If you’ll recall, I attempted this scramble/climb back in October with Marybeth. That outing proved to be a very wet one. We turned back at the last several feet of the climb due to dripping wet rock. With a wet weekend forecast for Mount Shuksan Damien and I decided to return to Snowy Lakes. The weather at Rainey Pass was predicted to be at least partly sunny (along with the rain) and we’d hope to catch a weather window to climb Golden Horn and Tower Mountain. If not we figured it would be a great backpack.

The weather on the way in proved to be as bi-polar as predicted. It was drizzling went we left the parking lot and headed into the forest. However, some blue patches became visible as Cutthroat Pass came into view and the landscape opened up into the alpine. What a different coming back to this area in summer when the larches are green! We followed the switchbacks up to Cutthroat Pass along the PCT as the clouds closed in again. It didn’t rain though and we enjoyed a brief break looking at the mountains of the North Cascades.

The PCT stays high (don’t follow the low trail going right) and follows a ledge was that blasted out of the granite walls. Don’t get too close to the edge here. Rounding a corner Tower Mountain and Golden Horn came into view partially shrouded by soft mist. It grew very windy and a bit rainy as we began the descending switchbacks down 600ft to Granite Pass. From there the PCT contours beneath the South Face of Tower Mountain again on a ledge… at time a very narrow ledge indeed. Our various beta proclaimed that the unmarked side trail up to Snowy Lakes was reported to be anywhere from 2-2.5 miles from Granite Pass. Our GPS read 1.91 miles when we reached the junction. It it pretty easy to locate. Top the left there is a trail that goes into a large grassy camp area and to the right is a trail that goes up into the brush. We took the rugged and steep trail to the right and climbed 600ft to the Snowy Lakes Basin.

It was definitely damp and misty when we arrived at 3:00pm, but the stones around camp seemed pretty dry so after setting up our tent at lower Snowy Lake we packed up our gear and headed toward Golden Horn.

Golden Horn is considered a class 2-3 scramble except for the final 20 feet where it is low class five. Bringing a rope is optional for the climb and there was no beta on protection. We did read reports of rappel rings though. Damien and I opted to tote a rope, some nuts and tri-cams with us. We walked around Upper Snowy Lake and over some alpine slopes in the general direction of Golden Horn. There is no trail, you just have to kind of find our way to the golden talus and scree slope where the angle increases. There is indeed some kind of trail that ascended the talus/scree but we could not find it. The best route up is to stay near the left of a line of trees that go up the scree slope. As you near the ridge starting aiming left. There are numerous weaving trails here that all follow at or close to the ridge heading left toward the summit. we climbed over some rock piles and followed cairns to around the back of the towering summit block. The mist was very heavy and the wind was beginning to pick up at this point. There were three towering rock features that we thought might be the summit… we couldn’t tell from our angle which was higher from the low angle sandy area beneath the stone walls. We put on our harness here and climbed up the easiest one. The fact that the climbing was class 2 on its own indicated that it was not the summit, plus we could tell once on it that the others two were higher.

We scampered back down and headed toward the features on the left. It seemed like we could climb what appeared to be a low class five crack to this slab flake on the right. There was no obvious rappel rings though and we did not have large enough gear to protect the crack. We might have been able to rig a rap station off of a very wide lower flake. We both discussed it. Damien felt he could lead it and that we could find a way to rap. I was unconvinced about the rap and also beginning to shiver uncontrollably as the temperature dropped suddenly.  We decided to opt out of that route and tray was appeared to be more like a staircase on the left. I went up that and once again too a look at the large slab. It looked like there would be two or three moves of friction on it to reach the top… only there were no bolts. That didn’t sit well with either of us. Especially since now Damien was beginning to freeze. Both hit was mild hypothermia and with weather that was swiftly deteriorating we decided that looking around for a way up was no longer an option. We descended.

Luckily going down the scree was much easier than going up.We basically plunge stepped down! It did indeed begin to rain and our sleeping bags were most welcome. We didn’t emerge until along 9pm to cook a quick dinner. It rained all night and thus we opted not to attempt Tower Mountain when we woke up at 5:30am. It is infamous for loose-rock and sustained class three climbing. Instead we took out time at camp enjoying the weather which was a massive relief from the endless heatwaves we’d had over the past two months. It remained bi-polar between rain, mist and sun all the way to the car which we reached at 12:35pm. It was time for some dry clothes and ice cream at Cascade Farms!

 

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