Ascent of Golden Horn on 2018-07-13

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Friday, July 13, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Golden Horn
    Elevation:8366 ft / 2549 m

Ascent Trip Report

Tower Mountain (8,444ft), Golden Horn (8,366ft), and Azurite Peak (8,400ft)

Eric and Matthew Gilbertson

July 13-15, 2018

July 13 – drive the Rainy Pass, hike to upper Snow Lake, climb Golden Horn then climb Tower, camp at lake.
July 14 – hike up PCT north and climb Azurite, return to lake, go for swim, camp at lake.
Jul 15 – hike out, Matthew flies back to CA

Matthew flew up for a long weekend and we were looking to climb some mountains and go camping in the wilderness. I was working on the Bulgers and Golden Horn sounded like a good candidate for a partner because of the 5th class bit on the summit. There were also some scenic alpine lakes at the base, and a few other Bulger peaks nearby. It sounded like all the ingredients for a fun camping trip.

Friday morning we drove up to Rainy Pass and started hiking northbound on the PCT. Before long we reached Cutthroat pass, which was covered in snow. The snow happened to cover a critical and somewhat confusing intersection, and unfortunately we headed down toward Cutthroat lake. We eventually realized our mistake after unexpectedly losing a lot of elevation, and bushwhacked back up to the PCT.

We crossed a few big snow patches south of Granite Pass, then hiked up to Upper Snowy Lake to set up camp by mid afternoon. There was plenty of daylight left, so we ditched the overnight gear and headed up to Golden Horn. I’d read that the summit of Golden Horn was anything from third class (Fred Becky description) to low 5th class, so I brought a 30m rope and a few pieces of rock pro just in case.

We hiked up scree slopes, then followed cairns to just below the summit pyramid. We roped up for the short bit to
the top. The only real climbing move was a short mantle onto the summit block. I led up, and belayed Matthew to the top from a good rap anchor. I’ve read some people just touch the edge of the summit block without doing the mantle, but I wouldn’t count this as reaching the summit. The blocks past the edge of the mantle definitely seem taller than the edge of the mantle, and those actually require climbing up the block to touch.

After a short break we rapped down the face and scree surfed back to camp. It was about 5pm by then, and there was enough daylight left to climb Tower peak also. From the lake we did a rising traverse to near the ridge northwest of Tower, and tried to traverse over to the standard climbing route. However, we got cliffed out high on the route, and had to backtrack and descend down a gully into the basin south of Tower.

From this basin we ascended snow slopes to take a break at the obvious cave. We then made our way into the big gully to the right of the cave, but were blocked by a big patch of snow. I managed to wriggle through a gap between the snow and the rock face to easier terrain on its right side.

To ascend the gully we basically just scrambled directly up the middle, but in hindsight this was sketchy and not the standard route. Near the head of the gully at the white V feature we traversed right on ledges, following cairns, to gain the somewhat exposed summit ridge. From there it was a short scramble to the famous 10ft+ tall summit cairn, which we dutifully each added a pebble to.

We didn’t stay too long, and retraced our route down. This time we descended on climbers right in the gully, following cairns on a much less sketchy route. We made it back to the lake before dark, and had a nice campfire before going to sleep.

The next morning we left camp shortly after sunrise, headed for Azurite Peak. Instead of descending south to the PCT, we decided to bushwhack north and take a shortcut. We went through Snowy Lakes Pass, then cut southwest through the woods to intersect the PCT. I don’t think this actually saved time though.

Eventually we crossed the West Fork Methow River on a bridge and ran into another hiker, Mesahchie Mark, heading southbound. It turned out he was also headed to Azurite, but had overshot the turnoff by a bit. I had Sean Albert’s GPS track loaded from Peakbagger, so know exactly where the turnoff would be. We all hiked together and managed to find the non-obvious abandoned Mill Creek Trail on the left. To help future hikers we put a small cairn at the turnoff.

I led the way up, occasionally following the trail, and occasionally bushwhacking. As I got higher the trail got more obvious, and we eventually followed it to Azurite Pass. We took a break here, and several hummingbirds paid us a visit. I thought they were big horseflies at first, until they hovered nearby and I could tell they were actually birds.

From the pass we followed the ridgeline northeast, at first bushwhacking, then reaching open terrain. Just before reaching a steep face we followed cairns through the scree on the left side of the ridge until we reached the gully that is just wide enough to extend your hands on both sides and touch both walls. We scrambled up the loose gully, then donned crampons at the base of a snowslope.

It was a little dicey kicking steps up the snowslope in trail runners, but we made to the top, and the did a short scramble to the summit. It was amazing how snowy the surrounding mountains were, even in mid July. Matthew took a bunch of pictures with his fancy new DSLR camera that he lugged up to the top.

We eventually headed down, carefully following our steps in the snow. We reached the base just as Mark was headed
up the snow, so there was luckily no issue with rockfall. The hike back went smoothly, except that I lost my brand new Alta fitbit watch on the bushwhack back to Azurite Pass. I doubt it will ever be found, since it’s small and black, and resting in a dense bit of trees few people ever pass through.

For the return hike we avoided the bushwhack shortcut and just followed the trail all the way back to our tent. Matthew got some great sunset pictures and star pictures with his camera. It was a surprisingly crowded night at the lake, given the lake is over 12 miles into the woods. There was a group of nine girls on a bachelorette party near our camp, at least three other groups at the upper lake, and at least one group at the lower lake.

The next morning we hiked back to the car at Rainy Pass and made it back to Seattle with ample buffer time for Matthew to catch his flight back to California.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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