whatcom peak - 7574' - north ridge class 4
With grand plans to meet up with Josh and Shiona for a northern pickets blowout, I briskly walked up the Hannegan Pass trail leaving the trailhead at about 3pm on Saturday the 6th. After an hour and a half I walked over Hennegan Pass leaving the crowds and most of the bugs behind. By dark about 8pm I had made it to the Brush creek just a few miles before Whatcom Pass. Passed just a few people along the Chilliwack, much less than the busy Hannegan Pass trail.
I ate some snacks and put the sleeping bag on the ground in a flat area in the trees near the creek. This part of the trail has seen some rather intense washout/rockslides coming down Brush Creek that have demolished the whole area along the valley floor, but one remaining campsite was found and I got some needed rest. The next morning I made it up to Whatcom Pass in just over an hours walking as the views of Whatcom Peak grew. The pass itself was rather anti-climactic and buggy so I wasted no time starting up the north ridge of Whatcom Peak. Thie fun scramble route took just another hour or so complete, despite having my pack on (since I intended to get all the way to Pickell Pass this day). I was able to skirt around to the right side of all the snow on the north ridge since all I had were Altra running shoes with no traction. Thankfully no steep snow sections required crossing. The rock steepened the final 400 feet but was solid enough to be comfortable. Exposure was noticable, but I didn't think there was much of any 4th class on the route if the easiest line is used. I was on the summit early enough for the morning breeze to wareent my coat, and I enjoyed the views.
I then started plunging down the mellow snow on the south side route down to Perfect Pass. The initial descent down the narrow south ridge was exposed but east class 2+. Perfect Pass was an oasis with small ponds, fresh meltwater and sweet flowers. It was unfortunate I had to continue right away, but I still had a lot of terrain to travel. I started traversing up the Challenger Glacier and had no issues weaving through the few crevasses I passed by. I ascended to the West Challenger Notch and was dumbfounded to see that the drop on the south side of the notch was not trivial! I totally overlooked this small section of the route towards Phantom and Crooked Thumb and did not realize people typically rappel this. I located what looked like would be a low 5th class route down and downclimbed steep blocks, then downclimbed cracks on a steep slab but was not able to downclimb the last 20 feet which dropped steeply into a gaping and bottomless moat on more difficult 5.7+ looking rock. Not a good place to take a fall! Super bummed, I reclimbed the low 5th class terrain I had just downclimbed and sent messages to Josh via Inreach that I would not be able to meet them at Pickell Pass that night which would mean I just hiked 20+ miles to only get Whatcom Peak.
I ended up not really mattering as thety didn't make it to Pickell Pass either so I ended up just retreating back to Perfect Pass where I leisurly relaxed for the rest of the day, napping in the warm sun. I reveled in the awesome views and enjoyed a warm night stargazing in total solitude. The next morning I decided to explore the route around the NE flank of Whatcom so I wouldn't have to reclimb the peak and downclimb the steep north ridge. The route around Whatcom ended up being real straightforward, initially requiring only a 200 foot ascent from Perfect Pass then more or less a horizontal traverse across the snow slopes on the east side. Then a descending traverse to about 5200 feet, which was my lowest point to round the base of the NW rib. I was then aboe to continue on the polished glacier slabs below the dying Whatcom glacier, hopping over the many water channels along the way at the 5200-5300 foot level before making a small ascending traverse back to snowfields closer to Whatcom Pass. The final stretch to the pass involved some bushwhacking to locate the boot path leading back to the pass itself, but it was pretty short overall. Once at the pass, i made the 17 hot and muggy miles back to the car in about 6 hours, stopping to dunk myself in water along the trail twice.
It was disapponting to not be able to climb Challenger since I was so close, nor was I able to explore the areas beyond Challenger but I'll be back. There are currently other, more pressing peaks to climb!
All in all, it was an enjoyable few days even though I hiked nearly 50 miles without much to show for it. The area is extremely scenic!