Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mount Buckner - North Face - 07.24-26.10

I was supposed to do Mount Stuart with Rod this weekend, but after finding there was a fair amount of snow on the route, he decided to postpone the trip as he wanted to do the West Ridge in one day. We threw around some ideas and came up with the North Face of Mount Buckner. Recent reports stated it was in, and neither of us had been to the mountain before, so it would be an adventure.

We took the long drive in traffic up to Marblemount on Friday evening. We missed an open ranger station by about 30 minutes and decided to bivy in town. We parked under the bridge that marks the start of Cascade River Road and set the alarm to get to the station before they opened.

We awoke and headed to the ranger station. We were third in line (although another party of two cut in front of us in the building.) We got a permit for Sahale Glacier camp and were on our way. Neither Rod nor I were feeling like we wanted to do the carryover, so we devised a plan to camp at the Sahale Glacier and do a lighter pack climb on Sunday eventually returning to camp and hiking out. This plan worked well with our desire not to have full packs on the climb, but would create a long summit day with potentially difficult route finding on the return.

We took a leisurely hike up to the pass and had a rest. Then we left most of the tourists and started our way up Sahale Arm. The trail is gradual, which was a welcome relief. We took our time and crossed some snow patches on the way to the upper arm. We showed our permit to the ranger at a brief stop and continued to just below camp. We rested a good bit before pushing the final 200' to the camps. We located a slab with a built up wind wall on a rock outcropping and decided to camp there. Rod was fairly tired and rested on his pad, while I sat on the rock for a while. I then scouted a bit of our return route. I found Rod still resting, and told him I would go filter water while he set up the tent. Upon my return, we lazed around for a while more before cooking up dinner and reading route descriptions. We wanted an early start on Sunday, but since we were tired, opted for a 4:25am wake up.

Unfortunately, we were not awakened by the alarm and got up late. By the time we were done eating and gearing up it was 6:15am. The snow was firm and we opted not to rope up for the ascent of the Sahale Glacier. We covered 500' of vertical in the first half hour, and were now in a moat taking off our crampons to skirt Sahale Peak around the right side. A few difficult moves on the rock, and then more easy ground got us to the Boston/Sahale Col where we put the crampons back on for the walk to Boston Peak. This was uneventful except for the 75' or so of walking on a cornice before getting back onto the safer snow pack.

We took the snow as high as we could go on Boston and then took our crampons off to climb the peak. The route beta we had said to climb to within 200' of the summit and then trend right around the peak to the Boston Glacier. Shortly after heading up, we found a downward trending ramp on the right side and took that. The rock was loose, but the the ramp was almost second class with a little third class thrown in here and there. We kicked a few rocks off, but nothing serious. We also did not witness any rockfall that was not caused by us. After too long on this traverse we reached the Boston Glacier and stepped out on it opting not to rope up until we hit a flatter section a hundred feet or so below us. There we took our first break. We noticed that there may have been an alternative bypass of Boston up higher. We had been traveling for about three hours at that point and were looking forward to the next portions of the climb.

We roped up for a crossing of the glacier and Rod headed out. I didn't like a way he was going, and lead us back around a crevasse and most of the way across the glacier until I was not headed in an ideal course and had him take over again. There were some footprints on the glacier which we loosely followed at times, but we did attempt to take a more direct path than the footprints.

In an hour, we were at the base of the climb. We took a brief break and Rod led out past the first cracks toward the left. We had only three pickets and decided to keep at least two in between us through the first section where we were passing a lot of cracks, and the snow was still fairly firm. As we swung leads and simul climbed, we started leaving just one piece in while feeling more comfortable about our situation.

I set a belay above the large bergschrund at a crack below a rock band. Rod surpassed a few cracks before bringing me up. There was a large runnel about six feet deep with near vertical walls running down the face. I couldn't manage to down climb into it and did a down climb of nearly forty feet to find an easier way in and then out the other side. This was to avoid climbing the rock above us which we had no protection for. After getting back above Rod on the other side of the runnel, I brought him up. He led out crossing the runnel above and then onto the rock. I quickly went through the easy rock band (2nd/3rd class) and was on the final slope to the summit. We swung leads and simul soloed with the rope to the summit block. The upper slopes had been seeing sun for a while and were much softer as we were able to kick our way up the slope with ease. We had burned a lot of time dodging the cracks and the runnel down low and arrived at the summit around 3:30pm. Rod was fairly tired and rested on the summit while I put my gear away and snapped pictures. We ate what we had and after about an hour of time on the summit we descended.

From our beta and my scouting of the descent route, it was steep and might take some time. I foolishly estimated one and half hours back to camp from there. We started the descent with good plunge stepping but the slope started to roll over and got steeper. There was an firm/icy layer down about 4" in the snow which made for insecure plunge stepping. I gave a brief try at glissading only to pick up too much speed in ten feet. Rod wanted to traverse while I wanted to head straight down. We eventually opted to traverse hoping the slope angle might ease a bit in that direction. It didn't really and at some point I caved in to down climbing face in. This was faster than the plunge stepping and soon we arrived at a rock band where we were able to relax a bit and fill our water bottles from a tiny stream. We did one final face in climb of snow down the chute by the rock and then did a long fast glissade on more gentle terrain. Since we both had to arrest to stop on lower angle glissading, we opted to plunge step down further to negotiate a rock band and then head back up a bit.

We were shooting for a snow covered part of the Davenport Glacier moraine. Once over that there was a snow band through the slabs below the glacier that would get us to the exit gully across Horseshoe Basin. We were finally on easier terrain and we started to move more quickly again. The sun was now behind the mountains and we welcomed the relief of not being in direct sunlight for the first time since the base of the route. We arrived at the exit gully where I opted to take out a second tool. We made our descent without crampons, and opted not to put them back on to go up this final gully. There were footsteps in it, but it was quite firm and I was glad to have two tools while Rod made do with just one.

We took another short break at the top of the gully to assess our next task. We had to ascend the buttress for a few hundred feet before we could get back on snow to lead us to camp. It was 8pm and we had some technical ground to cover before we could safely slog up the snow to camp. This ground proved more technical than we anticipated or wanted. The 3rd/4th class rock was loose and scary. We found one point where there were some slings around a detached flake that were perhaps used as a hand line to cross a gully. Rod and I didn't like the look of it, and saw some blocky terrain to our left and gave that a go. In was probably fifth class and we had no way to protect it. In the process of climbing it Rod knocked a few rocks on me, but they mostly went over my head or hit my backpack. My stress level was maxed. We just climbed as quickly as we could through that section and finally reached somewhat easier ground. The rest of the buttress relaxed to 2nd or 3rd class and then we were back on snow where we climbed for thirty minutes toward the setting sun and camp. The moon was rising behind us.

Rod and I had a running dialogue all day about when we return to camp. Most of it consisted of us packing up and hiking out. But we never anticipated coming back this late. We were both spent and when we arrived at the tent, Rod asked "Are you still thinking of hiking out?" I responded with some type of comment of needing to lie down. We were mostly out of food and water, so we just got in the tent and went to sleep.

We hiked out the next morning with no issues. Although we found out that the NPS is quick to act on a passed due hiker. We met a ranger in the lot who was checking to see if we returned yet as Rod stated our return time as Sunday night. Monday morning they had checked our climbing registration and called Rod's parents. Of course, the ranger in the lot did not tell us, nor did they tell us at the station that they had started proceedings. We found out when we got phone reception just outside of Burlington and I had a message concerned about our party. Rod made some frantic calls to set the situation straight. We decided there that we would both buffer our climbing registrations in the future to avoid this situation.

Overall, the route was enjoyable. It took us surprisingly long to climb considering the feet/hour compared to my Liberty Ridge climb last week. If I was inclined to climb it again, I would perhaps carry over eliminating the need to climb the chossy buttress back onto Sahale Arm. It would be much easier to hike out the Horseshoe Basin trail back. I also think that it would have been somehow safer to ski the descent than to plunge step. Not only that, but it would have been faster and less energy consuming.

My pics are here.

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