July 17, 2009: Sahale

Batman (aka David Welles) and I set off for Marblemount Thursday evening around 5pm.  We stopped at an absolute stink-hole of a diner for dinner on the way.  It was in Mount Vernon if I remember right.  We decided to eat in the bar for more color and enjoyed an hour of mostly clean place settings, a debate over the lovely lady at the bar by two of the establishment’s gentleman patrons, and an edible meal… eventually.  I ordered a cheeseburger with a Gardenburger patty which was delivered by the cook with both the Gardenburger patty and the menu-listed 1/2-pound beef patty between the buns.  At that point, what can you do but laugh.

It was getting late when we left the diner and by the time we were past Marblemount and onto the dirt roads night had fallen.  After some indecision in the dark about where the trail head actually was, we ended up finding where we needed to be and pitched our tent at a picnic spot near the trail head.  We were up at the crack of dawn, broke camp, threw everything but our day-packs in the Batmobile, and set out on the trail.

The first part of the climb is your run-of-the-mill wooded trail with switchbacks.  It’s about 4 miles and goes up about 2,000 ft.  We saw some deer right at the start of the trail and continued to see a opulence of marmots, pheasants, and other critters on the way.  After the switchbacks, the forest gives way to Cascade Pass.  From here you can continue on to Stehekin if you are up for a seriously long hike or head toward the mountain on the absolutely stunning Sahale Arm.  The arm is a long stretch of alpine meadows that gives great views in all directions.  It continues on for another 2 miles and 2,000 ft of elevation and tops out at the Sahale Glacier.  Along the way you can look down at Doubtful Lake.  It still had icebergs floating in it when we went by and had a nice green-blue color.

Sahale Glacier is a dormant glacier (no longer moving) so the crevasses are always in the same place year-to-year.  Dave and I went unroped easily navigating the obvious crevasses.  Below the glacier are a few nice camping spots.  I have a desire to take a younger crowd (perhaps my old scout troop) up this climb as a two-day task and make use of the camp.  The last slope up the glacier is seriously steep which made it super fun.  At about 11:00 we were up the glacier and ready for the final push to the summit.

We took lunch and got into our harnesses and prepped for the climb.  Most people rate the final climb as a class-4 with one or two low class-5 moves.  After doing it, I’d have to agree with them and probably wouldn’t trad-climb the route.  As it was, we hadn’t done the climb before and figured to be safe rather than sorry and I led the pitch on a running belay.  We had dropped our packs at the base of the summit climb and made short work of the single pitch with no load.  The ancient summit marker at the top mislabels the mountain as Boston Mountain which I found very cool.  Dave and I snapped some pictures, took the obligatory pee of the summit, and rappelled off the north-west ridge towards the actual Boston.

At this point we were starting to get thirsty and realized both of us had left our Nalgenes with our packs back at the top of the glacier.  We grabbed some water from drips coming off some melting snow, but it wasn’t much.  The terrain on the ridge was really dodgy so we decided to keep with the running belay.  While safe, this decision ultimately slowed us down WAY too much to make our Boston bid as we (mostly I) had hoped.  By 4:00 we were only half-way there and decided that we needed to turn around if we wanted to leave by daylight.  The intense thirst we had at this point (5 hours of labor in the July sun at altitude with only a few drops of water) certainly helped our decision to turn back.

We traveled back laterally around the west face of Sahale and only had to down-climb a few feet to reach our packs.  I didn’t like the look of the steep slope for a glissade and neither did Dave.  He decided to trek west a ways to a flatter slope and did a seated glissade whilst I chose to basically do a slow-moving arrest down the steep part.  On the way down we ran into two marmots having a territory debate.  We watched with interest as the skinny marmot beat up the fat marmot and laid claim to the prime position by the trail.  His prize was short-lived though as Dave and I continued down the trail seconds later and the victor ran off scared to safer ground.  We were running out of daylight so we did our decent at a pretty aggressive pace.  It ended up costing me in the end as I tweaked my knee on some loose rock which was quite painful over the last 4 miles or so and ended up costing me again a few weeks later in the Pasaytens.  We covered the last mile of the trail in the dark and arrived at the car around 10pm tired and hurting.

Our prize was to find that the delicious Mug root beer can I had left in the car had exploded in the heat and coated the seat, upholstery, and inside of the windshield in sticky, dried-up soda.  We cleaned the best we could but only ended up smearing it around on the windshield.  At the first gas-station we stopped and bought some Armoral glass cleaning wipes which helped some (it was still pretty gross).  When Dave dropped me off at my house I think it took about 30 seconds to fall asleep.  In other words: success.

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