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Picket Range with Mountain Madness

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