Brad hikes beneath Fury and the northern Pickets. It’s hideous, I know.
Local riff raff
I. Hate. Log. Crossings. We can start with that. Ask me how many log crossings were on this trip. Actually don’t because I’ve probably blocked half of them from memory. I need to get a balance beam for my basement so I can work on my fear of log crossings. But this trip was good practice, and we did a lot of close-to-the-ground-log-walking during the bushwhack, and my confidence in log crossings grew over the course of 36hrs despite being stuck with Brad “Fearlessly Dances Across Logs” Geyer. He’d cruise across the log while I stood there having the “Okay can I do this maybe ugh should I no do I want to I don’t really want to but ah fuck you can’t just stand here ok GO” internal debate/pep talk. Oh, and on the way back I didn’t care about wet feet and said fuck the logs and waded anyway. Oh wait, that was most of the trip. “When life gives you lemons… say fuck the lemons and bail.” The frigid waters numbed my poor brutalized feet, which was a blessing in its own way.
So, I present to you: Luna Peak. I have a list that I call “The Selfish Ten.” It is ten peaks that I will bail on anyone and anything in order to complete. I’m sorta breaking that rule because I swore to JT I wouldn’t touch certain ones until he’s back, but besides those exceptions, the list stands. And Luna was on it. Doesn’t matter who, doesn’t matter when, it’s happening. And here was the opportunity. Cassie had pitched the idea months prior, and I said hell yes. Assuming weather is good. Because I’m fairweather all of a sudden.
- Distance: ~32mi round trip* (I estimated 26mi… not even close)
- Elevation gain: 6,700ft gain (8,311 highest point)
- Weather: 50’s and sunny
- Commute from Seattle: 2.5hrs to the boat, 15-20min hike to boat, 10min boat ride
- Did I Trip: I had a full body posthole but that was the worst of it. Didn’t even fall off a log.
That… is the trail
We got the boat at 8am, which was the earliest they’d take us. In fact I think the driver (boater? Can you call him a captain if it’s a small motorboat?) was still asleep when we arrived at the dock around 7:45. By 8:30, we were hopping off the boat at the Big Beaver Trailhead, ready to start the first 10 miles towards Luna. The easy 10 miles.
By “easy,” I mean mostly flat. And mostly shady, and it was mostly cloudy anyway, and there aren’t twists and turns and there’s only one switchback in the entire 10 miles. To 39 Mile Camp it was beautifully maintained. Beyond that, we ran into one section where the creek became the trail (that took us a while to figure out), multiple sections with huge blowdowns (some had bootpaths around them, most were up and over), and if I’m really being a princess, some creeks that had to be waded but who am I to complain, I had way worse conditions coming up. Oh, and mosquitoes constantly threatening to bite your face and through your shirt and through your pants (I kept my goretex on
try to eat that you dumb shits) and let me tell you the only thing that can make a log crossing more miserable is having mosquitos and biting flies swarming your face because the number of swatting motions you make is directly correlated with your likeliness to fall off of the log and into the river.
Who needs a knee anyway?
We made it to Luna Camp spurred by Cassie’s proud bargain hunting stories and outlet-store-gear-flipping dreams and the hour that it took me to understand what a packraft is (it’s cool and I want one). Just past Luna Camp, we took a 90 degree turn off the trail and headed at the log jam at 48.8395, -121.2090. This was like a mile closer to Luna camp than the log jams we had tried last year, which had all been underwater the first time. At first I thought it was the one, but there’s no WAY this huge one was ever underwater. There is another log jam at 48.8451, -121.2164 that we were told about on the way down that is closer to where Access Creek meets Big Beaver, saving you some schwacking, but let’s be real if you didn’t like schwacking you wouldn’t be here. Anyway, our crossing was a massive log jam that even I wasn’t scared of. Eve “Slowly and Timidly Tiptoes Along Logs” Jakubowski. There are logs 2ft across and the skinny ones are usually doubled up so you can still spread out (I like to be well grounded, okay? My legs are lazy unreliable bastards). And from there, it was a hundred feet of devil’s club dueling followed by varying log walks, fern clumps, skunk cabbage swamp hops, and pine needles getting stuck in my bun and sticking to my neck and we were at Access Creek, which is not very problematic if you’re already resigned to wading. If your feet are still dry, then I bid thee good luck.
Big ol’ Luna log jam
Are we having fun yet?
We started up on the north side of Access Creek. Near the creek was brushy and miserable, above the creek was mostly open forest with a few patches of annoying brush. Oh, spiderwebs abound. Just give up and let them dangle off of your face and live your worst nightmare with resignation and disgust. Just catch the occasional spider cause some are still hanging out in the webs. Cassie and Kyle announced they were going to bail around 2,800ft. Cassie had a “tweaked knee” that turned out to be a freaking torn MCL. That she tore on flat trail. Not on a log, not on the bushwhack, but on the beautifully flat trail. Cassie “Can’t Walk On A Flat Trail” Cassidy. So I’ve hiked with Cassie for like a net 8hrs and already know she’s a freaking bad ass who will always understate every injury. I’m sure her hike out was lovely with 1.7 knees.
How about now?!
My stoke went from like 9/10 to 0/10 real quick after that. I was enjoying the company, I was excited to share the summit, I had just met Cassie and Kyle, and now my only motivation was purely selfish and that’s not the right reason to climb a peak. Yeah it was on my selfish ten list, but I’ve calmed down a lot since I first started climbing and I don’t like summit fever/selfishness to be the only reason I keep going. I strongly deliberated turning back with them, but I knew Brad wanted the summit so I used that as my “non-selfish” excuse to keep going. I gave Cassie a look. “Don’t you dare argue with me.” She waggled her finger. “I CAN SEE YOU’RE ABOUT TO ARGUE WITH ME. NO. YOU GUYS ARE GOING.” I laughed. Shouldn’t have any guilt about continuing on here.
FINALLY a view of Luna! Don’t worry, you still need to wrap around another face of the peak
We tried crossing Access Creek at 3,000ft as suggested by a recent trip report but bailed back to the north side shortly because slide alder is the worst (and yay wading!). Standards were getting lower, we were getting lazier. We never quite found the bootpath, so we weren’t very fast but it wasn’t 100% miserable. I wasn’t as defeated as when I was lost on the way down from Snowfield, or coming down the Bachelor Creek drainage after the Ptarmigan Traverse. We crossed back to the south side at the usual 3,700ft, not really bothering to find a log crossing because like I said wading had become the norm. We popped out on some boulder fields that alternated with short, not-too-terrible stretches of slide alder, and as we finally reached the basin we saw two climbers on their way down. And I knew one of them!!
Brad coming up the couloir to the shoulder
Running into Ilia brought my stoke from like 2/10 up to like a 7. Perfect timing, I was so thrilled to run into someone I knew out in the middle of nowhere in one of the most remote ranges in the lower 48. But he brought up some concerns. It was already almost 5pm, and it had taken him and his buddy 6 hours from where we were to the summit. 2hrs to the SE shoulder of Luna, 2hrs to Luna Col, 2hrs to the true summit. Great. That would have us summitting at 11pm, which I didn’t want. We’d have to nap and immediately start heading out to make the 5pm boat if it took us 15hrs to summit. Well, we had a rough timeline, and we knew we had to beat it if we wanted to top out before sunset. Time to get moving.
Brad just after gaining the shoulder, Elephant Butte and the southern Pickets in the back
Luna Col up and left just out of frame
Ilia and Devin continued down as we went up. We swapped approach shoes for mountaineering boots and put on crampons for the gully which was surprisingly firm for the afternoon. It took us roughly 1:45 to the SE shoulder. At one point I wondered if this was irresponsible, but figured we’d see what happened. The question I ask myself dates back to John, my first climbing partner. “What would I do if I was alone?” I wasn’t sure. I figured I’d top out at the shoulder and make the call there if I was alone, so I kept moving. At the shoulder I was slightly below Ilia’s predicted time, so I shouted at Brad that we had to move faster and started out towards the snow field, cruising along heather slopes until I realized my ankles were bleeding. I had left my low socks on thinking my leggings would be enough to save my ankles from chafing, but I’m an idiot. I switched into different socks and caught back up. We followed Ilia’s tracks, our newly proclaimed spirit guide, and I knew we’d make it.
Fury watches over camp
Looking up at the false summit
At Luna Col, I just about lost my mind. Getting to the ridge is my favorite part of every climb, usually even better than the summit. Seeing the views on the other side, finally having the world open up beneath you after all the effort you’ve put in, it’s just spectacular. I checked the clock. ~1:15 from shoulder to col. I turned to Brad. “Dude, I think we have a shot.”
I kept moving and found a party of three already set up at a bivvy site, luckily they pointed to another patch just below them that we claimed as our own. We dropped our overnight gear and started up towards the summit at 8pm. It’s just a talus walk for 1000ft to the false summit with the views getting bigger and bigger until you’re on the false summit looking at the oddly diagonal true summit, wondering why the hell so few people come here and how no one has made a trail and sweet baby jesus how much traffic would this get if there WAS a trail? I take it all back, no one blaze anything. We heard the party back at camp whooping and whooped right back. Call and response in the mountains. The best.
Brad approaching the false summit, southern Pickets in the background
Looking at the true summit from the false summit
I told Brad to go first on the scramble. I don’t like exposure, but if someone goes ahead of me then I space out and end up in my own 3ft world and everything’s fine. And the ridge didn’t look bad at all. And we were on top of the world and it was sunset and there was an inversion layer to the north and if I didn’t have pictures I wouldn’t even believe this had all happened. When we got to the true summit we found the world’s tiniest summit register.
Like a sidewalk to heaven!
While Brad signed the register, I FaceTimed JT. What a freaking world. Enough 4G to do a quick video chat with someone in Afghanistan, that’s so wild. The connection wasn’t great so I couldn’t tell what he could actually see, but we were standing on the summit of a wicked remote peak with a spectacular sunset looking right at Fury which JT and I have tried and bailed on (long story) and can’t wait to get on again. I signed the register myself and we headed back down the ridge, me going first this time because I wanted Brad to get a picture of me with my Bruins flag.
Gotta stay busy in the offseason somehow! Photo credit Brad (@hellomynameisbrad)
Brad on the way down, southern Pickets and Fury in the back
I had left the flag in my climbing accessories bin for some reason, and decided Friday night “yeah, why not” as I was packing. We were freezing cold and eager to get down so we didn’t set up the picture perfectly (I didn’t want to make Brad wait for me to get back to the false summit while he stayed on the true summit which would have been the perfect shot) but it came out okay. We walked back down the talus and took a gully down the north side of the ridge to a snowfield that we could walk across almost all the way back to camp, way faster than trying to talus hop.
The last of sunset over a sea of clouds
We made it back to camp just before true dark. The snow we had put in the pot had melted (yes!!!) so it was quick to boil and we had our meals and went to sleep. Brad forgot his sleeping pad, so I gave him some shit and went to bed only to realize an hour later that my sleeping pad had a leak, and wouldn’t stay inflated. So we had a few hours of fake sleep. Pseudonaps. Brad got up at like 2am to take pictures which I half slept through and probably wouldn’t have remembered at all if he hadn’t asked the next day.
First light on the southern Pickets
The dumbest bird in the world woke me up. I had heard it the prior night and thought the other party was making animal noises, or a marmot was being tortured. I still have no idea what this bird was (I’ve listened to more bird calls in the past 30 minutes than in my life to date) but it’s the most effective, obnoxious alarm ever. It was already getting light (yay summer!) and we strapped on crampons, grabbed ice axes, and started across the snowfield. My ankle started bleeding quickly due to another separate ankle issue despite my thick socks, but whatever. I need new boots but I’m sooo lazy and sooo cheap so I sucked it up minus the silent crying and figured I’d bitch about it later. Crampons are amazing on steep wet heather, but sidehilling is still miserable. Back at the shoulder we found the couloir to be softer than the prior night, which made for a fairly easy descent though I couldn’t truly plunge step it so I had to go for the awkward hobble side step. I alternated between that and glissade-to-self-arrest to speed it up.
Fury, you magnificent bastard!
Small bear print?
Back in Access Creek Basin we switched back into trail runners. Oh my ankles were so happy. My feet not so much but at least it was slight progress. We followed a similar trail back to 3,700ft where we crossed to the north side of Access Creek again. You can see where the forest starts and the slide alder ends on the north side while you’re talus hopping on the south side, and that’s where you want to aim for the crossing. Yeah, you’ll have to fight through some slide alder to get there.
On the way down we stayed higher above the creek, and actually found parts of the boot path! Or maybe it WAS the boot path. In which case the boot path is more of a sporadic suggestion, a “hey go this way for 15ft it might be nice” until it disappears and you curse the North Cascades for being so lush and healthy and green and dense. We were back in the land of bugs, and the mosquitoes and flies started to swarm. We saw the occasional blaze but I swear they only marked the obviously trodden sections of bootpath, not the “ok do we cross this marsh or do we push through the alder or do we go up and over that log” sections where you really could use them. But soon enough we were at the mouth of Access Creek which we waded (surpise!) and suffered the half mile schwack back to the huge log jam.
Waist high skunk cabbage
Getting back to the trail was a great feeling, until 20 minutes later when I realized that despite being well graded and mostly maintained, the exfil was going to be a tedious affair. My body was wrecked, my tendinitis was in full force, the flies flying around my head were like a lei crown except of bugs that kept getting stuck in my hair. It got hotter and more humid every minute as the sun rose and the trail got drier and drier as we got close to the exit. Brad sat down towards the end and I was like dude you’ll catch up (we had been booking it) but I gotta hobble to get moving again. So I started hobbling, borderline delirious, nearly out of water but too impatient and desperate to stop and eventually I resorted to the old, trusty”count-your-steps” until I reached the dock. Where I immediately threw my shirt in the water and wrapped it around my head like a du rag.
Reaching the lake was like finding Jesus. I could have cried and crawled to the water and laid my head in the shallows and curled up in the fetal position until my body temperature returned to normal but I pretended like everything was fine. I took off my shoes and put my abused feet in the lake and eventually Brad caught up followed by the whooping 3p party and we all jumped in the lake. It was freaking heaven. We hopped on their boat since we had gotten back early, which even meant we got a partial refund!
Finally cooling off my overheating & dehydrated body
Oh, but when the boat docks, you still need to hike like a mile to the car. Uphill. All of it. One of the guys did it in flip flops. I had gotten a second wind after lake jump, nap, and boat ride, and felt pretty okay. Turned out I knew one of the guys through SMR. Small world, two other parties on Luna and I am lucky enough to know someone in each. Running into no one is nice, but running into people you know purely by chance all the way out there is pretty damn incredible.
Everyone says the Pickets won’t let you off easy. And they haven’t. Cassie paid her dues via MCL, I paid mine via near mental breakdown last year (just after a close friend passed in a climbing accident, I lacked the mental fortitude for this no matter how badly I wanted it). Brad’s gotten off easy (lucky bastard). But the Pickets aren’t going to give themselves up for no work. It may not be a technical climb, but Luna is strenuous, and the bushwhack no matter how “non bushwhacky” if you find the “bootpath” is still a tedious affair, especially with no views to reward yourself. Only mosquitos and humidity and branches to bitch slap you.
Well, my Selfish Ten list is down to 8 (the other one I’ve knocked off is the Torment Forbidden Traverse). I’m not sure if I’m going to let myself backfill the spots I’ve opened. It has to be something seriously appealing in order to make that list. No you don’t get to know what the rest of them are. I suppose if I find another route I haven’t heard of, or one that I can’t climb yet but may be good enough for in a few years, then I’d reopen the list. But for now, two down, eight to go. And damn, was Luna worth it. Even with all the mosquitoes and slide alder and devil’s club and dehydration and flies and those mother. Effing. Log. Crossings.
- Bring approach shoes and maybe even spare socks.
- Bring bug spray.
- Be willing to wade.
- The log crossings are 48.8395, -121.2090 (huge logs, but ~0.5 mile bushwack to get to Access Creek) or 48.8451, -121.2164 (smaller logs but right where Access Creek meets Big Beaver)
- The gully to the SE shoulder of Luna is the middle gully. There’s a narrow steep one on the right, a slightly wider slightly less steep one in the middle, and a broad mellow one on the left. Go middle. You won’t see all three until you’re already partially up the slope above the basin.
- Tons of running water on the traverse this time of year. Only snow at Luna Col and higher, though this may change as it melts more.
- The scramble really isn’t that bad. Exposed yes, but lots of ledges for feet and jugs for hands on the exposed parts. And you can drop to the south side and traverse for 50ft or so on an easy ramp (like a walking traverse not even scrambling) though it’s a 3rd-4th class move to get back up on the ridge. Or you can au cheval most of it! Yeah baby!
- Luna Col is gorgeous. Camp at Luna Col.
*suckers, that doesn’t include the ~2mi round trip walk from the car to the dock. Ha!