Thread of Ice, Twin Needles, N Cascades - First Ascent

Page Type
Trip Report
Washington, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Jun 27, 2009
Mountaineering, Ice Climbing
Spring, Summer
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Thread of Ice, Twin Needles, N Cascades - First Ascent
Created On: Jun 29, 2009
Last Edited On: Sep 14, 2013

A First Ascent up a classic line in the Southern Pickets

During a north to south traverse of the Picket Range last summer, I was intrigued by a couple of lines on the north side of Twin Needles: the sweeping north ridge and the snaking 1200-ft snow/ice couloir next to it. I later discovered that these two lines were the "Thread of Gneiss" and "Thread of Ice" named by John Roper on his ascent of the Twin Needles in 1981.

As far as I know, neither Thread had ever been climbed. Until June 27, 2009, that is.

Here are some photos of the north side of Twin Needles showing the Threads. The Thread of Ice is marked on the third photo.

Twin Needles in July 1984 (by John Roper).
Twin Needles in early August 2008 (taken by me).
Twin Needles in December 2008, with Thread of Ice annotation (aerial photo taken on a ride with John Scurlock).

Wayne Wallace and Mike Layton had attempted the "Thread of Gneiss" in 2007. They had encountered a rotten fault line that was almost impassable, and deemed the buttress not worth the risk. So I turned my attention instead to the steep, skinny, shadowy, snow couloir that snakes its way to Eye Col between the two Needles.

I emailed Wayne Wallace and asked if he was interested.

"Heck, yeah."

So, on June 26, we headed up the Barrier into the Southern Pickets, hoping that the June conditions in the couloir would be a 1200-ft continuous line of steep snow and ice. We hit the route under ideal conditions, and had a great first ascent of what turned out to be a pretty cool route.

(Note on conditions: This route is very dependent on conditions. A melt-freeze cycle could result in an amazing water ice route, heavy snows could create the potential for a challenging ski descent, or patchy/nonexistent snow and ice could make the ascent impossible. Under ideal conditions of continuous snow and ice, the route does not pose any major challenges.)

Now for some photos!

The Approach from Goodell Creek to Crescent Creek Basin

(Click on the images to enlarge.)

Crossing Terror Creek.
Climbing up the Barrier. There is a steep bootpath that begins up the hillside on the other side of the creek crossing. It can be tricky to find at times, but it is well worth searching for!
Parties coming down the Barrier might want to keep an eye out for this marker where the trail up from Terror Creek meets the Barrier Crest.....
Our campsite on the Chopping Block Ridge. We camped here, and climbed the Thread the next day.
The view of the Crescent Creek Spires from camp. To get to the Thread of Ice the next day, we would have to traverse across the basin and climb through the Otto-Himmel col to reach the north side of Twin Needles. The descent would involve descending a gully on the south side.
Looking up the south side of the Otto-Himmel col on the approach to the climb on Day 2. Later in the summer, the col poses more of a chossy challenge.
Descending the north side of the Otto-Himmel col. The Thread of Ice starts about 1000ft dwn from the col on the right.

The Climb

(Click on the images to enlarge.)

The entrance to the steep, shadowy couloir.
Steph starting up the couloir.
More of the same.
Wayne climbing up as the couloir narrows and steepens in the upper half.
A 23-second video taken by Wayne during the climb.
Steph topping out with the Thread of Ice stretching below. Wayne got some nice photos here.
A final steep section to get to Eye Col between the East and West Twin Needles. Success! A new route in the Pickets!
The Thread of Ice ends at Eye Col between the East and West Twin Needle summits. From Eye Col, we climbed up to both summits. First we climbed up East Twin Needle (summit elevation 7,840 ft). This photo shows the route up East Twin Needle as seen from West Twin Needle (which we climbed next).
Wayne leading the way up the East Twin Needle from Eye Col. Here he is at the crux, a 5.7 handcrack that was half filled with ice.
Wayne close to the summit.
Wayne on the summit of East Twin Needle. This is a spectacular summit, with a shear drop to the east.
A 28-second video taken by Wayne of the spectacular views from the East Twin Needle.
Next we climbed the West Twin Needle (summit elevation 7,936 ft). This photo shows the route up the West Twin Needle as seen from East Twin Needle. The route was mostly Class 3-4.
Climbing the West Twin Needle.
A crux 5.6-ish section just below the summit of the West Twin Needle.
The view of the Thread of Ice from the summit of the West Twin Needle.
For the descent, we had planned on going down the 1932 gully scramble route described in CAG. However, I think we took a different gully system down. The descent involved the usual amount of tedious downclimbing and rappelling.
Chockstone rappel.

Some more photos

(Click on the images to enlarge.)

Enjoying the evening light at our campsite on the Chopping Block Ridge.
A beautiful sunset.
A beautiful sunset.
An important member of the team.
This ladybug made 5.12 look easy.
Watching South Park in the Pickets was almost surreal.
Beginning the 5-hr descent back to the car on Day 3.

First Ski Descent

In early July 2011, two years after Wayne and I achieved the first known ascent of the Thread of Ice, the first known ski descent was made of the route. Check out the trip report at!

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:



Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-11 of 11

jordansahls - Jun 30, 2009 5:17 pm - Voted 10/10


Looks like a classic route, way to get it done!


mvs - Jul 2, 2009 3:43 am - Voted 10/10


and I love the nano movie idea...I have to try that :-).


Marcsoltan - Jul 5, 2009 11:39 am - Voted 10/10

Very Creative...

and original. Took a long time to download, but it was definitely worth the wait.

Happy climbing,


asmrz - Jul 5, 2009 11:54 am - Voted 10/10

Great TR

Congrats on a good alpine FA. Looks like a good Cascades climb, the 'typical" approach, the good line up the couloir and the best of all, doing FA in a "mixed" company. Good for you two! Cheers, Alois and Penelope.


littlefrantz - Jul 5, 2009 10:41 pm - Hasn't voted


You're a stud, girl!


PellucidWombat - Jul 7, 2009 7:26 am - Voted 10/10

What an adventure

A very aesthetic line, and from the video the conditions looked superb. I really enjoyed the photos too - you should put them on SP so we can vote on 'em!

This report is making me want to get over to the Picket Range even more :-)




Tsuyoshi - Jul 8, 2009 4:05 am - Voted 10/10

south park on the nano...

makes me really happy! i don't think it could get much better than a great climb followed by southpark, in the the pickets.

Sierra Ledge Rat

Sierra Ledge Rat - Jul 9, 2009 2:30 am - Hasn't voted


Gotta resize the photos, it's impossible to read


gimpilator - Jul 9, 2009 12:45 pm - Voted 10/10

Truly Amazing!

Thanks for sharing this EPIC trip report with us. You are amazing!


bchains - Jul 9, 2009 3:37 pm - Hasn't voted


Congrats on a beautiful and inspiring FA!


kpthomson - Jul 10, 2009 11:51 am - Hasn't voted

Good Job

Knock em off - FA's that is!

Viewing: 1-11 of 11