Mt Buckner, North Couloir Ski

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29 April 2004

Mt Buckner Mt Buckner, from the north. The North Couloir is the finger of snow in the shade. Photo by Jim Nelson

After the madness of my first attempt at the North Couloir, I spent the weekend not doing much of anything. I needed some rest and time to sort my thoughts. I spent a minute or two doing the former, then managed to buy a car. Josh Kaplan said he couldn't do Thursday again, but Thursday was looking good. I decided I could use my new solo approach tool (car) and revisit the ghosts of the previous week.

I had it all figured in my head. The heat wave of Sunday and Monday would have any remaining instabilities baked out of the snowpack. Tuesday didn't have that much precip, and this time I would just quit when the time came if I was surprised by too much powder. I was going to start substantially earlier and not waste time. Nobody accepted my proposal, but I was unperturbed. Josh and I had a discussion Tuesday night, with the upshot that Josh might meet me at the end of Cascade River Road.

I caught Josh driving the wrong way near mile 12. I said, "What are you doing?"

"I did 6 k today and I can feel my legs. I didn't get any sleep. I was going to go home and get some things done tomorrow. I'd really slow you down."

"You'll be mad at yourself later. I gotta break trail anyway, so I don't care if you're slow. You should come." I liked the idea of having company.

With a little more reassuring, Josh was ready. Just after the gate, Josh shouted to me, "Did you see my note?" Josh had left a note for me. "No way. Once I start hiking I'm in the zone!"

We changed to boots and got some water on the road, where we had neglected to do so before. I kicked steps in the snow past the steep slope on the way to Cascade Pass. Skinning to the pass I was happy to have ski crampons (thanks Jim). We changed gear and used crampons to boot up to the arm from the pass. We traversed off Sahale Arm toward Boston Basin around 6,600 ft. It was still dark and I was nervous about getting caught above cliffs, but a direct traverse was easy and we were soon on the Quien Sabe Glacier. We were both quite struck by the steepness of the slope above the Quien Sabe where I took a ride last time. I'm glad I'm all right. (Better lucky than good, but damn I'm gonna be good too, I swear.) We took one short break en route to the gully and found ourselves at the notch next to Boston Peak at half past six. The sun had barely risen, we were less than seven hours into our trip, and I was very excited.

The Boston Glacier was skiing very fast with one to two inches of packed powder. It would be quite some time before the sun hit the upper slopes of Buckner. After the hijinx with the bergschrund of the North Couloir the week before I decided to climb the face instead of the couloir. There was plenty of postholing at the bottom of the face, but we were able to follow icy slide paths for easy progress the rest of the way. The face seemed to take forever but when I asked Josh what time it was on the summit, it was only half past ten. The face had been too icy so we were going to take a nap until the sun did some work. We stretched on some warm rocks of the south face, hoping the snow on the other side would soften.

skiing the couloir This illustrates pretty well what I meant by levitating above the Boston Glacier. Photo by Josh Kaplan

At twelve thirty we prepared to ski. I made turns on the upper face and found a very nice two inches of packed powder. It was steep and exposed to rock outcroppings before the couloir, but the snow was plenty good. Josh did not like the steep exposed feeling, so he traversed to skier's right to sideslip some very icy slopes. I could tell it was icy and warned him, but all that really mattered was making it down so I left him to his sideslipping and cranked the packed pow.

The couloir rolled steeply out of view below, making it feel like we were levitating above the Boston Galcier. What a spectacular line! The couloir featured an icy slide path down the center, but packed powder over the ice made for excellent steep turns to the side. We exchanged photo sessions at the top of the couloir, then I let Josh sideslip through the narrow section until he could move to shelter on skier's right. Then I enjoyed an amazing thousand feet or so of steeps, consistently 45 degrees with packed powder that made for easy turns.

April powder Josh enjoys some late April powder below the bergschrund.

I made a few check turns to be cautious about my route over the bergschrund. After leaping over it, the snow down the final steep slope was an unbelievable foot of fluff. We took a break and noted how much more energetic we felt than we did the last week. Success is an excellent stimulant.

Josh passes knot I don't think the Mountaineers teach this technique.

I made an efficient skin track to the notch in an hour and a half. We had a bit more rope this week, so we were able to rappel all the way down the gully in one shot. When I got to the bottom and pulled the rope, it was stuck. I climbed half way up the gully, threw the rope down, then downclimbed the worst part of it. I was a bit flustered by this but I got over it.

I was very cautious with my sluff on the slope to the Quien Sabe. It was 4 pm, but the snow wasn't too sloppy at all. We were able to make the high traverse to the Arm and from there it was a very quick ski to the pass and the road. I had one of my most spectacular wipeouts in some glop just above the pass. One of my tips snagged and I double ejected from my skis, making two full flips before stopping. Wow!

My shoes were both where I left them (unlike the previous week when a ravenous animal had stolen one of them). We were back to the cars at 6:30 pm, eighteen-and-a-half hours for the whole thing. Josh's GPS estimated almost 11,000' vertical for the day. We felt good about our return and amazed at how perfectly things went. Could it be that it's all about timing? I suspect as much.

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