Monday, August 17, 2015

Mt. Fury, East Peak, SE Glacier - Trip Report - August 12-15, 2015

"More than any other peak, Mt. Fury epitomizes the grand alpine wilderness of the amazing Picket Range." Fred Beckey, Cascade Alpine Guide, Vol 3.

Mt. Fury (8,280'), East Peak, as seen from approach to SE Glacier route
I am currently the proud parent of two very energetic, beautiful kids, one aged 10-months, the other just over 4-years. As much as I love my kids, I miss spending the majority of my time in the mountains and adjusting to the requirements of parenthood has been a struggle. Each trip into the mountains is more carefully chosen and the preciousness of the time spent has me becoming super selective about who I spend it with.

Dusty Wunderlich at the trailhead for our Mt. Fury climb
I came into the summer hot to guide Mt. Goode. We managed to book a trip for Nick Pope with 1 customer and I set out to find someone I could convince to climb with me.  The remoteness of Goode had me thinking it would be nice for two small groups to work alongside one another. It would be fun to get photos of a fellow-guide at work and if there were any issues we could assist one another. Dusty Wunderlich and I had planned to go to Europe together, but life intervened, and at the last moment Dusty and I settled on a shorter trip to Mt. Goode. Two major fires (Wolverine and Goode) broke out before the climb and Nick switched to Fury so we followed, albeit 2-days later.

Ross Lake Resort Water Taxi pickup on Ross Lake
Dusty and I had climbed Rainier, Aconcagua, and the North Face of Mt. Buckner together. Dusty is one of the more fit people I climb with and I knew he was up to the ass kicking that Fury was likely to provide on the approach and exit. We packed at my house in Leavenworth and then drove to the Ross Dam-Ross Lake Resort Trailhead on US highway 20. We paid $60 each way to avoid the 6-mile walk from the road to the Big Beaver Campground, the starting point for the long hike in.

Start of new Fire, just north of Big Beaver Trailhead, Ross Lake, WA
We had chosen Fury because the Northern Pickets was one of the few places in the State without lightning in the forecast. Forecast aside the area saw plenty of lightning this week, including one strike the night before our climb that started a new fire a few miles North of Big Beaver. The hike from Big Beaver (1611') to Luna Camp (2420') is a bit over 10 miles and took 3.5 hours. We crossed 3 or 4 good streams for water. This low elevation trail features super impressive climax Doug-Fir, Western Red Cedar forest, and is well-maintained. I had been in here with middle school students back in the days when Northwest Mountain School programs focused on climbing with kids and teaching environmental education.

Luna Camp, Big Beaver Loop, North Cascades National Park
We contemplated walking further, but knew that the going was about to become more difficult and opted to spend the afternoon resting, getting super-hydrated, and planned an early start the next morning. This is a nice camp with a toilet and a good stream for water. Up early the next morning we hiked for about 20-minutes to a point where we felt close to Big Beaver (the stream) and just north of the point where the stream from Access Creek joins the Big Beaver. There is no visible path though the underbrush here so we just dove in. After a few short battles with Devil's Club we found a suitable crossing.

Crossing Big Beaver, first third in knee deep water, last two-thirds on logs. 
Once across Big Beaver we stayed just climber's right of Access Creek and bush-whacked from 2457' up to 3840' where we finally crossed over Access Creek and soon got into a large boulder field. The brush is not quite as bad as we expected, at times rolling a faint-climber's trail, and often following animal trails. Occasional thickets of Slide Alder were often overcome by walking on fallen logs or plowing through barely discernible animal trails.

View from 3900' looking at Luna Peak, from here route stays climber's left of creek until access gully appears on your left.
We worked our way up Access Creek.  It has hot and our shirts were filled with pine needles from the hiking below. Eventually we broke free of the vegetation and boulders and climbed a couple thousand feet up a very blown out gully leading to a notch at 6100'. Of note, we did not see any rockfall, but the bottom half of the climb seems like a prime place to get taken out by significant rockfall.

Gully leading out of Access Creek to 6100' notch enrollee to Mt. Fury SE Glacier Route.
Once on the ridge at 6100' we finally had a view of the Southern Pickets. From left to right you see McMillan Spires, Inspiration, Pyramid, Degenhardt, Terror, Twin Needles, Himmelgeisterhorn, and the Ottohorn. There are no shortage of routes on the North side, but these peaks are most often climbed from the Southern approaches. As on Glacier earlier this summer, I was a bit saddened to see how much the glaciers are receding, particularly in the hot summer we have had following a poor winter.

The Southern Picket Range as seen from the 6100' notch, NE of the range.
From here we crossed steep heather slopes into the basin leading up to Luna Col, where we planned to place our high camp. You cross through a series of small valley's before eventually descending into the main valley. The ideal route seems to lose a bit of elevation at the start and then contour around into the valley. We had read stories of people wanting to use crampons on the heather here due to the steepness.  Fortunately it was dry and we did not have to contemplate this as it would be hard to imagine the damage we would cause. A huge part of the allure of the place is the fact that you encounter little evidence that others have been there before you and we wanted to keep it that way.

We camped low, at 6100', due to small electrical storms. The ideal camp is in the saddle just left of center on the ridge above. That camp is called Luna Col and is at 7200'.
We set up camp lower than planned as things were clouding up, it started to rain, and a thunderstorm rolled through to the NW and we felt less exposed off the ridge. Our route in the morning would traverse up and climb to point just below the snow slopes just right of center and then work out way over and left to Luna Col. The entire trip from Luna Camp to here took maybe 8 hours.

Southern Picket Range from our camp at 6100' on Southern slopes of Luna Peak.
Our weather forecast called for a 30% chance of lightning the following day between 11 am and 11 pm. We settled on an early start (walking by 4:30 am) hoping to at least not be on the may ridge lines if something rolled in. Stress related to lightning was the key feature of the trip from this point forward. We had had lightning when not forecasted and then saw none when forecasted. The weather on the exit was forecasted to degenerate into a significant rain and lightning event. Of interest, we still had not seen Fury at this point.

The ledge leading around the right side of point 7308' above Luna Col
We got up early and made Luna Col in about an hour. All of the trip reports and guidebook descriptions talk about the section head looking intimidating, but leading to this amazing ledge that allows you to bypass the difficulties on point 7308' just West of Luna Col.  A short class 3 scramble led to the ledge and it was a really cool feature that provided easy travel up to the ridge. Once on the ridge we walked to the next high point, about 10 minutes away. From here the route was not at all obvious and the descriptions we had read a bit confusing.

Key Beta for highpoint just beyond point 7308' on SE Glacier Route, Mt. Fury.
The photo above is taken looking back to the top of the highpoint reached about 10 minutes after you come across the ledge bypassing point 7308'.  When you get to this rise you think you are cliffed out and need to look left (South) for the entrance to a gully that will get you down to the glacier. We spent some time finding this. Once in the gully it is good short-rope terrain. We took the gully down to the glacier and then continued forward avoiding the glacier by alternately climbing in the moat and using the rock slab to the climbers left of the moat.

Looking West to the third rise on the ridge from Luna Col. You go up and over this. It is all easy with the exception of one supposed 5.0 section, which seems easier than that.
Once back up on the ridge we came to a large col and could see the next rock section to go over.  From this vantage it looked time-consuming, but went incredibly fast. This is where the one supposed 5.0 section is, but it seemed easier than that. We made it to the top of this about 20 minutes after we left the col.

Looking to the final ridge section before descending into the basins East of Mt Fury. Photo taken on return from summit.
 From the top of this third major rise you walk on a broad ridge for awhile and eventually start wondering how you are going to get off the ridge. The best route seems to be to go over the bump just above Dusty's head and slightly to the right of the photo center. On the back side of this there are some exposed down climbs to what eventually become heather slopes.  These are followed down and to the skier's right to about 6500'.  The heater in here starts in a very steep gully and then eventually degenerates into scree and becomes lower angled.

Once down to 6400-6500' in this basin you traverse toward the glaciers on Fury. Good water at times in this zone and eventually things seem a bit dicey, which leads to a ledge at around 6650' that will take you west.
We traversed through the basin crossing well under the red rock in the just right and over center and eventually were either going to need to lose a ton of elevation or need to cross extremely steep heather and scree.  At this point we found a nice ledge system that allowed us to traverse West at around 6650' to the small basin before you reach the actual SE glacier.

Here is where our route diverted from the usual SE Glacier route due to unusually broken glacier on the lower glacier.
Once across the ledge system you cross steep scree and come into a big basin East of the SE Glacier. We looked down the gully you would normally use to descend to the SE glacier and opted for the beta Nick had given us, which was to instead ascend up avoiding snow and hit the glacier much higher. In a normal year the SE glacier would be a better option, but this year the lower section of the route was very beat up from the early melt.

Finally on the SE glacier an climbing toward the summit.
We eventually gained the SE glacier and worked our way up and to the climber's left avoiding small crevasses along the way. When you get to the section just below the summit and expect there to be a bergschrund things are radically melted out and the bergschrund is long gone.  We traversed under the summit far to the West and eventually gained the world's loosest boulder pile.

Easy glacier travel on upper SE Glacier of Fury.
The final climb to the summit was in many ways the weirdest part of the route. The boulder field is incredibly loose and it took great care to work up and around a small rock summit to the left of the main snow field.  The snow in many ways seems a better route, but this was faster and we wanted to get in and out as slums clouds were slowly building to the East. Just below the summit we hit a rock col SW of the summit and did 1 or 2 very short pitches before moving back to short rope for the final climb to the summit.

Dusty Wunderlich on summit of Mt. Fury, East Summit, 8288'
We reached the summit around noon.  The climb up took 7 hours from our camp at 6100'. Two days earlier Nick Pope had guided the same route in about 6 hours to the summit from the regular camp at Luna Col at 7200'. The return trip took about 5 hours to Luna Col and another hour down to our camp at 6100'.

One tired Dusty rolling into a camp at 4000' on the way down.
We got back to camp and planned to spend the night.  I touched base with Olivia on the sat phone and she let us know that all hell was forecasted to break loose the following day and so we opted to move as low as possible to reduce the amount of travel on wet heather and in wet bushes.  There is a single, flat, sand and gravel spot big enough for a couple tents next to the creek in the Access Creek Basin at 4000'.  We made it to here about 45 minutes after dark and tucked in for the night.

Sulpher Shelf Fungus (aka Chicken of the Woods) on hike out.
We woke up the next morning and set off early for what became a good 8-hour slog to the trailhead. I use to teach natural history in this area when climbing with kids and wished I had my copy of Field Guide to the Cascades and Olympics (2nd edition) as the low-elevation forest hike out has a mind-blowing collection of plants, fungi, and amphibians, beaver dams, snakes, the works. You would be hard pressed to find a better trail to spend some time with kids while based out of the Big Beaver campground. We waited at the trailhead in the quickly developing thunder storm for our boat pickup. Once out, the drive home turned epic as we rerouted well into Eastern Washington to avoid the fires that were started and in the process of bringing sections of Chelan.


Many thanks to Dusty for a great trip.  We had hoped to climb Goode, but that will need to wait for a summer when there are no fires in the way. Dusty summed up his climb on Fb by saying, "A successful summit of Mt. Fury in the Picket Range but not without getting pretty beat up. By far the hardest alpine experience I've had to date, it tested every ounce of my physical and mental conditioning. Back to training on how to get the body and mind tougher."

I would love to guide Fury again, or any peak in the Pickets for that matter.  Ounce for ounce I don't think you can find a more magnificent destination in the lower 48. Feel free to call us at 509-548-5823 if we can help with details of climbs in the North Cascades.  Take good care of the place, it is a treasure.

North Cascades Guided Trips with the Northwest Mountain School.

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