It's elementary my dear summitposters, the evidence is clear, this page is about Mt. Watson. So put on your tweed jackets, pull out your magnifying glasses. Let us suss some substance for this peak...
Mt. Watson is the highest peak in the strew of mountains west of Bacon Peak but east of Lake Shannon and Baker Lake. Before you ask, I don't know--I don't know why this peak wasn't called Mt. Holmes. Perhaps it was Watson who was the real brain behind all that famous sleuthing. Yeah yeah, it was named for a different Watson fellow all together.
At any rate, the topographic Watson rises as roughly an east-west crest topped by four cliffy summit points. The far east end of the crest dips down to the 4,900-ft saddle connecting to Bacon Peak (7,061 ft) and gives Watson its 1360 ft of prominence. Between Watson proper and this saddle is the first of the four cliffy summit points. By virtue of this first point's 440 ft of prominence, it is significant enough to have its own name. John Roper and Grant Myers made the first ascent of this peak in October 2002 and thus gave it its name "Elementary Peak" (you get the wit). Paul Klenke and Fay Pullen have subsequently climbed the peak on separate outings. John's report for Elementary Peak can be found at the top of this page. The page also provides a good shot of the Watson massif. Here is my own picture of Elementary.
The next three summit points to the west are the true Watson peaks. The eastern of these is 6,280+ feet* and is not the highpoint. It is precipitous on all sides with the sub-alpine west slope being the most amenable to safe climbing. The summit rocks are actually a narrow north-south crest that makes the highest among them a true one-person summit. The two western points look just as high as the eastern point when standing atop the latter. The middle summit (the more easterly of the western summits) is triangulated at 6,220 ft. The far west summit is 6,180+ ft. The middle summit is the highpoint of Mt. Watson.
The western summit(s) are a moderately popular scrambler's objective. (The eastern summit is probably not popular. I found no register at its highest point but there was a little bit of snow on the ground.) The western summits are more popular. They are easy to get to from the car. The trailhead is at 4,300 ft and 1.8 miles of good trail followed by another mile or so of climber's path and easy crosscountry leads to the final upper north side.
The north side of the Watson massif nurses a sputtering, wheezing old codger of a glacier. Most of the terrain below is now just slabs with the remnant glacier occupying only the highest aprons including the prominent col between the east and west summits. The south side of the peak is a mess of cliffs and gullies and light-to-moderate brush.
* Is the eastern summit 6,280+ feet or only 6,240+ ft? There's a short arc of contour at the north end of the summit spine (see here) Based on observation after returning to climb the middle summit in October 2011, my guess is the eastern summit is at least 30 feet lower than the middle summit. There is no question the eastern summit is lower than the middle summit.
Getting to the Trailhead
There is only one approach to this peak that is worth mentioning. You'd be a fool or a masochist (or a foolish masochist) to go another way because it will be longer and brushier. (There is a cross-country route from the road if you can't get all the way to the trailhead due to snow but I will forego it here because only the hardcore among us would care.)
The nearest highway is Highway 20. If coming from the west from Burlington), you want to turn north off the highway at Baker Lake Road 17.5 miles east of Sedro Wooley. The turn-off is well signed and is right at the little "town" of Birdsview, which is really nothing more than a mom 'n pop convenience store (this store is the last place to get supplies before heading up to the peak. Baker Lake Road heads up Grandy Creek bearing initially northeast. If coming from the east there is a shortcut cut-off called Burpee Hill Road. This cut-off starts in the town of Concrete and in 3 miles junctions with Baker Lake Road west of Lake Tyee. This shortcut will save about 12 miles of driving.
Cross the dam (one lane) and follow the signs to the Watson Lake Trail. The road climbs up the hillside east of Lake Shannon and in approx. 11 miles reaches the trailhead (c. 4,300 ft). Note that the final road follows the dashed line for a short distance. The lower "road" just to the south of the ridge is overgrown.
Watson Lakes Trail and Climb
The trail initially follows the ridge for a half-mile and comes to a small basin west of Anderson Butte. Here a side trail climbs up to the old lookout summit on a western promontory point of Anderson. A continuing scramble and steep grass and heather sidehilling will get you to the main summit (5,720 + ft). But this isn't a page for Anderson Butte...
From the small basin west of Anderson Butte continue southeast through a small saddle then descend 200 feet to another junction. Straight ahead (continuing southeast) is a trail to lower Anderson Lakes. To the left is the trail to Watson Lakes, which are on the other side of the ridge. The trail climbs 150 feet to a pass (4,800 ft) then descends the other side to upper Watson Lake (4,418 ft) perhaps two miles from the car. But you don't want to go all the way to the lakes to climb Mt. Watson (unless you will be camping there; see the Camping section). Instead of going to Watson Lakes, at the 4,800-ft pass go about 100 yards beyond to a big, rotted log on the right lying perpendicular to the trail. A climber's path leaves the main trail here and ascends through moderate brush to the ridge southeastward. The ride leads to upper Anderson Lakes. The path gets better (more open) once on the ridge but there are a few brushy traverses. In winter or spring conditions the initial 200 feet out of the pass is steep but the rest is easy.
The standard route to both the east (main) and west summits is via the central col between them. A climb of the west summits via their northwest ridge above upper Anderson Lakes probably goes but some scrambling of the Class 3/4 variety should be expected. Plus, the Northwest Ridge route will have to somehow get past the westernmost summit (6180+ ft), which is a steep, rocky pyramid. The direct crest is Class 4 or more between it and the main summit.
To get to the central col, turn east here just north of upper Anderson Lakes (it's not necessary to go all the way to the lake although there is a way up an easy, left-curving slope at the south end of the southern lake) and hike up an easy gully past a small lake at 5,300 ft. An easy saddle left of the lake rounds the corner to the slabby north side of the Watson massif. There is a glacier here but it is quite receded and now only resides under the cliffs. One icy section was exposed down near the slabs a few hundred feet below the col. In the slabby terrain there are several hollows and bulges. You may not initially see the central col but soon it will become apparent--especially if you stay low on the slabs (5,300 ft or so). Once you see it, climb up to the col. Beware of cornices above that could break away. In late season lightweight crampons are advisable. The 5,900-ft col is a flat, yet ramparted saddle with sparse trees. There are potential moats. Allow 2.5-3 hours to get to the col from the car; 3 miles, 1,800 ft of net gain.
If you step back from the east summit (i.e., walk to the west end of the col) a route to the top will be more apparent. The idea is to work one's way up through the steep trees keeping as far right as possible to avoid a dangerous run-out to cliffs below. The angle of the face varies from 40-55 degrees at its steepest. When snowy the climb may be nothing more than a steep slog (advise ice axe). In summer it may be harder. It depends on the nature of the tread. It could be heather or it could be terraced dirt or it could be a mixture. The summit is the central rock feature. Make the final moves on its southwest side. The northwest side is steeper. The summit contains a small depression amid rocks that is just big enough for one person (i.e., it's a one-person summit). Class 3. Allow 15-30 minutes from the col depending on conditions.
From the central col climb over a short rise to an easier traverse to the 6,220-ft middle summit (the eastern of the two west summits). In snow conditions the final part to the thorny summit will be up an exposed snow slope. In summer it is a little easier. Class 3 with short bits of Class 4 possible. Allow 20 minutes from the central col. The idea is to bypass the east finish of the middle summit by bypassing its small SE Face to the south ridge where a short gully leads to the ridge then, turning right, ascend a ramp to a cumbersome tight squeeze through trees. After the trees, a Class 3 but sometimes exposed scramble leads to the top.
The 6,180+ ft western of the two west summits may be accessible from the top of the 6,220-ft summit. Some downclimbing and routefinding should be expected. It's probably Class 3 and 4 with the potential of Class 5, especially on the direct crest.
The trailhead requires a Trail Park Pass. Some day such requirements will be a thing of the pass. Yeah right.
When To Climb
Spring, summer, or fall are the best times. A winter ascent is also possible but you will have to walk the snowed-in road for a couple miles or more...unless it's a dry winter.
The principal difficulties in snowy conditions will be the final steep slopes to the various tops.
In late season crampons may be necessary to ascend the short section of glacier to the central col.
Camping is possible at Watson Lakes and Anderson Lakes and out on the slabs below the glacier (if you can find a flat spot). For the lakes it is requested you use only designated sites. Anderson Lakes are outside the Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness; Watson Lakes are within it.