Boston Peak sees only about 10 parties on its summit each year. I didn’t believe it until we counted the groups on the summit register. In the last couple years, it’s ranged from about 8 to 13 parties (I don’t remember the exact number) and granted, some people opt out of signing the register. But still, that is very few groups given how close Boston Peak is to its popular neighbor Sahale Peak. I’ve always been interested to hike to Cascade Pass, but ever since I got into mountaineering, I kept promising myself that if I went to Cascade Pass, I would need to climb Sahale as well. So the trip kept getting pushed back and back.
Finally, I made some decisions and found a partner to climb it with. Ideally, I would have stayed the night for the amazing views up there, but we determined to make the climb interesting by doing a loop between Boston Basin and the Sahale Arm and tag 2 Bulger peaks. Bulgers are the top 100 highest peaks in Washington with a couple exceptions. The Sahale Arm route to Sahale Peak is known to be a common beginner’s climb for new mountaineers due to the few and avoidable crevasses on the glacier and fairly short scramble. Another approach is through Boston Basin, climbing up the Quien Sabe Glacier, which is regarded as more advance than the prior. Although Boston Peak itself is only about half a mile away with hardly more than a couple hundred feet of elevation change, it is a more substantial peak to summit with class 4 moves and moats to cross.
It seems as though Boston Peak is often forgotten, which is funny because Forbidden Peak used to be called Forgotten Peak and is now actually quite popular amongst technical alpine climbs. Forbidden is often done with Torment as a traverse, so that just leaves Boston as the last contender that people seem to want to pick. It’s notorious for how rough it can be, scaring away people who might not be so keen on scrambles. But it’s definitely far from the scariest scrambles.
Here’s my take on the Boston-Sahale Loop primarily as a photo blog.
I miscalculated and had us start quite a bit later than I had intended. Originally the goal was to start much before sunrise with sufficient time to climb out of the forest in time for sunrise and beautiful alpenglow views. But I also don’t want to force my own goals on other people when they would much rather not. So we got a bit more sleep and ended up starting just around sunrise under a dense layer of fog. We decided to park the car up at Cascade Pass with hopes that the recent window smashing wouldn’t reach it.
The 3/4 mile road walk blitzed by and we were quickly back en route for the uphill climb. As most climber’s trails go, I hardly take any pictures because they’re quite uneventful. However, I must say that the Boston Basin climber’s trail might actually be one of my top favorites of all time. The trail is decently wide, the soil isn’t too loose, the trail isn’t too steep. Why, there’s even some flat sections!
Soon enough, we started seeing glimpses of the sun’s golden rays through the trees, between the clouds and on the glorious Johannesburg Mountain. But we really didn’t get great views until we exited the forest. Derrick had recently been down this trail during his latest North Cascades adventure and was eager to show us the river crossings. We were anticipating shin high freezing water, but were met with super easy stream crossings that were simply a rock hop away. The water flow had significantly decreased within the last 2 weeks, and maybe due to our early morning start before the snow melt increases throughout the day.
I love climbs like these because the changing terrains break up the climbs into bite sized pieces of only 1000-1500 ft at a time. This next section was a free for all easy “scramble” or walk up rocks all the way to the start of the glacier. We kept taking so many breaks. Not because we were tired (maybe I was haha), but because the views were just so good we couldn’t stop taking pictures.
As I was about to take a different way up a rib, Tyler shouted out that he found a mine. I was so surprised! We decided to take a detour to explore it. It was quite tall and wide but honestly not too deep. I did some light research and apparently this area produced 2 tons of poly metallic ore in the 1890s. Wild to know that people came all this way up a bushwhack to find the ore. I often wonder what it was like back then to explore mountains.
Anyway, after our 15 minute stop, we continued up our own paths until we reached climber’s left of the glacier. Wind was starting to pick up and unless we were in the sun, it was pretty cold! We weren’t rushed on time, so we probably took 30 minutes here to take a snack break and get our glacier gear together. I was a real big leech, didn’t carry the rope, hardly helped with setting up the rope, but hey maybe taking pictures makes up for it? But anyway, considering all our abilities were quite similar, order on rope didn’t matter too much, so I took the middle to carry less weight.
The glacier felt like it passed by so quickly even with all our stops to soak in the views. We took the easy way up by ascending the left side and then traversed up to the Boston-Sahale Col with minimal weaving of the crevasses. There was only one short steep section that I was not too happy about. Crampons were definitely the way to go – not sure how some people use microspikes on glaciers this time of year!
My legs still felt fresh, but the anxiety-inducing section was still ahead. I love scrambles, but I still get nervous about new scrambles because it’s hard to judge what it’ll be like even with reading all the reports I could find. The SummitPost route description was actually very nice because the author put in a personal note saying that Boston is often made out to be harder than it really is and there’s plenty of ledges for you to stop and think before the next move. That helped reassure me, plus I was always willing to back off anything I wasn’t comfortable with. Having 2 other partners who are also well versed in rock climbing and scrambling gave that extra confidence boost. Still healing from a knee injury, I went more cautiously than normal and ended up giving the lead to the two others.
The ridge scramble was actually quite fun. I thrive off of steep drops on both sides with just the right amount of flat space on top to feel secure. The hard part was getting into the moat. I am not a fan of loose rocks and choss and that was the exactly the 10 foot section I had to butt scoot across to get into the moat. Everyone’s interaction with the moat will likely be different due to the snow melting at different rates every year. We followed the moat (beneath the false summit) with the true summit in sight. About mid way across the base of the true summit, we started scrambling up. One of those choose your own adventures, but there’s definitely a path of least resistance up.
I’m not sure where the alternative rib/ramp is but I think we did take the “chimney” to the summit ridge. I was last up and it was definitely tricky with a large pack and a camera in front of my chest. The chimney makes you lean over significantly to one side, but trust those feet and those hand holds and it’s only one move to feel secure again. I opted for my giant overnight pack this trip because my trusty mid-sized pack broke and my day pack wouldn’t suffice for space. I’m glad to have brought it but large packs do make scrambling a bit more tricky.
At last, we made it to the summit and the rest would be a breeze in comparison. We couldn’t stay too long on the summit because we still had another peak to bag and the whole descent! The views up here were incredible, seeing all the glaciers in this area from Boston to Buckner and all the layers of mountains to the south that were incredibly backlit. The photographer in me was sad that I couldn’t witness it all in the best light possible. But we can’t win them all, can we?
I’m very thankful for my partners because they did a lot of the heavy lifting for setting up all ropes while I snapped away with my camera. We down scrambled a couple rocks to find the first rappel station on Boston Peak, just south of the summit. The tat is easy to see from the moat as you’re coming up. Rappelling is one of my favorite things to do, and something I hadn’t done in a long while, so I was both excited to rappel for the activity itself and also for bypassing the class 4 scramble that we came up. We brought a 70 m rope, so we were able to connect the first two rappels. Pulling the rope was very tough, so I’m wouldn’t 100% recommend it. The last rappel got us right on the moat where we could simply walk on the snow without getting in and out.
Back on rock, I was happy to be scrambling again, though I still lagged behind the guys. I was a little disheartened that I couldn’t keep up, and blamed it on both my knee and many pauses for pictures. But whatever the reason for my slowness, I’m thankful that they would wait for me every so often. The ridge was so short I even missed where we had first got to the col, which by the way has 3 different bivy sites which would make for some beautiful camp views!
Before I knew it, we were at the last 50 feet of scrambling up to Sahale and started meeting the people who’d come up for the day. We had been seeing a rotation of people on the summit throughout our Boston climb. It was odd to have climbed all day without seeing any other parties and were suddenly reintroduced to what felt like a huge crowd.
Unfortunately I can’t speak to the scramble to Sahale Peak, but it looks like a fairly straightforward corkscrew route with minimal but not non-existing exposure. It may have been faster to scramble down, but we had rope, so we decided to rappel. Which was great for me because that also meant more time on the summit for pictures. We even met Uli Steidl who’s well known for his Fastest Known Times and had just summited Eldorado earlier that day in 4.5 hours! I’m mind blown.
I think I would have slightly preferred downclimbing the scramble than going down the rappel because it landed us on some annoying loose rock scramble. At least it’s fairly short and inconsequential. Going down the Sahale Glacier felt like going in auto drive compared to the Quien Sabe because people had already set great tracks for us.
Sahale Arm and Cascade Pass
But if I thought the route to Sahale Peak was a highway, I don’t even know how desirable the trail from Sahale Arm all the way to Cascade Pass. Even late afternoon, it seemed like people were still headed up and we were passing so many people. But descending down the Sahale Arm was truly a wonderful experience, we got a slightly different view of Eldorado and Forbidden Peak and the beautiful meadows of this area. Most of the flowers had wilted by this point, and I could only imagine what it would look like as a field of lupine.
Doubtful Lake below was a gorgeous blue and I loved that one hiker declared to rename it as Benefit of the Doubt. Truly the whole section from Cascade Pass to Sahale Arm up to the glacier is a great non-technical hike and I was happy to see so many people enjoy the views (and the berries). As we came down, we started seeing more wildlife. I got to check goats and marmots off my annual bucket list. On both summits, I saw ladybugs for the first time. And we even got a little visit from a pika. On our drive out, a small black bear ran in front of us before disappearing back into the woods.
The hike to Cascade Pass itself is actually quite long and on the side of dull, especially when it’s at the end of a long day. The switchbacks truly never end, but speed walking makes it pass quickly. All our feet were hurting, so I figured the faster we get to the car, the faster our feet will stop hurting. At the car, we were rewarded with golden hour views of the whole region that we were shrouded of in the morning. I continued to snap away while my partners repacked the car. I’ll definitely be back for different seasons and those sweet alpenglow views.
Road: Well graded and actually intermittently paved from Eldorado trailhead to Cascade Pass, totally fine for low clearance vehicles
Trailhead: We parked at the Cascade Pass Trailhead. Parking at Boston Basin is more crowded and there were about equal number of cars at each trailhead. There’s a day use picnic area and bathroom at the Cascade Pass Trailhead.
Camping: This is all within the North Cascades National Park, so overnight permits required. This area is notoriously known for how difficult it is to secure permits, so day trips are common.
Time: 3 hrs from col to Boston to Sahale. 13.5 hrs car to car with substantial breaks
Gear: We hauled up a 70m rope, which was more than we needed (we were prepped for 4 originally), but it allowed us to connect top 2 rappels off Boston. However there was high rope drag.
Route: Clockwise from Boston Basin to finish on a low-grade trail to Cascade Pass. This allowed us to start with the more technical bits first.