I'd been hoping to get into The Pickets for a couple of years now and jumped at the opportunity with a perfect weather window and Dale in town over a weekend when I could take an extra day off work. We planned our adventure on Thursday night, left Seattle around 8:30am on Friday, grabbed permits for the Terror Basin, and started hiking up Goodell Creek at about 12:30pm.
Much has been written about the intensity and duration of Pickets approaches, so we were mentally prepared for a slog. Thankfully, a pleasant 1.5 hours along the creek with some brush, but nothing crazy, took us to the turn uphill. While it was steep and unrelenting for nearly 4,000 feet, it really wasn't that bad either. At 5,200 feet or so, we got our first full view of the Terror Glacier basin and our objective. It was striking and motivation enough to make the long, open traverse to the saddle at 6,200 feet and descend to camp. We met one other party of two there who decided to go for Terror. Another party of two came in after we'd set up camp; they were headed for West McMillan. Behind them was a party of four who were also aiming for Inspiration's East Ridge.
We got to bed early, woke up a little after 4am, and were on the move a bit after 4:30am. The benches weren't hard to navigate in the dark and we eventually made it to the outlet of the lake below McMillan before starting to head up slabs toward Inspiration. A little after 7am, we had crampons on and were crossing snow toward a narrow ramp which we hoped would take us to the upper glacier and the base of the route. After getting most of the way up it, we decided that it was too tenuous—the snow bridge wasn't very thick, the ice was pretty steep, and the crevasses below us were big.
We headed climber's right to the rock rib separating McMillan and Inspiration instead. It was mostly 4th class with a few 5th class moves. It brought us exactly where we wanted to go—to the upper glacier just a few hundred feet from the base of the route. We quickly traversed over and found a thin tongue of snow laying up against the face with significant moats on either side across the whole face. Lucky!
The first few hundred feet of the route were engaging, but forgettable. The climbing was pretty steep for approach shoes with packs and we gingerly simul-climbed our way up until things eased near the top. At the top of the saddle, we switched to rock shoes for the crux pitches and thoroughly enjoyed the first 5.8 pitch before arriving at a lovely ledge below the crux with stellar views from the Northern Pickets all the way around to Glacier Peak. We could see our friends cruising up West McMillan Spire as well.
Dale set off on the crux pitch and thoroughly enjoyed himself. The climbing was pretty physical with packs on and the crack was awesome, ranging from wide hands to perfect hands. I seconded and took a look around at every rest. The climbing would have been an amazing pitch on its own at Index, but to be on that face with that position in the wild Picket Range was something else. We finished the pitch with high fives and many a superlative uttered.
From there, it was easy ridge scrambling to the summit. We switched back to approach shoes and were glad we did. It was 12:30pm when we hit the summit, so we decided there was time for a short nap after lunch, and then it was time to begin the tedious descent. 3 double rope raps off the summit down the West Ridge got us to a station above the South Face. The rap from there was nearly a full rope length free hanging before touching down a little bit above the next rap. Invigorating!
The rest of the raps went without incident, as did our long end run across the glacier to make it through the maze of crevasses (photos from the summit were helpful). We retraced our steps from the morning at that point and were back at camp around 7pm to make dinner before dark.
After a leisurely start on our last day, we thoroughly enjoyed our descending traverse out, including foraging a bunch of wild blueberries. The hike down the steep ridge really wasn't that bad and put us back at the car at about 2:30pm. Our friends who had climbed McMillan told us about a great swimming hole from the group campsite, which we enjoyed thoroughly before heading back to town. Great weekend and an awesome realization that a place so wild and exciting was so close by. There's so much more to do!