You will need to hire a boat to shuttle you from Ross Dam to the Big Beaver trailhead. That is where the 14 mile hike begins. You will go up the Big Beaver from Ross Lake for about 5 hours not counting breaks if you are carrying big, heavy packs. We were all pretty fit and some people may need more time. Others, of course, will need less.
Day two is a combination of bushwhack through steep slide-alder and hornet nests up to the shoulder of Challenger Ridge and four hours of traversing talus amphitheaters. The bushwhack took us just under three hours (going up) but only just over 1 hour coming back, so you can imagine how steep it is and how important a good line is. The talus, rock, heather and steep ups-and-downs of the so-called ridge were (for me) the most exhausting part of the whole climb, especially after the hours of bushwhacking. The camp at the end of day two is amazing and has perhaps the best view in the state of Washington. It is raw, awesome (in the literal sense of the word) and sublime. Unfortunately it is 500 feet above Challenger Glacier at the top of a talus couloir...
The third day starts by dropping 500 feet onto the glacier, roping up, putting on crampons and crossing a flat but broad expanse of crevasses. Several hundred yards of fairly easy route finding puts you on the steeper but less crevassed slopes of Challenger. From here it is a straightforward glacier climb (carefully avoiding crevasses) zig-zagging up to the summit block.
Once you get to the final rock tower that is the summit, traverse along until you see a series of ledges and hold and perhaps a piton above you and on your left. The rock is good but not great; however two very old pitons (maybe even left by Beckey himself) are in cracks and make the lead climbing a bit easier. The crux is a slight bulge with a crack that good climbers will be able to muscle or finesse over. The summit itself is an airy slab with shocking views of the entire North Cascades. Slings can be used on horns at the top to set a rope for the other climbers. (I didn't feel comfortable with the exposure, though it was not even as airy as the Gspaltenhorn
, and did not climb the last 25 feet.)
After the summit, you reverse your route down the glacier and scramble up the tallus couloir to the high camp. From here you simply need to retrace your steps off the ridge, down the bushwhack and back out to the lake. This process took us one and a half days of moving at a good but not rushed pace.
Basics: warm clothes, water filter or iodine, food for four days, first aid kit, sunscreen, glacier glasses, rain gear, etc...
Climbing Gear: good approach boots that are also crampon compatible, helmet, ice axe, crampons, several slings, ropes, figure eights or other belay device, 'biners, two long pickets for the glacier, harness with prusik cords, chest straps and a couple quickdraws to hook into the old pitons.
Below the Treeline: leather gloves for the bushwhack, camp shoes, mosquito nets for our heads, bug proof sleeping arrangements (tent or good bivy), ointment for bug bites and bee stings and plenty of blister treatments...
If you have information about this route that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.