Graybeard Peak, which has an elevation of 7965 feet, was only recently named by the USGS. It appears as only a point on the ridge on most USGS maps which were created before its name was given. The trailhead, which is located 6 miles west of Rainy Pass on the North Cascades Highway on its south side is easy to find. It is a 3-hour drive from Seattle.
Our first mistake was to arrive at the Easy Pass trailhead at 9:15 which was a bit late. If we had been a fast party, we still would have been OK, but our climbing day happened to be very hot, which slowed us down. The Easy Pass trail is a very nicely laid out trail, which starts in forest, then breaks out into open moraine. Easy Pass is a dramatic setting. It is an area of green meadows and larch trees, with amazing views out to huge Mount Logan and Eldorado Peak, with closer views of imposing Mesachie Peak, Fisher Peak, and Mount Arriva.
Where we went wrong: Having too much confidence in the map and Listening to Beckey
Beckey's Cascade Alpine Guide describes the route as a "rising traverse" south of Easy Pass. As we followed the map and instructions, we were led into a series of cliffs which would have necessiated downclimbing to about 6400 feet into a basin. Hence, this warning. Ignore Fred Beckey's instructions. To climb Graybeard, traverse south from Easy Pass at about the 6400 foot level to find a snowy basin about 3/4 mile south of the pass. Climb the snow to the top to find broken rocks, which will lead you to the South Ridge. From this point, hopefully the Beckey guide is accurate.
As we stood amidst cliffs of a satellite summit of Graybeard, and it was 1:45 in the afternoon, we bowed to the reality of having to shelf this summit for another day.
Our Consolation Summit
On our descent, we saw a huge forest fire raging to the north. It was so huge that we could actually see orange flames rising up the hillside in addition to a lot of smoke.
This is a beautiful area, and the opportunities for peak-bagging here are amazing. Fisher Peak, Mount Arriva, Mount Kitling, Mesachie Peak, Cub Peak, and New Morning Peak are all summits that are easily attainable from Easy Pass. For those looking to climb big summits, this is a really prime area. West of Easy Pass, this area lies within the North Cascades National Park, and east of the pass, it lies within the North Cascades National Scenic Byway. No camping is permitted around Easy Pass. Camping is available in Fisher Creek Basin below, but unfortunately, this involves a large loss of elevation.
At the end of the day, even though we didn't summit Graybeard, we felt like we had summited a worthy peak anyway and weren't too disappointed. Even so, when we had gotten back to Walt's cabin in Marblemount, Walt and Paul drowned their trail aches in some Jim Beam.