TR - Golden Horn and the Tower of Rain
2019-08-24 & 25
Golden Horn via Standard Route
With Amelia & Adam
Views: 👁👁👁 the views were lovely... during the brief period of visibility
Rock: 🧗♀️🧗♀️🧗♀️🧗♀️ lots of talus-hopping, but the technical parts were solid
Suffering: 😈😈 the only real suffering was waiting for rain to not stop
Routefinding: 👣👣👣👣 hiking the PCT is so easy and the scramble is well-cairned
Timing: ⏰⏰ next time I'll check the forecast
Exhaustion: 😴 I slept more than I usually do on a workday!
Crowds: 👯♀️👯♀️👯♀️👯♀️ there were a few folks camped by the lakes, but only one party on route
Cascades climbing in late August is something I'm not always adept at planning. As glaciers bare their crevasses and snowfields are whittled away, I'm left wondering where to go and what to do. Invariably my thoughts are drawn to rock climbing, but I've been putting off climbing anything harder than low-5th for so long that even easier climbs feel intimidating. With that in mind, I dug deep into the Bulger List and picked out two pleasant-sounding scrambles for my one free weekend in August. Golden Horn and Tower seemed very doable in a weekend (or a long push...) and I knew the route would offer some inspirational views of the North Cascades.
We opted to make the long drive out Saturday morning because we weren't feeling rushed for time. Nine miles can feel like a lot on some trails, but on the PCT we made great time even with some snack and alpine bouldering breaks thrown in. It was wild to see Cutthroat Pass in full foliage after witnessing the drought it was in last season. The trail was as beautiful as I remembered and immaculately maintained. We found the turn-off for Snowy Lakes easily, it is a very clear climbers trail near some PCT campsites.
After setting up camp at Upper Snowy Lake, we decided to head up Golden Horn since it was only 3pm and we didn't have much else to do. Clouds were swirling around us, but precipitation seemed to be held at bay. As we made our way up the sandy slopes of Golden Horn, the clouds began to move in and the temperature dropped. I had looked at the weather forecast a few days before heading out which called for 100% chance of sun and good vibes, but in my unbridled optimism I had forgotten to check the forecast again before packing. Unbeknownst to me, it had changed to cold, cloudy, and a chance of rain. My rain gear consisted of a pair of long underwear and a wind jacket. Oops.
As uninspiring as most of the romp up Golden Horn is, the first view of the eponymous horn reminded me why I love the climbing off Highway 20. Steep faces and sheer dropoffs are hard to argue with, even if there isn't much snow to be seen. As the clouds turned into a windy mist, we continued our way around the summit pinnacle towards the Southwest face for the easy way up. A few third-class scrambles got us to the summit block where we took the wrong gully like many other parties apparently do. I roped up for a very exposed traverse on easy terrain to the more northern side of the summit block. There I made one move of 5th class (protected by a #2.5 Tricam) to a slung boulder. I belayed Adam and Amelia up to the summit and we were sure to properly sit on top of it for full credit.
The views from the summit were nonexistent and we stayed only for a short while as rain pelted us, but we were hopeful that the weather would clear up overnight and Tower Mountain would offer better views. A short rappel got us back to terra firma and we made our way back to camp while still swimming in clouds.
Back at camp, we cooked up mac & cheese which went great until I kicked my pot over while clumsily trying to remove the gaiters from my shoes. I was able to salvage a small amount of unscathed noodles but most were lost to the dirt. As tears welled up in my eyes, Amelia offered some of her mac and I gratefully accepted. Thankfully, there was plenty of mac to go around and none of us went to bed hungry.
We set our alarms for 6am, hoping to make our way up and down Tower in 4 hours and then getting to the car in the mid afternoon. As I lay in bed trying to fall asleep at 9pm, I was optimistic that the weather would clear up a bit from the clouds and intermittent light rain that we had experienced earlier that day. I was wrong. I woke up before my alarm to a downpour, turned my alarm off, and went back to sleep. During a lull in the rain, I grabbed my food from the bear bag and ran over to Adam and Amelia's tent. We adjusted our plan to waiting until 10am for the weather to clear up and bailing if it wasn't looking better by then.
Like any trip where I've been stuck in a tent for a while, I had forgotten to bring a book to read. So I whittled away the hours looking at Mountain Project on my phone, intermittently napping, and thinking about everything going on in my life right now. As 10am rolled around, something miraculous happened - the sun came out!
We rejoiced and started packing up camp. As we finished eating breakfast and were about to head out, the clouds once again enveloped the peak and the rain began anew. We quickly threw our gear into my (1-person) tent and all huddled in there together. It was quite cozy but better than sorting our gear out in the cold precipitation. We then made the official decision to bail and head out early.
The hike out was pleasant, with the rain stopping before we got to Granite Pass. I got to mess around on some of the large boulders up by Cutthroat Pass which, while wet and covered in lichen, were quite fun to climb on. I'm tempted to come back with crash pads and establish some real routes up there. Maybe someone else would be crazy enough to join...
We made it back to the car in good time and, led by our stomachs, stopped for ice cream at Cascadian Farm and burritos at Taqueria Los Jarritos in Burlington before committing to the long drive back to Seattle.
My big mistake for this trip was not reading the weather report before packing. Had the weather been a bit cooler, not having a proper rain jacket would've been much more of an issue than it ended up being. I also need to make a pair of wind pants because my pajama thermals are not well suited for adventuring in the alpine. I tried my new TX2 approach shoes on this trip and they were great for rock scrambling but decidedly worse for walking than trail runners. I probably won't use them again on long trips unless there's a good deal of 4th or low-5th climbing on route.