Luna Peak

July 24-25, 2022


Ross Lake / North Cascades Highway, WA

Luna Peak locates in the infamous Picket Range in the North Cascades which is known for being one of the most remote ranges in the “Lower 48”. The peaks in this range are extremely photogenic and rugged such that most require roped climbing. Luna Peak is the tallest in the range and steals the prominence out of the other towers, but the nearby Mt. Fury is only marginally lower such and the elevation difference is within error range of measurements. Those wishing to truly finish the “WA Peaks with 2000+ feet Prominence” list have to climb Luna Peak as well as both the east and west summits of Mt. Fury just to be sure. Contrary to the other peaks in this range Luna Peak actually does not require technical climbing although the class 4 traverse between the false and true summits is also not for the faint-hearted. Because of the lack of technical difficulty and the incredible views this peak had gained fair amount of attention on the internet in the past 5 years but still, one would not expect to run into another group up there in any given time.

Most people come up here only for Luna Peak, but I always wanted to combine with East and West Fury so that I don’t need to repeat this long ass approach another time. This would jack up the difficulty and demandingness of the trip into the next level making an already-type-2-fun trip more type 2. Elise mentioned that she wanted to climb Luna Peak as her birthday trip a few weeks earlier. I was still climbing and travelling in Peru but I immediately said yes if weather lined up nicely. I did not throw out the addition of Mt. Fury as these days I’m no longer as dead-set on the objectives as a few years ago. Having a relaxed camping trip with someone I like to spend days with sounded just as appealing as pulling off a difficult summit, if not more. A few days prior to the trip Dave Golias from Washington joined the team despite the forecasted heat wave and the lack of available boat rides and at the very last minute Elise mentioned that we should “maybe” push a little harder to add Mt. Fury in. My initial thought was to reject the crazy idea especially given the heat (valley forecast was 37 degrees) and the fact we had already lost the boat rides adding 11 km each way into the already-long plod, but a few minutes later my peak-bagging bug kicked in. I asked myself why I hadn’t done Luna Peak and the answer was exactly to wait for East/West Fury in a single batch of grabs.

I asked Adam to pass on the late Jake Robinson’s beta and then I downloaded Fletcher’s excellent trip report into the phone. I had already downloaded two sets of GPS tracks including both Luna Peak and Mt. Fury into the Gaia app. With the plan to climb West Fury we were now looking at an additional 16+ hour day so 3 days might not sound realisticly enough. We made the decision to rush the packing process to make the trail-head in the evening and dash down to Big Beaver camp on the supposed-driving day. I only had about an hour to put together Mt. Fury’s beta but given our on-field route-finding experience that was sufficient. I called Dave to inform him the change of plan and not to my surprise he’s totally down for the adventure. The new plan was then to meet at Ross Dam trail-head at roughly 7 pm. Elise showed up at my home at about 2 pm and we spent the next hour packing. I had to lend her a bunch of gears to lighten up the packs as every gram mattered on such a long approach. The border crossing was crazy on Sunday afternoon but I knew a sneaky way to short-cut into the line so our delay was well within 30 minutes. We then drove to Sedro-Woolley, stopped to grab some Subway sandwiches and then drove to the trail-head. Dave showed up about half an hour later and another half an hour later we were finally ready to roll, now with only about an hour’s daylight time left.

Luna Peak and Mt. Fury from Ross Dam Trail-head. GPX DL

The plod to Big Beaver campground was much more than the stats suggested with a whole lot of up-and-down involved. Firstly we had to lose more than 150 m precious elevation down to Ross Dam and we all knew how much appreciation we would have three days later. And then there came the traverse around the lake with some continuous elevation gain, loss and regain. I wore shorts for this approach and went topless almost immediately starting the lake’s traverse as it was hot and humid. Thankfully it wasn’t too buggy, yet. We kept marching to at least half an hour past the sunset before calling for a short break to turn on the head-lamps, and then dashed down to Big Beaver stock camp in another single push. Our approach time was about 2.5 hours covering 11 km distance with at least 150 m elevation gain and 300 m loss involved. We disappointedly found out that there’s no water source at this stock camp so we must suffer through the night with the minimal water we had carried this far in and that’s considering the heat wave we were in. The campground was flat with some cool facilities so the camping experience wasn’t actually that terrible.

Elise about to get ready for the adventure.
Walking down towards Ross Dam
This Dam is quite an engineering project…
Dave marching across Ross Dam
Water taxi parked at the dock but unavailable for us…
Jack Mountain with evening light brought back good memories to Dave and I
The typical plod on Ross Dam Trail for 11 km…
Looking back towards the dam and Colonial Peak group
Ruby Mountain behind Ross Lake at dusk
Finally we turned on the head-lamps
Elise and our tent at Big Beaver stock camp

The plan for Day 2 was to push all the way to Luna col, set up camp and summit Luna Peak in the evening and I anticipated a 15+ hour day as we wouldn’t be moving too fast in this heat. As usual for my trips once the plan’s made we must make it happen no matter how ridiculous it sounds like, so we set the alarm at 3 am. In the pitch dark we woke up, packed the tents and resumed the death march with head-lamps on. One normally does not do a true “alpine start” for a valley-floor approach but for us this isn’t uncommon. There was no breakfast for me due to our limited water. I anticipated a creek coming down from Mt. Prophet to come at any time and the plan was to stop and take a break there, and to have the delayed breakfast. However, this creek did not come until about 10 km later at near 39-Mile Camp. The daytime had already arrived and we were all serious beat, so a long break was seriously needed. The next stop was supposed to be Luna Camp almost another 10 km up the trail but we had to take a break sooner than that. We then continued plodding past Luna Camp but the trail beyond that was totally unmaintained. About 100 dead-falls were encountered within 1 mile past Luna Camp but thankfully our trailed approach was about to end there. We followed the GPS track bushwhacking down to Big Beaver River and found a not-so-great log. I was sure there were other logs somewhere up or down stream but this one looked reasonably doable so we might as well commit and not fuss around with other ideas. The crossing turned out sketchier than expected as the log wobbled, but we all got across without wetting ourselves and that’s all what mattered. A different log would likely be needed for the return trip but we would not worry about that until a few days later.

We rose early and kept marching in the dark..
Alpenglow on Stetattle Ridge that parallels Big Beaver River
Dave and Elise taking their first break at the first creek crossing
All those are sub-peaks and part of Sourdough Mtn./Stetattle Ridge
A bridge was washed out but we had a cool log
Dave leading the way. This was the typical slog up Big Beaver trail for almost 20 km
The next creek was an easy rock-hop across
Elise taking the next break on this day..
Past Luna Camp here we go the dead-falls
What a mess we had to deal with. Believe it or not we were following an official trail
A while later here’s Dave balancing across the log on Big Beaver River
Elise crossing Big Beaver on that same log, the key of this access route

I then made a switch from trail runners and shorts to mountaineering boots and pants. Elise also switched footwear to boots but Dave opted to keep wearing trail-runners. We had another stretch of bushwhacking as the general direction wasn’t very obvious immediately above Big Beaver River. The bushwhacking was actually not too bad but we somehow ended up on the wrong side of Access Creek so we had to find a spot to cross that creek as well. After that we only had a very short stretch of thrashing before merging onto the climber’s trail. This trail was in a much better quality than anticipated. Higher up the trail does have a lot of indistinct sections but for the most parts we were able to easily stay on the path avoiding any unnecessary bushwhacking. A key spot came at a field of alders. I led us ascending too far up climber’s right side of the creek and the trail came to a dead-end. We backtracked and found that key spot to (sketchily) hop across Access Creek back to the south side and 1 minute later we were out of the forest. The next kilometer or so up the drainage involved mostly boulder-hopping. The process was tedious but we made slow but steady progress. We took another long break before committing to the next, grueling section of the approach.

We then had no choice but to bushwhack through Devil’s Club field for a while
As soon as we really started to gain elevation we picked up the climber’s path
The climber’s trail was mostly easy to follow but did have indistinct sections
Me and Dave trying very hard to not lose the trail here…
Having a trail was very rewarding when it comes to alders that tall…
Dave happy to finally exit the green zone
Elise then starting the endless boulder-hopping game
Our first objective, Luna Peak finally came in sight
Elise in the endless field of boulders with Mt. Prophet far back in the distance
Dave taking another much-needed break in the smoking heat
There were a few patches of snow fields to offer some changes from the boulders
Elise with Mt. Prophet behind
Luna Peak’s east face again. It’s looking a little bit closer

The next stage involved a 600-m straight up grunt with no break whatsoever and the heat had really taken a toll on us by this point. Our progress had become painfully slow but at least we weren’t stopping. The slog started on snow but soon we merged into a steep gully of heather, filthy dirt and unstable boulders. Grunting up this gully was the worst of this section and it lasted for quite a while. We then emerged into a basin but there’s no flat spot available. I ascended most scree and rubble on climber’s right side aiming for a steep snow-filled chute onto Luna Peak’s SE shoulder whereas the others went to try the snow but then went back onto the rocks. We all had to ascend the snow eventually. I thought we might had to repack to dig the crampons out but the snow was just soft enough to not require that. Without the snow climbing gears the ascent felt decently exposed so we all had to be extra careful. The view was also significantly foreshortened but I was constantly checking the GPS to not get fooled by the views. We had to stop for a break somewhere in the middle of this stretch and then stopped for another long break once above the gully.

Elise starting the most unpleasant part of this approach.
Dave existing the choss gully
Elise about to exit that choss gully as well
A few hundred meters of elevation gain later here’s Elise coming to the rest spot
The ascent on snow was mandatory here but gears weren’t needed
Elise plodding up the 35+ degrees snow slope onto Luna’s SE Shoulder
Mt. Prophet in a much clearer view
Finally got a view of Jack Mountain’s Nohokomeen Glacier

There finally came the first views of the southern Picket Range but there also came another stretch of shitty terrain as we must wrap around a vegetated bowl on 45-degrees heather slopes. Thankfully there’s already a climber’s path developed but the steep grass never was pleasant. Around the next corner we finally came to the S/SE bowl of Luna Peak. More heather slopes were followed by continuous snow as we ascended higher to above 1900 m elevation. We would stay on snow most of the way to Luna col from this point on. The traverse to the col was also more involved than I thought with fair amount of steep snow and some scrambling near the end. I don’t think we had picked the best route near the col as our descent route a few days later was entirely on snow and much simpler. There’s no running water at the col but the melt-water was pooling at a few places. Both Dave and I had brought filters so we had our water source without needing to melt snow, at last. I then pitched the tent out and we chilled for at least an hour if not two hours. Inside the tent had become a cooking oven so Elise and I had to get out and then we realised that we might as well should start scrambling Luna Peak. The summit of that peak should at least be a couple degrees cooler.

Elise taking yet another break while traversing Luna Peak’s south face
After a long zone of heather traverse we merged onto continuous snow
Jack Mountain behind the long ass Big Beaver valley
Me and Dave scrambling rocks to top out onto Luna Col
Elise at Luna col pointing at our first objective
We spent at least 1-2 hours at camp as we had extra time to kill

Luna Peak’s scramble from camp was rather no-brainer up until the false summit but again the view was foreshortened. It looked like we would make the false summit in half an hour but the reality was more than twice as long as I thought. We also had to gain more than 300 m elevation on mostly boulders. From the false summit the traverse to the true summit appeared daunting. None of us really came here with much beta but we knew it would go at “class 4” so let’s figure it out while exploring. The plan was to stay on the ridge crest unless we absolutely had to drop to either side. The exposure was severe and the scrambling was difficult at times, but we did manage to mostly stay on the crest. At one section in the middle we bypassed a chuck of the crest by traversing a ledge on climber’s right side, but immediately after that we went back onto the crest and stayed on until the very summit. We stayed on the summit for at least half an hour as the day’s still hot and we had a couple more hours of daylight time before sunset.

Elise and Dave now marching up the lower south slopes of Luna Peak
Elise higher up with Elephant Butte behind
Dave arriving at Luna Peak’s false summit
Elise starting the uber exposed traverse, dropping down from the false summit
The typical terrain on the Luna Peak summit ridge traverse
We dropped very briefly to the north side but we didn’t have to
Elise now nearing the summit of Luna Peak, still dealing with ample exposure
Elise and Dave arriving at the summit of Luna Peak
Partial Summit Panorama from Luna Peak. Click to view large size.
Partial Summit Panorama from Luna Peak. Click to view large size.
Mt. Terror at center, the tallest in the Southern Pickets
The McMillan Spires in the Southern Pickets
The two peaks of Hozomeen Mountain are as scary as they looked
A closer look at Mt. Redoubt
Mt. Spickard with the Mox Peaks blended in front, all bagged in 2018
Jack Mountain from the summit of Luna Peak
In the foreground is Stetattle Ridge
Glacier Peak in the far distance
Elise on the true summit of Luna Peak
The shadow of Luna Peak in Access Creek where we came up from
Elise and me celebrating the true summit of Luna Peak
Elise taking a nap with East/West Fury behind
Our group shot on the summit of Luna Peak

We decided to not watch sunset from the summit as we had a very long day ahead and needed to rest. Reversing the summit ridge traverse was very fun but care must be taken due to the exposure. We then had an uneventful descent back to camp and the boulder-hopping on trail runners was actually quite enjoyable. And then there came the evening routine and one of the best sunsets I had ever had in the Washington Cascades. We stayed until the show’s over despite the mosquitoes. Sleep came fairly easily after such a grueling day but we all knew the next day would be even longer. The alarm was set at 3:30 am and there went the ascents of East and West peaks of Mt. Fury.

Elise starting the descent off from Luna Peak’s true summit
This is the very typical terrain on the summit ridge traverse
Elise tackling an airy 4th class move
Almost back onto the false summit
Elise on Luna’s false summit with Southern Pickets
Elise and I back onto the false summit’s easier ground
Me in front of the Southern Pickets, the mandatory Luna Peak’s shot
Elise with our next objectives, Mt. Fury East/West behind
Descending off Luna Peak’s false summit
A full view of the southern Pickets – McMillian, Inspiration, Degenhart, Terror, etc..
This is the typical terrain on Luna Peak’s lower slopes
The first bump on the traverse towards Mt. Fury ahead with the obvious “red ledge”
Elise walking back to Luna col camp
Elise chilling at camp after doing hair thing..
Another photo of Elise with our tent
It’s Mountain House time… Luna Peak behind
A while later it’s evening alpenglow time. Glacier Peak in the distance
The massif of Mt. Logan in the far distance, another uber remote summit
Evening alpenglow on Mt. Prophet
Elise, our tent and the gorgeous sunset
Sunset behind the shoulder of Mt. Challenger in the Northern Pickets
Dave having his meal with Jack Mountain behind
Mt. Fury in the evening lighting
This is hands down one of the best campsite in Washington State
Me in front of the sunset show at Luna Col camp
One last look at the sun dropping down behind Mt. Larabee/American Border Peak