This sub-range of the North Cascades is considered the most rugged terrain in the lower 48. Local mountaineers talk about the Pickets Range, but very few ever really go there. It is truly one of the remaining alpine mountain wildlands in our country. Be prepared for strenuous days in wild ski mountaineering terrain. The traverse consists mostly of "light ski mountaineering" as far as technical mountaineering skills are concerned, but the overall demands on physical fitness and skiing skill cannot be overstated. Substantial prior ski touring experience is required for this amazing trip. You should be ready to tour between 5000 to 5500 feet of vertical with an overnight pack for six days straight.
Overall Difficulty: Very Difficult
Skills Required: Prior ski mountaineering experience required; One should have very strong skinning skills and not be afraid of doing so in exposed terrain. Strong and confident skiing skills with an overnight pack are a must.
Fitness Required: Excellent physical fitness; you should be able to ski tour and ski with an overnight pack for more than six hours with a pack varying from 20 to 40 pounds and ascend 4,000 to 5,000 feet of vertical gain per day for up to a week. We cannot overstate that this trip is physically very demanding and excellent physical fitness is an absolute must.
Day 1: We intend to conduct the trip in a south to north direction. We will meet at the Ranger Station in Sedro Woolley, WA and conduct a final gear check before proceeding to the trailhead in Newhalem. Most of the first day will be spent getting up to the Stetattle Ridge via the Sourdough Mountain Lookout trial. This is strenuous day, since our packs will be full and the skis will be on our packs for most of the day.
Day 2: What a relief. Once on the Stetattle Ridge, we tour all day towards and eventually around Elephant Butte towards the entrance of the famed McMillan Cirque. This day should not feel as strenuous as the first day.
Day 3: We will be blessed with our first big ski descent - down into the McMillan cirque, followed by a substantial ascent back out of it towards the ridge which divides the McMillan and Luna Cirques.
Day 4: A similar itinerary to Day 3. We ski down into the Luna cirque and climb back out of it to our camp on the Challenger Glacier.
Day 5: We will turn west now across the Challenger Glacier, down Picket Pass onto Easy Ridge, over Mineral Mountain and towards Chilliwack Pass. Another big day for sure.
Day 6: Our last day is a bit easier by comparison, but it still boasts over 4000 feet of vertical gain, before we drop down our final 4000 feet via Hannegan Pass to our pick up spot.
Snow Travel Equipment
No, we do not provide food, but we are happy to make food suggestions.
If you have a good amount of prior ski touring experience, are a very strong skier, and are very fit, it should not be a problem.
The skiing is not difficult per say, but you will be skiing with an overnight pack in a variety of snow conditions. Solid skiing ability will make it much more enjoyable. We do not recommend this being your first ski outing with a big pack
Although tipping is not a requirement, it is considered standard practice in the guiding industry and is appreciated by our guides. We generally recommend roughly 10%-15% of your course or trip cost or a flat amount that you are comfortable with.