Damien and I haven’t really come to terms with that fact that autumn has arrived in the mountains. I believe the fact that only 3 weeks ago we couldn’t even sleep inside the sleeping bag because of how warm it was has really thrown us off! Thus, we did not question the weekend weather forecast as much as we should have. It looked rainy on the west side of the crest of the Cascades, but Washington Pass seemed to have a nice weather window of sunny to partly sunny skies. We saw this as a great opportunity to get in the rock climbing we’ve been craving since our return from the PCT. On the menu was Poster Peak (Blue’s Buttress) and North Early Winters Spire (Chockstone Route). We anticipated frigid temps, but figured that was all we would have to contend with forecast-wise. Unfortunately, neglected to factor in that we were climbing in Washington and not Yosemite!

When Damien and I arrived at the Hairpin Turn approach for Poster Peak the sky was cloudy and a heavy mist hung low in the mountains. This is normal for the cascades in early morning and it was especially not surprising since there had been some light rain the night before. The talus was barely damp and we expected the remaining, moisture and mist to burn off as the sun got higher in the sky.

After some bushwhacking we found the climber’s trail heading up the valley from the Hairpin Turn under the Liberty Bell Group. Autumn colors are coming to their peak with golden larches and brilliant red blueberry leaves painting the landscape. The route is straightforward and cairns guided us through the talus patches with ease. We turned off the trail beneath  gully and stream that lead off to the right granting access to the lower talus slopes of Poster Peak. There was still a fair amount of mist, but as we anticipated, it was beginning to burn off and patches of blue sky gave promise for a pleasant, sunny, fall day.

The talus beneath Poster Peak is not the most stable and care must be taken to not create rockfall bombs. We ascended the gully, circled left toward an obvious roof and went around the corner to the Blue Buttress belay ledge. As we were scrambling up the talus a light, intermittent sprinkle began to fall from the sky. There was sunshine at the same time and we still saw some blue ski. It seemed to be a simple, short lived sun shower at best. However, as we racked up on the ledge clouds closed in, engulfing the mountains and a steady rain began to fall. At first, we shrugged it off, thinking again that this was a brief event. But then the rain turned to heavy, whiteout snow. This gave us pause.

Damien and I really did not want to bail off a technical route for the second weekend in a row due to weather. Maybe it would improve in 30 minutes or so. We sat on the ledge with our puffies and began to wait, certain it would pass. After all, it was supposed to be sunny! It did not pass. In fact, the snow began to stick! The rock was also now saturated and dripping. After 45 minutes we threw in the towel. Even if the sun did come out it would take at least an hour if not more for the route to dry. By then it would be too late to attempt a 17 pitch route. We played with the idea of climbing up the peak via the descent route, but abandoned that quickly once we realized how rotten the talus was. Instead we headed back down to the car contemplating our Plan B.

Damien and I have xc skied around the perimeter of Goat Peak near Mazama every winter twice. Nonetheless, we had never been to the summit. It is a quick 5-mile hike and, though we always wanted to hike to the top, it was not a priority since our focus is technical alpine objectives and long backpacks. However, we had used half the day attempting Poster Peak, so a short day hike seemed to be the perfect way to spend what remained of the day.

We arrived at the trailhead midafternoon. Fifteen miles away from Washington Pass the sun illuminated autumn hues of gold, orange and red. Not a snowflake in sight. We journey up the trail feeling the crisp chill of the autumn air brush against our cheeks. Views across the valley and into the Pasayten were nearly immediate. The tread is surprisingly steep after the first mile. Luckily, even though we were in thr forest the trees parted every now and then providing glimpses of the Cascades and Methow Valley far below. At about 2 miles the trail reaches the top of the ridge leading to the Lookout and summit. Here views pour forth in all directions. West toward Washington Pass we could see thick rain/snow clouds blanketing the mountains. Blue skies and puffy, white clouds dominated the east. Typical Washington! We followed the gentle ridge through brilliantly golden larches to the Lookout. The fire lookout, which was used during the height of the Diamond Creek Fire, is locked for the season. However, climbing up to the lookout is unnecessary to enjoy the expansive views! Again, we made note of how turbulent Washington Pass looked. It appeared bailing was the correct choice. Our decision to bail from Poster Peak was verified further the following day as we drove past the Liberty Bell Group. The peaks and lower slopes were covered with fresh powder and Poster Peak looked particularly white!

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *