Climbing in fall is one of my favorite activities. The air is crisp. The larches are golden. And you spend most of the day grateful that you have one more chance to enjoy the mountains before the rain sets in.
On Saturday, I joined Susan, Marla, and Aaron on a quick trip up Black Peak in the North Cascades. We left the TH at 5:30 a.m., hiking by headlamp, and reached Heather Pass shortly before 7. From the pass we caught our first view of Black Peak – a massive hulking peak in the hazy dawn light.
We hopped, stepped, and jumped our way through the boulder field to Lewis Lake where a gaggle of hung over backpackers and their barking dogs cast bleary eyes in our direction. No doubt a wee bit angry for setting off their furry alarm clocks way too early.
As we hiked around Lewis Lake and up to Wing Lake, the reds and golds of fall got more and more vibrant. We arrived at Wing Lake around 9 a.m. where we took about a half hour break. There were some small patches of snow on the way up to the notch on Black Peak’s south ridge, which we managed to navigate without ice ax or crampons. The last section was snow free and our party spread out across the scree to avoid knocking rocks on each other. Climber’s right turned, as it turned out, offered much more stable footing.
From the notch we scrambled up the mostly 2nd and 3rd class ridge/gullies, following the obvious boot path and cairns until we were almost at the summit. Then we traversed right a long way around the peak until we were next to the NE buttress and basically couldn’t go any further. Then it was about 40′ of exposed fourth class scrambling to the top – not for the faint of heart or inexperienced scrambler. We were on the summit by 11:20. I’d like to say the views were good, but the forest fires burning half the state transformed the snow-capped alpine peaks into blue shadows.
From the summit it took us about 90 minutes to get back to Wing Lake where we rested again for another 45 minutes. (We were definitely not in any hurry!) From Wing Lake it took us about 2 hours and 15 minutes to get back to the cars. All in all, we finished the day in less than 12 hours and could have probably done it in 9 or 10 if we cut our breaks back. But who would want to do that when it’s sunny and the larches were so beautiful?!