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 in plastic.

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 breeze.

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.