Northern Pickets - Luna Col to Wiley Ridge

North Cascades, Washington

September 2007

David Svilar, Matt S

Editor's Note - this trip report was written two days after this trip for a local climbing forum and is written for a climbing literate audience.  Therefore it will probably be boring to read.


I wouldn't normally bother to post my lame trip reports, but people seem to be interested in the Pickets. There also seems to be some confusion regarding the Luna Cirque, so hopefully this helps someone in the future.

We had about 4.5 days between Smitherman dropping his wife at the airport on Wednesday and picking her up Sunday. He thought 4.5 days was too short for a Ptarmigan Traverse, but thought it was more than enough for the Pickets(??). His desire was for a couple of nights at Luna Col with an ascent of Fury - mine was for a traverse of the Luna Cirque. Negotiations pursued upon arrviving Luna Col and the traverse was on.

Day 1:
Took the rip-off boat ride on Ross Lk to the head of Big Beaver Valley, hiked the 11 miles, and followed Access Creek to the base of Luna Pk. A lovely cairn alerted us as to where to leave the Big Beav trail and a log was placed over the creek for our crossing convenience. We used the instructions in Nelson's guide which worked perfectly - only a short section of slide alder.


Day 2:
We hiked up the hill behind camp and were greeted by the best views of the Southern Pickets I've ever seen. A short rising traverse brought us to Luna Col where we stubbornly spent the afternoon all in the name of camping at the col.

Smitherman at our camp at the head of Access Creek.  Luna Peak towers overhead (foreshortening).


After a $35 boat ride, 11 miles of trail, and several hours of untamed bush we finally got a view.  And what a view!  The classic view of the Southern Pickets as seen from the north.


After spending the afternoon dallying at Luna Col we hiked to the top of Luna Peak for dinner and sunset.  As a satellite of the Pickets, Luna Pk has an unmatched view of the both the Southern and Northern Pickets.  After a summer of turbulent weather it was very rewarding to watch the sunset in such an outstanding place.


We took special care to coordinate our outfits.


From the summit of Luna looking over Luna Cirque and Northern Pickets....  I was searching in vain for something to spice up the sunset when I noticed the sun dropping directly over Challenger which made a perfect opportunity for a sunstar.  Shuksan and Baker in the distance.  Fred Beckey calls this the most intimidating wall in the entire Cascade Mountains.

Day 3:
I climbed partway back up Luna to take some sunrise photos. From the col we dropped down to incredible Luna Lake via slabs using vegetable aid (branches). We're not sure if our route was the best, but am sure this would have been easier earlier in the season with some snow. Like I said, Luna Lake was unbelievable and we both regretted leaving. From Luna Lk down to the bottom of the cirque we expected easy going scree, but ran into the nastiest terrain on our trip. At one point we picked a slide alder patch as our best descent route. This should tell you something about our predicament. After being "cliffed" out in the alder we finally descended the large gully below the Fury Glacier. The gully was a steep pile of sh_t, made even less pleasant by the threat of a glacier hanging overhead. With a bit more snow we could have gone all the way up against the cliffs on the lower part of Fury for a safer and saner descent. After crossing the bottom of the cirque on the glacier we crossed over two lateral moraines, the first of which provided us some more fun on massive teetering boulders.
We finally started up underneath Challenger crossing a waterfall in an obvious spot (coming from the cirque) and stayed just above treeline - side-hilling our way to a small ridge that we followed vertically to the Challenger Glacier and our camp.

Panorama of the entire Picket Range at dawn from above Luna Col.  A more rugged and wild place does not exist in the lower 48 states.


Fall colors were just starting to show in mid September.  The "Earth Shadow" causes the pink sky.


After a successful morning shooting photos I dug in for some porridge.  In the name of saving time we skipped climbing Fury (background) and started off on a long day toward Challenger Camp.


Approaching the glacier-blue waters of Luna Lake.


Icebergs floating at the outlet of Luna Lake.  The cirque is also known as the deepest hole in the Cascades.  True enough, my fancy wide angle lens could barely fit it all in.  Matt and I - between the two of us have visited some of the world's biggest mountains Himalayas, Andes, Alaska - agreed that this was one of the most impressive places we'd ever visited.


Our route into the cirque from camp below Luna Pk.


And the route we were about to take to the Challenger Glacier.


Looking up at Challenger from camp.

Day 4
Because of time we opted to not climb Challenger (ouch). From our camp on a rock island we headed around point 7374 opting for the glacier (again using Nelson's guide). To our surprise we ran into some 45 degree snow which forced us into a belay. At this time of year going directly over point 7374 would have been much easier. Next up was Wiley, then Eiley Lake where we got a little too comfortable. From this point we followed Nelson's guide to a tee... except for the steep heather. We crossed the steep heather hillside too high (6450') instead of the suggested 6300'. The heather became nearly vertical and both of us tried not to think about an un-glorious death tumbling down a heather covered hillside. The descent off of Wiley Ridge back to the Big Beaver trail was steep, but the bushwhacking was nearly non-existent. Except for our steep heather mistake this was an easy way to Challenger by Picket standards. We camped at Luna Camp.

A bank of clouds filled the valley below when we awoke.  Mt Whatcom is prominent and Shuksan can be seen to the left.


Smitherman lords over the valley.  We reluctantly broke camp without climbing Challenger and made the long journey along the Eiley/Wiley Ridge.


Leaving Challenger behind.


Challenger just kept looking better the farther we were away.  It's large glacier and spiky summits makes it, in my opinion, one of the most impressive peaks in the Cascades.

Day 4.5
Luna Camp to the Big Beaver dock. Our boat was on time and Smitherman was back at the airport to pick up his wife and I arrived back on my island in time to catch Sunday Night Football.

This trip has be one of the most scenic in the entire range. The views of the Pickets were changing, yet absolutely dramatic the entire way. Next time I'll do it earlier in the season as a bit of snow would make the going easier. I'll also set aside at least 6-7 days for more climbing and any weather issues.

Gear Notes:
30 meter glacier rope, 2 pickets, ice axe, crampons

Gear MVP = trekking pole, especially on the steep heather sections

The water taxi drops us at the dock on Ross Lake.  The rain started shortly after signaling the beginning of one of the ugliest fall/winter/spring in recent memory.  The weather was as perfect as our trip.

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