Trip Report    

Alpine Scramble - Buell & Barrier Peaks

A wet and cold scramble of Buell peak and making decisions when the weather doesn't read the weather report.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • The Owyhigh lakes trail was in great condition and only had a few snow patches to cross at this time.  There were a few trees down across the trail but they were easily worked around.  The ascent to the saddle was complicated by wet muddy slopes and patches of hard snow.  The saddle and ridge between Buell and Barrier are still completely snow covered at this time.  

We started off this trip from the Deer Creek end of the Owhyhigh lakes trail just before 7:30am.  When we departed we were the only vehicles parked at the pull out for the trail.  Weather at the time was a steady rain which was a bit unexpected.  The weather report for the day was listed as rain showers with less then a tenth of an inch accumulation.  Temperatures were predicted to be in the  high 40's to low 50's.  

From the trail head our small group made quick progress to Deer Creek Falls.  The falls were running at full volume.  


From the falls we descended into the valley and then started working our way back up the Owhyhigh lakes trail.  At this time the rain had lessened and nearly ceased.  We encountered sporadic snow at various places on the trail but did not encounter larger deep patches until we were around 4,200 feet in elevation.  Even these patches failed to obscure the trail for any length with the biggest problem being that most of them occurred where water was running down from above and under the snow.  This made for a few cautious snow crossings.  At around 4,600 feet in elevation we left the trail and headed for the saddle between Barrier and Buell peaks.  We attempted to choose the easiest terrain to ascend.  Complications on the ascent were slick mud from the earlier rain, steep patches of hard snow, and lots of slick branches.   The ascent starts out fairly steep but lessens as you approach the saddle. 

The hill ascent, photo credit Nicole Fujie


Once we gained the saddle we got our first views of Barrier peak and the path towards Buell.  Visibility at this time was being hampered by fog/clouds rolling through the area.  We figured it would hopefully breakat some point just long enough to so we could get a view for our hard work.  Nope, at this point it decided to start snowing on us.  Well we were up here and all still in good spirits so we happily started working the snow covered ridge towards Buell peak.  At this time he saddle and ridge in both directions are completely snow covered.

Barrier peak in the clouds view from saddle.


The route to Buell was very easy from the saddle.  We did encounter a cornice on the North end of the ridge near the top of Buell which was easily avoided.  The main problem we encountered was the rapidly deteriorating weather.  The falling snow had increased dramatically turning to large fluffy flakes.  The temperature also felt like it was dropping.

Summit of Buell in view snow getting worse.


 We managed to easily reach the top of Buell where we had a quick summit treat and talk about our next move.  At this time we decided that due to the snow now sticking and the weather report being far different then forecast it was best to not attempt Barrier today and to return to our vehicles. 

For our return route down to the trail we mostly followed our route in but added in a few switchbacks to make things easier.  Upon reaching the trail we proceeded at a more rapid pace back to the trail head.  By this point and at the elevation the snow had turned to rain again.  The rain varied in volume and intensity for our entire return trip to our vehicles.  As we neared the falls we did encounter two hikers on the trail.  They would be the only other people encountered all day.

Total trip time was right at six and a half hours.  

Distance was 8.37 miles with an elevation gain of 3,259 feet.

Lessons learned, come prepared for anything weather wise and be prepared to call it early.

One participant stated: "This was the coldest and wettest scramble they did all winter, and it was the middle of June!"