Buckner Mountain - 9112' - North Face AI3
Horseshoe Peak - 8480' - South Face - Class 5.2
Who: Josh Lewis and I
What: North Face of Buckner and Horseshoe Peak. Bulgers #82-83 for me
When: June 6-7, 2018
With good weather in the middle of the week, and Josh recovered from his surgery he had late last month, who else to call and invite for a mid-week climb of two Bulgers neither of us had done before? Leaving Renton at 10:30am Wednesday, I made the now routine pick-up of Josh in Lynnwood, and after a quick stop at the hardware store to buy some 90 degree aluminum angle bar (for more pickets...I lost most of mine on Lincoln Peak) we drove out in my van to the Cascade Pass TH (well, the gate at mile 21). Although we made it to the gate one mile beyond the Eldo TH, it is now gated at the Eldo TH for more repairs. This earlier closure to the road took effect yesterday morning just fyi to anyone going up there.
We began the walk up the remainder of the road for 1.5 miles to the Boston Basin TH at 3pm Wednesday, and hiked the somewhat brushy trail all the way to 5,600 feet before hitting any snow! I couldn't believe how fast everything was melting. The snow however began extremely suddenly and within a matter of 50 vertical feet went from nothing to 5 feet in depth! Here I switched out of my approach shoes and into my boots, and we continued up the Quien Sabe glacier, passing a large Mountaineers Group along the way who were all camped at roughly 6,200 feet. We broke trail through the fresh snows of the past week, following the mostly hidden existing tracks all the way to the Boston Sahale col, where we planned to bivy for the night. To my surprise however, the ridgecrest bivies were all still snow covered, so we opted to continue over to the Boston Glacier to camp. We still had a couple hours of daylight left, leaving us enough time to made the tricky scramble (tricky with big mountain boots that is...) up the ridge towards Boston Peak and onto the upper reaches of the Boston Glacier. Small cornices remaining on the ridge made the traverse a bit more interesting, as we had to traverse small ledges below them on the east side of the crest, with 1000+ feet of air below us down to Horseshoe Basin!
We made it to the Boston Glacier, and descended 500 feet to the first flat spot, and laid out the tarp for our bivy. We cooked dinner and melted snow and despite the haze/pollution/high clouds, the sunset was still a nice sight. We set the alarm for 4am.
It was quite chilly in the morning (granted we were camped at 8,000 feet), so we were slow to get out of our sleeping bags. We even had some frost on our bags and tarp! Eventually, by 5:45 am we roped up and started the traverse across the upper Boston Glacier to the north face of Buckner. Crevasses were easy to spot and navigate around, and most had large snow bridges covering them. We passed beneath the north face of Horseshoe Peak along the way, and once at the base of the route, we unroped and simply continued ascending solo, passing around 4 small bergschrunds on the lower part of the face without difficulty. Here the steepness increased to 45 degrees as we continued climbing the perfect snow that took front points beautifully. We took small breaks here and there when we had a chance (rock ledges, slightly softer snow etc) and made it to the summit ridge just over two hours from leaving our camp on the Boston Glacier below Boston Peak. The final 200 feet of the face offered the steepest terrain, approaching 55 degrees, which was also the most insecure snow. Soloing this section got my heart racing a little more!
We left packs on the ridge, and traversed to the eastern summit of Buckner, bypassing a large gendarme on the south side descending 40 feet or so to get around. We decided it is worth ascending both summits of Buckner since they are likely impossible to determine which is the highest. After a quick stay on the east summit, we returned to our packs and finished the last 30 feet to the west summit and signed the register. Plenty of snacks were consumed as well!
By around 9:30am, after over an hour on the summit ridge visiting both summits, we began descending the SW slope, dropped 1000 feet or so and curved right onto a the snow finger leading up to Horseshoe Peak. We ascended this 30-45 degree slope to its highest point where it dumped us off on a large ledge 100 feet below the summit. I swapped into my approach shoes here for the summit scramble, and we worked our way leftward, around a small buttress and into the loose gully leading up to the notch just east of the summit. Then we scrambled up the left-leaning ramp on the south side of the slab, and I solod the short, one move wonder 5.2 finish to the top. Josh was right behind, although since he didn't have approach shoes, the final move was slightly harder for him, but still no problem. We watched from the summit as clouds began to slowly roll in from the west, now obscuring Jburg and Eldorado. We decided to start the long haul back quickly as to avoid a potential whiteout.
We made a long descending traverse across Horseshoe Basin, dropping to a low point of about 6,600 feet, then ascended the ramp and onwards up 1000 more feet of snow back towards the Sahale camps at 7,600 feet. We then traversed over to the Sahale Arm, where we saw a couple skiers and a large Nols group coming down from Sahale Peak, and ran down snow slopes directly to the Cascade Pass Trail, bypassing Cascade Pass itself and in quick time, made it back to bare ground, where I was very happy to once again be not wearing my boots. As always, the stupid trail dragged on, with much annoyance until we reached the parking lot, which is now bare of snow. Only the last switchback just below the parking area still has some snow on the road, but I wouldn't expect the road to be open for a while still. The 2 miles back to the van were nice, as we caught up with the couple skiers we saw and chatted with them for a bit. Upon returning to the van at 4pm, I saw everyone parked at the upper gate had a notice the road was now closed at the Eldo TH and we could still exit at the gate there, but to close it behind us, as it was just "dummy locked". On the way out, milk and muffins awaited in Marblemount, and unfortunately with deteiorating weather for Friday (today) we decided not to attempt Tower and Golden Horn and just return to Lynnwood/Renton.
All in all, another great trip with Josh. We ascended 5,500 feet, then descended 500 in 6ish hours Wednesday and 3,200 feet gain, plus the hike all the way out in just over 10 hours on Thursday with packs, and managed to get both peaks. I call that a pretty good success!