Buckner Mountain - North Face, July 2002
There was some sort of disturbance brewing down the street. I became increasingly anxious, hoping Tom would just hurry the hell up and finish loading his gear into my car. A punch was thrown and I ducked for cover, expecting bullets to start flying. Oh shit, oh shit... Tom then descended the stairs with his last load of gear and assured me that he "had my back" should anything...you know, get out of hand. Tom slid the pistol under the passenger seat and we slowly drove away without incident. With the ghetto comfortably in the rear view mirrow, I began to breathe easy again. Soon we were on I-5, happily on our way to the North Cascades National Park. We would rendezvous at the recently opened Cascade Pass parking area with Aaron Misiuk (Aaron and I, among others, climbed the North Twin Sister back in April that same year). The usual ritual of sharing climbing stories over a few beers was had before we retired for the night in the parking lot.
We opted for the Sahale Arm approach instead of Boston Basin so as to avoid the double rope rappel onto the Boston Glacier from Sharkfin Col. No sense in packing around an extra rope just for that. Since the return would also be made via Sahale Arm, that sounded like the logical place to start. It's hard to beat the views-to-effort ratio of the Sahale Arm approach. Eldorado Peak rose prominently to the northwest. We slogged up Sahale Arm, made a few 4th/5th class moves onto the summit of Sahale Peak and were rewarded with outstanding views. We would also first set eyes upon our objective. Aaron makes the final steps onto the summit of Sahale with Johannesburg Mountain in the background. About every five minutes massive chunks of ice could be heard calving off the hanging glacier and roar down into the valley below. A seemingly improbable chossy traverse on the lower flanks of Boston Peak stood between us and the Boston Glacier. Numerous boulders were sent blasting down the face. We took care to be nicely spaced apart so as not to dislodge any rocks onto each other.
We set up camp high on the Boston Glacier and had the entire afternoon to hang out and soak in some sun. Some threatening looking clouds slowly drifted by until the blue skies overhead disappeared. I fell asleep early that evening, concerned that the weather would foil our summit plans. To my relief, we awoke to clear skies and a spectacular sunrise across the mighty Boston Glacier. Once again, Forbidden Peak beckons from afar. Aaron would later inform me that it had snowed about a foot the week prior. Instead of the hard firn snow/ice that I had expected, we had pure unprotectable 50 - 55 degree mush the entire 1300ft of the North Face. Crampons were of little use and snow pickets offered only psychological comfort. To add to the enjoyment, clouds had begun to move in and about half way up the face it began to rain.
Finally the endless step-kicking gave way to a lessening of the grade followed by a short scramble to the summit register. Being cold and wet, our summit experience was further curtailed by a very strange electro-static buzzing sensation coming off of us. Not particularly interested in being struck by lightning, we proceeded to descend down into Horseshoe Basin on the other side of Buckner. By the time we descended down onto the Davenport Glacier and began our ascent back up Sahale Arm, the sun had come back out again. The black moisture-laden clouds to the west contrasted sharply with the warming Eastern Washington sun glistening on the distant but visible waters of Lake Chelan. We were standing at approximately where the rain-shadow began. Although not new to me, this phenomenon never ceases to amaze. More exquisite plunge-stepping in the softening mush was had whilst descending Sahale Arm back into the trees and eventually, the trailhead. Despite the poor snow conditions, the route, views and remoteness all added to the undisputed classic status of this route!
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