An astoundingly easy climb for such an exposed, barren face. The views are tremendous. Expect to take all day if you're going from the road and back. If it's just a side trip from hiking up the Cache Glacier, give yourself about 3-4 hours.
See the Getting There section of the Ptarmigan Traverse Stage 1 page. Follow it as far as the middle of the Cache Glacier. On the glacier, bear right to Gunsight Notch, the right-most gap in the wall that bounds the S side of the glacier. As the Cache Glacier recedes, Gunsight Notch is getting harder to reach, especially in late Summer. mauri pelto adds this update: “I work on Cache Glacier every year, measuring its snowpack etc. In travelling to Gunsight Notch most of these years it seems like it is getting tougher to get to the notch itself with less snow providing easy access by August. The rock underneath the snow ramp is not pleasant.”
The gully is easy Class 5, with a little protection. Beckey's guidebook says it's the hardest part of the climb. I was more impressed with the top pitch, but exposure and lack of pro influenced that.
At the top of the first pitch, stand and admire traverse ahead. You'll probably decide to coil the ropes, but keep harnesses on. The E face is a huge, broad staircase, like the side of a pyramid. Walk a ledge as far as looks reasonable, step up or do an easy mantle, repeat as necessary. You'll want to admire the view, but not while you're moving. The climbing is very easy, but people have died here. Stay focused.
The final pitch is maybe 40-50 feet (12-15m) in a broad, shallow groove leading straight up to the middle of the summit ridge. It had good enough holds, but I wanted pro. Maybe you'll do better at fitting the flaring cracks that I was, or maybe you're good enough that you won't care.
The ridge crest is narrow and loose. We continued the belay S a few feet on the crest to the summit, where there's a bit more room, and it's glued together better.
very careful of loose rock when easing off the crest. I almost
killed my friends with rockfall in 1977. It might have been that
same year that someone apparently anchored from a loose block and
fell all the way to the glacier.
A light rock rack to 2 inches, glacier gear. A map and compass to identify the ocean of peaks, and in case the weather moves in. [I learned about the Middle Fork valley searching for 2 climbers who missed Gunsight Notch descending in the fog.]
Maps and Books
USGS Cascade Pass, Wash. 7.5 minute quad covers all the approach and mountain.
CASCADE ALPINE GUIDE, VOL. II: STEVENS PASS TO RAINY PASS: Climbing & High Routes, 3rd Edition is the most comprehensive guide to the North-Central Cascades.