For those who have glimpsed the jagged teeth of the Picket Range, it represents a powerful impasse of incredible gnar. For others who haven’t seen the towering crags of a sub-range many call the most rugged and isolated in Washington, just the peak names should be enough to spark caution, concern and imagination. Mt. Fury, Mt. Terror and Mt. Challenger are just a handful of the craggy, glaciated peaks that speak to the intensity of a remote subrange marked by rarely travelled routes and defined by peaks climbed only by the committed few. But for ski mountaineers, the Picket Traverse has loomed as a crown jewel of career accomplishment in the Pacific Northwest since Carl Skoog, Lowell Skoog and Jens Kieler completed the first ski traverse of the range.
In 2010 photographer Jason Hummel and Forest McBrian became the second successful party to ski across the sub-range, repeating the iconic first traverse and documenting this unforgiving zone with incredible imagery. First Ascent splitboarder Kyle Miller started out on the trip but, making a very tough call, decided to turn back three days out due to sketchy avalanche conditions that just didn’t feel right. Controversy swirled when Hummel was quoted as saying that a splitboard was not the right tool for the job. But that bold skier’s challenge brought Miller back this past summer, this time with three fellow snowboard mountaineers to complete the first ever splitboard traverse of the Picket Range. The crew travelled more than 50 miles and 35,000 vertical feet but with great effort etched their names in the history of Northwest mountaineering, ski or snowboard. Below is Miller’s post-trip report. –EB Editor
Words by Kyle Miller, Images by Kyle Miller, Seth Holton and Scott McAllister
It all started three years ago with the intention of pulling off the unheard of, a traverse of a region of the cascades called the Picket Range. In mountains known for isolation, jagged glacier covered slopes this area is regarded as the crux or as we call it “The Teeth of the Cascades” An area known to make grown men cry and to have dirtbag mountaineers ditch there backpacks filled with thousands of dollars of gear. I had originally ventured out to there with Jason Hummel and Forest McBrian to attempt a midwinter traverse but decided I felt more comfortable turning back solo three days into the trip then to confront what I saw to be extreme avy conditions. Fortunate for them they were able to pull off the traverse, elevating themselves as the 2nd group to ever pull off the ski traverse. When word got out and reports were written, my concerns of avys was overshadowed by the fact that I was on a splitboard and in Jason’s words, “It was not the tool for the job.” Deep inside I knew I would have to go back one day to close this chapter of my life and prove as a splitboarder that it’s not the equipment but how you use it.
Some people spend months if not years planning for a trip such as this but our crew put the plans together in a total of two days. There is something to living your life in the moment that allows such freedom and it came with a break in the mundane weather. Starting on the 4th of July we would travel for six days and over 50 miles through the crème de la crème of ruggedness in the Cascades. The 4th of July is a very significant day to me as last year I was in Machu Picchu, the year before that I was doing a 7-day day traverse of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and the year before that it was another 7-day traverse of the Dakobed Range, so the Pickets was not only worth but more than fitting to these adventures. A few brief email exchanges of potential routes and possibilities confirmed that Frankie Delvo, Seth Holton and Scott McAllister were all game for such a grand adventure and more importantly we had a splitboard specific crew.
Over the next six days we would push our physical and mental limits carefully choosing routes with the least exposure and best potential for actually going. It was originally thought that we would only have one area of concern but this was far from the truth as each valley held its own problems. From bushwhacking in dense slide alder and devils club to delicate balancing on a foot-wide snow-rib separating 15-foot-deep trenches. From thunderstorms lighting up the surrounding areas to finding that whoever named Easy Creek was under representing the raging torrent of water that we would have to use ropes to cross.
We started our journey at the small town of Diablo and after 50 miles and well over 35,000 vertical feet ended at the Hannegan Pass trailhead. Along the way we made snowboard descents of big mountains with names like Fury and Challenger and were surrounded by peaks with names like Terror and Damnnation peak. Each night would leave us with breathtaking scenery and overwhelming route finding for the next day but each one of us would communicate our thoughts and we would push through as to return the way we came would not be a option. Each step would take us closer to our final goal and every time we would relax the mountains would remind us not to let down our guard.
In reflection, this trip has helped to not only shape but confirm my love for the mountain. Everything turned out flawless considering from how our group reacting with each other to finding out that the routes actually barely go. Every time that I feel that I have come to know all the North Cascades, I am thrown into a area that confirms this area has a lifetime worth of mountains to climb and aesthetic lines to ski. I am blessed to be born into such an amazing area and to have the Cascades be my backyard. This trip proved the point of living your life and taking advantage of every amazing opportunity that comes your way. Or as they like to say……….Carpe Diem!
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