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Entries By zeb blais

Sahale Mountain: A Great Introduction to the 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.

Guide Robby Young enjoying a post climb snack

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!

The Quien Sabe Glacier and Sahale's summit pyramid

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.

Climbers descend granite slabs to camp in Boston Basin

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.

Our team traversing the Quien Sabe Glacier

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.

Climbers on Sahale's summit ridge with Boston Peak in the background

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.

Traversing Sahale's summit ridge

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.

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Mt. Rainier: September 4th Update

The Mount Rainier summit climb teams, led by RMI Guides Eric Frank and Zeb Blais, were unable to summit this morning and turned on the Disappointment Cleaver.  Although the weather was clear, calm, and cold, the avalanche danger and new snow kept the team from continuing their summit bid.  Both teams are safely back at Camp Muir and are planning a 9:00 a.m. departure to begin their descent to Paradise.

Leave a Comment For the Team (1)

I know you are disappointed you didn’t get to summit, but we are so proud of all of you.  Can’t wait for you to come home so we can celebrate!

Posted by: Kim on 9/4/2015 at 8:07 am

Mt. Rainier: Four Day Summit Climbs Turned At Disappointment Cleaver

RMI Guides Brent Okita and Zeb Blais lead their Four Day Summit Climb teams to approximately 11,400 on the Disappointment Cleaver route before turning around due to avalanche danger higher on the route.
The teams returned to Camp Muir and will begin their descent to Paradise this morning.  We look forward to seeing them at Rainier BaseCamp later today.

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Thank you for bringing my husband Dan(and his crew) back safely :-)

Posted by: Kerri on 8/31/2015 at 5:23 pm

Tom, I hope it was a fun adventure - happy to hear everyone is safe!  Looking forward to hearing all about it.

Posted by: LB on 8/31/2015 at 2:25 pm

Mt. Baker: Blais & Team Summit!

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.

RMI Guide Zeb Blais

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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

Sahale Mountain: Blais & Team Summit

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.

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Mt. Rainier: August 15th Teams Reach 12,800’

RMI Guides Pete Van Deventer and Zeb Blais guided their Four Day Summit Climb teams to Camp Comfort (12,800 ft) on Mt. Rainier before route conditions forced the teams to turn. The teams are descending to Camp Muir to rest and repack before continuing their descent to Paradise. We look forward to welcoming the teams back in Ashford later today.

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Mt. Rainier: August 10th Summit

The Four Day Summit Climb led by RMI Guide Pete Van Deventer and the Five Day Summit Climb led by RMI Guide Zeb Blais reached the summit of Mt. Rainier at about 6:50 am this morning.  The team climbed into a cap with some high winds and a bit of rime. They have started their descent and are en route back to Camp Muir.

Congratulations to today’s Teams!

Leave a Comment For the Team (1)

What an accomplishment:)  Congratulations!!!

Posted by: Paula Walters on 8/10/2015 at 1:31 pm

Mt. Rainier: August 5th Summit!

7:05 a.m. PT
Peter Whittaker, Ed Viesturs, and Zeb Blais called in after their successful Mount Rainier summit!  The teams ascended the Disappointment Cleaver Route in chilly temperatures, winds about 30 mph, and clear skies. Their ascent took 5 ½ hours. 

Congratulations to today’s summit climbers!

Update 10:33 a.m. PT
Pete Van Deventer called from the Mount Rainier summit!  At 10:20 a.m. the Expedition Skills Seminar team reached the top via the Emmons Glacier Route.  They will spend some time taking in the summit views before descending back to Camp Schurman.  We look forward to congratulating them in person tomorrow when they descend off the mountain.

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Great work, team!  Can’t wait to hear more and see some photos.


Posted by: Vanessa Fry on 8/5/2015 at 3:27 pm

Congratulations guys! Sure it was awesome :)

Posted by: Kathy Rubio on 8/5/2015 at 9:00 am

Mt. Rainier: July 14th Teams Summit

The Four Day Summit Climb led by RMI Guide Walter Hails and the Five Day Summit Climb led by RMI Guide Zeb Blais reached the summit of Mt. Rainier this morning. The teams enjoyed warm, sunny skies on the summit before beginning their descent around 7:30 am. We look forward to seeing the teams back in Ashford this afternoon.

Congratulations climbers!

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Mt. Rainier: Four & Five Day Summit Climbs Reach the Summit!

RMI Guide Zeb Blais led the Five Day Summit Climb June 4 - 8 to the summit of Mt. Rainier this morning.  The Four Day Summit Climb June 5 - 8 was led by Mike Haugen.  Both teams reached the summit early this morning. They were beginning their descent from the crater rim around 7 am.  Zeb reported pleasant weather with winds from the west.  The teams will return to Camp Muir for a short time before continuing their descent to Paradise and returning to Ashford.

Congratulations to today’s climbers!

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Congratulations to all! Te amo mucho Papi!

Posted by: kathey doll on 6/9/2015 at 8:28 am

Waiting for some picture posts from the Mount Rainier RMI Expedition Team that formed their climb from Ashland on Saturday 6/6, then on Sunday 6/7 training in Paradise,  then to Camp Muir on Monday 6/8, and to the summit on Tuesday 6/9…...Hope all is Splendor for you each!!!!

Posted by: Roxanne Jones on 6/9/2015 at 7:59 am

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