Entries from North Cascades
Sahale Mountain is the perfect place to start your alpine climbing career. The climb has it all: a thick, forested approach to the Boston Basin Camp on a tough climber’s trail, low angle rock slab climbing, a intricate glacial navigation and even a pitch or two of 5th class rock climbing. While this may sound daunting, the relatively low mileage and vertical gain for the trip make it a very accessible climb for those looking to improve their movement skills and get a taste of alpine climbing. For experienced mountaineers, it’s pure fun. Late this August, the constantly changing terrain and the remote setting of Boston Basin provided a stunning backdrop for four days of climbing for our small group of four climbers, fellow guide Robby Young, and myself.
While Sahale Mountain is a good introduction to the North Cascades, it is still a physically demanding climb that requires climbers to show up prepared. The approach is arduous. With heavy packs full of food, fuel, tents, climbing gear and layers, the thin climbers’ trail winds through the forest about 3 miles and around 3,500’ vertical up to the lowest camp in Boston Basin. One of our team counted crossing over 300 downed trees on the approach (he claimed to be accurate, but my hunch is that he cooked the books a little on that number). Regardless of the actual number, this wasn’t a well-maintained city sidewalk!
Once we emerged from the thick forest, Boston Basin greeted us with spectacular views of granite peaks in all directions. North of camp Mount Torment and Forbidden Peak look as intimidating as their names imply. East of camp, Sharkfin, Boston Peak and Sahale fence in the Quien Sabe—Spanish for who knows—Glacier. Simply camping in this setting is worth the price of admission, but at this point the fun was just beginning.
After setting up camp, we rested for the remainder of the day to get an early start on a day of training for our summit bid. Much of the climbing on Sahale consists of moderate rock, so our team focused on rock movement for much of our training day. Between camp and the Quien Sabe Glacier lies 1,400’ of low and moderate angle granite slab walking. Moving on this terrain requires skillful footwork and good balance. After practicing smearing, edging and route finding on rock we gained the glacier. Donning crampons, harnesses and ice axes we delved into efficient movement techniques for snow, ice and glacial travel. With our team’s improved movement skills, we headed back to camp ready to tackle our objective the next day.
We rose early, in full darkness, to set ourselves up for a potentially long summit push. Due to light snow accumulations over the winter and a hot summer, the Quien Sabe had very little seasonal snow remaining. The route wound from the far north edge of the glacier to the south where the glacier bumps up against a rock arrete at 8,200’. The climbing was straightforward and there was only one section of glacier where we needed to walk with absolute focus on each step.
At the south end of the glacier, we moved onto rock for about 50’ vertical feet and then climbed directly up a steep snow face. We had watched teams navigating the bergshrund (the largest, highest crevasse on a glacier) just north of this area the previous day while we were training. We decided the jumbled ice plugs and snow bridges they had crossed were not something we wanted to tangle with unnecessarily, and we believed that we had spotted a smoother route to the South that eliminated the hazard of walking through broken ice of the “direct” route.
Above the bergshrund, we found smooth climbing onto the ridge. Often a moat can form between the glacier and the rock, which can make the transition from glacier to rock difficult, but this wasn’t the case for us. A small step off the glacier onto the solid rock of Sahale’s summit ridge was all it took. 50’ of 3rd class scrambling put us on the ridge headed for the summit pyramid.
Robby and I short roped our teams along the narrow rocky ridge until we arrived at the last steep pitch leading to Sahale’s pointy summit. This pitch presents a 4th or low 5th class move or two to get to the highest block of granite on top. We pitched out this section, running our rope out to the top and belaying our climbers up the short step. What a great way to top out! Without a breath of wind on the summit, our team enjoyed the high perch for a full half hour before starting the descent.
Our team moved well across the softened the surface of the glacier, and soon we were back on the rock slabs above camp stripping crampons. We just had a couple of short stretches of slab to down climb to get back to our tents. The team pulled it off in great style and we finished the climb telling stories and watching a beautiful sunset.
With gravity and the motivation of a meal in town helping us, we descended the climbers’ trail back to our cars. Soon we were enjoying cold beer and Marblemount’s best barbecue, Que Car BBQ!
Whether you’ve done a pile of 14ers or this is your first mountaineering trip, Sahale is a great trip.
Zeb Blais is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions. He has climbed and skied mountains across the globe. In the spring of 2014, he set out to traverse Tajikistan’s Fedchenko Glacier on skis. Find Zeb on Instagram at @zebblais.
August 26, 2015
Posted by: Billy Nugent
Update - August 26th 5:35 pm
Just checking in from camp! All our safe and sound after our successful summit of Mt. Shuksan earlier today.
Hey everybody! It is Billy checking in here from the summit of Mt. Shuksan with 100 percent of our crew. We all styled our way up the Central Gully. And yeah, we’re enjoying a nice sunny day on top, a little bit of smoke in the air but not too bad, a little bit of breeze but again not too bad. We’ll check in once more when we get back into camp safe and sound. So that’s all for now. Whelp, see ya.
Checking in after a great day of anchor and crevasse rescue training out here on the Sulphide Glacier. Our team enjoyed gorgeous views and perfect warm, sunny weather as we continued moving through our Expedition Seminar curriculum. We knocked off around 5:00 this evening and sat for a quick summit briefing in preparation for tomorrow’s summit climb… If all goes well we’ll be checking in tomorrow from Shuksan’s beautiful summit.
Good luck on your climb and training looking forward to climbing and training with RMI in the next year or two. Currently working on physical conditioning now.
Posted by: Kevin Stone on 8/26/2015 at 2:12 pm
August 25, 2015
Posted by: Eric Frank
Hey, good afternoon. This is Eric Frank and Jeremy Davis calling from the top of Forbidden Peak! We had a great climb this morning. We took off just before 6:00 a.m. and hit the top right around noon. A good climb and seems like we are the only ones up here today. We will be heading down soon.
RMI Guide Eric Frank calls from the Forbidden Peak summit
Hey, it’s Billy here checking in on the expedition seminar here on the Sulphide Glacier on Mount Shuksan. Our team hiked up from the trail head today all the way up to the base of the glacier and put in a camp on a very, very dry Mount Shuksan. We actually camped a little higher than we normally would because the lower glacier is down to bare ice and it’s impossible to dig tents platforms. We are still within our permitted zone so all is good with the National Park Service. We are hanging out, chewing on food and relaxing after a long day of hard work. I will check in tomorrow after a day of training, and let you guys know how it went. So long for now.
RMI Guide Billy Nugent calls in from the Mount Shuksan seminar.
So great to hear you all are making it up the mountain! Praying for a safe climb that continues to be fun and rejuvenating. Shoutout to my friend Jeremy - you got this!
Posted by: Sara on 8/24/2015 at 7:48 am
August 23, 2015
Posted by: Zeb Blais
We reached the Mt. Baker summit at 9 a.m. PST! Although we had lots of smoke from wildfires, we had clear skies at the top. Our descent is going well and we will be at the trailhead later today.
To Grant, Beau, Chet and Phil. summating on aug. 24th…Good Luck…God Speed! Enjoy the view….Safe journey…up and down!..from..Dad/Lance
Posted by: Lance Morrow on 8/23/2015 at 6:06 pm
August 22, 2015
Posted by: Eric Frank
Good morning everyone. This is Eric Frank calling from the top of Mount Shuksan. We just climbed the Sulphide Glacier Route. Everything is going well. We walked up in the fog yesterday and didn’t have much visibility, but this morning was beautiful. We woke up to starry skies and had a nice climb up the glacier, and a great climb up the final summit pyramid. We are going to hang out for a few more minutes, and then make our way back down and rest, relax and hopefully get a nap in this afternoon. Take care. Bye.
RMI Guide Eric Frank calls from the Mt. Shuksan summit!
August 19, 2015
Hi, this is RMI Guide Zeb Blais and team checking in from Boston Basin, our camp for Sahale Mountain. Earlier this morning we summitted Sahale under perfectly blue skies and low winds. Our team was strong all the way up and all the way down. We are enjoying the sunshine up here in the North Cascades.
July 19, 2015
Posted by: Eric Frank
Hello, this is RMI Guide Eric Frank calling from Grant’s Peak here on the top of Mount Baker. We just had a beautiful climb on the North Ridge Route. Had a few other parties up here today, but we had perfect weather, great views, and a good climb. We are going to hang out on top for another 15 or 20 minutes and then we’ll be headed back down to our camp. Hope everyone following along is doing well. Talk to you soon. Bye.
RMI Guide Eric Frank calls in from the Mount Baker summit.
July 3, 2015
RMI Guides Leon Davis and Sid Pattison led their team to the summit of Forbidden Peak via the West Ridge today. Leon reported great but hot weather during the climb. They also enjoyed a quiet route with only one other party climbing today.
Congratulations to our North Cascades climbers!