to spin around inside my head.

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

Lush
Lush

Photos from this trip can be found here.

First leg of the approach included an enjoyable, albeit short, boat ride to Big Beaver Campground, followed by a 13-mile trek to Beaver Pass Campground. Glad to have done the approach in running shoes second time on Big Braver trail. Two groups on their way out were the last people we saw till last day of the trip. Early evening at the campground and we had the entire place to ourselves.

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

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Steep southeast ridge scramble with nine days worth of supplies was brutal. Once terrain began to open up after 2000′ of ascent, breathtaking views immediately took our minds off the heavy packs. Glimpses of Mount Prophet and Luna Peak, plus views into the Chilliwack peaks at the 5,700′ bench. There was more to look forward to.

We followed a climbers trail below the 6,200′ bench until it dwindled at 6,600′. Then we negotiated Little Beaver Peak on its steep and slippery south face to the southwest pass at 6,520′. Ridge line cliffed out at 6,920′ above north end of Eiley Lake, and we were forced to descend to the lake on a south-trending gully and negotiated the lake via its south shore along moraine deposits. All the while along the ridge we were treated with incessant views of the Northern Pickets and Chilliwack peaks.

Howdy Chilliwack
Howdy Chilliwacks

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Maintaining an average elevation of 6,800′, we bypassed Point 7049 and negotiated Wiley Lake on its south shore before ascending steep snow onto the east shoulder of Big Beaver Peak. Despite gentle contour lines shown on the map, the precipitous southern aspect of the peak did not look conducive to traversing.

We negotiated the peak from the north, descended steep talus and snow slopes to Challenger Arm at 6,700′. A beautiful evening with gorgeous views to Luna Peak, Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, and Whatcom Peak.

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

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Next morning we roped up and travelled southward on Challenger Arm to the 8,000′ col north of the summit. Right before the col we bypassed the reportedly problematic bergschrund on climbers right without issues. We stashed gear on the col and climbed one steep ice pitch to the arête before summit rocks.

Still roped up, we traversed over the arête, got on rock and scrambled to the base of summit block. Rock shoes came in super handy for the 50′ rock lead up to the rappel station. Two age-old pitons mentioned in reports were seen along the route. Then a short and exposed scramble put us on the summit.

Just then we first took notice of the wildfire smoke creeping in from Ross Lake area. Little did we know, the smoke had actually travelled all the way from the starting of Canadian wildfires.

Hozomeen looming in the back
Looming Hozomeen

Photos from this trip can be found here.

A short summit stay later we reversed the route back down to the col. Crevasses on Challenger Glacier forced us to descend Challenger Arm to 7,200′ before heading west. A rising traverse got us to Mount Challenger Middle Peak’s west col with two gullies separated by a buttress. We rappelled down the gully on climbers right and just barely transitioned onto snow via a receding snow finger.

Our camp at the 6,800′ bench on lower Crooked Thumb Glacier provided excellent views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan at sunset time. And this evening would be the last time we got a clear view of any peaks and valleys. Set the alarm for 1 AM to take night photos, but the buzzing sound was nearly drowned out by the wind gusts started overnight. I quickly peeked outside the tent, and the smoke we saw this morning had overtaken the entire area. 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

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Wind gusts sustained throughout the night and into the crack of dawn. Anne and Dave who shared a tent flattened theirs to reduce wind resistance. Luckily my solo tent withstood the incessant pounding so I didn’t bother to do anything. But by the time we started moving, we had burned much of the morning hours waiting out the wind.

After moving camp to upper Crooked Thumb Glacier at the 7,300′ bench, we had a lengthy discussion and decided to forego Crooked Thumb Peak for the day. Instead, we made good use of remainder of the day moving camp to Point 6148, a knob southwest of Phantom Peak, to get a head start tackling Phantom Peak next 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

Photos from this trip can be found here.

The crux for me on Phantom Peak was the steep snow and ice approach, which my two “skier” partners were naturally more comfortable with. Glad I had packed ice tools for the trip, they came in super handy. A steep snow finger at 7,200′ extended well into the south gully. We roped up and protected with pickets, then transitioned onto rock by the reported bergschrund. Remainer of the climb on rock was fun but extremely exposed. Ridge crest became progressively pointy with every elevation foot gained. On the false summit we set up a hand line and prusiked a short distance to the true summit.

Summit rock was just big enough for one person to straddle comfortably, not to mention the intense level of airiness while straddling, woo wee! We took turns for photos and signed the register, then carefully down climbed back to the false summit. Views certainly would have been much more spectacular sans the smoke. Curvature of ridge lines appeared ghostly under a thick layer of haze, and Luna Peak looked as though it were a castle in the sky.

Picket fence
Picket fence

Photos from this trip can be found here.

From the false summit, we reversed our route back down to snow, then roped up once again with picket protection on the snow finger. Couple loud thumps from underneath had us fully on edge, so we moved even more quickly into the main southwest gully to get the heck out. A long break back at camp, then we spent rest of the day getting back to upper Crooked Thumb Glacier to prepare for next day’s climb–Crooked Thumb Peak.

Day 6 – Crooked Thumb Peak Climb
Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5 > Day 6Day 7 > Day 8 > Day 9

North ridge
North ridge

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Snow approach was much steeper than I had anticipated, perhaps the steepest and the most exposed side traverse. Will power was tested with every careful step taken. I was out of my element and couldn’t wait to get back on rock soon. Transitioning onto rock from terminus of the steep snow finger took some acrobatic moves. Once again thanks to my faithful ice tools for getting through this section safely.

Majority of our day was spent in the northwest gully climbing on rocks of all types of quality–the good, the bad, and the horrible. Later on the way down we realized climbers right would have been a better choice. It was past noon by the time we got to the north col where we finally saw rest of the route. North ridge was steep, chossy, and full of boulders that looked as though they could tumble anytime. We belayed all through this section.

A better sunset
A better sunset

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Knowing this could be a long day, we had planned to bivy below the summit ridge if we couldn’t reach the summit before turnaround time. At the “Land of the Rats and Colossal Boulders,” we finally called it above the reported vertical ledge crux and set up bivy. We watched the hazy sunset amid boulders at dinnertime and turned in after darkness fell. But just as we all settled into our sleeping quarters, a surprise visit from the pesky mountain rats had me on edge all night. My first encounter with these critters on a climb, and I barely got any sleep trying to keep them away from my belongings. Not sure how my partners were able to sleep 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

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Next morning we started moving at the crack of dawn to get through the reported 10-foot vertical crack. We would very much like to have scrambled most of the climb, but massive choss and constant rockfalls had us think otherwise. We belayed our way through to the summit notch onto the summit block. The last 30 feet to the summit we felt comfortable enough to scramble up.

Views on top were even more scarce than those of Phantom Peak. As time went on, more smoke had moved into the area. A short stay on the summit, then we reversed the route down the mountain. Back in the northwest gully, we rappelled in the direction of few slings left by previous climbing parties. Some of the rocks they used to rappell did not look bomber at all, yikes.

Anyone out there
Anyone out there

Photos from this trip can be found here.

It took a while to descend the snow below the gully, but we managed to arrive back at camp shortly after darkness had set in.

Day 8 – Beaver Pass Campground
Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5 > Day 6Day 7 > Day 8 > Day 9

Photos from this trip can be found here.

A long day ahead, as we planned to move as far out on Eiley Wiley Ridge as possible. Back below the west col of Mount Challenger West Peak, we took a scouted out the right gully and it appeared to be a better option. So glad 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 to the Arm through Big Beaver Peak on the way in, so we opted for the low traverse through lower Challenger Glacier. The route worked out fine, but it would’ve been nice to have more snow coverage lower on the glacier by the talus.

Half hour till sunset and we made it back to the 5,700′ bench above southeast ridge. Rather than spending the night up here like we had originally planned, we made use of rest of the daylight to descend the last 2,100′ 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

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Morning came too soon, but 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. He happened to be someone I followed on Instagram last year when he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. I immediately recognized him by his long facial hair and his signature oversize-frame glasses, small world!

Two hours before the scheduled pickup time, we got back to Big Beaver Campground and relaxed by Ross Lake. Even lower elevation couldn’t escape the heavy wildfire smoke, and visibility reached only as far as the eastern lake shore.

Just like last year, the one mile hike uphill to Ross Dam Trailhead was icing on the cake at the end of a long trip.

Photos from this trip can be found here.

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

Access: Big Beaver Trail > Eiley Wiley Ridge
Gear: helmet, ice ax, ice tools, pickets, crampons, rock and snow gear

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