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Hike to Terror Basin and Climb West McMillan Spire

Whatcom County, Washington

Details

Distance

16 miles

Elevation Gain

9800 ft

Route Type

Out-and-Back

Description

Added by Tyler Howe

The Picket Range offers unparalleled ruggedness and remoteness for the advanced hiker/climber looking for a true adventure.

 The Picket Range is a remote and rugged subrange of Washington's North Cascades. It draws very few visitors per year, and the odds of seeing another human on your adventure are very low. West McMillan Spire is an 8,000' peak located in the Southern Pickets. It is a Class 3 climb involving both snow and rock. The easiest access point is from the Goodell Creek Campground, but you begin the hike at about 600', leaving quite a lot more to the summit. 

Due to the rugged and remote nature of the Picket Range, the hike is not recommended for beginners or those who are not confident in both their physical and navigational skills. It can be done in a day, but is best done over two nights.

Getting There:

Starting from I-5, drive along Highway 20 east about 60 miles to Newhalem. Just after you cross Goodell Creek, take the first left onto a small road, then turn immediately left at the T. Follow the road for a ways, and take the right branch uphill towards the Upper Goodell Creek Group Camp. Once you reach the group camp with a toilet and covered area, park and locate the trailhead (just back down the road from the camp). 

The Trail:

The trail in is an unmaintained climbers trail. It ascends relatively softly for 4.5 miles paralleling Goodell Creek. You will reach a flat spot with quite a few cairns and a trail leading straight up the slope to your right. This is where the easy part ends. It is a leg-destroying 2.5 mile, 4,700 foot gain that seemingly never ends. The trail becomes VERY faint at times, even when it is not obscured by snow. Foliage is very dense, so be ready to do some bushwhacking (and a bit of class 3 root-pulling at a cliff line). Know the terrain, have a GPS, and be careful (at a large creek bed crossing at ~5,100', there appears to be a well-beaten trail across the way... the trail continues up the creek instead. Following the other trail will get you very lost). Once you break above the treeline, you begin to traverse north towards a notch in the ridge at 6,200'. At the top of the notch, you can see Terror Basin below and the McMillan Spires and the rest of the Southern Pickets. Descend from the notch (the very top part of the descent is a quite steep loose rock slope that leads down towards a snowfield) towards the flat gravel area below. There are a few places flattened out for tents, with one site having a wind barrier around it. This camp is absolutely gorgeous with stunning views of the pickets and a great source of meltwater from the snowfields above. To get to McMillan, traverse north from the camp towards the glacial lake at the base of the peak. The way is marked with cairns and a faint trail. At the lake, (carefully) cross the snow bridge over the outlet and begin ascending towards the col below the western ridge of West McMillan. Ascend the snowfield towards the shoulder, then begin heading climber's right as you near the top of the col. Reach solid rock, then scramble to the summit.

Important Notes:

The Picket Range is located within the North Cascades National Park, and as such you need a free permit to camp. Pick one up at the Ranger Station before beginning the hike.

Snow will last year-round, and due to the high exposure of the climb, an ice axe and crampons are pretty much a must, even to make it to the Terror Basin camp. (It can be done without, but is not recommended, especially if the snow is not soft enough to kick solid steps)

USE A GPS! Unless you have been to the area before or are with someone who has, you are almost guaranteed to lose the trail at one point or another. Having a GPS makes it much easier and less stressful to navigate. This GPS track is one of the most complete and detailed online: https://caltopo.com/m/R3U3

See the Summitpost page for more detailed information: https://www.summitpost.org/west-mcmillan-spire/826916 


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