Boston Glacier

September 27 - 28, 2002

Dave Svilar, Matt Smitherman


This is as close as we came to our intended target, Mt. Buckner.  Our intended was to follow the snow/ice chute on the north face directly to the summit.

The weather report was for snow on Sunday, so I told Smitherman to drop any plans for relaxing after his medical school exam on Friday morning.  Easy for me to say, I was unemployed and living in my parent's basement.  By noon my chores that my mom laid out for me were finished: my bed was made, teeth brushed and the clothes picked up off my floor.  Instead of a smooth rendezvous in Everett we were forced to backtrack to my house in Snohomish.  A miscommunication left Smitherman without an ice tool.  My guess is the route can be done with just one tool in early season but at this time of year the ice would be hard.

We started up the trail from Cascade Pass in late evening and were already resigned to the fact that we wouldn't make it to camp by nightfall.  Full darkness had fallen by the time we started on the Sahale Arm.  We could see lights of others camped on the moraine beneath the glacier above us which took some of the importance out of following the trail.  By headlamp we found a previously existing bivy spot and laid out our sacks.  The night was already cool and we regretted not making it to camp to enjoy the sunset.  We sat out on the rocks sipping hot chocolate and catching up on each other's summers.

We were in no hurry to wake up early Saturday morning which ended up being our undoing.  The guidebook suggested it would only take a couple of hours to get to the base of the route, so we started up the Sahale Glacier well after sunrise.  Mt. Buckner is an elusive beast.  We had to climb over the top of Sahale, cross over the ridge to Boston Pk. and then drop down the steep Boston Glacier finally traversing to Mt. Buckner.

Smitherman on the traverse from Sahale to Boston.  J'burg looks small in the background.


Smitherman either putting on or taking off his crampons.  It's hard to hurry when the view is so magnificent - Forbidden and Sharkfin Tower in the distance.  We traversed to other side of these peaks via the Boston Glacier to gain a unique perspective.

We took a couple of wrong "easy ledges" before successfully crossing the choss pile that is Boston and setting foot on the glacier.  We figured most had stopped climbing this route over a month ago, so didn't expect to see anybody else on the route.  To my utter disbelief we looked over and saw no less than three people midway up the route.  We were already behind "schedule", but figured if they could do it, so could we.  They seemed to be making good time, and we'd probably be even faster. 

We started down the steep section of the Boston Glacier and didn't make it 50 feet before running into a schrund.  We picked up the faint crampon marks of the party in front of us and were amazed to see where they went.  Into the moat on the side of the schrund and then up the nearly vertical wall of the opposite side of the schrund.  We carefully downclimbed into the glacier's cavernous crack and decided to belay each other up the steep and somewhat exposed opposite wall.  It was a short step, but once I started I regretted not taking the other tool from my pack.  I placed a couple of screws and belayed Smitherman to the other side of the schrund.  Unfortunately the opposite side was also steep, so I belayed him down while he place a couple of more screws.

View between my legs as I belay Smitherman down from the edge of the schrund.

I could tell by the tracks and lack of other markings that the party in front of us had bombed through this section without placing more than a screw or two for protection.  Certainly they hadn't taken the time to stop and pitch it out like Smitherman and I had done.  When I looked over at the north face again they were making remarkable progress.  The ice was steep and hard, there was a schrund and some mixed climbing on rock yet they were ascending with ease.  Who were these guys?  Turns out the party in front of us included one of the world's most accomplished alpine climbers.

Far from accomplished alpine climbers ourselves we were fumbling and bumbling just trying to get to the damn route.  It was obvious by the late hour and our level of incompetence that the north face of Mt. Buckner was going to have to wait for another day.  This didn't bother me in the least.  I had always wanted to make a traverse of the Boston Glacier, so that's exactly what we did.  In my opinion (I'm always right) this part of the Cascades is the best, so I didn't mind just taking a gaunter to the rarely visited backside of Forbidden and Sharkfin Tower. 

Smitherman on the Boston Glacier with Forbidden in the background.

The crevasses became too troublesome to bother navigating, so we headed back to bag our consolation prize - Sahale Peak - which we had basically already climbed that morning.  Smitherman led back and seemed determined to avoid crawling in and out of the shcrund again.  It seemed to me that it would be the easiest and when I saw Smitherman heading for steep soft snow I pleaded to him to just retrace our steps.  Whenever climbing with Smitherman something is bound to go wrong.  I figured this would be it, but what was I going to do?  It was inevitable.  The snow was soft and steep and to make matters worse there was an unseen crevasse directly in the middle.

I wasn't sure what was happening on the rope in front of me, but I knew he must have been sketched out because it wasn't moving.  We were on a steep slope with a run-out that was too far down.  If Smitherman fell it would probably kill us, but I took comfort knowing we wouldn't fall so far that they couldn't identify my remains.  Smitherman was taking so long to do whatever he was doing that I had time to think about these things.

Finally he yelled a command to climb.  Apparently that meant I was on some kind of belay.  Turns out he had made it to the rock on the side of the glacier by lowering himself off a picket next to the crevasse and over a deep moat.  I too had to lower off the picket which we left stuck in the glacier, but at least we were back to relative safety.  This wasn't bad for a Smitherman debacle.

Dave retreating like the coward he is.  That's our mountain in the background.


View from Sahale-Boston col.  You can see why I wasn't upset with our consolation prize.

We bagged Sahale on the way back and met some interesting characters on the popular summit.  The survey marker on top mistakenly labels Sahale as Boston Pk.  We were joking about this when an accented man broke in and told us that this was Boston.  We politely informed him of his mistake which turned out to be our mistake.  The accented man erupted within a few inches of my face and told us in no uncertain terms that we were standing on Boston Pk.  I asked him where he thought Sahale was and he pointed down at a rock outcropping with tracks in the snow to the top that were obviously his.  Then I pointed toward Boston and asked him which mountain that was.  He didn't know, so I suggested it must be Mt. Rainier.  By this time he was an angry accented man, so we left before he decided to throw me off the cliff.

Within an hour of meeting this joker we ran into the the party coming off of Mt. Buckner.  I was getting water, so Smitherman talked with them.  When I looked up I recognized one of the members as Steve House - one of the world's elite climbers.  This was like walking into the gym as Michael Jordan was walking out.  We rushed down the trail to try and talk to him, but they had long since disappeared.  At least now I didn't feel so bad about not making it up our intended route.

We returned back to civilization that night early enough to check out the Saturday night scene.  However I found it hard to leave the comfort of my parent's basement.  Instead I watched a movie with my parents (it was PG-13 and I closed my eyes during kissing scenes).  Buckner would have to wait for another year.

-written October 2002

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