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

The almighty
The almighty

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The Lowdown on Northern Picket Traverse

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

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Water taxi ride
Water taxi

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The Preface

I very much enjoyed my two short, separate visits to Luna Peak and West McMillan Spire last year. So this year I was eager to go back and spend more time in the range. Together, my two partners and I devised an itinerary dependent on peaks we had agreed to climb. We factored in more time for a relaxing 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 were among the many memorable things. Above all, the question of “How much longer?!” constantly 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. All in all, I was very grateful for my partners to keep me sane and keep me going.

Lush
Lush

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Ross Lake Resort Water Taxi

The first leg of the approach included an enjoyable, albeit short, boat ride to Big Beaver Campground. Then it was a 13-mile, long trek to Beaver Pass Campground. I was happy to have approached in running shoes my second time on the Big Braver trail.

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

Day 2

Eiley Wiley Ridge high traverse

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A little teaser of Luna
A little teaser of Luna

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Steep Approach to Eiley Wiley Ridge

Scrambling up the steep southeast ridge with nine days worth of supplies was brutal. As a result, I mostly rest stepped my way up the slopes. Once terrain began to open up after 2000′ of ascent, breathtaking views immediately took our minds off the heavy packs. Mount Prophet, Luna Peak, and Chilliwack peaks all came into view at the 5700′ bench. I was looking forward to seeing a lot more!

We followed a climbers trail below the 6200′ bench until it dwindled at 6600′. Then we bypassed Little Beaver Peak on its steep and slippery south face to the southwest pass at 6520′. Then the broken ridgeline above the north edge of Eiley Lake at 6920′ forced us off the ridge. We descended on a south-trending gully and then got around the lake via its south shore along moraine deposits. Along the way, we got endless views of the Northern Pickets and the Chilliwack high points.

Howdy Chilliwack
Howdy Chilliwacks

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At the Feet of Mount Challenger

We bypassed Point 7049 and got around Wiley Lake on its south shore while maintaining an average elevation of 6800′. Then we ascended steep snow onto the east shoulder of Big Beaver Peak. Despite its gentle contour lines on maps, the steep southern aspect of the peak was not conducive to traversing.

So first, we descended steep talus and snow slopes to Challenger Arm at 6700′. Then we bypassed Big Beaver Peak from the north. Gorgeous views of Luna Peak, Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, and Whatcom Peak filled the rest of our evening.

Day 3

Mount Challenger

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Good morning
Good morning

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A Beautiful Morning on Mount Challenger

Next morning we roped up and traveled southward on Challenger Arm to the 8000′ col north of the summit. Just 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.

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

Hozomeen looming in the back
Looming Hozomeen

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Wildfire Smoke Sighting from 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 traveled from the starting of Canadian wildfires.

We reversed the route back down to the col after a quick stay on the summit. Crevasses on Challenger Glacier forced us to descend Challenger Arm to 7200′ 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 then just barely transitioned onto snow via a receding snow finger.

Our 6800′ camp on lower Crooked Thumb Glacier offered excellent views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan at sunset time. The evening would be the last time we got glimpses of nearby mountains and valleys. The overnight wind gusts drowned out the buzzing sound of my clock set for 1 AM to take night photos. I peeked out the tent; the smoke we saw this morning had overtaken the entire area. So I went right back to sleep.

Day 4

Point 6148 Camp

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Morning of day four
Gusty

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A Windy Night Lead to a Smoky Morning

Wind gusts sustained throughout the night and well into the dawn. So Anne and Dave who shared a tent flattened theirs to reduce wind resistance. Luckily my solo tent withstood the constant 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 the upper at 7300′, we decided we needed more time to climb Crooked Thumb Peak. So instead, we made good use of the remainder of the day moving camp to Point 6148. This knob southwest of Phantom Peak gave us a head start to tackle Phantom Peak next morning.

Day 5

Phantom Peak

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Trench diggers
It gets steeper

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Mysterious Phantom Peak

For me, the crux on Phantom Peak was the steep snow approach. However, my “skier” partners were more comfortable. Glad I had packed ice tools for the trip; they came in super handy. A steep snow finger at 7200′ extended well into the south gully.

We roped up and protected with pickets, then transitioned onto the rocks by the reported bergschrund. The remainder of the climb on rocks was fun but extremely exposed. The ridge crest became progressively pointy with every foot gained. So, on the false summit, we set up a hand line and prusiked a short distance to the top.

Picket fence
Picket fence

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Ghostly Views on Phantom Peak

Summit rock was big enough for one person to straddle comfortably, not to mention the intense level of airiness. 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. The curvature of ridge lines appeared ghostly under a thick layer of haze; Luna Peak looked as though it were a castle in the sky.

We reversed our route back down to snow then roped up again with picket protection on the snow finger. A couple of loud thumps from underneath set us on edge. So we moved more quickly into the main southwest gully and got the heck out. After a long break back at camp, we spent the rest of the day returning to upper Crooked Thumb Glacier. Then we rested the rest of the evening for next day’s climb: Crooked Thumb Peak.

Day 6

Crooked Thumb Peak Climb

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North ridge
North ridge

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Crooked Terrain on Crooked Thumb Peak

Snow approach was much steeper than I had anticipated, perhaps the steepest and the most exposed side traverse. Every careful step taken tested my will power. Not to mention the acrobatic moves it required to transition onto rocks from the terminus of the steep snow finger. I was out of my element and could hardly wait to get back on solid ground soon. Once again thanks to my reliable ice tools for getting through this section safely.

We spent the most day in the northwest gully climbing rocks of all types: the good, the bad, the ugly. Later on the way down, we realized climbers right would have been a better choice. By the time we got to the north col and finally saw rest of the route, it was past noon. 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

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Land of Rats and Colossal Boulders

We planned to bivy below the summit ridge if we weren’t able to reach the summit before the turnaround time. At the “Land of Rats and Colossal Boulders,” we finally called it above the reported vertical ledge crux and set up camp. We watched the hazy sunset amid boulders at dinnertime and turned in after darkness fell.

Just as we all settled into our sleeping quarters, we got a surprise visit from the pesky mountain rats. Because of this, I was on edge all night long. This climb marked my first encounter with these critters. So I barely got any sleep trying to keep them away from my belongings. On the other hand, my partners were able to sleep through most of this–pure talent.

Day 7

Crooked Thumb Peak Summit

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Our camp on the snow
Our camp down below

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Crooked Thumb Peak Summit Push

Next morning we started moving at the crack of dawn to get through the reported 10-foot vertical crack. We would have liked to scramble most of the climb, but the 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. However, some of the rocks they used to rappel did not feel bomber at all, yikes.

Anyone out there
Anyone out there

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

Day 8

Beaver Pass Campground

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A long day ahead, as we planned to move as far out on Eiley Wiley Ridge as possible. We scouted out the right gully below the west col of Mount Challenger’s West Peak; it ended up being 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 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.

Half hour till sunset, and we finally made it back to the 5700′ bench above the southeast ridge. We had originally 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

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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!

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 lakeshore.

It was just like last year. The one-mile walk uphill to Ross Dam Trailhead was icing on the cake at the end of a long trip.

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