Golden Horn is becoming that obscure peak that is always just barely out of reach. My first attempt was in Oct 2014 with Marybeth. We bailed about 25 feet from the summit since the rock was dripping wet and more bad weather seemed to be coming in. My next try was last summer with Damien in July. We had good weather all day until we were 20 feet below the summit block trying to figure out where the route was for about 45 minutes when a cold snap and sudden heavy clouds moved in leaving us both too hypodermic to continue searching for the way up the final few feet. Both attempts of Golden Horn were supposed to be couple with a go at Tower Mountain next door, but the sudden bad weather foiled any attempt at that peak. Thus, we still had unfinished business and decided to give things another try last weekend. Party sunny on Sat and clear skies on Sunday. Not a drop of rain in the forecast and we would bring a bigger puffys in case another cold snap came in.

We left the trailhead for the PCT North from Rainy Pass at about 8am. It was a nice, crisp autumn day that felt much more like mid-October than late September. There was heavy mist, but it was slowly lifting and when we reached Cutthroat Pass at five miles most of it had burned off affording us with some brilliant views. We continued on the PCT another 2.5 miles to Granite Pass where we got our first look at Tower and Golden Horn. Clouds were coming and going, but that’s what the weather called for. So far so good. Things looked promising. We continued on our journey admiring the larches that were beginning to turn golden, but not yet in their prime. Another 2.5 miles and we reached an open meadow camp, the unsigned Meathow Pass. Here we turned off the PCT and headed right up the unsigned but very obvious trail to Snowy Lakes about 600ft higher. From Lower Snowy Lake we could see that Tower Mountain had some fresh snow plastered on it. This caused us some concern as a thin layer of snow and wet rock would make things dicey. Another team was just about to head up and passed us as we were setting up camp on the lower lake. We figured we’d get some beta from them when they got back. In the meantime we had another mountain to climb.

We camp set up we departed for Golden Horn at roughly 2pm. It was more cloudy than sunny, but no cause for alarm or concern. We followed the trail to Upper Snow Lake and then turned right and walked cross country to the base of the lower golden scree slopes of Golden Horn. There are various trail going up the scree, but you kind of just go up and hope to eventually stumble across one. We went up to the far right of the mountain and stayed in the trees while slowly working our way left as we ascended to the ridge. We did eventually come across a boot path which helped in the scree.

We reached the ridge and first notch affording a view of the other side of the mountain and a sobering drop off. We followed the obvious boot trail along the ridge heading toward the summit block on the left. A little ways after the second notch with dizzying views down the gully on the other side we climbed up an easy rock formation marked by a carin and then followed more carins around the back of the summit block. There are actually a few big towers and its hard to tell which one is the top. There was some snow here that was up to 2 inches in some places and we had to step carefully. Once we were on the other side of the rock towers we took the first gully up which appeared well traveled to a trio of towers. The one on the right is clearly shorter than the other two. But the others look similar. We kept looking for bolts and the mantle move that marks the route to the top. we even went under a big chockstone to examine options. All the while we were grabbing on snow/icy handholds.

After 45 minutes of looking around and coming up with no route that resembled our description or pictures we were feeling very frustrated. But at least this time we had a big puffies. Once again the temperature was dropping quickly and the wind was picking up. For some reach I scrambled up a class three ledge on the right at the base of the left most tower to make sure we weren’t missing something. Alas, there was another gully which also looked well traveled. had we been in the wrong gully the entire time? We descended down to the base of the first gully and traversed left to the second gully (which we found was marked by a carin). We climbed up this more narrow gully which featured a few class 3/4 moves to the base of what we recognized to be the summit block on the right complete with bolts. However, rime ice was plastered onto the route and snow was piled up as well. Still we roped up and I left over to the mantle move 10 feet from the summit. The snow made things slippery and the rime ice was not making me feel very good about my hand hold… and then i discovered that all the cracks were icy. I was just 3 or four moves away, but I just couldn’t risk it. Once again mountain weather foiled the attempt.

We packed up our gear and descended the route in the fading light reaching the camp just as full darkness fell. We talked to the Tower Mountain climbers by Upper Snowy Lake. They had summited, but described the route as slimy, dripping wet and icy. I don’t really fancy when i route is described in that fashion. Still we planned to make a final decision in the morning. Perhaps the sun predicted for the next day would dry the route off.

No such thing. I;m not sure when it began, but i woke up at night to the sound of rain battering the tent walls. RAIN?! It was supposed to be clear! It pounded on all night and it the morning everything was very misty, wet and cloudy. Tower was shrouded in heavy fog, but we did not need to see the mountain to know it was wet and icy. We didn’t see a reason to take a closer look. Instead we packed up and enjoyed the autumn colors on the way back to the TH. The sun did not show up the entire ten mile walk out. In fact light rain fell most of the time! Welcome to the mountain where anything is possible! still we had a fun weekend. We figured out how to get to the right gully to Golden Horn and made it ten feet closer to the summit. Maybe next time. But until then we’ll enjoy the yellows, red and oranges of fall!

With some significant rainfall in the outlook for Saturday and a chance on Sunday we had to revise our climbing plans. Instead we opted for a long backpack through the Pasayten wildness called Seven Pass Loop (27 miles), aptly named since it goes through 7 passes. The trip begins on the PCT North from the trailhead just a bit further than Harts Pass (pass #1). There was heavy mist and a bit of a typical WA drizzle when we started out with a nice crisp autumn feel ton the air. I love this type of weather (seriously, I do and that’s why I live in WA). The trail is pretty level and follows open slopes below Slate Peak where we had intermittent views of the wildness whenever the mist parted. As to be expected we ran into a good amount of through-hikers due to reach Canada and finish up the PCT next day. We crossed over Buffalo Pass and then went up a few switchbacks to the top of Windy Pass. From there the trail descends a bit through larches (still green but they will turn soon). Then we followed along more open slopes and onto a ridge. We crossed Foggy and Jim Pass and didn’t even notice! The trail eventually switchbacks down for a long time until reaching Holeman Pass at 5000 feet. But then it was raining pretty steadily. In fact there had been a mini flood running down the trail!

At Holeman Pass there is a signed 4 way junction. We left the PCT and turned right onto connector trail #472A. This trail is not nearly as well kept as the PCT. There are fallen logs to cross over and places where the grass is encroaching on the trail. The fallen trees are easy to go over, under or around though and it is pretty impossible to loose the trail. It is still what i would consider maintained. It’s just not immaculate. There was a fair amount of mud. I’m not sure how much was a result of the rain, but it seemed live the area was just damp in general.

The connector trail was flat so the two miles to the next signed junction went quickly. We turned right again onto the West Fork Pasayten River (Slate Peak 8 miles). The trail follows the Paysaten River though it cannot be seen at first. It was in the same condition as the connector trail. There is a campsite in about a mile on the shore of Shaw Creek which the trail crosses. The next set of camps is about 2 miles further at the next creek crossing. But then it was about 5:30pm and we were pretty cold and damp. We decided to call it a day and set up camp at a small site in the trees above the creek. It’s always an adventure setting up camp in the rain, but we managed to keep things mostly dry. We were happy to remove of sticky goretex and cuddle into our puffys! It rained pretty hard all night.

The next morning it was still raining, but not nearly as hard. We packed up camp in the dark and began moving at first light. Two miles more down the river there is a bigger camping area. The trail crosses the river shortly thereafter and turns away from the West Fork. Finally there is some climbing as the trail ascended up the slope and then turns right to traverse the ridge moving very slowly upward. Not a steep grad by any means. The tree broke away about three miles from slate Peak which could be seen easily in the distance since the clouds had broken up and blue sky was appearing. We followed the open slopes to a talus and scree field below Haystack mountain. Here the trail switchbacks up the final few hundred feet the the road. We took a small side trip and followed the road right to the summit of Slate Peak and the Lookout (which is closed). At least we climbed one summit! We had great views from the top all the way to Canada!

From Slate Peak we followed the road back down to the car passing Slate Pass, the final pass. Rain never stops us!

 

Damien and I originally planned to climb Vesper Peak on Saturday via the Ragged Edge and then Sperry via the Standard scramble on Sunday since there was the potential of rain. We began walking down the Sunrise Mine Trail were surprised by how many other technical climbers were also on their way to climb Ragged Edge and also True Grit, the two newest routes on Vesper. I had climbed Vesper via the North Face two years ago and didn’t see a single either party doing a technical route on the peak. Damien had climbed the peak via the North Face as well along with about 5 scramble ascents. Not once was there another party. However, we discovered that since the new guidebook came out things have changed. The guidebook describes the Ragged Edge (5.7) and True Grit (5.8) and climbers were flocking to the North side of Vesper to get their chance to climb the new routes.

I think we sensed that things might be a bit of a circus on the mountain after we crossed the final big creek in the forest and began the switchback up to the Writz Basin. I’ve never seen so many folks carting ropes in one area other than WA Pass. The trail is in descent shape with carins marking the way through the talus fields. It’s generally a rough trail though with big steps, rocks and roots to navigate. The climb to the top of steep Headlee Pass was glorious per the usual, but seemed to contain less loose rock from when I visited last. From the top of the pass at 4800ft the trail drops a bit before traversing across a scree field and finally to the outlet creek of Vesper lake at the head a basin. We crossed the creek and set up camp on the ridge. Everyone else seemed to camp on the lake giving us lots of solitude and some excellent views as well!

We didn’t linger at camp. Instead we geared up and followed the scramble trail up Vesper to the treeline. Then we traversed right and crossed slabs until we reached the small notch that grants access to the North Face Ledges. We could already see lots of people on the routes from that vantage point and we began to question if it was smart to begin in the afternoon with so many folks on the route. It is 6 pitches with no bail points, not exactly the idea circumstance of climbing our first high commitment route at 5.7. Things just weren’t sitting well with us, but we scrambled over the narrow ledges to the base of True Grit to get a closer look and make a final assessment. It turned out that we decided that the technical routes on Vesper were a circus and since a team of three had just started Ragged Edge behind about 5 other teams, we would be waiting a long time and we risked running out of daylight. We didn’t want to take that chance on a committing route, so we made the difficult decision to turn back and climb up the standard scramble route as kind of a consolation prize. The route basically starts at the treeline and climbs slabs and some block straight up to the summit. The rock is very solid and grippy with many route variations depending on have technical you’d like the moves to get. There was no snow on the rocks. We made it to the top pretty quickly and were afforded grand views of Big Four, Pugh, Sperry….the entire Mountain Loop summit group. We descended the climbing route back to camp and got to bed early in preparation for Sperry.

At first light Damien and I crossed over the outlet creek and traversed the talus along the bank of the right side of Vesper Lake. The going isn’t very difficult n the rock with the one obstance being getting around this huge slab on the far side. The solution is to simple go higher and cross over the top. Once on the other side of the lake and at the base of the headwall leading up to the Sperry-Vesper saddle we began to make our way upward on the rock and grassy ledges. We scrambled up more on the middle/right side of the headwall which led us to some interesting low class five moves on the slabs to gain the top of the headwall (exit marked by orange ribbon). For a much safer option (which we used on the way down), ascend on the far left of the headwall.

From there is an obvious trail on the right (some carins also provide markers) leading up the ridge to the upper talus field of Sperry. Here is where things start getting tricky. There is short, angle grassy slope just above the talus on the far right. Head to tho slope until the entrance to the most far left gulley hidden in the trees becomes visible. Carins will help guide the way. From there follow the steep trail, which can be brushy at times (veggie belays), through the pine trees and upward. The tree can make things a bit like a maze. If you get dead ended turn back and look for correct trail. You will always be able to fit through the trees without too much effort. We managed to get turned around quite a lot but did find our way to the upper boulders and scrambled easily to the summit. The descent is simply the reverse. No snow on this route either.

We packed up camp and headed out. There was heavy mist that came and went throughout the day, but no rain. One this was clear though… the air not how a crisp feel to it. Fall is coming and soon the snow with return!

 

 

I had unfinished business in the Pasayten Wilderness and have wanted to come back and attempt Lago, Carru and Osceola for three years. Last time I only got Lago. Damien and I drove up the narrow, twisting road on a precarious cliff to Slate Pass as 6900ft in the Pasayten Wilderness on Saturday morning. When we got out of the car it was snowing/raining. The weather basically switched from snow, rain, hail and sun every 10 minutes or so all day making it impossible to dress correctly!

Unlike most trails that begin in the valley and require you to climb out of it onto the ridge of some sort, the Buckskin Ridge Trail starts out on the ridge and  drops down. We needed to get into the valley below and had beta with two different routes. First we planned on using the Whistler Trail which was supposed to be in 1.3 miles from the pass. But even with our GPS telling us we were right on the junction we could not find it! So we backtracked and took the Middle Fork Pasayten down (.6 miles from the pass). The trail traverses and switchbacks down to the valley for 3 long miles until it meets up with the Robinson Creek Trail (stay left). Then its a virtually flat 5 miles through the forest. At the Shellrock pass junction we turned left and began to climb up and out of the valley for 2400 feet. At about 6,500 feet we passed along the left shoreline of Fred Lake. Ahead was the final 600 feet to the pass. There are tons of switchbacks which are great on the way up… and endless on the way down.

From the top of the pass the deep heart of the Pasayten is revealed.. well it was a bit concealed in the clouds. But we could see Lago, Carru and Osceola. From here the trail traverses and slightly descends until a junction is reached. This unmarked junction about.1 miles form the top of the pass leads to basecamp: Lake Doris. We turned left here and followed the well worn path down to the hidden lake. 11.8 miles from the TH. Its popular as a camp for the Pasayten.. which means you might have one other party. The area is pretty remote though. We set up camp in a nice spot by the water and turned it as thick, wet snowflakes feell from the sky.

The next day we were before light and moved about 4:40am. Lago and Carru were commonly done as a combo on a very long day. We hoped to get at least one, but were aiming for both. We followed the Lake Doris spur trail back to the main trail and continued down into the next valley loosing about 1000 feet over the next 4 miles. This trail is not as well maintained and had lots of fallen trees and was thin in spots. Its not difficult to follow though and we easily found our way in the dark.The beginning of the route up Lago is marked by a red gully (hard to miss).  We turned left and crossed Eureka Creek leaving the main trail and accessed the lower talus and scree… there would in fact be lower scree, middle scree and upper scree.

After ascending the gully for about 400feet the way gets a bit more slabby and the chute narrows. From here we scrambled up the blocky wall of the gully to the left and traversed under a rock buttress trending upward until the buttress gave way to, you guessed it, more scree/talus! From here the route basically just traveled up to the ridge. Kt very much a take a stop and slide about 3/4 of the way back. Gnarly stuff and it was amazing how much of it there was! In fact it was about 2400ft of scree total! We followed the slope up until we gained the ridge. Then we followed it close to the top (but not on the knife edge) on the south side were the rock was a bit more solid. There was definitely mileage involved on this climb. It was long and the terrain took a toll on the time it took to summit. We did make it though to the top at 8745 feet. It was 11:30am. We enjoyed a wondrous closeup view of the clouds for a bit and signed the register. We looked back and were actually able to find when Eric and I signed it three years ago. Not many folks do this mountain.

We descended back down the ridge, partly walking and partly skiing down the loose rock. The clouds opened and closed around us providing glimpses of the vast wilderness. However, when we reached about 7500 feet we had a decision to make. Climbing Carru would involve us dropping down into the gully beside us to the meadow at 7100 and then ascending straight up steeper scree for 1400 feet. It was about 1:00 at that point and we tried to work out the timing. In the end we figured that climbing Carru would ultimately mean descending part of the route in the dark and since we could have to cross back over to Lago to descend this might get a bit to spicy for our liking. Finding our way would be difficult in the dark. The weather had been changing from rain, snow, clouds, hail and sun all day as well. We didn’t trust what the night might bring. Plus after the morning screefest we weren’t to eager to go back up steeper loose rock.

We followed the scree down along the top of the gully until we reached the buttress. Then we veered off to the left and stayed under it until we reached the lower red gully. We somehow ended up about 300 feet above where the entrance to the gully was, but it wasn’t difficult to navigate down to the blocky area. From there we easily descended back to Eureka Creek. We walked the long 4 miles uphill back to camp. We were entertained though by being in the sunshine, but having snow fall about 5 yards away and holding the line. A brilliant rainbow swept across the valley as well! But of course as soon as we finished dinner and went into the tent, the thick snow began to fall again.

On Labor Day we started out at about 6am at first light. We walked along the shore of Doris Lake until we arrived at a buttress. We climbed around the left of the buttress over some grass and then scree. We then followed a series of ledges up onto the buttress and across it to access a gully just below it on the right. In reality we kind of made the route up. The goal was to get to the top of the ridge below Osceola. Basically we followed the path of least resistance until we were up on the broad ridge that reminded me of the Sound of Music. We followed the ridge through heavy mist and snow that was beginning to stick for about .6 miles to the base of Osceola which resembles a massive dome made of scree and talus. We climbed up on black, lichen covered rock that are slippery under normal circumstances, but the additional of the fresh thin layer of snow made it extra exciting. The route instead is straight forward: follow the SW ridge up  to the summit taking the path of least resistance. There is a boot track, but it doesn’t help very much as far as dealing with the loose rock. It at least kept us off of the black rocks for sections though.

Again we had a great view of clouds at the summit. Damien and I don’t mind though. We have a thing for climbing in less than stellar weather. I think its become kind of our trademark. The descent went quickly as we managed to stay on the boot path the while way down dodging the slippery black rocks we climbed on the way up. The key to finding the “trail” is from the base of mountain go as far left as you can before hitting a cliff on the ridge. Then look for a reddish line of rocks going up through the black. That’s it.

We followed the ridge about halfway back the way we had come. We saw what looked to be a shorter route to the lake from the slopes of Osceola and cut down at the second ridge saddle. There were a few carins here, but not really much to navigate by. We followed the path of least resistance across steep meadows, talus, scree and slabs back to Lake Doris. But the day was not over! Time to pack up and walk the 11.8 miles out! Needless to say that the 5 mile flat walk through the valley was endless, but we did get out of the backcountry before dark having tagged two remote Pasayten peaks!