|Twin summits of Inspiration Peak in center of photo, from Northern Pickets|
The rock in the Pickets is primarily Skagit Gneiss, and although cracks are not numerous, nor the rock as solid as granite, the soaring glacial-sculpted faces more than compensate. Added to that the unpredictable weather, transient state of the small disappearing glaciers, and brushy approaches make for a true North Cascades experience.
|Dana Hagin on the Goodell Creek approach with Mount Triumph in the distance|
|Dawn light on Northeast Buttress Inspiration Peak and Mount Terror, from West McMillan|
|Bill Pilling descends to McMillan's North Face, Inspiration's NE Buttress is line between light & dark rock|
|Fog enters Stetattle Creek, the harbinger of more approaching moisture|
|Inspiration and Terror in morning|
Naturally it is not Chamonix granite (which I can verify is pretty solid stuff). Nor is there a tram to the top. Both of which guarantee a crowd free experience, and adventure alpinism of the highest order. Particularly fond of these little mountains myself, I would return with Dana in 2003 to climb McMillan's North Buttress, and in 2008 put up the DNB on the same peak with Erik Johnson.
As Dana readjusted the pack loaded with bivy gear for one night, clothing, water and snacks, I tossed the ropes down for our first of several long rappels. Sporadic small stones peppered the slopes, but nothing big. The ledge Bill and I spotted in 94 was snowy but not difficult, and by noon or so we were lacing up rock shoes on the buttress, some 500 feet above the glacier.
With boots stowed in the one pack, the follower became the cleanup man and workhorse. One can try various options on the bigger steep climbs on how to get the gear up the route. The leader and follower can both carry packs, but ultimately the leader gets bogged down on harder bits and has to haul. And as the Pickets are not granite domes close to the road, crampons and axes are a necessity. When leading I prefer to be unencumbered, and a tiny pack with water bladder and windshirt is the most I'll carry.
|Dana leading on the exposed buttress|
|Finding just the right piece of gear|
|Dana at the perfect bivy|
Now that guy in California that makes the pricy clothing once said this about bivouacking: "If you carry bivy gear you will bivouac." With a few exceptions, it has been my experience that on really big routes you will bivouac anyway, but without ANY bivy gear you will be quite uncomfortable.
There is much to be said for a mug of HOT coffee or cocoa in the early morning on the chilly northern alpine face of a big mountain. Take your pick. We had a double bivy sac that protected both of us, and each had an insulated jacket. I got 5 hours of sleep, which is a lot for a bivy. And even the most amateur photographer with a point and shoot cannot fail to capture the grandeur of the mountains in morning and evening; all of which is lost to the one day climber frantic to reach the car without switching on the headlamp.
|Aiming for the cracks up higher|
On day two Dana led off up broken rock toward cleaner cracks high above. Some pesky clouds had materialized overnight, but the climbing was exhilarating and exposed. The pack was lighter, the rock was still dry, the troubles and confusion of the world were somewhere far away, and we were having fun.
In places the gneissic rock had razor sharp edges from flakes and chunks that had fallen away; one had to be careful with the rope. And there was always the uncertainty of finding the raps and descent off the top in a whiteout. But I had climbed the South Face in 1991, so at least had an inkling of the way down.
Up and up we climbed to where our new route on the buttress coincided with the East Ridge; not much evidence of traffic on it though. And then the fog moved in shrouding everything in a damp opaque curtain of white. Find a crack, get some gear in, keep going, hope it doesn't start raining. No idea where the summit was inside that fathomless cloud. If only we could have seen something; McMillan Cirque, Fury, Luna, Picket Pass, each other, anything!
|The fog closed in|
|Star trails over inspiration and Terror|
Back in camp we sprawled on the slabs in the sun, cooked a fine dinner, and that night once again watched the stars fill the sky over the black imposing silhouette of Inspiration Peak.
There is a place where we will all go.
But to tell the truth, where it is, I don't know.
If I had any say about it,
It would be on top of a craggy summit.
Where wind and snow, would blow my bits,
Down into those icy pits.
And there the glacier would munch and grind,
And of me, there would be nothing left behind.