Mount Challenger West Peak / 挑戰者山西峯

Mount Challenger West Peak could have been part of our Picket Traverse three years ago. But at the time, I didn’t realize that it was also part of the unofficial list. I was overdue for a revisit of the area anyway. Glad the weather was more pleasant than last weekend.

Mount Challenger West Peak one last time
Mount Challenger West Peak one last time

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Mount Challenger West Peak at a Glance

Access: Hannegan Pass Trailhead
Round Trip: 37 miles
Elevation Range: 2700′-8000′
Gear: helmet, crampons, ice ax, ice tool
GPS Track: available
Dog-Friendly: no pets

Logistics Overview

July 10-12, 2020

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

Day 1 – Friday, July 10
Hannegan Trailhead to Perfect Pass (17 miles)
Night 1 – Perfect Pass at 6300′

Day 2 – Saturday, July 11
Mount Challenger West Peak (3 miles)
Perfect Pass to Copper Creek Camp (9.5 miles)
Night 2 – Copper Creek Camp

Day 3 – Sunday, July 12
Copper Creek Camp to Hannegan Trailhead (7.5 miles)


Day 1

Hannegan Trailhead to Perfect Pass (17 miles)

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

Hannegan Pass Trail

I tried climbing the peak two weeks ago. But on my way to Hannegan Pass, I realized I had forgotten my crampons back at the car. By then, I was at mile two, and I didn’t want to add another four miles to the trip. So I decided to do a recon instead.

But this time, I slept at the trailhead and started hours earlier. My goal was to go up to Perfect Pass before sundown. That way, I could exit as far as possible after the climb on day two. It would also make the hike up to Hannegan Pass on day three more relaxing.

Hannegan Pass to Mount Challenger West peak
Hannegan Pass to Mount Challenger West peak

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Chilliwack River Trail

Soon, I went down the other side of Hannegan Pass along the Chilliwack River. Broad views in the basin included a bit of Easy Ridge. But once I walked past the Pacific Northwest Trail junction, the landscape diminished.

The overcast sky made the otherwise warm temperatures more comfortable. Along the way were a few pretty waterfalls in the gullies. It didn’t take long before I reached Copper Creek Camp. So I took a break just as it slowly became sunny.

Entering North Cascades National Park
Entering North Cascades National Park

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Chilliwack River Crossing

At two miles past the camp, I followed a side trail down to Chilliwack River. Glad today the water was only up to my thighs. The camp shoes I remembered to bring this time protected the bottom of my feet. So I could move swiftly through the mild current.

Before I crossed the river, I did some surveying along the shore. There was a big log higher up. But it dipped into the middle of the water. The skinny down tree downstream also didn’t look like it reached the other side to be of any use.

Chilliwack River
Chilliwack River

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Easy Ridge Trail

I took a break on the other side to wring out water from my pants before continuing. Previously, I lost the trail shortly after going through the flat part of the forest. Then I painfully scrambled uphill over down trees before finding the path by the 3850′ outcrops unexpectedly.

But this time, I followed my track and hiked the trail in its entirety. There were still many logs to step over. Views in the forest were also scarce. So it was great to be out of the trees at last. Later I reached on the ridge saddle at 5160′.

There's a trail somewhere
There’s a trail somewhere

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Easy Ridge to Mount Challenger West Peak

Much of the snow had melted since two weeks ago. So it wasn’t as easy to take direct paths through the brush sections in the forest. But I waited to put on crampons on the northern slopes of Point 5988. Soon, I found myself going up the steep north ridge of Easy Peak.

This time with the proper gear, I went up to the top with ease. But going over to the summit on the southeastern end of the peak seemed to take forever. Then from there, I dropped another 200′ to continued toward Point 6553.

Easy Peak, here I come
Easy Peak, here I come

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The Impasse Was a No-Go

Later, I bypassed Point 6553. Then I went down on moderate snowy terrain toward the crux of this trip–The Impasse. After going around the south buttress of Point 7037, I got a close-up view of the deep gorge at 5100′. It was quite impressive and deadly!

The only feasible way to cross the gorge was through the snow bridge below the waterfall. But the two bypasses over downsloping slabs in Steph’s descriptions were both damp and slippery. So I decided I was not ready to go today after some serious thinking.

The Impasse
The Impasse

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Better Route Option

I then picked the other route option and dropped more altitude next to the gorge. But glad I didn’t have to lose 1000′ as suggested in the report. Soon, I crossed the streambed down at the ravine opening. The sight of the crux there was just as impressive.

At 4500′, I began the arduous climb east of the gorge to gain back the elevation. The terrain here was brushy. But I was able to avoid most of it by weaving through nearby cliffs and outcrops. It took a while to gain back 600′.

Below the Impasse
Below the Impasse

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Perfect Pass West Basin

It became dark in the last 500′ to Perfect Pass. The gully in the basin didn’t have continuous snow. Plus, the constant running water underneath made me nervous. So I took the muddy rock ledges on the right. Then I went through short shrubs at the top of the rocks to reach the upper snowfield.

This section felt steeper than the contour lines on the map. And it was a bit nerve-racking to go through it in darkness. But the snow was in excellent condition. So I kept my crampons on for the final 100′ of mixed climbing.

This way to Perfect Pass
This way to Perfect Pass

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Perfect Pass by Mount Challenger West Peak

The dry spots on the pass didn’t look conducive to pitch my tent. So I went up another 50′ on the ridge and found a sandy area to set up camp. Man, what a long day! It was my fifth time in the Picket Range. And there was just no easy way to access the area.

Despite my exhaustion, I was happy to have made it this far on day one. So I could enjoy a short climb and then make the arduous exit. I had hoped to do some night photography. But it was windy. So I ate some food and then slept.

Whatcom Peak above Perfect Pass
Whatcom Peak above Perfect Pass

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Day 2

Mount Challenger West Peak (3 miles)
Perfect Pass to Copper Creek Camp (9.5 miles)

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

Mount Challenger Glacier

The forecast for the day held. So it started sunny with just a tint of haze. I began moving toward Mount Challenger West Peak at a quarter to 7 AM. Then I walked through the edge of Challenger Glacier on a pair of days-old tracks.

Soon, I parted with the path below the lower crevasse. It went toward Challenger Arm, likely climbing Mount Challenger. But I continued southeast and reached the north side of the peak at the top of the glacier. From there, I worked my way over the west notch, aka Solar Pass.

Mount Challenger West Peak awaits
Mount Challenger West Peak awaits

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Mount Challenger West Peak Climb

Later I dropped down onto the southwest snowfield. Then I went up toward the snow ramp to the west of the summit block. The geological term of this type of gully was “dike,” according to the helpful info from trailcatjim. The top of the snow slope ended at 30′ below the notch.

With terrible rocks on the left and a solid wall to my right, I slowly stemmed up to the notch. Then I zigzagged up the west face through class 3-4 ground using ramps and ledges. Soon, I reached the windy summit after a short section of the exposed ridge traverse.

Mount Challenger West Peak summit block
Mount Challenger West Peak summit block

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Mount Challenger West Peak Summit

Mount Challenger marked the northern end of the Northern Pickets. It was just less than half a mile away. Crooked Thumb Peak and Phantom Peak were also along the same ridgeline. We climbed those two on our traverse as well.

Later I saw Mount Fury (both East and West peaks) behind Crooked Thumb Peak. I couldn’t see much of the Southern Pickets. But I could see Mount Terror, Mount Degenhardt, and Twin Needles. Too many peaks around to name them all!

East-to-south panoramic view from Mount Challenger West peak
East-to-south panoramic view from Mount Challenger West peak

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Leaving Mount Challenger West Peak

I enjoyed an hour on the summit. Then I made my way back down to Challenger Glacier. After scoping out the snow, I shortcut through the western edge of the glacier. Then I used one ice ax and one ice tool to go down the steeper slopes.

While on the summit, I looked over to Challenger Arm. But it didn’t look like anyone climbed Mount Challenger today. Back at Perfect Pass, I took some time to marvel at the beauty of Whatcom Peak. What a beautiful peak it was.

Home sweet home on Perfect Pass
Home sweet home on Perfect Pass

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Outro Through Easy Ridge

Since I wanted to go out as far as I could today, I packed up after my break. Then I made my way down into the upper basin by the gorge. But going back down to the bottom of the crux from this side was very time-consuming.

The clouds moved in just as I approached Easy Ridge. Soon, the Picket Range behind me disappeared into the mist completely. Later the drizzle turned into rain just as I went down the other side of Easy Peak.

Finding my way home
Finding my way home

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Copper Creek Camp

I reached Chilliwack River at sunset. Somehow I lost the trail again just before coming out of the forest. But glad that it was still light out when I crossed the water. Once on the other side, it was just two miles back to Copper Creek Camp.

Most of my things were damp. So I had hoped to dry out everything in the open. But then the rain returned right after I set up the tent. So I kept everything inside the shelter instead. Before long, I fell asleep to the sound of the rainfall.

Copper Creek Camp
Copper Creek Camp

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Day 3

Copper Creek Camp to Hannegan Trailhead (7.5 miles)

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

Back to Hannegan Trailhead

I had a restful night. But then I woke up to a cloudy morning. The sun did show up for a few minutes before retreating into the mist. It took a while to pack as most of my belongings were still damp. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the stillness all around me.

Back on Hannegan Pass, I talked to a guy who had just finished the Copper Ridge loop. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it sounded interesting. So I added it to my list as a potential backpacking option.

Thanks for another safe outing
Thanks for another safe outing

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Later, I met several groups of hikers as I made the four-mile hike back down to the trailhead.

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

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