North Face on Mount Buckner

On the face

On the face

During a climb of the Torment-Forbidden Traverse last summer, I remember looking down onto the Boston Glacier and over to Mount Buckner, thinking how expansive and remote the area looked. Buckner's North Face seemed like a good objective for the July timeframe, so Kelsey and I geared up once again.

We left late from Seattle on the 4th, departing the car from the Boston Basin lot at about 1:45pm. Our plan was to camp on the Boston Glacier, partly just for the experience of being back there for a night, knowing that it would mean a carry over. It took just over an hour to get to the snow line at the edge of Boston Basin. We headed up the Quien Sabe route in our shorts and t-shirts, enjoying the beautiful day. We decided to forego the loose scramble around Boston in favor of a (hopefully) easier drop from Sharkfin Col or the nearby ridge.

To keep things light, we'd only brought a 30m glacier line and it sounded like the Sharkfin drop would require a longer rap, so we traversed past it to the ridge just to the east. The down climb on the far side looked steep but possible, so we headed down there. The first half wasn't too bad—just steep, but secure snow. Then it got a little spicy, with a little low-grade, mixed down climbing in a no-fall zone on crumbly rock. It took a while to pull this off, since neither one of us wanted to end up with a broken leg on the North side of the divide.

After the spicy down climb, the weather started rolling in and began lightly raining on us as we traversed near large crevasses to a flat point on the glacier about three quarters of a mile from where we'd dropped in. The approach to Buckner was obvious from here and we were starting to get a bit wet, so we pitched camp and dove into the tent for some fuel and sleep, which were both made better by the highly American P-51 Imperial Porter we'd carried in to celebrate the 4th.

Our back of the napkin math suggested that we could be back at the car in about 10 hours, so we set an alarm for 4:30am. The sunrise was quite Mordor-esque and, after enjoying it and some coffee, we were moving by 5:45am. It only took an hour to reach the route, traversing high above most of the crevasses and finding a boot pack up there.

I'd been hoping for something at least a little spicy on the route, be it ice or rock, but the route was in fine early-season shape, with a boot pack that was somewhere between faint and well-formed throughout. We went from our traverse point at 7,800 feet to the summit at 9,114 feet in 1 hour, stepping over the final ridge into the sun at about 7:45am. The most difficult part had been steep snow just right of a rock outcrop about halfway up. We didn't feel the need for (and didn't place any) protection on the climb.

The reality hit us at this point that we'd already done what we'd gone there for and that the rest of our day would be a bit tedious. Thankfully, the descent to Horseshoe Basin was fast. In a little over 2 hours, we were down to 6,500 feet and almost to the snow finger leading to the ramp up to the Sahale Arm. Another 3 hours later (including some naps in the sun on opportune rocks), we were on the summit of Sahale, enjoying the view and the rest of our lunch before descending the Quien Sabe, which was thankfully possible as a straight shot to the Boston Basin camp. We were back to the car at about 4pm and, more importantly, at the BBQ caboose in Marblemount shortly thereafter.

I'd call it more of an alpine tour than a climb. Don't get me wrong—it was gorgeous, but the climb itself didn't quite satisfy the technical appetite. Our down climb from near Sharkfin was the spiciest part of the weekend.