Luna Peak, Elevation 8,311ft
Northwest Face, 40+ degrees
June 15, 2003
Ben, Jason, Sky
Luna Peak from the summit of Mount Challenger. Part of our climb is in green and our ski descent is in red. We camped near the blue dot.
I had originally planned on a four-day trip. The weather looked marginal so it was trimmed to a punishing three. I didn't know better but common sense and improving weather provided a fortunate five. Several invitations were placed but only two emerged with the time and gumption to join me. Sky, Jason and I met off I-5 Saturday morning with a plan underway. I had arranged a water taxi the previous day to rendezvous on the shore of Ross Lake at 1:30pm. We stopped midway at the Marblemount Ranger Station to deal with more qualms. While Sky perused the cover of North Cascades, the ranger asked where we planned to camp, climb… We left with the necessary permits and a handful of bluebags.
We were unaccustomed to deadlines or permits but approached the turnoff/trailhead with greater anticipation. The final few miles along SR20 were filled with ohhs and ahhs under a mix of clouds and sun. Remnants of the previous night's storm were quickly fading, allowing us plenty of time to pack and enjoy the sun.
That morning I rode my bike to Fred Meyer. I returned with some groceries, camping gear and a scale. After filling our packs with the essentials and a few luxury items stuffed in for good measure, the truth was told. The packs appeared similar but after skis and boots were added, Jason's and mine tipped in just over 90lbs. Sky's was a more reasonable 75 despite carrying the rope and a 6-pack. My thoughts went out to the previous week when I carried the rope and an abundance of water during our Challenger trip. To be honest, 90lbs felt light and I was looking forward to the hike.
Sky weighing in at the trailhead.
From SR20 it's about a 1-mile hike down to the lake. There we met one of three others who would be joining us for the water taxi, a lady planning an extended loop from Little Beaver to Big Beaver over Whatcom Pass. Jason and I discussed our outing from the previous week and the hazards of the present all the while admiring her willingness to go solo. Soon the half-past had passed. There was no sign of the others so I called the resort and a boat was sent from across the way. The final two arrived in the meantime and we were boarded and on our way around 2pm. The boat ride was the first of many highlights to come. We crouched amongst our ski gear while our eyes dizzied from the surrounding peaks to the 6 miles of shoreline that we saved. The views alone were worth the $25 (one way). We paid our dues at the dock and scheduled a pick-up for late Wednesday.
Shortly after the taxi left we met a couple with their own boat who agreed to take our photo. They warned us of the upcoming bugs as we set off into the woods.
Jason midway through the water taxi across Ross Lake.
Three stooges about to take a long walk off a short dock.
The first half-mile was a difficult one after paying homage to a horse camp and toilet. Our final brush with civilization came from a rider with two horses who helped guide us to the trail. We joked about the cluelessness of those passed and dreamt about our future -- helicopters and horses in a gallop with skis. Looking back there is no doubt whose sanity should have been in question.
The next 8 miles were easy enough, too easy in fact. We feared everything from bugs to bears but got by with just a few bites. It was 6 or 7pm by the time we reached Luna Camp, our second stop. We didn't bother descending to the established sites opting instead to continue another mile or so to scout and possibly camp at the Big Beaver crossing near Access Creek. It was during this stretch that we crossed our first obstruction. Recent maintenance had cleared the trail prior but the trail after was a mess. Jason was in the lead so I reminded him to be on the lookout for a turnoff. At roughly 1.25 miles beyond Luna Camp I noticed an arrow carved in a piece of wood wedged in some fallen debris. Jason's attention seemed to be drifting and his patience was about to go way off course. We took a left and found suitable crossing along with a menu of brush.
Jason and Sky pause while crossing Big Beaver.
The recent warm temperatures had me worried so I was greatly relieved to find a safe log crossing. Now what?
Turns out that the dot on the map suggesting a camp was a no show. We wandered aimlessly for nearly an hour before deciding to return. We weren't sure where to but with little choice besides the trail, Sky and I had a pretty good idea where we'd be spending the night. This led to the familiar phrase "I am NOT hiking back to that Camp Luna," which Jason sung many-a-time on our way back to Luna Camp.
In the end it was worth it. With a nearby creek and plenty of wood we rang in the night with a warm fire and cold beer.
The next morning began by retracing our trace. The path to the log crossing isn't obvious and the path beyond is anything but. We ended up on the south side of Access Creek and continued by default. We crossed to the north side where the slope flattened for another helping of brush. The majority wasn't too bad and would be of little concern without skis. With skis it became a concern and we struggled to maintain what little we had going. When the slide alder becomes impassible there is a mandatory crossing to the boulder field of hope.
Brush breakfast on the south side of Access Creek.
The boulder field of hope on the south side of Access Creek.
Normally I'd shout with joy here but the misquotes gave reason for other exclamations. Jason switched to boots while Sky and I stuck with tennis shoes.
Snow was norm at the head of the valley. We found a nice boulder and stopped to regain our bearings. The bugs had mysteriously vanished so I took advantage of the nearby creek to wash my feet before switching to boots. I'll hesitate to say waste, but we spent a lot of time and energy to go the short distance from Big Beaver to here.
Sky at the head of Access Creek.
With lighter packs and fewer obstacles we maintained a good pace to the saddle. The morning's toil faded with the clouds and the southern Pickets unfolded before our very eyes. There was no time for looking back.
Jason climbing the middle chute on his way to the saddle.
The southern Pickets from the saddle.
Looking east down McMillian Creek to Big Beaver to Ross Lake with Jack Mountain in the distance.
Looking west towards the Luna/Fury col from the top of the upper chute.
The route to the Luna/Fury col was mostly snow covered. We ended up dropping a bit near the top of the upper chute before traversing on skis and eventually foot to gain the col. Behold… the northern Pickets.
Mount Challenger lay to the west and Luna Peak to the east and who could forget, the granddaddy of them all, The Mount Fury. We coined its title the previous day and had joked about it ever since. Its pride would soon be proven.
Jason gaining the col.
Jason relaxing at our camp above the col with The Mount Fury in the background.
The col was snow covered so we climbed a bit higher and found a suitable camp on the rocks. I had it in mind to climb Luna Peak that day but the late hour led us to question. After a bit of rest the answer became as clear as the sky. We switched to tennis shoes, set up camp, and were on our way by 7pm.
The majority of the climb was on solid rock, 3rd class to the false summit with some exposed 4th and low 5th beyond. Sky continued with ski poles in hand. I loaded my poles and took a few photos while Jason psyched himself out. The guidebook suggests that few people continue to the true summit so I'm willing to bet that the skis were a first. It took some care but the coming corn was worth the chance.
Sky just below the false summit of Luna Peak.
Sky heading towards the true summit of Luna Peak with Mount Redoubt in the background.
The summit of Luna is no place for the faint foot, with barely enough room to turn around and an unpleasant fall on either side. Jason made a quick dash too and from. I carried my pack and skis for a photo from the throne while Sky began the downclimb. We found a film canister and note from the previous summer and added our names.
Leaving the summit was difficult. Unable to spend the night, we eventually joined Sky a couple hundred feet down on its northwest flank.
Myself on the summit of Luna Peak.
Jason just below the summit. Fury and Challenger can be seen in the background with Baker and Shuksan in the distance.
Sky below the summit. We skied to the wide break in the snow where we crossed the rock and traversed more snow back to the col.
Finally, after umpteen miles of hiking and a sizeable climb it was time to ski. With over 1,000 vertical feet of ripening corn at my feet and a view like none other, I nearly wet my pants. The fact that it was most likely a first descent off the highest peak in the Pickets didn't help matters. I did my best to focus and with first dibs, it wasn't too difficult a task. Sky gets credit for skiing in shorts and makeshift gaiters and Jason for his teletillIloosecontrol alpine turns.
Sky cranking turns down the Northwest Face of Luna Peak.
One of the best feelings in the world is that of no envy and from that point on, it was felt by all.
The traverse back to camp went well except for Jason who stayed too high and lost some time in the rocks. We reached camp around 9pm with just enough daylight for dinner. Sky was free to move about in his bivy but Jason conned me into sharing his tent. While the lumpy bed left me with some cramps, the next day's journey provided a lasting impression.
Sky and Jason begin the traverse back to our camp. We skied from the highest snow on the left.