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John Scurlock: Peaks of the Northwest


Submitted by j_ung on 2009-02-07 | Last Modified on 2009-02-21

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 12 | Comments: 16 | Views: 5000

by J. Young


Photos and captions by John Scurlock

There’s not much chance that you have ever been to the places you are about to see, and even less of a chance that you’ve been there in the conditions in which your about to see some of them. Bear in mind, I say this not about you, but about the places themselves. In the best of conditions, they are difficult to reach. In winter conditions… well, you get the point. If you have been to any of these places, there is even less of a chance that you’ve seen a small yellow airplane buzzing around. If you have, you saw John Scurlock in his Van’s RV6, which he built himself. It is from the cockpit of that plane that he recorded these shots.

Scurlock was captivated by the peaks of the remote North West since he first saw the Cascades featured in a 1970s National Geographic, flying since he finished building his plane in 2001, and exploring wild areas for longer than both of those. This is what happens when those three loves come together.

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Scurlock’s Van’s RV6 on the ground at Weed, CA. Writes Scurlock about this shot: “I have just completed photographing Shasta and its glaciers. Thunderstorms are brewing to the southeast, so I drop down into Weed for fuel. Then it's time to run for home, almost 500 miles north. The changing weather drives a tailwind that pushes my ground speed to nearly 230 mph, and I'm back on the ground in Concrete by late afternoon.”
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To quote The Bugaboos, by Chris Atkinson and Marc Piche, "The magnificent west face of the Howser Towers presents the longest and most remote face in the Bugaboos, and is often compared with the Cirque of the Unclimbables and Patagonia..." This face is home to such monumental routes as All Along The Watchtower, The Seventh Rifle, and Young Men On Fire (commemorating a lightning strike just below the summit during the first ascent of this route).
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In the severe remoteness on the northeastern edge of the sublime Homathko Icefield sits the rarely climbed Queen Bess. Accessed typically by helicopter, the south buttress got its first free ascent in August 2007. Arguably one of the most beautiful peaks in the southern Coast Mountains of BC, the east and NE faces are unclimbed, although there was at least one attempt to ski the NE face last year by two rather intrepid & definitely extreme skiers from Pemberton.
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The South Face of Mt. Waddington is an amazing forest of icy towers, minarets, and couloirs. I'm fascinated that this face was the scene of the epic first ascent in July of 1936, by Fritz Weissner and Bill House.
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This wonderful peak, Cathedral, sits in one of the most isolated corners of the Pasayten Wilderness. Access would probably be easiest through southern British Columbia. There are a number of moderate to difficult rock routes on the south and east faces.
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The Zorro Face of the North Peak of Hozomeen sits atop the list of the great unclimbed 'prizes' of the North Cascades. Despite proximity to the east shore of Ross Lake in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, the approach is brutal, the rock of uncertain (poor!) quality, the angle steep and unrelenting. One failed attempt to climb this face even featured a bolt placement on the approach.
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Although not a standout for altitude in the North Cascades, Bear features one of the great north faces of the range, with outstanding rock routes on several flying buttresses, topped by “The Diamond,” the vertical rock face below the summit.
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The Picket Ranges in North Cascades National Park are known for their rugged alpine and glaciated nature, but this, the E/NE Face of East McMillan Spire, stands out in particular. Anchoring the east end of the southern Pickets, it is unclimbed, with no natural lines and typical North-Cascades rock quality. During winter, it is impossibly draped with ice; seemingly hand-decorated by the gods of snow.
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Thielsen is a distinctive volcanic pinnacle in the southern Oregon Cascades, just to the north of Crater Lake. I believe it has 4th and 5th-class rock routes on it, most of which would need to be completed before midday, to avoid the characteristic afternoon thunderstorms of that area!
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Gunsight has some of the highest quality granite to be found in the North Cascades, but because of the difficult approach and remote location, it is seldom visited. In July of 2007, Blake Herrington and Dan Hilden completed the 'Gunrunner' traverse of Gunsight, IV 5.10. The trip report can be read on CascadeClimbers.org.

John Scurlock’s photographs have appeared in several books and periodicals, such as XXX. His work will also soon be the subject of its own book, Aerial Photography Among The Great Peaks Of The Pacific Northwest, and his web gallery has spawned many an adventure, as climbers from all over the world with ambitions in the high Northwest stop in for first glimpses of their coveted prizes.

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16 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

 kachoong
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 2009-02-08
5 out of 5 stars These pics are absolutely stunning!! Certainly plenty of routes there for the next generation.
 irregularpanda
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 2009-02-08
GRRRRRRRRRR
 qwert
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 2009-02-09
Absolutely fantastic images!
I really like it that more and more quality articles get posted on rc.com.
 j_ung
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 2009-02-09
Thank you, Qwert!
 boymeetsrock
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 2009-02-09
Great pictures indeed!! I also agree with Qwert.

 yosemite26
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 2009-02-09
that is insane...great pics!
 hosh
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 2009-02-09
Are these photos available in large print version? Poster size? I'd like to try and talk my wife into getting some...
 j_ung
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 2009-02-10
Hosh, check the link in the last paragraph. That's John's website.
 dreadlock
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 2009-02-10
Great photos.......the shot of the South Face of Mt. Waddington is absolutely stunning!
 hugepedro
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 2009-02-10
My old stomping grounds. My grandfather managed the North Cascades, and he oversaw their transition from National Forest to National Park, and in doing so led the development of the management plan that designated that area to remain remote, pristine, and wild, not developed with roads and lodges like every other National Park.

At the time, in the post-war baby boom, the Dept of Interior was under heavy pressure from the extraction industries to harvest the vast timber and mineral resources there. With much persuasion and helicopter trips to view scenes like the ones in these pictures, my Grandfather was able to change the mind of the Secretary of the Interior, and convince him that the North Cascades should remain wild for future generations to enjoy.

I have a picture of Gramps on Mt. Rainier in my photos. I'm awfully proud of the man, and he's still kicking it at 97 years old.

If you ever find yourself enjoying the amazing beauty of the North Cascades, whether way out there in the Pickets, or from highway 20 (for which my Grandfather surveyed the route on horseback), say a little word of thanks to Harold "Chris" Chriswell, because he is in a large part responsible that this incredible area is preserved for us and generations to come.
 j_ung
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 2009-02-11
HP, if you get a chance, pass my thanks on for me, willya? I've never been, but sometimes, just knowing it's there is enough.
 dougal
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 2009-02-12
Wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing them. I'm curious about your description of the N. Face of E. McMillan Spire being unclimbed. My partner Bryce Simon and I did the FA of the N. Buttress of E. McMillan in 1976. At least one variation on steeper ground than the buttress itself was done ten or so years later. Perhaps these routes are not considered on the actual face. In any case, your photo took me back to some good memories. Am forwarding to my climbing partner.
 jscurlock
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 2009-02-12
Apologies for any confusion on E Mc Spire. The description refers only to the 'direct' E/NE face, not the NF, NB, or its variations. I am aware of your FA, btw, as remarkable today even as it was in '76.

Best Regards,
JS
 dougal
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 2009-02-13

JS, No apologies necessary. I was just guessing that the ascent(s) subsequent to the N. Butt. were on the face. I don't have a really clear memory of what that part of the mountain looked like, other than steep. The N. Butt was a walk by today's standards but I think the approach discourages a lot of people--for good reason. A minor historical point that we chuckle about is that Fred was apparently stalking this route around the same time we were. In fact I'm sure that my partner learned of it from Fred. This was the fourth time my partner Bryce Simon had tried to get on the route, having been weathered out on the previous tries. I recall that we entered a phony destination on the climbing register so as not to tip Fred. I think the record shows Fred was doing another FA on Spider Mtn (?) on the weekend we managed to poach this one.
I wonder if you have any photos of the N.B. of Triumph. That was one of the last N. faces to get done and from what I heard it was a really scary undertaking.

 dougal
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 2009-02-13
HugePedro, Your grandfather is a real hero. I'm saying my thanks right now.
 scottydo
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 2009-03-04
5 out of 5 stars Amazing pictures. Makes me want to exprience it all first hand.

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