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Ascent of Mount Buckner on 2018-08-31

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Friday, August 31, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Buckner
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:9114 ft / 2777 m

Ascent Trip Report

Horseshoe Peak (8,480ft) and Mount Buckner (9,114ft)

August 31, 2018

Eric Gilbertson

Horseshoe and Buckner were some of my few remaining Bulger Peaks, and I had been waiting for a weather window in late August to climb them. Buckner is third class, but Horseshoe has a short section of 5th class climbing on the summit. Thus, it’s important that the weather be good for Horseshoe.

On August 25th I’d climbed Boston Peak and Sahale Peak with Birkan and had originally planned to climb Horseshoe and Boston afterwards. But it started snowing hard when we topped out on Boston, then it changed to a heavy rain as we descended and I decided to hold off on more peaks that day until the weather improved.

Over the next few days I climbed Bulgers east of the crest where the weather was better (Windy, Silverstar), and climbed Forbidden when Katie could join. Finally August 31 looked like reasonable weather for Horseshoe and Buckner. I got off Silverstar August 30 and drove to the Cascade Pass trailhead to sleep in the car for the night.

My plan was to climb the two peaks solo, since it was difficult to find a partner who could join last minute on a weekday. This would be difficult for Horseshoe since it was 5th class, but my plan was to bring a rope, light rack, and rope solo climb the short exposed section. Rope soloing is just as safe as pitched climbing, but only requires one person. The technique is to build an anchor at the bottom of the climb, tie one end of the rope to it, then stuff the rest of the rope in a backpack. You clove hitch the rope to your anchor, then climb up, adjusting the clove hitch as you go to put more slack between yourself and the anchor. You occasionally place gear and clip the rope in to protect from a fall.

For my purpose, since the technical part was less than half a rope length, I planned to top out, build an anchor, then rappel back to the bottom, cleaning the gear as I rappelled. Then I would pull the rope and be done. Rope soloing is slow if you climb more than one pitch (since you have to climb each pitch twice to retrieve your gear), but it is efficient and safe for only one pitch. Unfortunately it requires brining a bit extra gear, but I was ok with that.

I’d read that a 60m rope is required to fully rappel off Horseshoe, so I packed a 60m skinny rope and a light rock rack. I left the car around 5am, enveloped in fog. The forecast was for partly sunny skies, but I think the forecasters have a hard time predicting mountain weather.

I soon reached Cascade Pass, and then hiked up to the Sahale Glacier camp. I was enveloped in clouds and drizzle the entire hike. It was basically just as bad as when I had retreated after climbing Boston peak a few days earlier. I contemplated turning around again, but decided to wait around for a while and hope things improved.

I hung out at Sahale camp for half an hour, nibbling on some food, until I was cold and wet enough to need to start moving. It was still drizzling and low visibility, but I decided to make my way over towards Horseshoe and Buckner just in case. I traversed to the east end of the plateau below the Sahale Glacier, passed a dozen campsites, until I was above the broad gully dropping southeast from Sahale Glacier. Miraculously the clouds started parting then, and I got intermittent views of Buckner in the distance.

This weather now looked good enough for me to give the peaks a shot. I put on my crampons and carefully downclimbed a steep snowfield using my whippet, then traversed east to gain the sharp southeast ridge of Sahale peak. I followed a faint climbers trail and cairns down the ridge, downclimbing one short 4th class step, until I reached the top of a scree and talus gully to the east. This is the gully that drops directly to the 6,600ft snowfield shown on the USGS quad. I scrambled down the gully, then crossed the snowfield.

I was now in Horseshoe Basin, and this is the area that required decent visibility for navigation. Luckily the cloud level was now well above me, and I could see a reasonable route towards Buckner. I traversed across a wide ledge at 6,600ft, gradually ascending to the base of a cliff at 6,800ft where I encountered remains from an old mining operation. After the old mine the terrain was loose scree, which I traversed until I was due south of Horseshoe Peak.

I hadn’t yet decided which peak to do first, but with the weather oscillating between good and bad, I decided to bag Horseshoe first while the weather was good. I ascended steeply, reaching a snowfield at the base of Horseshoe. With the clouds passing in and out I was momentarily intimidated by what I thought was the summit directly above me. However, once the clouds cleared I realized I was actually looking at the Lick of Flame, not Horseshoe. I soon recognized Horseshoe to the left of the Lick of Flame based on pictures I’d seen.

I put on crampons and ascended the snowfield. There are two ways from the top of the snowfield to access the technical part of Horseshoe, both 3rd class according to Summitpost. I chose the left route. I traversed as far left as possible on scree at the top of the snowfield, then scrambled up 3rd class terrain towards the summit. I encountered a gulley trending down and left, so I descended into the gully, then hiked up the gully to the crest of the Lick-of-Flame-Horseshoe ridge.

From this crest a narrow ramp led up and climbers left to the summit. The ramp started out 3rd class, but then turned into 5th class terrain just below the summit. I’d read reports of people soloing the ramp and gaining the summit by pulling on the rappel anchor. This sounded way too sketchy to me, trusting a rap anchor that hasn’t been inspected. I was happy to have the rope and rack with me.

I scrambled up as high as possible, then built a small anchor with a few cams and tied one end of the rope in. I left the rest in my backback, and clove-hitched to the rope. I then carefully climbed along the ramp, adjusting the slack in the clove hitch and putting a few more cams in. Eventually I reached the end of the ledge and made the steep move to gain the summit. A horn on the summit had a dozen old strands of webbing wrapped around, of which about half were cut. The rest looked ok, though, and I added some cordelette to be sure.

I signed the register, and it looked like I was the first person since Jake Robinson and Trace summitted a month
earlier. Horseshoe peak seems to only be popular with people working on the Bulgers, though it is a fun peak with great views. The clouds actually parted enough for me to get a brief glimpse of Buckner, my next objective.

After testing and inspecting the anchor I rappelled back down, cleaning the gear as I went. It was a bit awkward diagonally rappelling on the ledge, but not too bad. Back at the 3rd class section I cleaned the anchor, packed up, and retraced my route back to the snowfield.

From the top of the snowfield I traversed east around 8,200ft, following occasional cairns, until I was at the base of Mt Buckner. I scrambled up a scree and talus chute on the southwest face, gained the south ridge around 8,800ft, then made the short 3rd class scramble to the summit. This was officially my 100th Bulger, though I planned to reclimb a few dozen more to tighten up my finishing time.

There has until recently been some controversy over which peak of Buckner is the true highpoint, but luckily Greg Slayden put the controversy to rest in mid July with careful hand-level and back-sighting measurements. The conclusion is that the southwest peak, which I was on, is about 2ft taller than the northeast peak.

I peeked over onto the north face, which is supposedly a fun ice climb in season, but it looked like it was all melted out this late in the season. Interestingly, the mountains to the west were socked in the clouds, while to the east the skies were clear. The rain shadow effect was pretty obvious from my location.

After a snack I descended back down the gully and traversed to the snowfield. I retraced my same route back, and luckily it didn’t rain at all the rest of the day. By the time I reached the Sahale Glacier Camp I was feeling good enough to start jogging down the trail. I got back to the trailhead around 5:30pm, and started driving to my next objective. My goal was to reclimb a bunch of Bulgers to tighten my finishing time, and my next ones would be Pinnacle and Emerald peaks.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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