Friday, July 18, 2014

AMTL Part 3: Big Wall Climbing and Climbing in the Picket Range

I just returned from a Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership Part 3 course. It began with four days of big wall aid climbing and then moved into the Northern Picket Range in the heart of the North Cascades for an alpine climbing expedition. The aid climbing section started with one day of rain so we headed to Leavenworth to get the basics of ascending ropes. The following three days were hot so we headed to the Index Town Walls and practiced our aid climbing techniques on classic routes such as City Park and Iron Horse. Day 3 was the hottest of all so we found a mossy crack in the shade of the Index Inner Walls and practiced setting up a big wall camp and crawling into to it to sleep.

Day 4 was spent prepping for our trip into the Picket Range. We spent the day learning how to create solid trip plans and tracking down route beta and planning menus. The following day we headed into the North Cascades. It was everything a Pickets Range trip should be, tiring, wet, amazing, scary, beautiful and of course bushwhacky (ok thats not really a word, but you get the idea). This is a very physically demanding trip and I was with two advanced guests so it really felt a lot more like climbing with friends than it did guiding. We started out with the intention of traversing the range from north to south, but after a couple of days bad weather and an unfortunate incident of a dropped and unrecoverable ice axe we shortened the trip and exited via Access Creek.

We parked at the Ross Lake Dam TH and took the boat shuttle from the dam to Little Beaver. The 17.5 miles to Whatcom Pass was done over two days. Our plan of climbing Whatcom Peak via the North Ridge was changed when we saw that it was still covered in a lot of pretty sloppy and wet looking snow. We traversed around the east side of Whatcom Peak the following day via the Whatcom Glacier and summited the peak from the south side. Good snow coverage and nice conditions made this pretty simple. On the way to Perfect Pass from the summit we noticed the change in the weather. We did manage to cross most of the Challenger Glacier with no issues and negotiated the last of the crevasses just as the visibility dropped to near zero. We spent the night at low point between the base of Challenger's East Ridge and Eiley Wiley Ridge.

The following day was not any way improved on the weather front, but boredom and a little spirit of adventure lured us out of the tent and to the summit of Challenger. I am not sure I would have been comfortable doing this without the GPS but it was fun and we got to tag our second summit of the trip. Upon returning from the summit we packed our camp and headed down the Challenger Glacier and into the Luna Cirque. We set up camp on the moraine at the bottom and watched as the clouds lifted and the weather cleared.

The next day we moved camp to Luna Col and enjoyed an amazing sunset and the incredible views that this spot has to offer.

The next morning we made the climb to the summit of Luna Peak. This route is not talked about very highly by any of the guidebooks, but I did not find it that bad. Although there is some loose rock it certainly not the worst the pickets have to offer. Not completing the ridge to the true summit would be a mistake for almost any party, and I highly recommend it.

After returning to camp we packed up our stuff and headed out Access Creek. I had not been down Access Creek before and did not find it that bad. Yea, there is some bushwhacking, and yea it sucked a little bit at the time, but once again, its not the worst the Pickets have to offer. We did not find a good log crossing of Big Beaver Creek so a little crotch deep wading was needed to get across. Attempting to put on my pants, socks, and shoes, with a badly sprained ankle while a billion mosquitos took advantage of my bare skin was probably the low point of the trip for me. Yes somewhere in the Access Creek drainage I managed to roll my ankle to the point that it made lots of crunching and popping sounds. A bunch of athletic tape and some over tightened boots managed to get me the 2 more miles to a campsite on the Big Beaver trail.

The following day with a badly swollen ankle we hiked the 18+ miles to the car.

And now some photos of the trip.

More photos of the trip can be found on my website here:

--Alasdair Turner, AAI Instructor and Guide

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