Our plan was to go from Ross Lake, Eiley/Wiley Ridge and climb Challenger first. We would descend into Luna Cirque, up to Luna Col, camp, climb Luna and exit Access Creek, back to Ross Lake and home we go...1,2,3. We figured to take 6 days, August 5-10. I even told Nick, "hey I think we can do this in 5 days...." He told me I was "optimistic". We had a week together in July to get over the bergschrund high on Challenger that stopped us last year, but a co-worker whinner quit and I had to cancel my vacation. Well, no problem, lots of snow this year, cool beginning to summer, we'll make it anyway in early August or go around the bergschrund like others have. Warning!!! All routes to the Pickets are long, time consuming route finding challenge. We made Beaver Pass (14 miles from boat) just fine. The route through the brush up onto Wiley Ridge even went fairly well, but it is steep and you need to get the right line. This Ridge goes on and on. The scenery is magnificent as compensation, so enjoy if you have clear weather. By the way, the flowers were beautiful too. We made a minor, but time consuming elevation up and down mistake trying to find the line to descend to Eiley Lake. We decided to bivy on the Ridge rather than press on to Challenger Glacier, our original second day goal. There went the five day idea I had. We actually considered giving up and returning to Beaver Pass and hiking out.This is strenuous. Plus,by now we could see the route to the summit of Challenger and the bergshrund was open. What a disappointment and we were behind our time line of making Challenger Glacier the second day.
Rest, Food... Press on to Luna.
We got up to excellent weather, we were rested, found the route down to Eiley Lake, so now were getting kind of committed to go for Luna. We just made up our minds to see new ground. Down into Luna Cirque which is a long trip, but absolutely awesome. Challenger, Crooked Thumb, Fury and around to Luna. We met three climbers in a super cool bivy camp on sand, flat and these mountains all around. It's just unbelievable. The elevation relief from Luna Cirque and Lousy Lake to the summits of the Pickets must be over 3,000 feet and its pretty much straight up! We made it to the outlet of Lousy Lake before dark, but just barely. A great bivy site here was a welcome rest. This was Thursday, August 7th. We experienced lightning and thunder at this spot that reminded me of a mid-west electrical storm. We were happy not to be at Luna Col during this storm. I must have lasted an hour or more. Glad to have our tent. Friday morning was clear and we made steady progress to Luna Lake (another bivy goal we missed). There are many choices to get up and over the "cliffy" bands out of Luna Lake on your way to Luna Col. We picked the right gully (miracle) and went on and on and on. Luna Col is at 7200 feet with limited spots for a tent. We got a decent spot, dried some things out in the sun and went for the summit. Takes about an hour from the Col. We spent a very peaceful night here watching the Sun go down behind Challenger in comfortable temperatures and vertually no wind. Amazing.
It should have been all over by now. No, not for us. Instead of descending into Access Creek we descended into McMillian Creek. I see our mistake quite clearly now, but what we did at the time seemed to fit the description of several climber reports. We printed them out and read and readread them. But we did not come in via Access Creek, so it was not "obvious" at all. In fact, let me warn anyone doing this route out if they came the way we did...study the topos and pictures others have posted and KNOW WHERE THE HECK YOU ARE BEFORE DESCENDING!!! Once in the McMillian Creek drainage WE pushed slide Alder and Maple and Devils Club inch by inch. We fell down so many times, got the packs hung up, fought that stuff to exhaustion. I'll leave it at that, just don't follow us. (we did find boot prints where we went too). The short version here is it took forever to get out. I have never fought brush for so long. We missed our boat pick up at Ross Lake by 24 hours. The only way we avoided walking another 7 miles to Ross Lake Resort was because a group of canoeists from North Cascades Institute landed at Big Beaver dock/camp and had a radio to contact the National Park Headquarters. They were nice enough to call Ross Lake Resort to send up a boat for another $50.00 charge, but we were wasted by now, what are credit cards for?. In 20 minutes we were walking up to the car. On to Marblemount Rangers for a report. My wife had called in that we were 1 day late, so they wanted to get a report and cancell SAR for Tuesday. Phone calls to our wives that we were ok, then over to GOOD FOOD for the famous burger and seasoned fries and a Blackberry Shake. Home in a few hours, shower, real bed and memories again for a life time with Nick. I thank Nick endlessly for not gettin the least bit mad, angry or bitter at our situation. He just kept telling me not to give up, just keep going, "we'll make it". We were a good team, just not good navigators.