Forum Index > Trip Reports > Picket Pass Traverse 2008, Days 4-5, Clouded at Pickell Pass
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Matt
Tea, Earl Grey, Hot



Joined: 30 Jan 2007
Posts: 4022 | TRs
Location: Shoreline
Matt
Tea, Earl Grey, Hot
PostThu Nov 27, 2008 2:09 am 
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Picket Pass Traverse: via Little Beaver Trail, Whatcom Pass, Whatcom Peak, Challenger Col, Phantom Arm, Pickell Pass, Swiss Peak, Picket Pass, McMillan Cirque, McMillan-Elephant Ridge, Stetattle Ridge, Sourdough Trail.
Dates: July 19-27, 2008
Party: Matt Burton, Mike Torok, Billie Butterfield, Paul Bakke

This report covers days 4 & 5 of the trip.  The other parts are
Days 1-3, Into the Pickets
Day 6, To Picket Pass
The rest of the trip will be posted later.


Day 4: South Challenger Camp, Phantom Arm, Pickell Pass

Day 4 Map
Day 4 Map

Morning

The clouds had increased overnight.  A temporary blue patch hovered over our site long enough to dry out the tents.  Then the forces of cloudiness gathered strength and surrounded us completely.

Tents drying out during one of the last sun breaks
Tents drying out during one of the last sun breaks

To Phantom Arm

We set out toward Phantom Arm (the southwest ridge of Phantom Peak, where Mike had camped on a previous trip).  Descending the snow, we sighted Mario’s group disappearing into the clouds and took advantage of the steps they had kicked.

Our path dropped southward to 5600 feet, turned east below the end of Phantom, and climbed back up to cross Phantom Arm circa 6100 feet.  We did not exactly use their tracks back up to the arm, because someone made huge steps that were farther apart than our legs could stretch.  At Phantom Arm we briefly greeted the other group, before they headed onward toward Pickell Pass.

Heading down around Phantom
Heading down around Phantom
Phantom becoming a phantom in the clouds
Phantom becoming a phantom in the clouds
Climbing back up to Phantom Arm
Climbing back up to Phantom Arm
Phantom Arm
Phantom Arm

Phantom Peak – Not

Three of us began a side trip to ascend Phantom Peak, but we didn’t make it very far.  Even getting off the east side of the arm was an unexpected challenge, because the snow had melted back to leave a continuous small rock band.  We wandered out and up on the snow, but couldn’t see any detail of the rock above to orient ourselves, and we turned back.  A more determined effort might have made it to the top, but we were feeling confused and intimidated by the clouds, and we decided to concentrate on getting to Pickell Pass.

To Pickell Pass

Visibility was down to a couple hundred feet, but this segment was navigable by terrain.  The route curved evenly around the basin, dropping a few hundred feet to stay just below the cliffs of Spectre. Watching the compass bearing showed when to angle back up a few hundred feet to hit Pickell Pass.

“Pickell” Pass is actually a convenience name for the Picket-Goodell Pass.  The pass connects the peaks of Spectre on the north and Crowder on the south.  It divides the basins of Picket Creek on the west and Goodell Creek on the east.  Like most passes in the area, it’s approachable on the west, but very cliffy on the east.  When we arrived, the pass had a crest of snow piled high above its west edge, with a narrow band of heather and scrubby trees melted out along the east edge.

At the pass, we found Mario’s group already camped at the verge between snow and heather, and we squeezed our tents in nearby.  The clouds stayed thick around us as they darkened from gray to night.

Departing Phantom Arm
Departing Phantom Arm
Camp at Pickell Pass
Camp at Pickell Pass

Day 5: Pickell Pass

Day 5 Map
Day 5 Map

Yep.  That map shows our entire progress for Day 5.

Options of Weather & Time

The morning dawned still thickly clouded.  We studied maps and calculated our options for time and weather.

Going back would take three days, and was navigable in clouds.
Going forward would take four days, and required visibility both to find our way up to Picket Pass and to find our way out across McMillan Cirque.
Our group had five days of food, which left us one spare day, during which we had hoped to climb Fury from Picket Pass.

So we had the following options:
The Good Option: Clear today – continue as planned.
The Bad Option: Cloudy today and tomorrow – return back via Challenger.
The Questionable Option:  Cloudy today but clear tomorrow – continue to Picket Pass, skip Fury, then gamble on the hope of continuing across McMillan Cirque if skies are clear, versus the ordeal of bailing out down the notorious brush of upper Goodell Creek if clouds return.

By noon, the clouds were unchanged, and our options narrowed.  Today we would stay here, and tomorrow would make or break the traverse.

Parting

For Mario’s group, time and options had already run out.  They had one less day of food, so they packed up and departed back to Challenger Col and an Eiley-Wiley exit.

Both parties together at the camp.
Both parties together at the camp.
Mario’s group departing
Mario’s group departing
Gone into the clouds
Gone into the clouds

Cloudbound:

Now it was just us, waiting at the pass.

We floated in a tiny encapsulated world,
Entirely surrounded by clouds,
Present at the pass,
But disconnected from everything else.


It was an odd interlude, seeming divorced from time and space.

Someplace out there were all the peaks, but they were hidden.  Somewhere further was the rest of the world, but it was doubly distanced, beyond the clouds and beyond the mountains.  Sometime later we would resume our travel, but we didn’t yet know when or where.

The day was an almost restful recess, an indeterminate pause during the course of our trip.  We were unable to see or do anything beyond the immediate environs of the camp.  So we passed the time and waited to find out what might happen.  Just bits of time to sleep, read, eat, wander around, and mostly just watch and wait.

The whole atmosphere was pervasively neutral. The clouds were dim and gray, neither very dark nor very bright.  The temperature was cool, but not too cold.  The air was misty, but not raining.   No sudden winds or storms, just persistent steady calm fog all around us.

We were simply there, surrounded by insubstantial shifting gray, the pass itself our only touchstone of location and solidity.

Cloudbound at Pickell Pass, with tea
Cloudbound at Pickell Pass, with tea

When I experience a place from within the clouds, it creates a unique separate impression of that place, an identity that stays distinct and special, even if I later see the same place revealed and situated in clear weather.

After this day, Pickell Pass will always be:

A narrow isthmus of heather and snow,
Floating in a sea of gray mist,
Dropping toward unfathomable valley depths on each side,
Rising toward hidden mountain heights on each end,
A pass surrounded and bounded by concealing clouds,
A place and time suspended in the middle of the traverse.

Dew Jewels

This cloudy intermission gave me time to notice the gems right underfoot, delicate jewels of condensation decorating the flowers and plants.

Red Heather
Red Heather
White Heather
White Heather
Blueberry Flowers
Blueberry Flowers
Lupine Leaves
Lupine Leaves

Watching & Waiting

In the afternoon, I saw a few faint hints of shapes in the clouds below the pass, but nothing definite.  Toward evening, we began to see more of the slope directly beyond the pass, vague outlines of snow and rock slowly becoming more clear and distinct.  We emerged from our tents to watch and wait for what might be revealed.

One watcher
One watcher
Two watchers
Two watchers
Three watchers
Three watchers

Cloudbreak:

Our vigil was rewarded as the clouds proceeded to open further.
We didn’t see the peaks all at once.
Instead, we were treated to a progressive revelation of the beauty and majesty around us,
Gradually, the clouds broke apart, and the terrain came together,
Coalescing from shadowy isolated bits into a magnificent mountain whole.

If you want to really savor the beauty of a place, there’s no better way than to see it revealed just a bit at a time, discovered in tantalizing, fascinating bits and pieces.

The clouds dispersed slowly, like a giant dance of veils, shifting and thinning to reveal intriguing hints and enticing glimpses of the terrain around us.

At first there were only vague suggestions of the hidden wonders – a faint shadow of a shape, a pale tint of color – shrouded phantom mountains beginning to take form.

Brief windows opened to frame and show off random features of the area – a patch of snow, an outline of trees, an edge of rock– tiny bits sighted far out or high above in the cloudy space, implying the immensity of the landscape that contained them.

Broader swaths of terrain came together, giving more shape and connection to the places – the angle of a ridge, the fall of a stream, the curve of a basin, the point of a spire.

The shapes combined to take on recognizable form and identity – the profile of a summit, the trough of a valley, the arc of a pass.

Especially the arc of a pass, Picket Pass itself, materializing in the distance, lying across the boundary between the thick bed of clouds below and thinning draperies of mist above.

The smaller pieces connected together and combined into a grand range stretching out around us.  High peaks stood outlined above us.  Deep cirques lay spread out below us.

Where there had been blank unknown space, the world had acquired form, depth, and substance.

And all the missing colors returned.  First the monochrome contrast of black rock and white snow.  Then the cheerful blue of the sky and lively green of the meadows.  And lastly, in a fitting climax, the gray clouds and cold slopes took on hues of passionate warmth, lit up in glowing gold and blushing red by the final caress of the sun.

Freed from the concealing cover of clouds, the mountains stood forth in brazen display, splendid and proud in their strength and beauty.

I watched in amazement -- humbled and honored by this thrilling revelation of the range -- mountains sweeping in spectacular majesty around a crest of peaks and passes, climbing in inexorable glory from valley roots to crowning summits.

The amorphous void had become a solid world of monumental land and space.
The mysterious mist had become a crisp horizon of earth and sky.
The dull limbo had become an exuberant celebration of dramatic terrain.
The concealing clouds had become a revelation of beauty and majesty.
The forbidding fog had become an invitation to wonder and appreciation.
This isolated pass had become a pathway to exploration and discovery.

Picket Pass Breakthrough

To my delight, the first major feature to emerge was Picket Pass itself:

Might it be…
Might it be…
Looks like it will be…
Looks like it will be…
Yes! Yes!!  YES!!!
Yes! Yes!!  YES!!!

And, just to make sure we noticed, look at that band of bright light laid right across the pass!

Pickets Unveiled

Fury:

Fury cloaked
Fury cloaked
Fury emerging
Fury emerging
Fury revealed
Fury revealed

Phantom, Spectre, Swiss, Fury:

Phantom & Spectre cloaked
Phantom & Spectre cloaked
Spectre/Swiss/Fury emerging
Spectre/Swiss/Fury emerging
Spectre/Swiss/Fury revealed
Spectre/Swiss/Fury revealed
Phantom/Spectre/Swiss/Fury stitch
Phantom/Spectre/Swiss/Fury stitch

Southern Pickets:

Southern Pickets shrouded
Southern Pickets shrouded
Southern Pickets illuminated
Southern Pickets illuminated

Pickell Pass in Context

Now we could finally see the shape of Pickell Pass and its context of surrounding peaks and basins.

Pickell Pass from the Crowder arm of the pass (see the tents?)
Pickell Pass from the Crowder arm of the pass (see the tents?)
Looking behind at the cairn and route back to Phantom
Looking behind at the cairn and route back to Phantom
Looking ahead for the way off the pass near Spectre
Looking ahead for the way off the pass near Spectre
Pickell Pass Panorama: Spectre to Goodell Creek basin to Crowder to Picket Creek basin to Spectre
Pickell Pass Panorama: Spectre to Goodell Creek basin to Crowder to Picket Creek basin to Spectre

Sunset

The sunset added some final grace notes of drama and color.

Fiery Spectre
Fiery Spectre
Floating Triumph
Floating Triumph
Glowing Southern Pickets
Glowing Southern Pickets
The Goodell Cirque – Fury, Picket Pass, Goodell-McMillan Pass, Southern Pickets, Goodell Creek Valley, Triumph
The Goodell Cirque – Fury, Picket Pass, Goodell-McMillan Pass, Southern Pickets, Goodell Creek Valley, Triumph

Day’s End

Day 5 stats: 0 miles, 0 gain.

The day went nowhere, and it ended in hope.
Clouds remained deep in the valleys, but stars were shining in the clearing skies above.

Nighttime clouds in the Goodell Creek basin and a star over the Pickets
Nighttime clouds in the Goodell Creek basin and a star over the Pickets

Our cloudy captivity had ended…
The way was open…
Tomorrow we would go forward…


Day 6: To Picket Pass

--------------
“As beacons mountains burned at evening.” J.R.R. Tolkien
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BirdDog
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PostThu Nov 27, 2008 9:07 am 
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Matt;

Great TR's, interesting reading. Your pics really capture the personality of the North Cascades. Nice!

--------------
"There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country."
Teddy Roosevelt August 6, 1912
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BeyondLost
Crazy Bob



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BeyondLost
Crazy Bob
PostThu Nov 27, 2008 10:03 am 
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Fantastic! Had me spellbound. up.gif
I love Glowing Southern Pickets and  Southern Pickets illuminated
Bob
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GaliWalker
Have camera will use



Joined: 10 Dec 2007
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GaliWalker
Have camera will use
PostThu Nov 27, 2008 11:43 am 
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Worth waiting for.

Spell-binding prose and the sense of drama, uncertainty and forced inaction really comes through.

Your photos get better and better as the report continues - every scroll down gets more enjoyable.  I think my favorite is "Pickell Pass from the Crowder arm of the pass", but that is closely followed by your "Glowing Southern Pickets" shot.

--------------
'Gali'Walker => 'Mountain-pass' walker
bobbi: "...don't you ever forget your camera!"
Photography site: http://galiwalker.zenfolio.com/
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Don
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PostThu Nov 27, 2008 1:00 pm 
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Very, very nice Matt.  Very captivating.  I really like Glowing Southern Pickets as well.  It looks to me that you were very lucky to "have" to spend a day there and just experience and enjoy the setting.
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Yana
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PostMon Dec 01, 2008 6:30 am 
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Nice, Matt! I like the progression of photos showing how the weather is clearing.

--------------
PLAY SAFE! SKI ONLY IN CLOCKWISE DIRECTION! LET'S ALL HAVE FUN TOGETHER!
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Scrooge
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Scrooge
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PostMon Dec 01, 2008 9:08 am 
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The Earl Grey incantation .........       wink.gif


......... does its job. ........ Nice, Matt.      up.gif  up.gif

--------------
Something lost behind the ranges. Lost and waiting for you....... Go and find it. Go!
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DIYSteve
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mere tourist
PostMon Dec 01, 2008 11:30 am 
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up.gif  up.gif
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DRSpalding
Probably riding MTB



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DRSpalding
Probably riding MTB
PostMon Dec 01, 2008 11:31 am 
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All of the photos are outstanding, but the one with the water droplets all over the lupine leaves is the best of the lot, IMO.  I was cruising through the photos and seeing all of the ho hum Picket shots and the Mt. Fury from the cloud shots, etc., and hit that one and frankly stopped and picked up my jaw.

I think you should get that one out and sell it.  My sister in-law and her hubby have a new photography shop in Leavenworth that I'm sure you could work out a deal with.  Let me know if you want contact information.
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Gabigabs
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Gabigabs
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PostMon Dec 01, 2008 11:48 am 
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Fantastic report. Awesome writing and incredible pics to accompany it. Thank you.

--------------
Life is simple... Eat, Sleep, Hike!
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Grizzy
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PostMon Dec 01, 2008 12:53 pm 
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Gabigabs wrote:
Fantastic report. Awesome writing and incredible pics to accompany it. Thank you.

ditto.gif

One of the best TR I've ever read, and your pictures have always been amazing, thanks very much for sharing this with us...

--------------
All the birds have flown up and gone;
A lonely cloud floats leisurely by.
We never tire of looking at each other -
Only the mountain and I. ~Li Po~
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Tazz
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PostMon Dec 01, 2008 11:36 pm 
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sweet stuff Matt...now i am wanting summer to be here so i can play like that again!!
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dicey
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dicey
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PostTue Dec 02, 2008 12:49 pm 
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Matt,
Thanks for taking the time to write this trip report!



up.gif

--------------
I'm not always sure I like being older but being less stupid has advantages.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/32121172@N00/sets/
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seawallrunner
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PostTue Dec 02, 2008 9:26 pm 
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gorgeous, engrossing.
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Tom_Sjolseth
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PostThu Dec 04, 2008 1:55 am 
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Freakin sweet, Matt!  Having also been socked in at Pickell Pass this past summer, I can appreciate the thoughts that might have been tossing around in your minds.  That's a long way out there (~2 days from any trailhead) to have to routefind your way home in the fog.   doh.gif

Looking forward to the final chapter.   up.gif
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