Northern Pickets Traverse – Access Creek to Eiley Wiley
July 14-21, 2009
Crew: Fay Pullen, Tom Sjolseth
After having several partners cancel due to various reasons, including a medical emergency, I sent out a desperate e-mail to my distribution group to entice willing participants to accompany me on a long Pickets traverse. I was intending to leave immediately, since the weather outlook was great for the forseeable future. Initially, I thought it would be impossible to find anyone to accept my invitation on such short notice, and so I was prepared to go it alone. But to my surprise (and delight), Fay Pullen responded with sincere interest.
Day 1 – Seattle to Luna Camp
Fay picked me up at 7AM in Seattle, and we were on our way. We stopped at the Marblemount Ranger Station to get our permit, and then headed to Ross Lake TH where we descended 500’ to get to the Resort phone. We placed a call to the Ross Lake Resort, and the boat arrived shortly thereafter.
On my last Pickets traverse, Sean and I were too cheap to afford the $100 fare for the Ross Lake Water Taxi, so we walked the 7.2 miles from Beaver Landing back to HWY 20. This time, however, I was amazed that this 7.2 mile walk was reduced to a 5 minute cruise!
We arrived at Beaver Landing at 11:15 and immediately started hiking up the Big Beaver Trail. 4 hours later, we were at Luna Camp.
We hit the hay early that night, with a big day up Access Creek in front of us.
Day 2 – Luna Camp to Luna-Fury Col
Access Creek is one of those approaches you only hear bad things about. This is partially justified. Yes, it’s a grunt and there is a lot of thick brush around the creek crossings, but I figured the entire route would be brushy. To my surprise, it was not. For the most part, as long as you can locate the logjam over Big Beaver Creek, and you know to cross Access Creek twice enroute (once at 2800’, then again at 3900’), you are good to go. Really, the routefinding is not that difficult, as you can see major swaths of brush and the corresponding patches of relatively open forest that you travel through to avoid them. But, it’s still steep, and it’s still mosquito-infested, and it is a long way to go cross-country (4 miles, 4800’ gain).
Day 3 – Luna Fury Col to Mt. Fury’s East summit
Our plans on this trip included summits of East and West Fury. Although most people climb to the East summit of Mt Fury, the West summit is actually the highest (true) summit. Fred Beckey’s description in the Cascade Alpine Guide says, “Fury’s West Peak is a unique rugged alpine problem; all routes are long, serious, and complex”. And from an excerpt in the Northwest Mountaineering Journal, Issue 4, “The West Peak of Mount Fury was considered the Last Great Problem of the North Cascades at the time of its first ascent. Attempts to reach the summit by traversing from the East Peak failed repeatedly due to the length and complexity of the route.”
With this info, and very little else, Fay and I were prepared to spend a great deal of time traversing to and from W Fury from E Fury. Because of this, we thought it was essential to give ourselves ample time by starting from a bivy on the summit of E Fury. Not only would this give us the maximum amount of daylight, we would also be able to do something neither of us had ever done before.. bivy atop a summit.
We decided ahead of time, given the splendid forecast, to bring minimal gear. We left the tent at Luna-Fury Col, and only brought pads and sleeping bags. We also brought my pocket rocket stove so we could melt snow for water if needed. And with that, we headed over to Mt Fury’s E Summit. The route to the summit of E Fury is rather tedious, with a lot of up and down along the ridge crest, but the views to the surrounding Picket Range made up for it. I had no beta for the ridge route, other than the knowledge that people stay mainly on the crest. Routefinding wasn’t an issue after we found the right entrance gully. There is an improbable ledge that also apparently works to gain the ridge, but we found the gully to work just fine.
At one point along the ridge, there is a series of steep prominences separating you from Fury’s upper slopes. Apparently, and this knowledge was only gained after the fact, most people drop off the ridge here and traverse a basin that takes you to the lower SE Glacier. But we saw a headwall that appeared to work, and we went for it. It turned out to be loose class 3-4, but it was a lot more direct, and in a great position with great views.
From the top of the headwall, easy glacier slopes led us to Fury’s E summit. The views from here are astounding. We signed the register, noting familiar names, before scrambling down about 40 feet to find two perfect bivy sites which would be our home for the night.
Day 4 – E Fury to W Fury and back to Luna-Fury Col
This was a big day for me. It was big for both of us. W Fury had been on my radar for quite a while, and although the route looked long and tedious from our vantage point, we had the cards stacked in our favor. We left our summit bivys around 7AM, headed for W Fury. We descended the W side of E Fury’s summit block on class 4 rock, then descended a snowfield to gain easy access to the first pinnacle along the ridge.
From the first pinnacle, it was anyone’s guess where to go. The ridge is convoluted, with numerous steep and improbable gendarmes to routefind our way over and across. Ultimately we were able to pick our way through using ledges, aretes, and slabs. We did it all unroped, and felt safe doing so. There were two low fifth-class sections, but they were solid and the holds were outstanding. The remainder of it was [very] loose class 3 and 4. A rope would only serve to bring loose rocks down upon us. There was one section of ridge that we had to rappel on the way over to, and one that we had to rappel on the way back from. Both were very steep and exposed.
After much interesting climbing among stellar views, we reached the summit 3.5 hours after we left our bivys. We were surprised to find out we were only the 16th ascent party on W Fury. The original summit register, left by Warren Spickard, Duke Watson and party in 1958, was still there as it should be. Most surprising to us was the fact that the last 5 ascents were made by the late (and great) Roger Jung. All solo! And the greatest surprise of all was that one of them was in Winter up Goodell Creek. And he summitted on the second day after snowshoeing all the way up Goodell Creek on Day 1. Absolutely astonishing.
After reading the summit register and admiring the views, it was time to head back to our bivy spots. Reversing the route was faster, and we made it back to the E Summit in 3 hours and 15 minutes. We made three raps on the way back, two were out of laziness (we didn’t want to drop down 300 feet to access easier 3rd class terrain).
After picking up our bivy gear, we retraced our route back to Luna-Fury Col, but instead of downclimbing the headwall, we followed footprints back down around the base of the buttress bordering the lower SE Glacier (the traditional route). We got back to camp around 5PM to find two climbers wrapping up their own weeklong trip into the range. They had basically done the reverse of our route, except they didn’t go over to W Fury. They knew Fay’s name from her countless summit register entries, and were happy to meet her. We exchanged beta, and then went to bed to get ready for another big day ahead.
Day 5 – Luna-Fury Col to Challenger Camp (with summit of Luna Peak)
In my quest to finish the Top 100 x P400 list, I had 2 peaks to finish, Luna Peak and Castle Peak. Since Fay had already climbed Luna, I was forced to do it myself on the morning of our busy fifth day. Luna was fairly straightforward, but required some careful climbing between the false summit and true summit. Luna is very loose, and the ridge crest is coated in lichen. The stacked blocks comprising the summit ridge are seemingly teetering on edges. Because of this, I decided to take the easier route on ledges along the upper E face. I wound up overshooting the true summit to find easier terrain, then climbed back to it on class 4 rock. The summit register that Fay placed in 2006 is no longer there.
I returned to camp in a little less than 2 hours after I set out. Fay was getting her things packed, and I joined in the fun. Soon we found ourselves booting down snowslopes towards Luna Lake, and the uninviting abyss beyond. We weren’t happy to be losing so much elevation, but were excited about going over to Challenger, which is one of the most beautiful places around.
We dropped ~3200 feet, almost to Lousy Lake, before traversing tedious moraine slopes below the Picket fence. The map is wrong here, and it appears as if you can stay higher on the traverse, but apparently glacial recession has changed the topography and, thus, route possibilities.
The route up the other side puts you in harms way of looming glacial ice below Challenger. We made quick time through here just in case, even though passing clouds made for cool temperatures. It would certainly be spookier on a hot day.
We gained 2800’ below the E face of Challenger before stopping to make camp on some beautiful slabs (now out of harms way).
Day 6 – Challenger Camp to Challenger summit, and down to Eiley/Wiley Ridge
We awoke, again, to clear skies. Knowing the day would be hot, and that we had a lot of glacier travel to do, we decided to get an early start. We gained 1300’ from camp to the NE Ridge of Challenger on the Challenger Glacier. The snow was firm, making for quick and easy progress. From here, a prominent snow arete led us to the summit block,
Although I had already climbed Mt. Challenger last year, the summit block felt more.. challenging this time. After some antics, I managed to figure out the move again and belayed Fay up. For Fay, this was sweet victory. This was a mountain she thought she’d never climb, and she was delighted to be relishing the views.
Our initial itinerary called for a climb of the W summit of Challenger as well, but complacency and laziness took over and we decided to call it a trip. We had such a great trip already, and the mountain isn’t going anywhere. Plus, it’ll give me an excuse to return yet again.
We rapped back down to the snow arete, and made our way down to Eiley/Wiley Ridge. Along the way, we had a great glissade, and even greater views.
We set up camp on Eiley/Wiley Ridge, just below Pt 6230. We sat around, talking, reliving the last 6 days, and dreaming about future trips. The views from camp were excellent, and when I die, I’d like to be in that spot.
Day 7 – Eiley/Wiley Ridge to Luna Camp
The descent down Eiley/Wiley Ridge went smoother this time, thanks to a) having already done it and b) staying on the crest. Last time I descended this route I stayed below the crest, and I found it tedious and undulating. This time, we were able to avoid brush and bugs by staying high on the crest, and at the same time reap the rewards of the stellar views.
We made it to Luna Camp with sore feet, but a sense of great satisfaction. We accomplished a lot on this trip, and had a great time. After the blisters and mosquito bites heal, we will undoubtedly forget about the pain and suffering ensued at the expense of stellar views and pristine alpine meadows. And soon thereafter, we’ll likely be planning another trip into this little slice of heaven we call the Northern Pickets.
On Day 8, we hiked the last 10.5 miles of trail back to Beaver Landing to catch the water taxi. They seemed to have added onto this trail while we were gone, but we eventually made it back in high spirits, despite the blisters and voracious insects. The only thing we wanted was food, and although Good Food was closed due to a “food shortage” (WTF?), we finally connected with hamburger and fries at Clark’s Eatery.
Thanks Fay, for a wonderful trip. I already can’t wait for the next one.
Nice work you two! Great pics and a fine writeup, Tom!
-------------- "There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." -P.J. O'Rourke
"Ignorance is natural. Stupidity takes commitment." -Solomon Short
beautiful report tom. i particularly enjoyed the underlying enthusiasm of two highly accomplished climbers like you and fay. i think i feel particularly moved by it because i share that enthusiasm, but temporarily do not have the ability to experience it in person. it also felt like i was reading about a small piece of NW history, but as it was developing real-time. thank you.
hopefully we can get out together sometime in the near future! in the meantime, keep up the strong work and congrats on #99!
-------------- man, you go through life, you try to be nice to people, you struggle to resist the urge to punch 'em in the face, and for what?
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