Four of us did Buckner Mountain this past weekend. After working on logistics all week, we decided to forego the Sahale permits, and just bivy on whatever we were standing on when we decided to drop. Brian Jenkins, Ron Jenkins, Rich Waugh, and myself, met at the Cascade Pass trailhead at about midnight on Friday. We hit the trail by 6:00am Saturday morning. After a couple of hours we were at Cascade Pass. This is where we decided to split up. There are two main approaches to Buckner Mountain, one is the Sahale Arm approach, and the other is the Horseshoe Basin approach. Both are a gain-loss-gain approach. Brian and I chose the Sahale Arm approach, while Ron and Rich went over to the Horseshoe Basin…we planned to meet later in the day at a bivy site. The hike up the Sahale Arm is one of the most beautiful settings in the N. Cascades, in my opinion. A very gentle path through the high alpine heather, with views of the thousands of N. Cascades peaks all around. Half way up the Arm we met a family of mountain goat, which seemed very willing to pose for pics…I must have used up half my 8G memory on that photo shoot. We took a short break after reaching the Sahale camp. After that we headed down the Sahale Glacier gully…, which was very steep, hard pack snow. For much of the down climb we faced the mountain. It was pretty obvious where we were to get off the snow and start the 3rd class scramble down the Sahale Ridge. The scramble was straight forward and included a high 4th class move or two before reaching the bottom of the ridge, where we hiked around into the upper Horseshoe Basin. Our next objective was to traverse the upper basin over solid granite slabs, snow, and loose rock on solid granite slabs. We arrived at our bivy spot just after 4:00pm. 30-minutes later Ron and Rich showed up…and after talking about both approaches…. I’m very, VERY, thankful we chose the upper approach.
After a sleepless night in a bivy bag, we got up and were climbing by 6:00am. The snow was ice hard. Once at the base of the SW slopes of Buckner we started to go straight up. It was a bit sketchy on the steep hard snow so some of us stayed on the rock bands as long as we could and scrambled the 3rd and 4th class rock instead of the steep snow. A fall here would have been fatal, as you would have probably slid for a couple thousand feet before hitting something. After finally gaining the summit ridge, we all met up and scrambled the last section up to the summit. I think it was about 9:30am when we hit the summit. After 30-minutes at the summit we started the descent back to our bivy site. We managed to navigate the descent all on rock.
Once back at camp, we discussed our route options…back up Sahale Glacier gully to the Arm, or down Horseshoe Basin. Seeing how I’ve never been down Horseshoe Basin before, I thought it might be fun to make it a loop…If I knew then what I know now…I would have never made that choice. I love a good bushwhack, but this was bad. I’m just thankful that we were going down, and not up. The descent down to the basin floor took a long time…putting us way behind. By the time we finally got back on a trail it was 8:00pm, and we still had about 7+ miles and 2000’ to the trailhead. We finally made it out at about 12:30am…now for the drive home! After a few 30-minute power nap stops, we finally got home. I think it was about 8:30 Monday morning. I don’t remember much more after that, till I woke up Tuesday morning.
If I learned one thing on this climb, it’s stay away from lower Horseshoe Basin…it’s all bad.
This will be a memorable climb because of the variety of terrain, and the beauty of the North Cascades that surrounds you. The wildlife was pretty cool too…
Thanks to the team, along with Nikoli (twodogdad), who joined us Saturday afternoon. He led a great down climb on all rock, down the SW slope of Buckner.