Summiting The Highest Peak In The Pickets - 10/10/19
I love creating imagery, but so much of my passion is derived from meeting and working with people from all spectrums. So when Max Djenohan said I could accompany him on his expedition to summit Luna Peak, I didn’t hesitate to jump in. He has mountains of experience, summited all 5 of Washington’s active volcanoes, and accomplished 4 challenges with Discovery Channels “Naked and Afraid”. So yeah, Max is the perfect guide. That said, I was confident that we would accomplish this challenge in the North Cascades. Nonetheless, I underestimated what was to come. I should have known better considering The Picket Range is one of the most rugged areas in the lower forty-eight of the United States.
Our first leg of the journey was a one-mile hike to Ross Lake and we had a boat pick up time of 11am. The vessel was right on schedule and we threw our heavy packs into the hull. We motored seven miles up Ross Lake and it was at that point that I realized the magnitude of this particular adventure; there is nothing quite like getting dropped off in the middle of nowhere via powerboat and the boat captain yelling as he departs “See you in a few days, be safe!” We started our ascent up Beaver Creek Trail. The trail winds through an old-growth forest and one can’t help but wonder how much the trees have seen. We steadily clipped along at about 1 mile every 15 minutes. With only one stop, we accomplished the first 11 miles in only a few hours. At this point, I started to feel weary from the lack of sustenance in my gut.
This was where the trail ended and the real adventure started. Over the course of two miles, we attempted to follow ribbons to our approach as we started our bushwhack up a couple of thousand feet. Finally, as we pushed through a mess of thick brush for a couple of hours we came to a huge boulder field with rocks the size of SUVs and finally saw our objective: Luna Peak. We sat beneath the 8300ft ascent knowing that our journey still was a long way to go. We fueled up on a couple of protein bars and filtered water out of a nearby glacier. The final push of the first day was a 1000ft scramble up to a saddle in the landscape in order to find a level place to sleep for the night. The last 1000ft gain took everything out of me and took everything I had to reach the top. As I reached the top, the Pickets finally revealed themselves: giant peaks and spires in different shapes and sizes splashed with red sunlight. We now saw why this set of mountains is coined “The American Alps”.
The next morning, we set off to the summit of Luna Peak, trekking through some of the most gorgeous landscape I have ever seen without another person in sight. As we made our way to the approach of talus rock and boulder fields, we couldn’t help but stop and gorge ourselves on the wild blueberries that riddled the fields below Luna Peak. We set up our second camp which sat 1000 feet below the objective. As the sun began to set, we started off for the peak. The rest of the climb was our victory lap. In every direction we looked our eyes feasted on giant peaks and massive glaciers; just what we came to see. As we crested the top of Luna Peak, we felt a deep sense of accomplishment. The sun went down over the peaks and we shared a few sips of whiskey and reminisced on what it took to get to this point.
Our hike out was our biggest push of the whole trip. In one day, we hiked 20 miles and lost 8000ft to get back to where our boat first dropped us off. We were both ecstatic to see Ross Lake come into sight after hours of hiking. We stripped off our boots, jumped right into the freezing cold water, and couldn’t help but appreciate the journey. Bodies beat and blistered we lay on the beach, as the steady hum of the boat’s motor slowly grew closer. Our pickup was again right on schedule and the three-day journey that felt like a lifetime came to a close. I couldn’t help but be appreciative of Max for bringing me on this unforgettable adventure. I also couldn’t help but think about all of the people before us that had experienced this magical place and helped preserve it for our generation and generations to come.