Mt Buckner, North Face, Winter Climb and Ski

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Buckner route Our approach to and route on the North Face of Mt Buckner. We camped at the green dot.

19-21 February 2004

Much brainstorming and speculation about the weather had left plans for a trip uncertain, but Ross was decisive and motivated (sound familiar?) to attempt Mount Buckner in the end. Wednesday afternoon's new forecast called for a dry Friday, which was all the encouragement I needed. There was much preparation to be done after we finalized plans with a phone conversation at seven in the evening; between misguided energy spent elsewhere and responsibilities at the lab I managed to sleep less than an hour. Corey did a little better, but he still found our 5 am departure somewhat disagreeable.

A few introductions, one speeding ticket, and a little drizzle later we found an impassable fallen tree. We were just past mile eighteen on Cascade River Road. The weather looked like it might be ready to break. Ross expressed confidence that the peaks were above the cloud cover. Either way, it was time to do some cross-country skiing. The road was snow-covered nearly the entire way. I skied without skins since I was hoping to avoid using them until we were above the fresh snow line (As if!).

Forbidden Peak Forbidden Peak emerges from the fog.

alpine Sunrise on Eldorado and Forbidden Peaks

gully gully Ross climbs the gully.

corey gully Corey climbs the gully. Our skin track is visible below him.

We hadn't reached new snow by the time we left the road to climb into Boston Basin, so my skinless ploy was of no use. Shortly after we began to climb, the snow became fresh and the trees thinned. The snow was becoming really nice powder, but the clouds weren't lifting. Ross and I took turns leading into the void, with the occasional pause for a glance at the topo and a few remarks about the visibility. We were hoping to see a little better on the Quien Sabe Glacier.

As the afternoon progressed, the clearing moments were fleeting. Snow showers immediately followed all episodes of blue sky. With great faith we continued. It was after three and we were getting close to 8,000 feet. Leading the way, I was able to detect some crevasses through the fog above us . I was actually thankful for the contrast their presence provided. As we finished skirting the crevasses and aimed up the slope, the clouds finally began to fade. Directly above us was Boston Peak and the notch we wanted to use to access the Boston Glacier. Below us we could see our skin track, remarkably taking an optimal path through the crevasses visible on the glacier. We happily made camp below a large cliff that provided the only flat spot in the area.

We were all happy to see the weather break. Corey and Ross stomped a flat spot and pitched a tent. I laid my bivy sack below an overhanging portion of the cliff, adjacent to a wind-blocking snowbank. The three of us worked happily at our stoves before retiring. There was a bit of speculation about the next day's weather and the possibility of waiting until Saturday if necessary. We slept past the day's first light for a late start, but it was immediately obvious that the weather demanded a respectable effort. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and even more amazingly, clear was accompanied by calm.

The first order of the day was the biggest unknown. We needed to climb to the notch above us to access the Boston Glacier. I started by wallowing through unbearably deep and soft snow. Turning the corner on the snowbank at the bottom of our cliff, the usual knee-deep postholing resumed. I stopped to get remove snow from my boots while Ross took the lead. I tested the gully to get to the notch, quickly finding myself in a world of thin snow over sloping rocks.

There was no ice and the snow was powdery. The ground above us didn't look any better. I asked Ross if he was sure this was a good way to go. With much debate, we donned crampons and I gave the gully at hand a try. It was way too slabby, so I tried a rock step to the left. There were a few moves, the middle one being the sketchiest, and I was back to steep snow. It was still thin, but I decided to continue. There was another, shorter rock step to a gully with deeper snow. Finally there was a step, with lots of unconsolidated snow covering it, to reach the notch. I managed to do a little mantle move off the rocks on the sideto end my troubles. I sent a triumphant scream down to Ross and Corey. It would be an easy, enjoyable ski to the Boston Glacier. We could worry about the exit later.

approach skiing Ross enjoys the approach to the North Face of Mt Buckner.

Ross and Corey had both joined me before long. Mount Buckner looked sensational. We agreed to ski down to a certain area of the glacier, then skin to the North Face. Despite our late start, it was only half past ten. Next on the agenda was 1,500 vertical feet of spectacular powder skiing.

Boston Peak and ski tracks We skied from the notch just to the left of Boston Peak, the highest point. Our tracks down the glacier are barely visible.

The Boston Glacier yielded a fast, fluffy six inches without any detectable hard surface below. Thus we were able to ski fast, all the while watching for crevasses and ogling scenery. I took a break from skinning at the base of the face, where I decided to leave the rope and protection. The face looked really great. Ross left his pickets. Corey was first to start skinning up the face.

We were able to skin about forty percent of the face, not switching to boots until we were above the bergschrund. I started kicking steps. Ross decided to stay direct where I went left. I stopped to take some climbing photos as our paths converged again. We were at the top of the face by two, really excited about the snow conditions. We never even had to think about crampons on the face. After being treated to excellent powder snow that was still easy for kicking steps all we could ask was, "Does it get any better?"

winter ascent Corey climbs the North Face of Mt Buckner, in winter.

winter on Forbidden Peak Forbidden Peak and the Boston Glacier, Eldorado Peak and the Inspiration Glacier, and Mt Baker

I only had a few photos left, but I really wanted some good skiing shots. I didn't bother with summit pictures. I skied down the face a little before the other two were ready, looking for good photo options. I had no problem finding great scenery. I stopped, dropped my pack, retrieved my camera, and instructed Ross and Corey where to ski. I found them to be competent models; you can judge the results for yourself.

skiing Mt Buckner TeleRoss on the North Face of Mt Buckner.

birthday powder Corey enjoys some birthday face shots.

skiing Ross skis. Our skin track on the Boston Glacier is visible below him.

Our mandate for swiftness could not preclude a few moments of celebration at the bottom. We repacked the rope and gear and skied to our low point on the glacier. I stopped to eat a cheddar and salami sandwhich while Ross led the way with Corey behind him. Corey finished breaking trail to the notch, putting us there half an hour before sunset.

We weren't really excited to climb down from the notch, so we put the rope to good use. I was glad to have a nice little bag of tricks with me. My short rope turned a small climb into three rappels, which was time consuming. I turned to my headlamp as I finished the last belay, only to find out that Corey and Ross had both forgotten their headlamps. All is well that ends well, but I had a few vitriolic words for my forgetful companions. I savor any opportunity to talk trash with great relish.

It was dark as we stumbled into camp. Ross wanted to hit the sleeping bag and depart in the morning, which was what we did. Corey and I stayed awake for hours, just sitting and gazing at the stars, the lights of Seattle, Bellingham, and Vancouver, and the majestic peaks around us. Although I hadn't wanted to stay the night, it was a fantastic experience to relax in the surroundings. We were shocked by the excellent quality of wind-packed powder on the Quien Sabe Glacier in the morning. Sometimes everything just comes together perfectly. This was one of those times. And what a happy birthday morning for Corey!

Good to meet you, Ross. If good company is as good company does, then I think we should spend more time together. Ha ha.

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Sometimes you get lucky.