Marybeth and I studied the forecast all week hoping to squeeze in one last backpack and few summits as the autumn rains become more and more frequent in the PNW. The weather in rainy Pass called for AM showers clearing in the afternoon on Saturday and then a bright and sunny Sunday. We decided to put up with the morning rain and head out to Snowy Lakes to see some yellow larches in the North Cascades. From there we would attempt Golden Horn (scramble class 3/a few class five moves) and Tower Mountain (scramble class 3). Both are on the list of Washington’s 100 highest.

We hit the trail at about 9:00am beginning on the PCT from Rainey Pass. There was light drizzle and mist blanketed the mountains, but we had confidence that by afternoon the sun would come out and reveal the cascades (and dry the rock). As we ascended to Cutthroat Pass the weather just could not make up its mind. The mist parted and the sun began to come out.. then the rain and mist would return in varying intensities. It was a day where you cannot figure your layering system!

As we crested Cutthroat pass the mist swirled around us and thickened as we turned left and headed along the ridge. The trail is in great condition, though there was some fresh snow in small patches along the way. We could only see the views every now and then for brief moments as the weather continued to be undecided. At noon the skies began to clear and we got our first look at Golden Horn and Tower Mountain in the distance. We stopped on a flat rock for lunch and admired the view. Of course as we packed up to the leave it was misty again.

We descended to Graiate Pass and soon after left the PCT at an unmarked junction turning right. We climbed on a lesser maintained trail for about 500 feet to reach Lower Snowy Lake… in another 100 feet we arrived at Upper Snowy Lake. Lots of the campsites there were on the muddy side, but we found one that did not sink under the weight of our boots. The rian had stopped and the mist was blowing in and out of the basin as we set up camp. By that that it was about 3:30pm. The sky was clearing to reveal the two peaks. I should see the Tower had some descent sized snowy patches on the rock. I could not see the summit block of Golden Horn from my angle, but assumed it would be similar. We decided to save the scrambled for the following day as the rain and sun were still competed and the rock was obviously going to be wet.

We settled into the tent to relax after the 10.7 mile trek in. I fell asleep. Marybeth read her kindle. The rain stopped and started outside. At 5:30 we cooked dinner and admired the beauty of the basin as the sky finally seemed to clear for good and brilliant stars illuminated the skies. The next day seemed promising.

Marybeth boiled water for a hot breakfast the following morning, something I am definitely not used to but accepted happily. It was freezing outside. At 6:00am it was still dark, but we could see mist clinging to the summits. We hoped it would drift away. We could still see the stars.

We began moving at about 7:00am toward Golden Horn. From Upper Lake we cut across to the mountain broad shoulder crossing several up and down hills to the base. The key is to go diagonally up across the scree staying below some steeper looking rocks aiming for the double rock horn (it looks like one large horn at first). We did eventually stumble across a faint trail. At the top of the ridge we found ourselves on a sandy shoulder between the two horns. We dropped out packs here and put on our harnesses. I took my summit pack with a small rope for a possible rappel off the summit that I had read about. We turn left here and walked around the horn and over a narrow ridge to the base of the summit block. there was snow on the ground a thick mist blew all around us. The summit block dripped water. From the base of the summit block we circled around to the back where there is a sandy bench. The final 150 feet appeared to as described: class 3/4 with a few class 5 moves. We took some tentative steps on the wet rock a few times always coming back down. The wetness and snow concerned us. The weather concerned us. A voice in my head echoed softly. It was Eric’s voice. It’s always his voice. “Always place good judgement over ambition”. We could have probably climbed it… but probably wasn’t good enough. I thanked him softly and left his ashes. He taught me well. We backed out of the climb and headed back.

When we reached the lake the mist had only cleared slightly. Where was out promised sunshine and clear blue skies? We packed up and headed out, opting to save Tower Mountain for another time as well due to the wetness and snow. As we passed Lower Snowy Lake and looked back the sky did clear revealing both peaks with blue skies. But we were soon socked in again by whiteness that was thicker than the day before! Only went we crossed to the other side of Cutthroat Pass did the mist finally begin to melt away revealing blue skies and brilliant sun. But the weekend was not a washout… the backpack was still gorgeous in the eerie mist and beautiful when we saw quick flashes of the views. A weekend in the mountains with a good friend is always a good time!


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