Golden Horn and Tower Mountain 

Paul Klenke and myself departed Seattle a bit after 7:00am on Saturday, arriving at a large pull-out on Highway 20 immediately east of  Swamp Creek (c.4000', about 34 miles from Newhalem) around 10:30am. We were taking the Swamp Creek route to Snowy Lakes (c.3 miles) rather than the PCT or Cuttthroat Lake/PCT (c.10 and 10.5 miles respectively). 

The Swamp Creek Route has brush and other obstacles and will save little in the way of energy but may be a bit faster than the alternatives, particularly on the descent. After thrashing up the sometimes marshy creek valley we turned left and headed up. Difficulty determining our exact location in the valley resulted in reaching the PCT farther east than necessary. At the obvious basin below the lakes we left the PCT and headed north on an easy way trail to reach the Lower Snow Lake where we set up camp (c.6700'). We arrived here around 1:30pm. The summits of Golden Horn and Tower Mountain were obscured by clouds but the forecast and the signs suggested it was going to improve soon. The photo below was taken after we returned to camp.


Golden Horn from Lower Snowy Lake

After setting up camp and relaxing for a while we started toward the upper lake (barely higher) and ultimately Golden Horn. The route up Golden Horn follows the SE trending ridge, generally keeping on the south side. The travel is easy but mostly tedious talus and scree. Once near the summit horn we traversed below the South Face to an obvious gully. We waited until two climbers descended the gully before starting up. We would encounter these same two climbers the following day when they would save us from utter disappointment. 

We scrambled up the gully (class 3) to the west side of the summit. We first took a look at the south side which led to some climbing on a vertical block. We decided to try the north side. After a short bit of slabby class 4 we reached a notch 10-15 feet below the summit. I climbed toward the summit and quickly returned to the notch. A couple of exposed moves prompted the use of a rope. We slung the rope over the north end of the summit block for a top rope affect and I belayed Paul up. Soon we were both enjoying the views from the summit. We made one rappel from the summit block then scrambled back down the gully for a scree descent to the lakes.

Tower Mountain from Golden Horn


Paul Rappelling from the Summit of Golden Horn

We awoke at 6:00am the following morning and by 7:30 were enroute (or off route) not far behind Chris and Tom, the two climbers we had seen on Golden Horn the previous day. They were planning on climbing the SW Rib as I understood it. We were heading for the SW gully...why, I don't know. We were planning on taking the easy route up Tower Mountain which we thought was the SW gully. Upon rereading the route descriptions on Tower, it was obvious that I should have done this before we left for the trip. The easiest route is the west gully according to the guide. Whatever the easiest route is, we were heading for the SW Gully, in the end climbing the SW Gully-Upper South Ridge route described in the guide. 

From the lower lake we traversed just below the outlet to the talus gully leading to the basin west of Tower. After crossing the talus gully we climbed steep heather to the edge of the basin then up talus to the west ridge. Once on the ridge we traversed the south side staying high to cross the first major gully. We continued traversing, passing a notch, then climbed into a broad gully (apparently it is possible to climb to the notch from the west basin but looks tedious without snow). From here we could see the SW gully, it looked straight forward, but we still thought this was the easy route...

The SW Gully of Tower Mountain

We started up the broad gully (class 2/3). After ascending for a few hundred feet we traversed right into another broad gully. This gully is mostly class 2/3 but at half way up there is about 15 feet of  slabby class 4. Once around this we continued up toward the South Ridge. After reaching the ridge crest we traversed left on ledges then back up to the crest (class 3/4). It was now obvious that we were not on the easy route. 

The View from the Upper South Ridge of Tower

We were less than 200 feet below the summit, at a great belay ledge with an interesting 60 degree slab and a 1000 foot cliff (give or take a few hundred feet). Our 30m rope and lack of protection wasn't going to be enough. Fortunately, Chris and Tom must have decided the SW rib didn't look all that great and arrived on the scene a few minutes later with a nice selection of protection and a 60m rope (a 50 meter rope and a few cams in the 1-2.5 inch range should cover it, you can throw in a few stoppers in the 1/2-1 inch range for good measure). 

Tom led up the 60 foot high 5.6 slab and made it look easy. He sure seemed to enjoy it. There is a nice crack on the left side that varies from about 1 to 12 inches wide. At the top there is a block that we passed on the right. Above the slab you can scramble left then up, or take an exposed ramp then turn left to the summit area as we did. 

Chris Belays Tom up the 5.6 Crack

It was a clear day, great for views. An of the interesting feature of the summit is the 7 foot tall cairn. We could see it from Golden Horn and camp. We had discussed disassembling it, but upon closer inspection, it was a bit more impressive, well constructed and at this point, historic (apparently constructed by unknown USGS surveyors on the first ascent).

Black Peak and Mount Goode from the Summit of Tower Mountain


Paul, Chris and Tom Gathered Around the Summit Cairn

After downclimbing about fifty feet we made one rappel to reach  the belay ledge. From here, Paul and I departed ahead of Chris and Tom to avoid having two parties of different speeds in the gully. We downclimbed the remainder of the route, arriving in camp before noon. A 2+ hour bushwhack got us back to the car in about 2 hours 

Paul Dangles on the Return to the Belay Ledge

Cascade Alpine Guide, Volume 3, 2nd Edition; Fred Beckey; Pages364-367 (SW Gully-Upper South Ridge Route)