Northern Pickets Traverse. No matter how content with success a climber gets atop the heights, the compulsion to gaze from one summit to the next goal is irresistible. In 2003 we had just completed my dream traverse over all 14 summits of the indescribable southern Picket Range. Even before the high fives met atop the final summit, my eyes were working out the intricate ridge of incredible summits to the north.
Cascadeclimbers.com introduced me to a character named Josh Kaplan. I could see he had the spirit for the project, based upon his discourse on the site. We planned it over the phone, eventually meeting the day of departure for our first go in 2004. But a whiteout, fog, and rain forced our retreat from the Phantom-Ghost col. I didn't think I would be back for another attempt.
The next July we made our way up Access Creek to our second bivy, at the start of the ridge itself. The view from Luna Col is one the most incredible I have seen. But the weather totally sucked again, and we had only one small fuel canister left for the traverse.
After the east summit of Fury in a whiteout, the commitment zone lay ahead. From here on, climbing would be difficult and treacherous, the descents scarce. After climbing the Furies we started a staggering series of rappels. Severe, difficult leads took us across the ridge, until we rapped into a glacier col after West Fury. We camped on the snow in a wind hollow.
On day four we rejoiced at the clear skies and raced over the remaining small peaks and ridge mazes, reaching the Spectre Plateau and finding the easy way up Swiss Peak. Phantom Peak provided some off-route fun as we went over the “Cub Scout Salute” and back. As high clouds crept in, I said, “All we need for tomorrow is six good hours to finish the climb.” We were to get four.
Across Ghost Peak we zoomed together on day five, in a smooth simul. The amazing knife-edge arête of Challenger turned desperately steep and slippery, as rain began to fall. The winds picked up, and the rain briefly turned to ice pellets. Handholds were the only things keeping us up there. With all we had put into it, we simply weren’t going to bail. It was as if the great range was making sure we were worthy. We came over the end with not a bang, but a whimper. I could not talk or think. I saw the same look in my partner; we had survived this time. We had pushed our lives into a zone we may deserve to be criticized for. There would be no time for celebrating; we were two days from being dry or warm. Tough-guy Josh had no rain gear, relying on a down jacket. A miserable and long night was in store, but as we reached the valley below, the warmer air brought relief. We began celebrating the biggest thing we could have imagined.
We enjoyed our caches and early departure after six life-changing days. It was truly the greatest of times. We had gone 60+ miles, 10 of them on an alpine crest. We had crossed nine of the most remote peaks out there (VI 5.7 (old school): Luna, East Fury, West Fury, Swiss, Spectre, Phantom, Crooked Thumb, Ghost, and Challenger (and Whatcom on our previous attempt)). The mighty Pickets had been crossed.
With a heavy heart we share this jewel of a wilderness with the masses. May it be our supreme wish that all the wild lands be kept as pure as they can be.