Picket Range Expedition — Stunning Cascades Climbing
I hope everyone is recovering from the Thanksgiving festivities. As we recover from too much pumpkin pie and hunker down for the start of the winter, let’s take a look at another great trip that happened this last summer. Our Picket Range Expedition is a great, rugged adventure for those seasoned climbers wanting to sample all of the beautiful features of the North Cascades. MM Guide Ian Nicholson and MM veteran Tracey Bernstein took off on this one-of-a-kind expedition this last summer. Check out Ian’s stories below:
“On August 22 I met Tracey Bernstein a long time client and alpine crusher from New York. We drove from Seattle to Newhalem and Goodell Creek campground. Our object was to go into Washington’s famous but rarely visited Picket Range. Why is it rarely visited? Well, we parked our car at 600 feet, our goal for the end of the day, to cross over a 6200 feet pass and camp at 5800 feet. To make matters even more challenging, there is no official trail into the Picket Range, just a famously steep climbers path.
Indications of the trailhead. Ian Nicholson photo
“We hiked along side Goodell Creek which, in any other state, would be a river for four miles, before taking a right off the old road bed onto a climbers trail marked by a famous arrow. We hiked for 8+ hours uphill, sometimes the trail was pretty good, but in other places the trail involved pulling on roots and balancing our way across logs. We reached the 6200 foot col just minutes before dark. Unfortunately a 60 degree bullet hard snow slope separated us from camp. Now in the dark we were forced to build a bollard to rap from (Pay attention in our Glacier Mountaineering Course to this — you never know when you might need it). We rolled into camp, a wonderful flat spot a couple hours after dark with no one for miles.
Steep approach. Ian Nicholson photo
“The next day the weather looked threatening but we decided to dial in the approach getting across the slabs leading to the Terror Glacier and have a go up to West McMillian spire to attempt the west ridge because it is the “easiest” route in the Southern Pickets (but thats saying something because there is nothing “easy”). Rain turned to snow which turned to harder snow, we couldn’t even see more than 20 feet in front of us at times. But we gained the West Ridge notch and thought we would go for it. Occasionally being slammed by wind, ice pellets burning our faces, we battled upward. After a few hours of climbing in unpleasant conditions (to say the least) we made it to the summit!
The stunning Picket Range. Ian Nicholson photo
“We descended back to camp in the pouring rain and ate dinner. The next morning we awoke to more terrible weather and even some snow in camp!!!!
“So we stayed in the tent hoping for the weather to clear which it finally did in the afternoon. To fill the day we read and worked on other skills like crevasse rescue.
Camp before the snow hit. Ian Nicholson photo
“The next day of our trip we got an early start hoping to climb the East Ridge of Inspiration, one of the most famous and sought after routes in the Southern Pickets. Inspiration seems huge with its massive south face but is less than 200 feet wide, an amazing fin of rock that just begs to be climbed. We worked our way back up to the Terror Glacier and after some route finding through crevasses we made it to the base of the route. After 8 pitches just to gain the notch in the ridge we reached the meat of the route.
Unbelievable rock climbing in the Pickets. Ian Nicholson photo
“The first of the crux pitches, a burly lie-back leading through some roofs to some face climbing went down fast. Tracey, a true Gunks climber, cruised this pitch. Then we were met with the route’s signature pitch — the 100-foot solitary 2 – 4 each Indian Creek-style crack, splitting the face on the ridge which is less than 80 feet wide. Rated old school 5.9, it is easily 5.10a or b. Bumping a 3” cam with me for 40-some feet, I punch it to get a couple more pieces in before making the exposed face traverse to the right. Tracey followed working on his OW skills. After this crux pitch, we could see the Northern pickets and the views all around us become even more spectacular. Another 6+ ridge climbing pitches brought us to the summit of Inspiration and one of the best routes I’ve ever climbed in the mountains. We descended the equally slender West Ridge aided by a 120-foot hunk of rope that someone else had gotten stuck. Because these peaks are so infrequently visited, most of the rope on the rap stations was old and we were forced to replace or add new rope. By the time we had made the 10+ raps off the West Ridge, I had already burned 3 cordalletes and a bunch of our newly found rope.
Summit shot! Ian Nicholson photo
“We walked back to camp excited for what we had just accomplished.
“The next day we hiked up to Little Mac Spire (Though named Little Mac, its shortest route is 800 feet of technical climbing) and climbed the SW Arête. The route had some tricky route finding, but the rock and the movement of the route was excellent. For our 9 pitch route, the Beckey Guide had a 2 line description. We made what is likely the first guided ascent of this peak as well as an ascent of a mountain that would surprise me if it has seen less than 15 or 20 ascents. A true adventure in one of the wildest settings in the Cascades. The rap stations looked ancient!
“We descended back to camp and slept well. The last day of our trip we made the brutal hike back down to the car, elated with our fantastic adventure.”
~ MM Guide Ian Nicholson
Old climbing buddies. Ian Nicholson photo