Sahale, Boston, Buckner (N Face)

A sense of uncertainty that is potentially fatal is what makes climbing an adventure. Anything less is just working out. — Jim Bridwell (via Boston’s summit register.)

Having finished Glacier faster than expected, I resupplied in Darrington, then drove around to the Cascade Pass trailhead. The washout from last year has of course been repaired, though with a slap-dash pile of logs and rocks that will probably just get washed out again soon. Having several outings planned for this trailhead, I chose to tackle the longest but least technical first, a link-up of Sahale, Boston, and Buckner Peaks. I chose what seemed like the most efficient route, climbing Sahale via the Sahale Arm, traversing to Boston, then crossing the upper Boston Glacier to Buckner’s north face, and returning across Horseshoe Basin.

Johannesburg's NE face

Johannesburg’s NE face

Though I set my alarm for something early, it seemed cold when I woke in the west-facing valley, so I told myself that I had plenty of daylight, went back to sleep, and finally got started around 7:00 AM. Just across the valley, Johannesburg’s broad, 5,000-foot northeast face rose disorientingly steep, its buttresses covered in tenacious trees and small hanging glaciers. I felt good fast-walking the wildly switchbacked trail to Cascade Pass, taking a bit over an hour to reach the built-up terrace. (I was less happy here on the return, when I realized that, at an 8% grade, the trail could be a moderately steep highway.)

Sahale from low on Arm

Sahale from low on Arm

Signposts pointed me to the Sahale Arm trail, which is thankfully a bit steeper. I found some closed campsites near the Doubtful Lake trail, where the length of the Sahale Arm is finally visible.
Cold camp below Sahale Glacier

Cold camp below Sahale Glacier

I continued making good time along the popular trail, finally reaching full-time snow near the Sahale Glacier camp, where a few hardy souls were starting their chilly morning.

Boston and Buckner from Sahale

Boston and Buckner from Sahale

I briefly tried the snow in just running shoes, but quickly put on the crampons I had fortunately decided to bring. I chose an arbitrary direct line to Sahale’s summit knob, finding the snow steep and hard enough to tenuously front-point in my Kahtoola running-shoe crampons while daggering my axe. Near the base of the rock, I passed two men descending with full gear, carefully downclimbing the steeper sections. It seemed like a waste of a good day to be heading down so early. One short 3rd class scramble later (past the usual PNW gratuitous rappel anchors), I reached the summit, where I paused just long enough to appreciate the chossy horror of Boston.

Loose climb up Boston

Loose climb up Boston

I bashed my shin kicking off a talus-slide on the way across the ridge, but mostly found easy if rotten climbing. I started up Boston slightly right of the ridge, then returned to it near a rappel anchor and stayed there most of the rest of the way. I am something of a bad rock connoisseur, and this was some of the worst I have climbed. It is not obviously bad like rotten sandstone, but deceptive, with apparent sharp holds that turn out to be loose blocks held onto ledges by dirt seams. There are enough solid, positive holds to keep the steep climbing class 4, but I was careful to test every hold and always keep three appendages on the rock.

View back to Boston and Forbidden

View back to Boston and Forbidden

Reaching the summit, I was surprised to see a 1960s-vintage metal register box with a good register of the same vintage. Though only a short distance from Sahale and clearly higher, the peak seems to see very few ascents, thanks no doubt to the awful rock. After enjoying the register awhile, I reluctantly retraced my steps to the saddle with Sahale, then started boot-skiing down the Boston glacier near the hopelessly jagged Boston-Buckner ridge. I found a bit of tricky rock around a bergschrund while descending to a flatter part of the glacier, and avoided one bad-looking (narrow above, wide below) crevasse, but it felt far less sketchy than climbing Boston.

Looking up Buckner's north face

Looking up Buckner’s north face

As the snow steepened at the base of Buckner’s north face, I put my crampons on again. Fortunately the bergschrund was still partly covered, so I was able to zig-zag from the glacier to the face without having to find a rock bypass. The snow on the face was perfect for my gear, just soft enough for me to kick steps, but still hard enough not to collapse most of the time. One head-down snow grind later, I emerged on the summit ridge between Buckner’s two summits.

Boston and Forbidden from Buckner

Boston and Forbidden from Buckner

Choosing the closer southwest summit at random, I luckily found the register, signing in about 5h30 from the trailhead. I decided not to bother with the awkward, chossy ridge to the other summit, so I found a sheltered spot, admired the views of Logan, Goode, Jack, and the northern tip of Lake Chelan, then took a 10-minute nap before heading down. I was lucky to wake when I did, because otherwise I would have been startled by the large Mazamas group I met only 100 yards from the summit. They seem duly impressed, befuddled, or something by my choice of footwear.

Buckner from Horseshoe Basin

Buckner from Horseshoe Basin

A perfect boot-ski got me down into Horseshoe Basin, where I made a roughly-level traverse across snow, slabs, and heath to the obvious gully leading back up to Sahale Arm. Climbing a red scree ramp through a buttress, I found an impressive cache of ancient miner gear, including a hefty Coleman stove. I tried to cut below the Sahale Glacier camp, but was punished for my impatience by a hideously loose moraine traverse to regain the trail.
A bear, a bear!

A bear, a bear!

I jogged what I could, passing geared-up mountaineers, day-hikers, and a black bear above Cascade Pass, and many more tourists below. After jogging endless switchbacks, I reached the trailhead a bit before 4:00. With plenty of time to kill, I checked out various routes on Johannesburg while fighting the swarms of biting flies.

One response to “Sahale, Boston, Buckner (N Face)

  1. Interesting! That confused climber was Rick Sylvester, who I recall as a pretty accomplished and famous climber from California in the 1970s and ’80s.I think he did stints as stuntman for action films including a James Bond.

Leave a Reply