Mt Challenger 8207ft (2502m)
June 23-26, 2005
Marek, Jake, and I climbed Mt Challenger
I rode my motorcycle to Jake's where we met Marek and made the long drive up to the Hannegan Pass trailhead. While we were sorting our gear at the trailhead, we met a group of ladies who had just returned from a hike and they commented on all the food that we were bringing. They drew particular attention to the cans of food that Jake was packing. "You're going to pack all that out, now aren't you?", one inquired. "Yes, of course", we assured them. Jake made fast friends of them by giving them a bottle of Champagne that he had brought to leave in the car for our return. (Either for celebration or consolation). We no longer needed the Champagne since I bought a six-pack of PBR pints at a convenience store we stopped at on the drive up. I took a piece of cord and rigged them so they could hang down the embankment in the river to keep safe and cool until our return.
Before heading out we hefted each other's packs to see who was in for the most suffering. Jake won hands down, with his pack full of canned goodness: a family sized Nalley's 'Big Chunk' Beef Stew, Kidney Beans, Chicken Noodle soup, Clams, Tuna, and more! Marek and I planned to make do with dried meals and nutrition bars with our only can being that of Sardines for an after summit day treat.
It was 4:15pm by the time we put on our packs, snapped a trailhead photo, and headed up the trail.
Jake and Marek had been on previous trips to Challenger so they knew the route well. They also knew what lay ahead of us. This was my first trip to the area and while I had read the guidebooks and bought the FIVE USGS maps that our route would span, I deliberately avoided calculating the mileage or elevation gain/loss. Ignorance is bliss when it comes to tackling mountains of this size and remoteness. I reasoned that they were all 'just numbers' and as long as I could keep putting one foot in front of the other I could do it. I've been told that the way to eat an elephant is "one bite at a time", so that would be my mantra for the next three days.
The trail up to Hannegan Pass was very enjoyable with all the wildflowers and views of Ruth Mountain. Glacier lilies, Bleeding Hearts, Avalanche lilies, Columbine, Paintbrush, and even a few dandelions bordered the trail. A mile into the hike I offered, "You know, it's not too late to turn around." This being a favorite line of our friend Greg who couldn't make the trip with us since he recently returned from a trip to Peru. On our way up we met several day hikers coming down, and a party of two which had come down from Copper Ridge where they met some weather Tuesday evening. We took a break at the Pass before making the long desent down the other side to the Chilliwack River. We were definitely in bear country now as evidenced by the torn apart rotten logs, and the impressive piles of skat we found in the middle of the trail. At one such pile we commented, "Whoa, that was BIG bear! Good to see that he is eating well and isn't lacking for food."
It was several miles after I could hear the river that we finally left the Chilliwack River Trail and made our way down to the banks of the river. Although it was mostly downhill from Hannegan Pass, I recognized the effort that it was going to take to get back up. I told Marek and Jake that it was definitely too late to turn back now. I joked that I wasn't willing to hike all the way back up without having the summit of Challenger. At the river Jake and I filtered some water- Marek just filled up his bottles- and we took off our boots to wade the river. Marek had brought some sandals just for the crossing so we wouldn't have to go barefoot. Marek went first and then stuck a rock in the toe of the sandal and threw them back across the river to Jake. On one of their previous trips to Challenger, the tennis shoes they had brought for the crossing didn't get thrown all the way across, so we made sure to "not leave the shot short". Jake went next and after he made it to the other side and loaded the sandals up with rocks, I squatted down in a catcher's position and gave him the sign for an inside fastball. Jake's delivery was right on the money and I quickly put on the sandals and waded across. Meanwhile Marek was on the other side locating a place for us to bivy for the night. While Jake and I were putting our boots back on Marek returned and led us to a wide, flat spot just off the trail. He already had his stove going and was preparing some beet soup. After a well earned dinner, we collected all our food in a bag and hoisted in up in a tree away from our camp.
Friday morning we woke up around 6am and were glad to see our food bag still hanging in the tree. I had slept well, but I did recall a dream about a bear chomping on my legs through my bivy sack. "No you stupid bear, this is a Bibler!", I objected. Jake informed me that there was a squirrel that had been squawking at me earlier that morning. My ear plugs had drowned it all out. After some oatmeal and tea, we filtered more water and then broke camp and headed up the trail. The brush was pretty dry as we hiked up the overgrown climbers trail. Soon we were out of the dense brush of the confluence of Easy Creek and the Chilliwack river and entered the mature forest. There were a few fallen trees across the trail, but it wasn't a problem as we made our way up to Easy Pass.
Once on top of Easy Ridge we were treated to spectacular views as we hiked through the alpine meadows, and along the corniced ridge around to Whatcom Peak. We stopped for a break on the other side of Easy Peak where you can still see the tie downs for an old fire lookout. We worked our way down the other side and continued hiking along the ridge with Whatcom Peak looming larger and larger. I was very glad to be with Jake and Marek who both knew the approach very well from their previous trips. Towards the eastern end of the ridge they started a rightward descending traverse towards the deep ravine that holds the fabled 'imperfect impasse'. This 4th class rock step is a kind of shortcut over a deep ravine running 1400' down from Whatcom Peak.
On a previous trip Jake, Marek, and Michael had spent several hours searching for this short cut, but with no luck. We spent about 10 minutes looking around the area (where I took the two pictures below) but I didn't see an obvious route so I suggested we just bite the bullet and drop down and around the ravine. So we made our way down the loose scree and boulder field about 800' before Marek spotted an animal path on the other side of the rivine that we were able to scramble down to. We had to bushwhack about 30' on the other side until we emerged on some heather slopes. We slowly worked our way up to Perfect Pass after scrambling up some steep slabs, then some slabs, more heather slopes, several boulder fields, snowfields, then more heather slopes.
Clouds were starting to roll in obstructing our view of the Challenger Glacier. We located a flat spot to bivy near some boulders out of the wind. It was about 6:15pm. Jake and I started to make camp while Marek explored farther up the edge of the glacier. Soon Marek returned and said, "Hey there are four or five climbers coming across the glacier". We hadn't seen any other tracks on our approach, so we thought he was joking. "Yeah, right", we replied. "They'll be here in 10 minutes, you can talk to them yourself", he answered. Sure enough, about 20 minutes later four tired climbers walked up to our camp. Doxey, Carla, Laurie and Katie were making a seven day Challenger Traverse from Ross Lake to Hannegan Pass. We visited for a while then they headed off to pitch their tents and eat some dinner.
We knew from the forecast that weather was predicted to come in Saturday afternoon, so we decided to make an alpine start to give us the best chance to summit. With Marek's watch alarm set for 3:30am, we crawled into our bivy sacks with Challenger Dreams on our minds.
Saturday morning we woke to the sound of rain hitting our bivy sacks. I unzipped my bivy sack and saw that clouds had rolled in during the night and surrounded the entire area. The wind was fairly calm but we knew that worse weather was predicted to be coming in and we really didn't want to get stuck out on the large Challenger Glacier if the weather deteriorated. So we decided to wait a few more hours for it to get lighter and see what the weather was going to do. I know I was feeling pretty dissappointed at the idea of coming all this way and having to turn around without the summit.
Around 5:30am I woke up and took another look outside my bivy sack and was thrilled that the clouds had cleared and the glacier was in full view! I quickly relayed this info to Jake and Marek and soon we were putting on our boots while Marek heated up some water for a quick warm breakfast. It was a little after 6:20am when we roped up and headed off across the glacier.
We followed the tracks from the other party across the western edge of the glacier to a rock cleaver and did some interesting traverse in our crampons across some boulders and slabs to the other side. Here we lost the boot track but we were able to see enough to know that we needed to drop down a few hundred feet to avoid some large crevasses. I lead down a steep section of the glacier using all three of our pickets for protection. Once we were safely at the bottom of the steep part of the glacier we picked up the boot track again and made an easy traverse up to the Challenger Arm. A little below the Arm we could see where the other party had ventured off in various directions while they were negotiating the glacier in a whiteout. What a difference visibility makes! The upper part of the mountain was still in clouds, but below 7700' everything was clear.
Once on the Challenger Arm we made an ascending traverse up to where we could rejoin the boot track from the other party. Since they had camped the day before on the snow dome just to the west of Wiley Lake, their approach was farther east and dropped down lower than ours. What a difference a day makes: Here is a picture of Doxey's party descending from the summit ridge Climbed across Challenger Glacier from Perfect Pass to summit. Climbed back to camp and hiked down and back up to Easy Ridge
Hiked from East end of Easy Ridge to Hannegan Trailhead, arrived at 4:15pm.