Approaching "Pickle Pass" with Southern Pickets in the background.
  North Cascades Grand Tour – 1990  
  by Don Goodman  

Ohough pinpointing the exact genesis of the concept is not possible, I am sure it was awash in beer. I drew the enclosed one-page sketch (see part 2) sometime in the mid-1980s; it lingered in the “to-do” file year after year. Following a 1990 spring attempt of an 8000-meter peak in Nepal, which ended in the tragic death of two friends, I decided to return to my roots in the Cascades by attempting the “North Cascades Grand Tour.”


On summit of Redoubt.
On summit of Redoubt. Enlarge © Don Goodman.
Our objective was to link several typically separate high traverses in the North Cascades as a continuous, uninterrupted push. Several climbing partners expressed interest, but in the end, the only one I could count on for the entire trip was my lifetime climbing partner and wife, Natala Goodman. Natala did a brilliant job organizing the food, keeping the weight down and dividing it into four parts. The logistics were a bit complex by Cascades standards. A key element in the “continuous push” objective was the placement and receipt of food and equipment caches.


Our trip required one cache (Whatcom Pass) and two re-supply points (North Cascades Highway 20 and Cascade Pass Road). Natala and I packed the cache to Whatcom Pass on a two-day effort from Chilliwack Lake (Canada). We left the cache at the then unoccupied ranger camp on a bench north of the pass. My parents, Jim and Pauline Goodman, kindly agreed to four road trips: one to drop us off, two to re-supply us, and one to pick us up. Without their support, the trip would not have been possible.


On July 22, Jim and Pauline drove Natala and me to Depot Creek, Canada. I was impressed at Jim’s willingness to drive his van to within a mile of the border on the rough Depot Creek Road. At our first night’s camp, 6000 feet in the Depot drainage, Natala surprised me with two lightweight folding camp chairs. How she got those in her pack I will never know! They were one of the luxuries that we soon concluded were worth the weight and bulk. We spent four days working south via the Redoubt High Route to Whatcom Pass. We managed a climb of Redoubt, despite the unsettled weather during this section. In fog we struggled with the steep slick terrain at the headwaters of Pass Creek. Under continued white-out conditions, we found the ranger tent above Whatcom Pass occupied by a sleepy ranger Jim Hughes on the morning of the 25th. Jim had been wondering who had left the cache and was quite surprised to see us. It was a shock to increase our loads with the additional supplies, which included a frying pan and other luxuries that we would not normally even contemplate taking on an alpine traverse through the North Cascades.

At 2:00PM on the 26th our long-time friend and climbing partner Juan Esteban Lira joined us at Whatcom Pass for the next section of the adventure. Juan had taken the boat taxi up Ross Lake to the Little Beaver trail on the 25th.

On the North Ridge of Whatcom Peak
On the North Ridge of Whatcom Peak. Enlarge Photo © Don Goodman
We departed Whatcom Pass early on the 27th, still in the clouds but with improving barometric pressure. At 6200 feet on the north ridge of Whatcom Peak, we broke out of a sea of clouds into brilliant sunlight. Atop Whatcom Peak the weather radio announced 10 days of high pressure and clear skies. With buoyed spirits, we pushed onward to a camp at 6800 feet on the Challenger Glacier. This location was the first and only snow-camp on the entire trip. In the middle of that night, we were blessed with a spectacular Aurora Borealis, my first and only in the lower 48.

Following a climb of Challenger, the three of us embarked on the classical Pickets Traverse via the west side of the Northern Pickets to Picket Pass, McMillan Cirque, Elephant Butte and Sourdough Ridge to Diablo. Though the clear weather was welcome, the temperatures skyrocketed. The section from the headwaters of Goodell Creek to Picket Pass was especially difficult, with all of us suffering from various forms of heat exhaustion. From Picket Pass, Juan and I climbed East and West Fury. Without a doubt the Pickets take the cake for ruggedness.

The section from Picket Pass to Sourdough Ridge was perhaps the most daunting of the entire traverse. We relied heavily on Tabor and Crowder’s Routes and Rocks in the Mt. Challenger Quadrangle. With a high degree of trepidation, we descended into the McMillan Cirque, one of the great hellholes in the North Cascades. We found their description to be brilliant; we followed it religiously. In a written communication with Rowland Tabor later that year, I thanked him for guiding us through this difficult section. Rowland kindly responded that my letter was one of the few he ever received that was complimentary regarding his book! One angry traveler threatened to “punch him in the nose” if they ever met. Such is the hazard of guidebook authorship!

The three of us took a much needed rest in the snow-filled basin at the head of McMillan Cirque. We glassed a brown bear sprawled out on a cooling snow patch perhaps a quarter mile away. Though we likely saw a “brown phased” black bear, if ever a grizzly were to re-occupy the North Cascades, McMillan Cirque would be the place!

Natala on Spire Point.
Natala on Spire Point. Enlarge Photo © Don Goodman
Climbing out of the cirque to the 6600 foot saddle west of Elephant Butte was tricky and sometimes frightening. The north faces of the Southern Pickets threatened us with ice avalanches from above. At one point below McMillan Spires, we crossed a snow slab larger than a football field that shook and rumbled as if it were headed down to McMillan Creek with us aboard. None of us were interested in that toboggan ride. We moved as rapidly as possible through the hazard, and regained the ridge crest with great relief, where we camped.

We reached the town of Diablo on August 2, following a 7000 foot drop from Sourdough Ridge. Juan hitched to his car at the Ross Lake trailhead, dropping Natala and myself off at the Newhalem Campground, where we bid farewell. Per plan, Jim and Pauline met us on the 3rd with an incredible picnic lunch and re-supply for the next section, the Isolation/Inspiration High Route.
A high alpine traverse of the North Cascades starting at Depot Creek near the Canadian border, and continuing south through the Chilliwack Range, North and South Pickets, the Colonial Group to Eldorado and Boston Basin, and completing with the Ptarmigan Traverse.
• 28 Days
• 24 Major drainages traversed
• 59,900 feet gained/lost
• 127 miles (~20 on maintained trail)
• 19 peaks climbed
• July 22 to August 18, 1990
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