Some mountains inspire fear and respect among Cascadian mountaineers and Mt. Buckner is near the top of that list. At 9112 feet, it is the 10th highest peak in Washington, excluding Mt. Tahoma (or Little Tahoma Peak, a satellite peak of Mt. Rainier).
Mt. Buckners north face (photo by John Scurlock)
Many times I have looked at photos of Buckner dreaming of making tracks down the north face, so with little persuasion from Jason, my bags were packed and we were off to the North Cascades. To begin, Jason, Steph, and I bushwhacked through endless maple vine trees, then carefully skinned straight up an old slide path on Boston Peak’s northwest side.
As soon as we hit alpine, we were greeted by bright sunshine glistening off the foot of fresh snow that had fallen two days prior. Skinning was fast and efficient as we traversed the Quien Sabe glacier to our first of many destinations, the Shark Fin Col. Conditions were firm, so I cramponed up the steep colouir. Eventually, I clung to the slope with only the toe points on my crampons and ends of my ice tools. Finally, we reached the low col.
There was no room to stand let alone rest at the col, so as repelled one by one onto the Boston Glacier. After hitting snow, we found we had to wallow in wind-loaded pockets of chest deep powder, as we carefully crossed the Bergshrund with hopes that the snow bridge would hold.
Once on the Boston Glacier Jason and I once again dawned skins, while Steph put on her snowshoes, and we started the long traverse south towards Mt. Buckner, which still remained to be seen. We chose to rope up when we passed a serac over 30 feet tall and saw crevasses everywhere. Jason led the group as we went above, below and around the endless destruction of ice, and before long we had our first glimpse of Mt. Buckner.
The north face of Mt. Buckner was a perfect ramp leading directly off of the Glacier straight to the summit, with only 1500 feet of 55 degree slope along the way.
We were traveling fast in the afternoon light and preparing to call it a day when all of a sudden, Jason fell! Within a split second he is yelling to me that he had fallen into a crevasse and the only things holding him up is his ski on one side and his back on the other. By now I am in self arrest position while Steph runs up to get Jason out. After 5 minutes, the ordeal is over. Jason suggests I check out the hole he almost fell into, but I decline.
Camp that night was a stone’s throw away from Mt Buckner. We leisurely watched the last flickers of light fade before calling it an early night. But the leisure diminished quickly as the constant howl of the wind kept the tent slapping onto itself and making sleep difficult. As I woke sporadically, I couldn’t help but think of potential wind loading of slopes we’d have to travel the next day.
The next morning, connected by rope, we traversed to the lower apron of Mt. Buckner and found the area to indeed be somewhat wind-scoured. We were stoked to find perfect climbing conditions, and quickly transitioned from skins and ski poles to crampons and ice axes, with Steph taking the lead.
Her strength was unbelievable. She all but ran up the mountain, pulling me along with the rope. As I carefully packed in her steps one at a time, I tried not to look back at the exposure below us.
Before long we were standing at the summit and drooling at the endless white of snow-covered peaks that contrasted greatly with the stark blue skies hovering above.
Soon Steph was down-climbing the north face while Jason and myself patiently waiting. After a quick yell confirming she was safe from potential sluffs, we were off.
We pondered dropping into the colouir on the northeast face but a quick traverse across it produced a 4-inch slab. Not wanting to test our luck, we dropped into the northwest face, which yielded consolidated powder turns.
Further down, the apron delivered face shot after face shot until we arrived to our turn around point– the skin track we had put in earlier in the day.
After 20 minutes of skinning, we were back at camp, rehydrating for the final push up to Boston Col, the high point of an obvious ramp up the Boston Glacier.
While skinning was easy, in all actuality it was brutally slow, as we zig-zagged up the maze of crevasses with the North Cascades’ rugged scenery as our backdrop.
As the day went on, the weather deteriorated, and soon we were standing atop a huge col exposed to 50 mph winds. There was, at this point, less than an hour of daylight left. One by one, we repelled down a 60-degree ice gully.
I felt that it would be much faster to just snowboard down the gully, so I put on my board and quickly side-slipped down the Ice waterfall. When I reached the Quien Sabe glacier, I waited for Jason whose telemark skis required a greater measure of care and control as he sideslipped down behind me. As the sun set to the west and the moon rose to the east, I waited. Soon enough though, I was greeted by a relieved Jason, and together we rode the 4,000′ of perfect fall line all the way to within a half mile of the trail head.
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On another note when I have a little bit of time I will put up a seasonal review.
Joined: Wed Nov 17, 2004 11:42 am Posts: 2389 Location: California
Kyle Miller wrote:
The first pic was taken by John Scurlock at a previous time so it would have been in powder. I believe that the first decent of it was by Andrew Mclean in the late 90's .
Ooops, I missed that the first time. Rad, good job for backing off after it didn't feel right. I'm sure that was difficult after putting forth all that effort to get out there. Take note all you aspiring Deeper wannabee greenhorns.
I've been up that way in July to get up Sahale Peak, and there were some large crevasses showing then, and sketchy moats to cross. Glad you were roped up when it bit. When I was there it was too melted out to be of interest to snowboard. To do it on a split in March, with good coverage, saves so much downhiking. Excellent linkup and ballsy style.
Russel, I know you only mean well, but this brings up an excellent topic.
I LOVE how stoked you are about splitboarding and your enthusiasm is both positive and contagious, but, you, and other people who have recently begun splitboarding, need to be sure to respect the mountain and take it slow, man. This is not some Jeremy Jones feature film. Just keep doing what you're doing, and be patient with yourself, do more lines and gain more experience, and allow yourself to grow a little, before constantly wanting to hop on any expedition where your life is gonna lie in the balance. As you know, because I've told you this before, I do midwinter search and rescue and have seen more than my share of dead bodies. God forbid I have to dig anyone from this board up at any point. Please be careful. We don't need anymore untimely casualties, especially considering recent events in the ski mountaineering community.
On that note, I am also still learning and gaining experience every day. None of us are above mother nature.