Trip Report    

Basic Glacier Climb - Sahale Peak/Quien Sabe Glacier

The best conditions I have had on Sahale Peak, despite the scary weather forecast.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • The Boston Basin approach is brushier than I remember it being last year. I think it also got steeper. :-) 

    As with many Cascade glacier climbs, the optimal season for Sahale seems to be shifting earlier and earlier each year. Conditions were almost perfect on the glacier. Go get it!

Quien Sabe? 

Leading up to the weekend, we had an aggressive plan to attempt Sharkfin, Boston, and Sahale, camping in Boston Basin on Saturday night. The weather forecast deteriorated as the weekend arrived. Not enjoying the prospect of camping in the rain with no views, on Friday evening I changed out plans to a simpler one day push up Sahale's Quien Sabe glacier and down the Sahale Arm to Cascade Pass on Sunday, which appeared to have better weather than Saturday (only a 30% chance of rain versus 50%). In my experience, a 30% chance of rain usually means poor visibility and drenched clothing at some point in the trip, but enough people wanted to go that I did not cancel outright. Two people did drop off, preferring the sunny forecast that was in the city, which I considered smart at the time.

Just before leaving cellular service on Saturday night, I checked the forecast one last time. The chance of rain and thunder had increased to 50%! I can handle rain, but would not want to be caught in a thunderstorm high on the mountain, especially on a trip where it is difficult to turn around after a certain point. The four of us who remained on the trip met up in Marblemount and discussed the forecast. Since the forecast didn't show the thunder coming until after 11 AM, we decided that we would just start even earlier to beat the weather. If we woke up to even a cloud in the sky, we would not go. We'd assess again once we reached Boston Basin and continually as we ascended the Quien Sabe glacier. Quien sabe? Maybe it will work out.

At 1 AM, we woke to a sky full of stars and not a cloud in sight. Since there were only four of us, we were able to leave one car at Cascade Pass and shuttle the other down to the Boston Basin trailhead, which had plenty of space. We started the steep ascent up the trail at 2 AM. It was very brushy; I think the last time I used this approach someone must have been kind and taken loppers to it. Not so lucky this year. We kept a moderate pace, taking one break per hour, and reached the bottom of the glacier at about 6 AM. The skies were still cloudless and the temperature was warm, but not so warm that the snow was soft. It was nearly perfect crampon conditions.

early morning alpenglow.jpgWe traveled as a single team of four on a 60m rope, the two rope leads taking the ends and switching off leading halfway through the climb. Navigation was very straightforward; we hugged the left, lower angle side of the Quien Sabe glacier, passing underneath Sharkfin Tower. We looked up the gully that would have been our route if we had two days. It was steep and appeared to have a few mixed steps in it; perhaps it was not the best first climb for new basic students.

sharkfin tower gully.jpgThe largest crevasses we encountered were at around 8000' but we wove through them easily. A previous party had made low angle traversing steps that made our ascent very enjoyable in areas where they hadn't been ruined by other parties plunge stepping down the glacier.

nearing the top.jpg

Gaining the ridge to the summit was fairly straightforward. We tried to stay on the rock as much as possible, aware that the snow was heavily corniced. This is the most exposed part of the climb, but it was manageable without any protection. 

cornice.jpgWe took our crampons off for the last 50' of rock scrambling. I stayed tied in to one end of the rope and belayed Rob up the fourth class scramble. He placed about 3 pieces of gear to help the other climbers stay on the easiest route. He set up a fixed line and the students prussiked up to the top. Still tied in, I got a belay and went up last. We reached the summit at about 10 AM and almost immediately started setting up the rappel, aware that clouds were rapidly forming.

A 60m rope was sufficient for the rappel. With about 6' of third class down climbing everyone was on snow, a far cry from later in the season when I've had 50' or so of scrambling on crummy rock. We waited to the climber's left of the rappel line out of danger of any rock fall. Once everyone was down, we started the descent down the Sahale Glacier. Two pretty decently sized crevasses have formed on the glacier, but they were far out of the way of our desired path, so we did not rope up. The snow had softened considerably and crampons were probably not necessary, but we kept them on for the initial steep face in down climbing just below the rappel. After that it was smooth sailing. We got a couple of great glissades in as we neared Cascade Pass. 

face in down climbing.jpgThe rest of the descent was pretty straightforward other than an encounter with an aggressive herd of goats that didn't seem to care that we wanted to LNT and stay on trail.

goats.jpgI won't pretend that the 36 switchbacks down from Cascade Pass were enjoyable, but I spent most of them in awe of our luck and how perfect the conditions were on this trip. If it had not been for my team simply really wanting to do this climb, I would have turned around and gone home the prior night. I've simply had too many experiences where weather forecasts of 30-50% chance of precipitation throughout the day makes for a miserable outing. Instead, we had some of the best conditions that I have ever enjoyed in Boston Basin, and also got two students and one rope lead basic glacier credit! 

It started pouring rain as we got off of the last switchback and into the parking lot at 3:30 PM, 13.5 hours after beginning. We could not have had a better timed trip. A sincere appreciation and thanks go to Rob, Ana, and Elaine for making this trip happen. 


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abigail hudak
abigail hudak says:
Jul 01, 2019 12:42 PM

Did it look like the standard "corkscrew" route from Sahale glacier was clear of snow?

Sherrie Trecker
Sherrie Trecker says:
Jul 01, 2019 01:12 PM

I have never climbed that route before so I am not 100% certain, but I think so. There were several parties on their way up as we rappelled, and they did not seem to be having any issues.

Yui Tang.
Yui Tang. says:
Jul 07, 2019 07:11 AM

Thank you for a detail trip report! So happy for you all for a great trip