This year Tim and I decided we wanted to learn the true meaning of Labor Day so while we could have spent our three day weekend climbing anywhere we chose the Pickets, a range in the North Cascades known by climbers for its remoteness and inaccessibility. In 1931 when all of the major peaks in the Tetons had established routes the Pickets saw their first recorded technical ascent. When people talk about the wild of the North Cascades they are talking about the Pickets.
So we decided on the east ridge of Inspiration Peak, a route first climbed by Becky and company in 1958. We started from Upper Goodell Creek Campground at 10am on Saturday morning. The first 4 miles follows an overgrown road bed along the east side of the creek until it abruptly ends, signaled by a cairn and turns uphill. From there it was an unrelenting 5000 ft charge uphill on what is generously called a climbers trail. But even that doesn’t tell the full story, in a place where an approach is better measured in time rather than distance. And 8 hours later we made camp following a well traveled trail into a gravel basin at 6000 ft with a meadow at the bottom and plenty of water to make up for the lack of it on the approach. Big views of terror basin the the southern Pickets took some of the hurt off from the approach and reset our motivation.
The moon was so bright at night that I woke up and ask Tim to turn off his headlamp and I saw the big dipper sitting right on top of Inspiration Peak. That must have been around midnight. Four hours later I woke up to make breakfast and by 4:45am we were on the trail picking our way around boulders and across massive rock slabs on our way up to the glacier. We tried to follow the cairns across the outlet of a lakelet and then down and across a bigger ravine that we made note of because the scramble up the other side was a little tricky but also tough to identify from the top. (note: It may be easier to swing way up high on this one and cross over the creek around 6400.)
When we hit the glacier we roped up for some fairly straight forward glacier travel up until our final crevasse crossing. We navigated it by down climbing off of a snow bridge onto a lower ledge and climbing out. And then we stood at the bottom of the route, 7,400 ft above the ocean, four hours after we had started. We simul-climbed the first “two” pitches following a series of gullies and ledges trending toward a notch between the east ridge and a small spire to its right. The climbing gradually turns into a blocky face that we broke out into two 5.7 pitches as we worked our way onto the east ridge.
The next two pitches are the ones we came all the way out here for. The layback pitch starts exactly how it sounds climbing right around the roof and then straight up to a roomy belay at the bottom of a splitter hand crack. The crack climbs straight up and offers the occasional face hold but mostly excellent hand and foot jamming. At the top we cut out right aiming at the notch in the rock around the roof and then up and left to a belay.
Now through the crux we simuled the last “three” pitches to help ease the rope drag on a wandering climb across the top. From above the hand crack drop on to the north side and then up and left and around the south side of the east summit. We crossed the ridge down climbing to the base of the True summit and then and easy low fifth class scramble all the way up checking in at the top at 4pm.
Now the good part. Three double length rappels down the West Ridge. Raps are easy to find. Three more double length rappels down the gully. Lots of loose rock with very little protection offered from above. This took us 3 hours. Then we were standing at the upper glacier trying to figure how to cross a massive moat to get up on top of the snow. As it was, we climbed down underneath the glacier through a tunnel and popped out on a ledge in a crevasse. It was dusk now and we were loosing light, so with no great option to get out we front pointed straight up and out which was a less desirable approach with a lot of exposure to what lay below but ultimately better than turning around and finding another route out in the dark.
The rest of the trek back was long and circuitous in the dark, but generally uninteresting. Back at camp at 11:30pm. We had stashed a couple beers in the creek that made the hike back slightly more bearable and made dinner slightly more enjoyable.
Slept in on Monday but the smoke came in that night to punished us in the morning and then on out hike out. We made it back to the car in 6 hours. It doesn’t get much more Cascades than this. It may take awhile to forget the approach and head back into the heart of darkness that is the Pickets but we did well in honoring the holiday.