Thursday, August 18, 2016

Operation Alpine Redemption

A 2014 solo attempt up Luna Peak, deep in the Picket Range wilderness of North Cascades National Park was the worst adventure I've ever been on in my life. I was soaked from sweat and fording waist deep creeks. Animals gnawed my clothing and gear to shreds. I fought for an hour to go 100 yards through the thickest brush imaginable. And at one point I looked up at the summit, still 4,000 feet above me and said F#$% it! I turned around and had 14 miles to hike out, beaten and demoralized. 

A few months after the trip I was flipping through an Eddie Bauer catalog. A professional climber and 6 time Everest-summiteer wrote about his own failed expedition in the Picket Range: "it was a remarkably unsuccessful trip ... until you've been unto the Pickets, you don't really know the magnitude and abusiveness of the range." I most certainly agree.

Fast forward to this summer and an email from Trevor Clark tossing out the idea of another shot at Luna Peak. Trevor clearly had no idea what he was getting into, but I did. And I surprised myself by actually entertaining the idea, letting it grow over the course of a week while figuring out where the last trip went wrong. For better or worse I agreed to the climb and began plotting my redemption. 

Why climb Luna in the first place? There are no trails into the rugged Picket Range, making it one of the most remote and inaccessible places in the Lower 48. Just to get to the bottom of the real climb we would have to take a boat for 6 miles, hike 11 miles, cross a deep creek, bushwhack 4 miles, cross another creek, and gain a mile in elevation - an adventure in itself. With no steep rock climbing or icy glaciers to cross the peak rewards those with stubborn tenacity over technical proficiency, a solid challenge that appeals to my desire to refrain from anything too bold in the mountains. And Luna is the tallest peak in the Pickets, giving it "the best view in Washington" according to those few parties who make the top in good weather. I'm a sucker for a good view.  

I pushed aside any negative thoughts from the deja vu as the shuttle boat dropped us off on the morning of our first day and instead just relished the opportunity to be back in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I missed the summers of sunshine, cooler temps, and low humidity. And I forgot just how big the trees were! 
Here we go again!
Goodbye shuttle boat, now we're on our own (photo credit Trevor Clark)
Hiking thru old growth forest along Big Beaver Creek (photo credit Trevor Clark)
The biggest difference between 2014 and 2016 was the pace. I pushed too far, too fast last time and ran out of energy and motivation. We took two days to cover what I did in one on the first go around. And now I had the hard earned scoop on "better" (there are no "good") places to cross the creeks and fight through the brush. With Trevor along it was far easier to keep spirits high ... until we wandered into a patch of slide alder and took 30 minutes to find our way out again. Truthfully I'm glad that happened just so he wouldn't think it was too easy and that I was a wuss last time. 

This is Devil's Club. It's not fun to walk through
Fording the Big Beaver (photo credit Trevor Clark)
This is what hiking through slider alder is like. Awful. 
On day three we finally entered new territory for me as we climbed past my previous turnaround. Regrettably we started said climbing in fog and picked the wrong gully and spent an hour trying to figure out why everything was so steep and not in the guidebook. We sorted it out, made our route, and began our traverse to high camp underneath the impressive pinnacles of the Picket Range. 

Climbing up gully (photo credit Trevor Clark)
The Southern Picket Range
The south side of Luna Peak. Traverse across slopes then ascend to high camp in the saddle. The climbing route follows the skyline to the top.  
We enjoyed a beautiful sunset from high camp before setting off for the summit the following morning. The final 1,000 feet was a straightforward scramble, a piece of cake compared to the challenges lower on the mountain. But the views were indeed worth all the trouble.

Looking at the next day's climb of Luna Peak
Sunset at high camp, Picket Range
Ascending Luna Peak
A most impressive view from the top, two years in the making (photo credit Trevor Clark)
The descent was a blur of everything in reverse, but without the excitement of the climb ahead. It was a plod with heavy packs and sore feet back through the same thick brush (made slightly easier by going downhill) and down the same long trail, broken up by two exciting log crossings of the aforementioned creeks. Despite the pace, I made sure to pause to appreciate that this may be my last time in the North Cascades for a while. We lucked into some terrific hospitality once we made it back to the dock; folks offered us cold beer and a ride home in their motorboat. 

Heading down (photo credit Trevor Clark)
One last view of Luna Peak
Log crossing. I thought about walking across but it was like 30 feet up and probably a bad idea. 
Trevor captains the motorboat on our way out
Thanks to Phil for his hospitality in Seattle and letting us use his house as basecamp. And thanks to Trevor for being one of the few people that is willing to endure horrendous bushwhacking. Now I can remove the asterisk in my climbing guide! 

For some funny reads on bushwhacking check these out:

1 comment:

  1. Congrats Matt and Trevor. What a great adventure to be remembered for many years to come. Looking forward to seeing you soon. Mac Gray, Seebert, WV