Adventure in the Northern Pickets
The following six photos show Luna Peak from various angles. The typical view of Luna is from the north to west.
The Pickets epitomize the ruggedness and jagged glaciated beauty of the North Cascades. They are not only hard to get into, but boast of some of the most challenging alpine traversing and climbing in the North Cascades. So, naturally, when I began planning my summer adventures shortly after Christmas, the Pickets were first on my list.
I first attempted a N-S Pickets traverse in July with a guy named Ed who had responded to my post on CascadeClimbers.com. In July, Ed and I entered the Pickets via Wiley Ridge, and planned to traverse from Challenger to Fury to Picket Pass, to Terror, and out Goodell Creek. But Ed bailed when we reached Challenger Arm, and we had quite the adventure schwhacking out Luna Creek (involving the loss of an entire backpack for my partner!). At least that trip involved a successful climb of Mt. Challenger, a worthy destination in itself. Click here for a trip report for my first attempt at a N-S Pickets Traverse.
The following page details another ultimately unsuccessful but nevertheless unique and exciting adventure in the Pickets, involving pioneering a route up the bushy drainage north of Access Creek, which resulted in spectacular views of Luna Peak from a rare angle as well as a rather treacherous descent down a wet and cliffy gully; soloing Luna Peak and getting some spectacular (albeit tantalizing) views of the Northern and Southern Pickets; and an unplanned retreat out of Access Creek when my partner decided not to continue on. Nevertheless, I got some nice photos and more motivation for my third attempt (next summer I hope) at this fated Pickets Traverse! Click on the various links on the table page below to see specific sections of the following report, or just scroll down the page.
TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS PAGE (OR SCROLL DOWN)
|The PLAN of the trip.|
|The SUMMARY of the epic adventure.|
|DAY 1 – August 21, 2007||Ross Lake to the headwaters of the unnamed creek just north of Access Creek||water taxi + 12 miles on trail + 3 miles bushwhacking|
|DAY 2 – August 22||Headwaters of unnamed creek to headwaters of Access Creek (a nearly epic adventure for Doug)||~2 miles of cross country travel|
|DAY 3 - August 23||Climb of Luna Peak from Access Creek headwaters||~2 miles and 4000ft elevation gain from camp to the summit of Luna|
|DAY 4 – August 24||Headwaters of Access Creek to Big Beaver Trailhead||~3 miles of bushwhacking, ~18 miles along the trail|
|Photos from my parents’ traverse of the Northern Pickets in 1981.|
I was quite disappointed when the first attempt was not a success, so I soon began to make plans for a second attempt at a Pickets traverse before the summer was over. The plan now was to enter via Access Creek, traverse to Luna, and from there continue on to Fury, Picket Pass, Terror, and Goodell Creek. My friend Douglas (with whom I had done an extensive traverse of the Valhallas, Mt. Olympus, Bailey Range, and High Divide in early July) was eager to join this second attempt.
We began the ambitious adventure on August 21. Unfortunately, yet again I found my partner and I doing all the arduous trail slogging and bushwhacking to get into the Pickets only to turn around and bushwhack and trail slog back out, with little more than tantalizing views of the Pickets dancing in our heads.
Here is a map showing the planned traverse (in blue) and the actual route we took (in red).
The following page details our adventure, including a description of a successful climb of Luna Peak (which has one of the best summit views in all of the North Cascades). Of course, there are several photos. At the bottom of the page I have compared some of my photos from this trip with some photos my parents took during their traverse of the Northern Pickets in 1981.
A SUMMARY OF THE TRIP
We began at Big Beaver trailhead after paying $35 to take a water-taxi to cut off a few hours of hiking. After hiking about 10 miles to Luna Camp, we hiked along the trail for 1.5 miles and then turned off to cross Big Beaver Creek, as described in the Access Creek approach notes in the Beckey Guide. After crossing Big Beaver Creek, we started up the drainage ahead of us. Visibility was poor, but we assumed this was the Access Creek drainage. After a little longer and tougher bushwhack than expected (but nothing too heinous), we made it to the headwaters and set up camp the first night. The next morning we ascended to the ridge via a gully that vaguely resembled the gully described in the Beckey notes. Visibility was still poor, but improving. Soon enough, we noticed a giant peak at the end of the ridge extending to the southwest of us. After a few moments of confusion, we came to the conclusion that this was Luna Peak, and we had come up the wrong drainage, and were standing on the NE shoulder of Luna looking down into where we though we had been the night before: the headwaters of Access Creek!
So down a gully we went, hoping to cross over the headwaters and continue over to the next ridgeline to Luna Col (fortunately, we had planned a short second day, so it was possible to still end up where we wanted to be by that evening). As gullies usually are, it was a tedious few hours before we arrived in the drainage. I was up for continuing on, but Douglas was feeling pretty beat up by the gully and wanted to stop at the headwaters of Access Creek for the night. Admittedly, there was nice camping here, and we did have an extra day built into our trip.
However, when we woke up the next morning, Douglas had decided that he was still feeling the effects of the gully and he did not want to continue the planned traverse. Douglas felt bad about causing a second Pickets failure for me, and was considerate to suggest that we stay another night at the headwaters of Access Creek while I climbed Luna Peak.
So, I climbed Luna Peak via the SW ridge, which was a fun Class 3 route with great views of the Southern and Northern Pickets.
The next day, we headed out via Access Creek, which was a pretty mellow three hours of bushwhacking with the occasional bootpath. It was much easier than our approach via the unnamed drainage just north of Access Creek, and compared to Luna Creek it was an open meadow!
Overall, I was quite disappointed that the grand Pickets traverse I had planned did not work out as planned, for the second time. However, Douglas and I both came out in one piece with some more off trail experience, I still have my rope and tent (unlike the previous adventure in the Pickets, where my partner left his backpack somewhere up Luna Creek), and I got some good photos and made a successful climb of Luna Peak.
Scroll down for some photos and more detailed commentary. Or click on the following links to get to specific days of our adventure.
PHOTOS AND LUNA PEAK TRIP REPORT
DAY 1 – August 21 – Ross Lake to the headwaters of the unnamed creek just north of Access Creek
(water taxi + 12 miles on trail + 3 miles bushwhacking)
DAY 2 – August 22 – Headwaters of unnamed creek to headwaters of Access Creek
(~2 miles of cross country travel)
DAY 3 – August 23 – Climb of Luna Peak from Access Creek headwaters
(~2 miles and 4000ft elevation gain from camp to the summit of Luna)
DAY 4 – August 24 – Headwaters of Access Creek to Big Beaver Trailhead
(~3 miles of bushwhacking, ~18 miles along the trail)
PHOTOS FROM MY PARENTS’ TRAVERSE OF THE NORTHERN PICKETS IN 1981
Twenty-six years ago (2 years before I was born), my parents did a traverse of the Northern Pickets. They hiked up Access Creek to the Luna-McMillan Arm, climbed Luna and Fury, descended down into Luna Basin and then up the other side to the Challenger Arm, climbed Challenger, and then hiked out via Wiley Ridge.
It is interesting to compare some of the photos I took with the photos they took during their trip in 1981.
In August 2008, I revisited my plans to complete the north to south Pickets traverse, and a phenomenal adventure this turned out to be. Click here to see that trip report.