July 3, 1970

I was back home from Vietnam and ready to take on the Pickets again at the age of 26. I'd been fantasizing about them for many young years by now. The details are now vague, but Chris and I had a long and heated discussion in Seattle the night before about where we were going to spend the July 4th weekend. Gary Mellom and I had four days off and for some reason Chris only had three. I was anxious to get back into the Pickets, but she did not want to hike all the way in there for just one day of climbing. We discussed climbing Formidable, and were going to do it instead, when she finally reluctantly decided she would let us go to the Pickets and she and a buddy would do a climb somewhere else.

Bleary-eyed and brain bruised, Gary and I drove to Newhalem late that night. I dropped Gary off at his folks' house and drove to mine. We both stayed up late into the night talking to our parents and getting to bed about 2 AM. At 4:30 AM the phone rang. My mom answered and came to my door and said Chris wanted to talk to me. It was already getting light and on the way to the phone I peeked outside. The day was perfect. The details of our conversation aren't important, but the draw of the Pickets outweighed her change of mind.

I went back to bed and stared at the ceiling for a few minutes until 5 AM when I got up to give Gary the prearranged wake-up call.

Gary and I walked in past the now familiar landmarks: The right road forks, the X log, the cable at the road end, the 3000 and 3200-foot hummocks, and the terrible doghair swath, and Lunch Creek. We were beat and low on energy. What was behind worried my mind. What was ahead in the Pickets worried my mind. Every step felt like I was carrying an unnatural weight. It took us 12 hours to get to the 5900 foot Terror Basin camp.

July 4, 1970

Another great day. We were up and off, feeling much lighter with a night's rest and just day packs on our backs. Gary wanted to see Azure Lake, so we angled up for the 6200-foot Azure Col. The lake was totally encased in ice and nearly 2000 feet below us. The snow was still five feet thick at the col and perfectly stable, but the picture Gary took of me standing at its edge on the remnant of the winter's cornice brought nervous oooh's from our mothers at the post-trip slide show.

We sped across the upper basin, alternating leads as step-kickers on a snow traverse then ascent to the pass between Inspiration and West McMillan Spire. We had a deal where we would change leads every 100 steps, and each of us felt obligated to extend our leads a few extra steps.

To the neophyte climber, which we were, or even the seasoned pro, which we thought we were, the west ridge of West McMillan was a stupendous place to be. McMillan Creek swept away a mile below. The Northern Pickets and Chilliwacks came into view. There to the south was all that rocky chop on a sea of ice. But most startling of all, there over our shoulders and shooting straight up above us were the Southern Pickets standing on edge equally vertical on the north and south faces, and looking like the tips of a row of giant screwdrivers turned sideways. If these peaks had only height and width, they did not have much of the latter. Every step towards the West Mac summit made the summits to the west even more impressive. We were constantly looking back over our shoulders.

As a climb West McMillan is pretty easy, though we may have taken our hands out of our pockets a time or two. We lounged on the top, making peak identifications, snapping shots, and eating an early lunch. Clouds played with the spikes of Inspiration, Pyramid, and Degenhardt to the west adding to the mystical aura of the Pickets. This peak was popular, we had the 24th ascent.

It had taken us much longer than the two hours we'd calculated for the climb from our 5900-foot camp to the 8000-foot summit. We figured we better get rolling or it would be a late night if we were going to succeed on Degenhardt and get back to the camp.

Gary whooped it up as he took giant plunge steps down from the col onto the flats of Terror Glacier. I was just about to capture his frolic on film when one of his feet stuck deep in the warming snow, holding part of him behind as the rest of him catapulted forward. Instead of sprawling clumsily out on his face and front, he tucked his head and rolled forward in a somersault, ending up on his back, and followed up with a textbook ice ax arrest, the prettiest I'd ever seen.

We wound our way around a few of the crevasses that were starting to open up on the glacier, wondering what the Barrier had in store for us. Beckey's cryptic note in the 1961 guide was simply that it was "difficult to cross." We reached the upper NW edge of Terror Glacier and were met by a problematical 3-foot moat which wasn't so bad except that the 6-inch-wide landing ledge was two feet higher than the snow. Gary went first, whumphing out his held breath as he landed, jarring his yellow construction hard hat off his head. He made a futile lunge for it as it went banging down into the darkness of the airy moat, forever lost. I duplicated his leap, but slipped on the push-off, banging my right knee on the landing, wondering if I was going to join his hat.

Once on the Barrier rock, Gary was in his element, switching back and forth up the exposed and rotten ledges which were covered with rubble. Every so often he'd purposely pull a microwave-sized block loose and let it crash down the face to the glacier below, until I put a stop to his frivolity.

Beckey's route description for Degenhardt was another undecipherable classic: "From the upper end of "The Barrier," contour snow to the N. ridge, which offers and easy ascent, though the rock is somewhat rotten. The S.W. side is traversed from the upper end of "The Barrier" via a steep ridge, keeping right of the gendarmes."

We could see from West Mac that the last part of the north ridge of Degenhardt was vertical and there were lots of steep ridgelets on the SW side. If we kept to the right of the gendarmes, we would be on the SE side, which looked awful, not the SW side.

Gary took off up the most prominent rotten SW ridge while I contoured on the SW slopes, in and out of gullies. I could see him above me, at one point looping the rope over a fragile pinnacle to use as a handline on a tricky down-move. I kept swinging around to the left and eventually got to the NW, then N, then NE side of the peak on a clockwise spiraling ascent. You really could go around the N side.

Gary was still working his way up the rotten S ridge as I whooped up my success and he shortly joined me on the summit. The sun was sinking as fast as our hearts. There was a hodge-podge of summit notes, including a record of Degenhardt and Strandberg's August 7,1931 climb--the very first climb of a Picket peak. We figured we had the 8th ascent. I also copied down an 8/23/38 climb by Chas. Kirsh, Chas. Metsker, and Ralph Clough, and a 6/3/51 climb by Phil Sharpe, Dick McGowan, and Pete Schoening (did they go back into the Pickets in September 1951 to do The Blob?) and an 8/3/67 climb by Joe Vance and Ted Carpenter. Ted reclimbed it on 8/4/67 .

There was no way we were going to make it back to that tiny camp in the shadows of Terror Basin . A bivy was certain. We backed our way down my ascent route and located a tiny two-body flat on the SW side of Degenhardt and started leveling the spot and building a holey rock wall for a windscreen. We were not well prepared for the cloudless cold night.

It was the evening of the 4th of July. Gary had carried a Roman candle in, which he'd of course left at base camp. We had young-fool plans to fire the candle off at 10 PM that night to signal our parents, an idea that would have failed had we been where we should have been, so deep in the cirque was that camp. From our perch on the side of Degenhardt however, we could look straight down to the road leading into Newhalem. At dusk we aimed our flashlights down the Goodell valley and flicked them off and on a few times, making certain not to give three flashes (the signal of trouble--SOS) in succession. At about 9:30 PM we started getting flashes back--two lights of equal size, far brighter than any flashlight we imagined, and one light even brighter than that, all in a row. We later found out that the bright lights were the headlights of our parents' cars and the really bright light was the sheriff's car with headlight brights, top flasher, and spotlight shining at us. We played this electronic tag for about a half hour before deciding we should get some sleep. Our folks couldn't believe we were where we were for the night, but they tried not to worry since they didn't pick up a distress signal from us either.

We had snaked the goldline rope out on the ground, back and forth as tight as you can with the stiff coils, to serve as a mattress. We put on everything we had and stuck our feet inside our packs and huddled back-to-back in fetal position, seeming to suck the heat from the other, but not giving much in return. It was a night of nearly constant motion and essentially no rest.

Fred wrote a good line in his Challenge of the North Cascades, 1969, p.127, "Those who bivouac appreciate the night more than tourists; the loveliness is paid for partly in the currency of suffering." I would not have used the word, "loveliness," to describe our night, but "suffering" hits the nail on the head.

July 5, 1970. Terror

We clock-watched all night long, praying for morning, but when morning came we couldn't wait for the afternoon heat. We rolled out of "bed," but not too far, and took our shoes off to soak up what little heat the morning sun had to offer. A soft but chilling wind blew. We were also getting down to our last peanuts. We had only packed a lunch the previous morning. That lunch served as lunch and dinner the previous day and would have to do for breakfast and lunch this day.

We gathered our gear and recoiled the dusty rope and started down the steep, hard morning snow into Crescent Creek on our way to Terror. Gary again was a little frisky in his descent, slipping down on his butt as he glissaded the icy slope. Luckily he went into an immediate self-arrest, scrapping to a stop in 20 feet, losing not his life, but only the skin off of half his knuckles. We finished the slope facing in.

The Terror couloir was full of hard snow as well and we took turns kicking our way up the steep gully. About 3/4 the way up the couloir, Gary , the rockhound, bore right off his snow lead onto the rock. His route looked a little thin to me and my saying at the time was, "If it's snow, it'll go," so I continued kicking steps to the col. I fussed with the first rock move out of the col and did not have the situation comfortably solved when Gary 's face popped into view above me. I threw him the rope and he gave me a belay for about 30 feet. From here the route up the west ridge of Terror is a simple scramble to a point where a corner is rounded to the right of the false summit. From this vantage, looking at it head on, the last pitch up the summit pyramid of Terror looked terrifying--a feeling enhanced by our fatigue, hunger, and thirst.

We lay down on rocks warmed by the morning sun and took a half-hour nap, falling asleep easily, despite the concern over the problem ahead. I woke up before Gary and picked my way to the top of the false summit, a west pinnacle of Terror. The route to the top only looked worse from here.

Gary awoke to the sound of my return steps and we descended into the gully before the face. We were surprised and delighted that the final summit rocks were solid and broken well enough to provide good gymnastic exercise with some exposure but without much danger. The top supports a peculiar rock that begs the unwise to stand on it for a summit photo. We touched, but didn't stand. Eight other parties had preceded us to this point, significantly fewer than the 23 before us on West McMillan.

We backwards crabbed down the summit pyramid and dropped down the ridge to the point before the col where Gary had given me a belay. He felt he had been definitely hanging out on his route up, and in fact at a couple of points was hoping for a top belay from me, so he recommended a rappel to the col. I had not done a rappel for about four years at that point, the thought made me a bit nervous. An error would be my last. Gary rigged the anchor and was off down the cliff in no time, stopping in the middle and extending his arms for a "Look, Ma, no hands" shot with the emptiness of the upper McMillan Cirque behind him. I fussed my way down holding on for dear life with both hands in a painful dulfersitz.

We plunged and glissaded the Terror Couloir cautiously and switched our way back up to the top of the Barrier. The route down was nervous. I undid my manila prussik sling at one point, tied a knot in one end, stuck the knot in a crack and used the rope as a handline, then flicked and retrieved the rope out of the crack after making the delicate move. Not recommended. The moat was easily leaped going down and we skated and glissaded back to our tent. Long before dark we fired off Gary's Roman candle and crawled into our bags.

July 6, 1970

We'd had enough adventure for the trip and decided to forego the plan to do Inspiration, opting instead to enjoy a leisurely walk to the top of Glee Peak (7200'+, then) which we called TMJG (for the known ascendants of the peak) and a pleasant alpine traverse to the Roost. The glass olive-jar register I'd left behind on the first ascent of the Roost in 1966 was gone and I cussed the helicopter boys for this suspected theft, since their map showed that they had been landed on this point in 1966 or 67.

I lost both big toenails from short boots on the steep, quick descent out, and six months later, a wife.