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Luna Peak, Pickets
Trip Report

Luna Peak, Pickets

Luna Peak, Pickets

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Washington, United States, North America

Object Title: Luna Peak, Pickets

Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 15, 2007

Activities: Mountaineering

Season: Summer


Page By: StephAbegg

Created/Edited: Dec 8, 2008 / Sep 14, 2013

Object ID: 470370

Hits: 4621 

Page Score: 71.06%  - 1 Votes 

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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.

Luna Peak from the NORTH on Wiley Ridge.
Luna Peak from the WEST near the summit of Challenger.
Luna Peak from the SOUTHWEST as seen from Luna Col.
Luna Peak from the SOUTHEAST on the approach above the McMillan drainage.
Luna Peak from the EAST at the headwaters of Access Creek.
Luna Peak from the NORTHEAST on the NE rib north of the headwaters of Access Creek.

Relief map of the northern and southern Pickets from the summit of Luna Peak. What a view!

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.


The PLAN of the trip.
The SUMMARY of the epic adventure.
DAY 1 – August 21, 2007Ross Lake to the headwaters of the unnamed creek just north of Access Creekwater 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.


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.


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)

Doing the first 6 miles of trail the easy way. We paid $35 to take a water taxi to the Big Beaver Trailhead on Ross Lake, since this would allow us to hike all the way to the Access Creek headwaters the first day.
Looking across Big Beaver Creek towards the Access Creek drainage. This is the drainage we should have taken, but we did not think we had hiked the 1.5 miles north of Luna Camp (as detailed in the Beckey guide) so we made an incorrect assumption that the correct drainage was the one to the right. Also, visibility was poor and we had made a bad decision not to bring a map of the approach with us.
Looking toward the next drainage north of the Access Creek drainage. We ascended up this drainage, which was not overly heinous, but was more difficult than Access Creek and resulted in our having to drop down to the headwaters of Access Creek the next day.
Our camp at the headwaters of the unnamed drainage just north of Access Creek.

DAY 2 – August 22 – Headwaters of unnamed creek to headwaters of Access Creek

(~2 miles of cross country travel)

Confusion on the NE ridge of Luna….When we got to the ridge above the headwaters of the unnamed drainage, we realized our mistake (visibility had been poor enough thus far that we had not clued into our mistake until the clouds cleared and we got a view of Luna, from an angle we should not have seen it from!).
We had to descend a gully down to the Access Creek headwaters. As gullies are, it was tedious, involving a lot of cliffy downclimbing….
The gully we came down is the one extending up from the snowfield on the left-center of the photo. It was a tedious 4 hours.
Nice camping at the headwaters of Access Creek. The east side of Luna Peak is at the head of the cirque.
Nice camping at the headwaters of Access Creek.
Extra protein!

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)

To continue the traverse to Luna, you ascend the green dirt-filled gully on the left-center of the photo to the 5800ft col. It took me just over 1 hour from our camp to get to the col.
Luna Peak is on the right and Luna-McMillan col is on the left. It is a pretty easy traverse to the Luna-McMillan col, about 1.5 hours from the 5800ft notch at the head of Access Creek to the col.
Southern Pickets from the traverse over to Luna Col.
Northern Pickets from Luna Col. Fury dominates on the left.
Looking up the SW ridge of Luna from Luna Col. 1000ft of Class 3 scrambling from here to the summit (I did not find any of the Class 4 mentioned in the Beckey guide). It took me 30 minutes to get to the first summit and 6 more minutes to get to the second (higher) summit.
Lunch at Luna Col….
A new summit register on the top of Luna. The last people who had climbed Luna (and found and signed the register) were on August 2.
My reliable climbing companion on the summit of Luna Peak.
Luna Peak has one of the best summit views in all of the Cascades! Someday the Pickets Traverse will work out for me and I will get to Fury, across Picket Pass, and to the Southern Pickets.
Looking down at the Access Creek drainage (left) and McMillan Creek drainage (right), which join into the Big Beaver Drainage.
Night view over Luna from our camp at the headwaters of Access Creek.

DAY 4 – August 24 – Headwaters of Access Creek to Big Beaver Trailhead

(~3 miles of bushwhacking, ~18 miles along the trail)

The descent down Access Creek is pretty straightforward. We stayed on the north side of the creek on talus fields until around 3700ft, then crossed over to the south side and bushwhacked down to the Big Beaver Creek. It took us 3 hours to get from the headwaters to the Big Beaver trail. Compared to Luna Creek (click here for trip report), Access Creek is an open meadow.
Bushwhacking on the north side of Access Creek. A bit brushy, but not too bad.
We found a nice log crossing just north of where Access Creek meets Big Beaver Creek.
Colorful mushroom in Access Creek.
We built a cairn on the trail where we thought would be a good location for other Picketeers to cut off towards Access Creek. Having a cairn here would have saved us the hassle of ascending the wrong drainage.
Where Big Beaver Creek meets Ross Lake. Since we had no water taxi reservations this time, we hiked the 6 extra miles along Ross Lake back to the parking lot.
There is a really nice bridge at the crossing of Big Beaver Creek where it enters Ross Lake.


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.

More on my website

This trip report is copied from my website, which has several other climbing trip reports and photographs from the North Cascades and elsewhere: http://www.stephabegg.com.


Labelled Panoramic view of the Pickets from the summit of Luna PeakLabeled panorama of the Picket RangeRoute Overlays of My Adventures in the Picket RangePicket Range Labeled Panorama (Version 2)


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