Route: Thread of Ice (FA) (early summer conditions, steep snow/ice to 5.7 rock, W and E summits)

TR #: 66

Category: Washington (HWY 20)       Summit Elev: 7,836 ft       Rock Type: Gneiss

Partner: Wayne Wallace

This was my first first ascent, up a sweeping line of snow/ice on the north side of Twin Needles, named by John Roper in the early 80's. It was a great climbing line, and lots of fun to do a first ascent in the Pickets in particular. 

The Idea and Plan of a First Ascent in the Pickets

During a north to south traverse of the Picket Range last summer, I was intrigued by a couple of lines on the north side of Twin Needles: the sweeping north ridge and the snaking 1200-ft snow/ice couloir next to it. I later discovered that these two lines were the "Thread of Gneiss" and "Thread of Ice" named by John Roper on his ascent of the Twin Needles in 1981.

As far as I know, neither Thread had ever been climbed. Until June 27, 2009, that is.

Here are some photos of the north side of Twin Needles showing the Threads. The Thread of Ice is marked on the third photo.

Twin Needles in July 1984 (by John Roper).
Twin Needles in early August 2008 (taken by me on a traverse of the Picket Range).
Twin Needles in December 2008, with Thread of Ice annotation (aerial photo taken on a ride with John Scurlock).

Wayne Wallace and Mike Layton had attempted the "Thread of Gneiss" in 2007. They had encountered a rotten fault line that was almost impassable, and deemed the buttress not worth the risk. So I turned my attention instead to the steep, skinny, shadowy, snow couloir that snakes its way to Eye Col between the two Needles.

I emailed Wayne Wallace and asked if he was interested.

"Heck, yeah."

So, on June 26, we headed up the Barrier into the Southern Pickets, hoping that the June conditions in the couloir would be a 1200-ft continuous line of steep snow and ice. We hit the route under ideal conditions, and had a great first ascent of what turned out to be a pretty cool route.

(Note on conditions: This route is very dependent on conditions. A melt-freeze cycle could result in an amazing water ice route, heavy snows could create the potential for a challenging ski descent, or patchy/nonexistent snow and ice could make the ascent impossible. Under ideal conditions of continuous snow and ice, the route does not pose any major challenges.)

Now for some photos!

Photos and Trip Commentary

The Approach from Goodell Creek to Crescent Creek Basin.
(click on the images to enlarge)
Crossing Terror Creek.
Climbing up the Barrier. There is a steep bootpath that begins up the hillside on the other side of the creek crossing. It can be tricky to find at times, but it is well worth searching for!
Parties coming down the Barrier might want to keep an eye out for this marker where the trail up from Terror Creek meets the Barrier Crest.....
Our campsite on the Chopping Block Ridge. We camped here, and climbed the Thread the next day.
The view of the Crescent Creek Spires from camp. To get to the Thread of Ice the next day, we would have to traverse across the basin and climb through the Otto-Himmel col to reach the north side of Twin Needles. The descent would involve descending a gully on the south side.
Looking up the south side of the Otto-Himmel col on the approach to the climb on Day 2. Later in the summer, the col poses more of a chossy challenge.
Descending the north side of the Otto-Himmel col. The Thread of Ice starts about 1000ft dwn from the col on the right.

First Ascent of Thread of Ice on Twin Needles. Tagged both summits.
(click on the images to enlarge)
The entrance to the steep, shadowy couloir.
Steph starting up the couloir.
More of the same.
Wayne climbing up as the couloir narrows and steepens in the upper half.
A 23-second video taken by Wayne during the climb.
Steph topping out with the Thread of Ice stretching below. Wayne got some nice photos here.
A final steep section to get to Eye Col between the East and West Twin Needles. Success! A new route in the Pickets!
The Thread of Ice ends at Eye Col between the East and West Twin Needle summits. From Eye Col, we climbed up to both summits. First we climbed up East Twin Needle (summit elevation 7,840 ft). This photo shows the route up East Twin Needle as seen from West Twin Needle (which we climbed next).
Wayne leading the way up the East Twin Needle from Eye Col. Here he is at the crux, a 5.7 handcrack that was half filled with ice.
Wayne close to the summit.
Wayne on the summit of East Twin Needle. This is a spectacular summit, with a shear drop to the east.
A 28-second video taken by Wayne of the spectacular views from the East Twin Needle.
Next we climbed the West Twin Needle (summit elevation 7,936 ft). This photo shows the route up the West Twin Needle as seen from East Twin Needle. The route was mostly Class 3-4.
Climbing the West Twin Needle.
A crux 5.6-ish section just below the summit of the West Twin Needle.
The view of the Thread of Ice from the summit of the West Twin Needle.
For the descent, we had planned on going down the 1932 gully scramble route described in CAG. However, I think we took a different gully system down. The descent involved the usual amount of tedious downclimbing and rappelling.
Chockstone rappel.

Photos from near camp on Chopping Block Rdige.
(click on the images to enlarge)
Enjoying the evening light at our campsite on the Chopping Block Ridge.
A beautiful sunset.
A beautiful sunset.
An important member of the team.
This ladybug made 5.12 look easy.
Watching South Park in the Pickets was almost surreal.
Beginning the 5-hr descent back to the car on Day 3.

First Ski Descent

In early July 2011, two years after Wayne and I achieved the first known ascent of the Thread of Ice, the first known ski descent was made of the route, by Louie Dawson and Kirk Turner. Check out the trip report at (Louie's) or (Kirk's)!