Participants: Colleen “Il Duce” Hinton (trip leader)
The original plan for this year’s climb was such a distant memory, I had forgotten what it was. Like a shapeshifter, that plan morphed into different animals bearing little resemblance to the original since the weather gods were about to bestow a crap sandwich upon us: shitty weather followed by a day of partial sun followed by more shitty weather.
We met on Friday, July 20 with designs on doing the approach to something in the North Cascades that day. Maybe Sibley Pass to the Triad, possibly up Eldorado Creek to Eldorado or Dorado Needle or Austera, maybe a climb further east such as Black Peak. Clearly, we all skipped our dose of Ritalin. As you may have surmised by the title of this report, we did none of the above, and sought a permit for Boston Basin instead. At the ranger station in Marblemount, we learned that all six permits were taken despite sub-optimal weather, but two were available for Saturday night. Sold. Over the next hour, after exploring the sights of greater Marblemount to the soundtrack of thunder and rain, we checked three more times to see if any parties had bailed to free up a spot in the basin. Negative. Finally accepting defeat, we drove to Mineral Park Campground where we spent the night.
While it would have been good to get moving on Friday, I was pleased not to be slogging up in pissing rain with an oversized sponge on my back. Let’s not lie to ourselves. Rain in the North Cascades often feels unreasonably wet. Last year on the annual climb, we did the approach to The Brothers in a downpour and my last time in Boston Basin was a tragically sodden affair.
Saturday morning was dry, pleasant conditions for breaking camp and repacking our climbing packs. At 7:25am, we were on the approach and it wasn’t long before we caught glimpses of that serotonin-spiking hue of blue. By 10am, we reached camp. Snow lingered in the basin but we scored a great campsite on bare ground, large enough for our group’s three tents. We pitched our tents and inflated a couple of pink flamingos to lend a festive air to camp while yellow-bellied marmots looked on. Several rufous hummingbirds were hovering, drawn perhaps to the pinkness of our lawn ornaments.
The sun was shining with no wind or bugs to curse. Looking north to east towards the relief of Forbidden, Sharkfin and Sahale, we watched two large groups working their way up the Quien Sabe towards Sahale. One was a Mountaineers octet going up and over, descending via Sahale Arm, while the other was a 14-member party from the UW Foster School of Business. We split into two teams of three: Colleen, Paulina and Clare on a 30- meter rope and Dawn, DH and I on the 50-meter rope.
The going was easy without crampons so we booted the whole way, leaving red impressions of our Vibram soles in watermelon snow, also known as snow algae. It was so red it looked like iron leaching from the rock rather than the cryophilic bacteria I’ve encountered in a lighter, pinker shade.
Pack contents: one very large lunch (enough to feed me, Cols and her tapeworm Hortense), picket, ice ax, poles, a partially burned North Cascades map, Nano Puff, shell, hat, gloves, rain pants for glissading, 1.5 liters of H20, digital camera. Left behind: summit zucchini.
What’s typically a rock scramble to the top later in the season was now a traverse on steep snow. Prematurely, we had stashed our ropes, axes and other gear needed to protect the traverse with a running belay, so we were happy to call our lower bench the summit. Skirted by snow-capped peaks, we ate and pointed to places we had been and places we have yet to explore. Clouds scudded in at times obscuring our westward view towards Eldorado. To the northeast, Logan and the Fremont Glacier sprawled out. A postprandial inertia had settled and triggered fantasies of a summit bivy.
Eventually, we mustered the energy to descend. Once below the crevasses, we pulled out our rain paints, took a seat on the snow and pushed off, glissading nearly all the way to the basin. At camp, we chatted with Kip, a climbing ranger who had just done the West Ridge of Forbidden where he encountered a solo climber (perhaps the fellow who passed us on the approach) and two other parties. Looking over at the infamous rap gulley, we spotted two static dots. We tracked the dots throughout the evening and made several bets on whether or not the dots would make it out of the couloir, off the glacier and back to camp before the sun slipped off the horizon. Around 10pm, Dawn and DH saw two lights appear on top of Forbidden and wondered if they were UFOs. Nocturnal summiteers, most likely, one of whom I guessed was Laurel Fan.
As promised, Sunday brought clouds. The drab sky appeared mildly threatening, but the weather held for our hike down to the cars. Stay tuned for the next installment of “Trip Planning in the Cascades and other Academic Exercises.”