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Sahale Peak – 8/18/18

Awesome day in the mountains! Peter let me join his annual Mountaineers climb of Sahale. There was some of everything – bushwhacking, slab walking, scree scrambling, snow, glacier, some exposed scrambling, and oh so many switchbacks. I can see why this is an absolute favorite of folks who climb it.

  • Distance: 15+ mi (my watch crapped out)
  • Elevation gain: 6700′
  • Time: 16.5 hours
The crew entering Boston Basin

This climb offered a lot of new experience in technical glacier terrain. This was definitely a step more challenging than Baker, Shuksan, Glacier, etc. I was glad to get this experience with a group like this rather than a small private party o_o. The group did great! It was super rewarding to see students experience these kinds of things for the first time.

I had heard terrible stories of the Boston Basin trail. It’s not so bad! In fact, once you get to Boston Basin itself you’re rewarded with hundreds of feet of amazing slabs. AMAZING SLABS. I love walking on rock!

Sunrise, from the slabs in Boston Basin

We easily gained the glacier, roped up, and started on our way. There were two main routes we saw – left or right. Left was a traverse over a giant crevasse that we can’t protect, or picking through crevasses on the right.

Our route (approx). The snow bridge crossing the bergschrund will likely be gone in a few days. I tried traversing further right toward the blue ice, but didn’t want to go any further to get to a point where we could step over. On the plus side the picket seemed bomber in that ice …

For me, this is the first time I was on a two man rope team. When one team member turned around because of the smoke, Peter and I wanted to keep the rope teams small. We decided that since there were three rope teams that the increased risk of a two man team was within our margins of safety. If one of us were to fall in then we had two rope teams that could help build an anchor as we hauled out. Nobody fell in a crevasse so we didn’t get to test this theory.

The other new experience for me was setting pickets. I had practiced them, of course, but this was my first time “for real” so to speak. I set them after we crossed the first big bridge as we were traversing under a giant crevasse and above a series of other crevasses. We had two things going against us: 1. we were traveling in line with the crevasses (instead of perpendicular to them) and 2. there wasn’t nearly enough room for us to arrest if one of us slipped. So, in the pickets went. At first the snow was kinda crappy and I ended up hammering them in about 6″ below the surface. The third picket hit solid snow. I was pretty happy to have difficulty hammering it in. Difficult to hammer in means bomber holding.

I didn’t like crossing the snow bridge, so I tried to traverse farther right. That didn’t work; it was a weird downsloping angle thing on increasingly harder snow. So, across the snow bridge it would be. I didn’t want to lead it, so Peter did. It was way easier than I thought; although I was essentially on top rope so that always helps the mental game. Here we set up some system of Peter belaying each team up from above. This took up a ton of time, and while we think it mitigated the risk of a crevasse crossing it ate up so much time.

All of this was good experience for me, of course. This was way less a walk up than previous glaciers.

Once we gained the ridge the rest of the route was a straight forward (if exposed) scramble. The ridge was easy. Even the slab move at the top was pretty easy; it was harder dealing with moving the prussik on the fixed line than it was climbing. I belayed Mary up and we all rappelled down to the Sahale glacier side.

The group below the last push to the summit, a class 4 pitch (class 4 moves above me). Boston peak in the background.

My heart was a bit heavy on this climb. The Tuesday before an acquaintance of mine died in a rappelling accident. A report of what happened isn’t out yet, and I trusted the rap, but this was still on the front of my mind.

We all made it down safely and started the walk out. It’s a long walk back to the trailhead from the summit of Sahale.

The smoke got in the way of seeing things that were far away, but the close up views of Boston Basin, the surrounding peaks, and even Johannesburg (for the morning) provided fascination throughout the day.

I felt good physically. Being able to do big (15 mile, 6000′ elevation gain) days is the reward for the training I’ve been doing. 16.5 hours is still a long day, and I definitely needed a jolt of energy and caffeine at cascade pass, 15 hours in. Well, I probably could have used that energy jolt a couple hours before 🙂

Thanks Peter for organizing! You can read Peter’s trip report on his blog.

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