Friday, July 30, 2010

Mt. Buckner - North Face - Trip Report July 25-27, 2010

Eric Wempen, Dustin Wunderlich, and myself recently had a great three days of climbing on the North Face of Mt. Buckner. Our original plan was to climb the North Ridge of Forbidden Peak, but as I was doing my homework for the trip I concluded that Buckner was in really good condition for late July, so we changed up and headed to Buckner.

We hiked in via the classic Boston Basin approach and left our car at that trail head, planning to hike down from the Cascade Pass parking lot at the end of the trip. This was the first time in the North Cascades for both Dusty and Eric and they enjoyed our version of a well groomed trail.

Everything is in full bloom with all my favorite plants popping out. I used to guide kids groups and in the process learned the names of the most common plants growing below 7000' in the Cascades. Absolutely beautiful as always. The forecast was for perfect weather, which made for a relatively stress free trip.

Dusty on the right, Eric on the right. Dusty and I climbed Aconcagua together this past winter and Eric and I climbed Mont Blanc together last summer. Both have big plans in the mountains for the next several years, so this was intended to be a bit of a shakedown for bigger objectives.

The plan was to climb to the Boston-Sahale Col via the Quien Sabe Glacier and then use the secret (or not so secret) traverse over the shoulder of Boston Peak to gain the upper portion of the Boston Glacier. We took about 6 hours to gain the Boston-Sahale Col.

This is looking down the Quien Sabe Glacier which is currently in prime condition with almost no obstacles and very little to contend with in terms of firm conditions or crevasses. Easy climbing right now.

Once at the col we opted to skip the climb of Sahale (shown in the background) in favor of getting to camp and getting to bed at a reasonable hour so we could beat the heat the next day on Buckner.

Once we wrapped around Boston Peak we got some great views of the North Face of Buckner, confirming recent reports that it was in prime condition for a fun climb. There were already som steps kicked, the bergschrund was easy to pass on the right, and it would basically be nice firm snow climbing to within 40 feet of the summit.

The descent of the upper Boston Glacier went smoothly after a short scramble across the ridge running from Sahale-Boston Col to just below Boston Peak. You can see in this photo where you would step off the ridge and onto the snow on the little stretch of snow in the upper corner of the photo. This traverse seem unlikely from the col. If the climbing ever seems very weird or sketchy, try something else. We could see spots where people had taken really exposed routes across the rock, perhaps a bit low.

Camp was made even comfier by a roomy single wall tent, a luxury, but it still led to a better nights sleep.

From camp you have a great view of Mt. Logan, another of Washington's 9000 foot peaks. Logan is a pretty straight forward climb with a heck of a long approach.

The next morning we got a semi-early start and were walking by around 6:30 am. Great view here of the North Ridge of Forbidden, which is also currently in really good shape. My friend Marty just guided an 80 year up the North Ridge of Forbidden two days before....pretty damn cool.

We were able to climb the first few hundred feet together and then I decided to pitch it out from the first major crevasse on the climbers left, which is about where these two are. Most pitches involved running it out for a rope length and then putting in two pickets, one as a dead man, the other as a peg. Early in the day this yielded a good anchor, but as things warmed we came to rely on deadmen more and more. It would not be a stretch to climb this up roped if you feel solid, not really an option on a guided trip.

About a third of the way up we crossed one small bergschrund.

There were some big chunnels carved in the face from avalanches, perhaps cornice drops, earlier in the season. Eventually we crossed over one of these to the climbers right to avoid a step of really sad looking rock. The rock would climb fine, but anything kicked off would fall right on the belay, thus the detour.

The climbing was cruiser thanks to nice steps kicked in by previous parties.

About two thirds of the way up we traversed to the left, basically following the nice steps. This sent us through some easy rocks and kept us out from underneath anything that might fall from above as things warmed up. This was a nice place to sit and have some food and water, and shed some clothes now that we were in the sun.

The terrain eases off for a few hundred feet and then slowly kicks back to what is likely the steepest section right now. All very comfortable, and nice to have things get a touch steeper up high. Just a really beautiful position on a perfect day.

We went to the SW summit. We had ambitions of also going to the NE summit, but we had made good use of the day and wanted to get down into Horseshoe Basin.

This is looking down and across Horseshoe Basin. If you follow the main ridge in the photo coming down from the upper right and headed to the center left, you see this wide, steep looking gully near the bottom. It forms the right edge of a little triangle. This is the exit we took and it was surprisingly mellow. We actually camped on a nice flat spot near the base that felt out of the way of rock and ice fall and set us up for the climb out in the morning. Once up the couloir, we basically follows the easiest rock we could find up the ridge until able to follow mellow glacier to the Sahale Glacier Camp. The rock is a bit loose and weird, but not for long.

The boys enjoying thai noodles with peanut sauce and some time sitting down. Beautiful camp. It would be fun to spend some time looking around the old mines below.

This shot is from the next morning and shows the descent route on the SW face of Buckner. Again, not too bad. It looks worse than it is and you certainly could take a spill, but this is all very workable terrain and all in all a pretty easy descent for the North Cascades.

I threw in a shot of Forbidden for those interested in how much snow is still up there. The West ridge couloir is still climbable, but it sounds like the usual bergschrund and moat issues are starting up. Nice that it made it through July for once.

Another shot of the Sahale Glacier from Sahale Arm. This route is super popular and still in really good condition for those still working the kinks out of glacier travel and looking for a relatively easy route up a nice peak.

Torment and Forbidden on July 27, 2010.

We finally made it back to Cascade Pass and then ran down the road to shuttle the car back up. I still think the hike down from Cascade Pass is one of the more brutal in the park. It would be a short trip, but there are so many switchbacks that I always spend the whole trip looking at my altimeter and wishing I could lose more than 50 feet per switchback.

Thanks for a great climb Eric and Dusty. What is next?

Details on our guided climbs of the North Ridge of Mt. Buckner.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Team Survivor Northwest Summits Mt. Adams! - July 21, 2010

We are happy to announce that a very special group of women just made it to the top of Mt Adams (12,276'), the second highest mountain in the State of Washington. Team Survivor Northwest (TSNW) organized the group and Northwest Mountain School led the climb.

These women are all folks who have have experience with cancer and this climb was especially important to Olivia, who lost her mother, Sheela Cussen to Ovarian Cancer in April of 2008. Our hats go off to the entire group for the courage, enthusiasm, and stamina required to climb Mt. Adams.

The climb to the summit started early this morning from camp at 9400' on the Lunch Counter on Mt. Adams South Climb route. Olivia reports that it took a bit over 4 hours to climb to the top and that all 8 women who left high camp went to the top. One participant made the tough decision to stay behind at camp and the entire group is now reunited and resting at 9400'

The climbers started their journey on Monday at the Cold Springs Campground at 5600' and climbed to a camp at 8000' that afternoon. The next day they climbed to 9400', setup a camp at the Lunch Counter, and then did some training for the climb. Today they climbed to the summit, and tomorrow they will hike back to the trailhead.

From the Team Survivor Website: "Team Survivor Northwest provides a broad range of fitness and health education programs to enable women cancer survivors, in any stage of treatment or recovery and at any fitness level, to take an active role in their ongoing physical and emotional healing.

Team Survivor Northwest is a fantastic group of supportive women bound by the common experience of a cancer diagnosis and an interest in living fit, healthy, and active lifestyles. Our members are women who take proactive steps to improve their health and quality of life.

No matter what your health status or fitness level, Team Survivor Northwest can provide the support you need to succeed."

For more details about Team Survivor Northwest visit:

For more details about guided climbs of Mt. Adams visit: Climbing Mt. Adams

Saturday, July 17, 2010

2011 European Ski Dates Announced!

We have tentatively announced dates for our 2011 European Ski Tours. We were proud to have been the largest American company operating ski tours in the Alps in the Spring of 2010 where we led a total of 32 clients on a total of 5 different itineraries including the Haute Route Ski Traverse, the Ortler Ski Circuit, and the Berner Oberland Ski Tour.

In 2011 we will be running the Berner Oberland and Ortler ski tours as 6-day programs and the Haute Route will remain a 6-day tour with 1 additional day at the start allowing us to ski the Valle Blanche in Chamonix, France.

2011 Alps Ski Tour Dates ~ Northwest Mountain School
  • March 19-24, 2010 Ortler Ski Circuit ($2275 per person)
  • March 27-April 2, 2011 Haute Route Ski Tour ($2595 per person)
  • April 4-10, 2011 Haute Route Ski Tour ($2595 per person)
  • April 16-21, 2011 Berner Oberland Ski Tour ($2275 per person)
Haute Route Ski Tour: This is often the first ski tour that our clients take in Europe. Suitable for competent skiers, this trip focuses on skiing from hut-to-hut each day with the goal of skiing all the way from Argentiere, France to Zermatt, Switzerland. The trip is structured to allow for a half-day ski to the next hut with the afternoons open for either more touring or for enjoying the comforts of mountain huts located in impossible locations. This is the most classic ski tour in the Alps. This trip starts in Chamonix, France with most groups flying into Zurich or Geneva

Ortler Circuit Ski Tour: This tour is less-known and the focus is on climbing peaks just shy of 4000 meters and skiing from the summit. While the terrain will be enjoyable for excellent skiers, there are always more moderate options on each days tour. You will not find better food in huts anywhere in Europe and the area has a very interesting history as it was the front between Austria and Italy during WWI. This trip starts in Santa Caterina, Italy with most groups flying into Milan.

Berner Oberland Ski Tour: The Berner is the range that holds famous Swiss mountains such as the Eiger, Jungfrau, and Monch. The terrain is nearly Alaskan in scale and is accessed by taking the Jungfrajoch train system to the stat of the skiing. Big, beautiful, historic, and once again serviced by very nice huts. This trip starts in Interlaken, Switzerland with most groups flying into either Geneva or Zurich.

Custom Dates & Group Trips: We also offer custom trips on dates that you select. Put together a group of 4 or more skiers and we can offer a 10% discount on the rates listed above. More than half of our trips end up being organized as custom trips as this allows you to select the exact dates that you prefer. All trips are led by either John Race or Olivia Cussen, both IFMGA guides.

Please feel free to contact us at 509-548-5823 to discuss various options. We are also in the process of planning for a new trip to Norway in April of 2011!