American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

New Climbs in the Northern Pickets

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1959

New Climbs in the Northern Pickets

W. B. Spickard, M.D.

Tucked away in the northern part of the western rampart of the Cascades, between Mount Shuksan and Ross Lake in the state of Washington, is some of the wildest, ruggedest, and least visited country in the United States. The Chilliwack group, just south of the Canadian border, has been visited several times in the past five years and has recently been the target of enthusiastic climbers from Vancouver, B. C. The Southern Pickets, accessible from Goodell Creek on the south, have been extensively climbed during the past six years. Between the two, 18 miles by trail and several miles across country, lie the Northern Pickets whose inaccesibility has preserved opportunities for some first ascents.

A sunny morning in mid-August found five Seattle A.A.C. climbers— Vic Josendal, Maury Muzzy, Phil Sharpe, Duke Watson, and Warren Spickard—slogging along the upper Challenger Glacier, bound for a try at Mount Fury’s unclimbed west peak. During the previous two days they had reached the area by a leisurely 18-mile walk to Whatcom Pass, their packs carried by that great labor-saving device, the horse. The following day, with some groaning, packs were transferred to shoulders, and the badly-crevassed Whatcom Icefall was crossed by the slabs beneath it and one stretch of tottering séracs, to reach the cliffs north of Challenger Glacier, a one-by-three-mile maze of crevasses. After a short climb to a viewpoint, Whatcom Peak, they scrambled down to Perfect Pass and in the fading light set up Base Camp. It was decided that three days’ supplies would do the job on Fury, so a leisurely start put them in the third notch west of Mount Challenger’s summit at 11 o’clock. Several snowfields were contoured, followed by an 800-foot drop down cliffs to a glacier just west of Challenger. This was traversed, and another 800-foot descent led to a series of slabs west of Crooked Thumb and Phantom Peak. Several hours and a short climb later the spur-ridge west of Phantom Peak was crossed. Another long side-hill gouge led to a picturesque campsite on a col between a branch of Picket Creek to the west and the green jungle of upper Goodell Creek to the east. To the south lay an unimpressive brown mound of crumbling rock, and to the north a ridge leading to a southwest outrigger- peak of Fury.

West Peak of Mount Fury

After a 6:30 start the next day the climbers traversed a very steep heather hillside east of the spur peak. A thousand feet of easy rock lead to a traverse across several snowfields to a 400-foot descent down cliffs to a glacier west of Mount Fury. After a rapid 600-foot ascent led to a col, Phil crossed the bergschrund and reported an "elevator shaft" to the north. Further recon- naisance revealed two rather unpromising steep shallow chimneys directly beneath and about 1000 feet below the west peak. Maury and Vic attacked the more northerly of the two, while the rest of the party, after a brief but unsuccessful look at the second, gathered in a reasonably safe place in the moat away from the rockfall. After an hour had gained only about 120 feet, Vic made a nice lead on a cliff to circumvent a difficult chockstone. Thirty minutes later faint shouts and the whine of unseen stones announced that the first party had reached the ridge, so the second rope started up. Placing several pitons for safety the ridge was attained and crossed to the east, revealing a spectacular view 4000 feet down into Luna Creek cirque. A traverse of a broad ledge and lots of rotten rock led to a chimney system where the first rope was met as they descended. From the head of the chimney the summit was reached after a short easy scramble. To the northwest the ragged towers of Phantom, Crooked Thumb, and Challenger were bathed in the rays of the setting sun, while to the south the tangled spires of the Southern Pickets and the Crescent Creek group stood out over the dark green cirques of MacMillan and Goodell Creek. To the east, over a long and arduous-looking ridge, the slightly lower 8288-foot east peak of Fury’s snow-summit glistened. Because of the lateness of the hour, 6:30, cairn-building, register-signing, and photography were cut to a minimum. Spurred on by the oncoming darkness a descent was made as rapidly as the condition of the rock would permit. However, the last light failed just as the first rope reached the glacier. Duke, Phil, and Spick spent a pleasant night nailed to a slanting ledge 450 feet up, while they watched the flashlights of their comrades retrace the morning’s route to their high camp, which they reached shortly after midnight. With the first light, somewhat stiff from their night’s sojourn, the second group roped down to the glacier and reached high camp at noon.

Phantom Peak

A hasty perusal of commissary revealed a great scantiness if any more climbs were to be attempted from the west side. Straws were drawn and the unlucky porters, Duke and Maury, headed back for the Perfect Pass camp. The other three, after a leisurely soak in a rocky tub filled with melt water, headed back over the spur ridge and set up a camp at 5500 feet on a pleasant alp just west of Crooked Thumb, complete with blueberries and swarms of grasshoppers. The following morning a hasty breakfast of stew and lemon-pudding was stowed before climbing the slabs above camp, crossing a small glacier, donning rock-climbing shoes and starting up one of the long, steep, somewhat rotten gullies so typical of this area. Seven hundred feet of climbing on ledges on the left side of the gulley brought them to the ridge of Phantom. A second breakfast, with a fine view of the badly crevassed hanging glaciers of Mount Fury’s north face, was followed by a short climb over a summit on the ridge where a monstrous marmot blinked at them. Ahead rose a 150-foot vertical cliff, forcing a 110-foot rappel down the east side of the ridge to a small glacier, leaving the rappeling line for the return trip. A delightful half-hour was spent slithering about in the moat in rock-climbing shoes, before a short steep climb gained a col between the north and south peaks. From there an excellent class 4-5 rock climb led to the ridge, whence the small, steep summit-tower was climbed on its south side. The register left by the Beckeys 18 years before was found undisturbed. The descent was interesting, featuring two long windblown rappels down the 150-foot cliff. Camp was reached after dark and thanks to our "porters" we had an excellent dinner.

While all the area’s major summits have now been climbed there is still much to attract the climber in search of something new, for there are many unclimbed towers and subsidiary peaks. The many hanging glaciers of the Luna Creek Cirque challenge the ice expert. The rock on the ridges is generally sound; that of the gullies and faces is weathered and rather poor. Practically all the peaks offer variety, with some steep ice-climbing at their bases, followed by from one to two thousand feet of rock-work. Weather is apt to be poor early in the season, but the last three weeks of August are likely to prove pleasant. Both time and energy may be saved by employing a packer for the first day.

Summary of Statistics

Area: Cascades, Washington—Northern Pickets.

Ascents: Mount Fury, west peak, by (all five). Phantom (Josendal,

Sharpe, Spickard).

Personnel: Victor Josendal, Maurice F. Muzzy, Philip E. Sharpe, Duke

Watson, Warren B. Spickard.

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