July 4-6, 1973
A climb on the 4th of July was starting to become a tradition for Gary
and me. In 1967, we had done Eldorado and Torment on the holiday weekend,
1968 was Stuart and Rainier , 1969: Viet Nam year, 1970: West McMillan,
Degenhardt, and Terror, 1971: Logan try, 1972: Logan and Thunder. We
figured that every other year we would have good weather on the 4th,
but every year we would have a good adventure. This was year was no exception.
It was raining hard as Gary and I and Jim Lucke, a college classmate
and fraternity brother of mine shouldered heavy packs at the Goodell
Creek trailhead. Jim was a math professor at Claremont College in California
up for his annual week in the mountains. We had been out together in
a rainstorm in 1965, bashing our way in to Bouck Lake from Gorge Dam.
The Barrier had been ascended several times now by the Fireys and we
were going to cash in on their knowledge. Gary had Joe Firey as one of
his professors of mechanical engineering at the UW and Joe was always
delighted to talk about one of his favorite playgrounds, The Pickets.
The secret was supposed to be to make it to Terror Creek, cross it,
then bear right and up instead of trying to turn the corner left into
the Stump Creek drainage as Gary and I had tried to do in 1966. The traverse
from the end of overgrown Goodell road at Over and Up Creek to Terror
Creek was a bad dream. In the rain, the Devil's clubs, the slippery logs
left behind 20 years before, the greasy moss on big boulders all seemed
worse than when Gary and I had done this stretch seven years before.
We did a dirt glissade down a muddy bank into Terror Creek and shinnied
across a slimy barkless log that had fallen across the creek.
The opposite bank was even worse. We struggled in hand-to-hand combat
with a vine maple patch for nearly an hour. This was followed by a section
of downed logs, then a slippery V-shaped moss-coated gully. The first
person up would innocently kick off the moss carpet and the two that
followed dealt with the slick pealed rock beneath. It was in this gully
that I first became introduced to the beautiful maidenhair fern, first
hand and in handholds. It is a delicate, regal, plant with black stems
and graceful fronds, but even a handful wouldn't support my weight. Following
this was water laden-tight hemlocks. We had to help pull ourselves up
by reaching up and grabbing them, the hillside was so steep and slippery.
The first pull though created a personal shower from the tree, not unlike
the Gator-Aid showers the winning NFL coaches are now getting at the
end of the game. Except in this case we were administering our own drenching
and every step up was accompanied by a dousing. We watched the water
land on our already wet clothes, first making them glisten. Then the
cloth would sop up the pool on the shiny garment anointing us with a
wave of slow cold. It was kind of like banging your toe, knowing that
the pain was soon to follow. Somehow we found some humor in this misery,
rotating laughs at the others' predicaments.
We eventually reached the ridge top where the character of the climb
changes altogether. The trees are big and open. There is even an intermittent
hint of a game trail. We were finally walking with just our legs and
every step was no longer accompanied by a pull-up. The only thing that
had not changed was the weather, the rain.
We made our way up the ridge to near timberline and pitched Gary 's
homemade tent on a snow bench, then built a fire and spent the next two
hours as human clothes racks, holding our waterlogged gear over the flames.
It was this trip that taught me to package everything inside my pack
July 5. This day was no better, maybe even worse, but we decided to
relocate our camp somewhere in Crescent Creek Basin . Through the fog
we aimed in the direction of Stump Col , across a snow filled Stump Hollow,
reaching the ridge into Crescent Creek just north of The Stump. We couldn't
see very far, but we could see we did not want to take the next step,
which would have netted us 200 feet, straight down. We wandered up the
ridge to 6400 feet and chopped and kicked out a platform in the snow
as flakes fell on us from above.
We spent the rest of the day telling jokes and playing cards. Gary was
always full of the most and dirtiest stories, and the way he told them
with his modified Tarheel-Newhalem twang always made them sound funnier
than they really were. Especially when he followed them up with his honest
laugh. We played Hearts with a deck of wrinkled cards and even though
I'd considered myself a high school champion at this game, Gary and Lucke
both Shot-the-Moon on me.
July 6. We woke up this morning with 4 inches of snow collapsing the
sides of the tent. We banged it off the walls from the inside and went
back to sleep for 2 hours. Jim finally got up and started melting snow
for breakfast. Gary soon joined him outside and the two had a race to
see which stove, Jim's new Svea 123 or Gary 's Bluet, could melt and
boil the snow the fastest. The Svea won by a mile.
By mid afternoon the weather had not improved and Jim and I were getting
tent fever. We decided to walk to the top of little peak at the end of
the Barrier ridge, just above camp. The 7040'+ summit took us less than
half an hour, but provided no better view through the soup. We found
a flattened cairn here but no names and presumed this to be a second
ascent, following the 1931 climbers.
July 7. First Ascent of The Blip by Gary Mellom, Jim Lucke, and JWR.
This morning started with another tent de-icing, but the clouds thinned
enough to give us off-again-on-again wispy views of the Crescent Creek
Spires. We decided to make a go for The Blip, a miniscule, but definite,
pinnacle next to The Blob, and the last known unclimbed peaklet in the
Southern Pickets. It was at least on a par with the Inspiration Towers
. I was into first ascents in those days and thought we could follow
The Blip climb with a new route up the W ridge of The Blob.
We glissaded down the head of the cirque into Crescent Creek, creating
slow motion avalanches before us, then circled under the 800-foot rock
walls of the Spires , now completely obscured except for the lowest 100
feet. For an instant the mist lifted off The Blip, and standing at its
base it seemed a worthy goal, and much bigger than us.
The S rib of The Blip was rounded past a fish-hook shaped lateral moraine
and we gained access here to the rock face. I'd brought along a pair
of light rock climbing shoes with a Vibram sole that were too short for
me, causing pain with every attempt to bang them solidly into the snow
covered rock. Plastered as is was, the rock was treacherous, so we moved
left into a snow filled couloir that split the East Twin Needle from
The Blip. Jim and Gary did yeoman's duty punching steps up the icy slope
to the col, setting belays in the moats between the rock and snow.
When we reached the col, the summit blocks looked impossible, totally
plastered with feathered rime ice that had blown in with the last three-day
storm. Luckily, Lucke found the blocks blocky enough to negotiate safely
with no friction moves necessary. We took turns clambering up to the
summit rock and pried enough rocks loose from their icy locks to build
a cairn 20 feet below the summit.
The Blob looked dangerously tempting but a reasoned three to zero vote
ruled that we turn back with the one little prize we had. We faced in
down the couloir and I don't remember even having to rappel the plastered
lower rock face. As we returned to camp across the Crescent Creek Basin
we were sobered by what could have been: Our ascending tracks had been
wiped out by a 30-foot-wide avalanche that crashed down from Terror during
our climb of The Blip.
July 8. The storm appeared to be breaking this morning. We could see
some blue, but none of the surrounding mountains, except Pinnacle Peak/Stump
Mountain that stuck up straight above us. We couldn't believe Carla had
led the impressive NE ridge on this thing as a teenager. We would try
the route underplayed in the 1961 guide.
There was no problem making it up the obvious E chimney as described.
The next moves were airy pull-ups on scrub evergreens. We then hit a
section that seemed definitely class 5 though it was billed only as a "slabby
face with long pitches," with no hint of difficulty. Strandberg
loved the word "slab." Gary forced a delicate, exposed move
over wet rock to the right that went, and from there to the top was a
The rusted summit register can still contained the original papers from
41 years before, as well as the Cooper-Denney signatures. Where were
the Fireys? We signed them in and had a presumed 4th ascent on our July
4th climb. Newhalem peeked into view for a minute, then was gone. We
rapped off and returned to our packs and beat our way down the Barrier
route to Terror Creek. I remember it taking one hour to go that quarter
mile stretch back to the cable.
I later learned that in late March or early April 1970, during spring break,
and after the vernal equinox, Doug McKeever made an early spring climb
of The Stump. He later became a geology prof at the CC in Bellingham .
Graduated from WWSU? So ours would have been the 5th ascent.
Copyright 2004, John W. Roper, MD.
All Rights Reserved.