Education of a Climber: Boston Basin

June 2nd, 2009

20090531_02bb_g_001The road was closed three miles from the trail head due to a massive avalanche stacking debris across it.¬† We were heading up to Boston Basin to set up camp on the glacier moraine then climb the next two days; it is one of my favorite parts of the Cascades and, while I’d done several in-a-day climbs there, this trip would be more relaxed. (At Left: the pack explosion and ditching of gear)

With food and fuel for two nights and gear for a couple of climbs, we plodded up the road. It was nearly 80 degrees and we’d had a late start. Halfway up the road, as the sun beat down and the flanks of Johannesburg towered above, we stopped to ditch part of the rack, some food and clothing in the woods. I was changing plans and didn’t think we’d need it.

The trail was still partly snow covered and the slide alder, which in the summer turns the old mining road into a tunnel of green, was still partly compressed. Passage was possible, but annoyingly so as the resilient and intertwined branches grabbed at everything on us. Several hours later, approach shoes soaked from hiking on snow, we were only a few hundred feet below the traverse into the basin. I looked at the sun, looked up the slope, looked at Lu; she was exhausted, completely on auto pilot. We would camp right there. I began kicking out a platform in the snow.

More images and video on the Jump….

20090531_02bb_g_074As I cooked our one-pot meal I learned Lu, who’s been bouldering and sport climbing for a couple years, had only been backpacking once before. For her second time with an overnight pack, Lu was getting an “extreme” backpacking experience. Oops. I was completely sandbagging her but, tired as she was, her spirits were good. She was having fun and it was great to share this experience with her. (At Left: one-pot glop can still be fine cuisine)

A solid night’s sleep and a slow morning found us hiking up to the moraine. The going was slow, as the snow was soft, but we made it to a stunning panorama. From here we could see the entire sweep of Boston Basin, the summits of Snow, Eldorado, Torment, Forbidden, Boston, Sharkfin, Sahale, Cascade, Johannesburg; I could see skiers climbing up the moraine, climbers descending Sharkfin, other climbers slowly plodding over Sahale on their way to Mt. Buckner’s north face. I yearned to be doing the same, but at the same time I was thoroughly enjoying lounging with Lu. I was also intensely proud of the effort she put into getting to our high point and relished every moment she discovered something for herself, something she could own. That morning she’d opened the tent door and simply said “Woah, that’s beautiful!” Coming from someone who looked at the mountains as “piles of rock” I couldn’t help but smile in satisfaction.

20090531_02bb_g_022That day, what was to be our climbing day, was spent learning to self arrest with an ice axe, reading in the sun, and shooting some stock-style photographs. We were considering a dawn ascent of Sahale via the Quien Sabe glacier, while the snow was still firm, but that evening after another thigh-burning hike up the hill, Lu though it would be better to simply head out. However, always wanting to push it, I proposed an unknown traverse to Cascade Pass; I thought¬† there might be some cliffs to negotiate and that it would be long, but Lu said she was up for it and didn’t want to head back down the avalanche debris and slide alder. (At Left: evening view from the tent)

Below: Some “stock” photos including our session of sliding and jumping (Lu’s idea. She’s all about fun). Made with and the Canon Lens 24-70mm f2.8.

Latina woman backpacking and camping in the mountains – Images by Tim Matsui

The next day, more firsts were accomplished. Lu’s first 4th class snow and rock. Looking down I saw the potential for big injury so I threw her a quick hip belay. Another first. We traversed over a ridge and began a series of standing and seated glissades. Another first. Her laughter echoed off the basin walls. More traversing over steepening slopes and we finally hit the partly covered trail. Lu learned on-the-fly how to traverse exposed snow slopes with an axe. She grimaced, was fearful, but kept going, picking up technique quickly. And she laughed. Laughed into her exhaustion.

Below: A short movie mostly from Lu’s perspective. If you can speak Portuguese, you can decode to secret message to her father (actually, there’s no secret. it’s just cute). Made with theCanon Powershot G10.

View from Boston Basin from on Vimeo.

Our final descent wound through more cliffs to the base of the pass where, at long last, after seeing it for hours, we stepped onto the gravel road. Only three tedious miles left to the car. Lu laughter at her relief and, I think proudly, looked back at the terrain she’d never have imagined crossing before.

For me? We might not have climbed anything, but I was happy to show her a place of beauty, to be there as she experienced the strenuous nature of the mountains, the reward of exploration, and thrill of risk. But, most of all, I was proud of her emotional strength in the face of sheer, bottomed-out exhaustion and her ability to smile and laugh in the midst of it. I’m sure many have experienced the couple’s dynamic while learning to ski, climb, or other challenging pursuits. Sometimes, when pushed into fear or exhaustion, relationship issues explode. With Lu? Not the case. For all of her temper, she comes with the other extreme: laughter. And that makes me smile.

Below: Some photos by Lu.

Stock images photographed with the and the Canon Lens 24-70mm f2.8; snapshots and movie shot with the Canon Powershot G10.

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One Response to “Education of a Climber: Boston Basin”

  1. […] were on the East Ridge approach. “Too steep with snow” she said. Remembering her first experience with an ice axe (which we didn’t have this time) was only a month prior, I agreed. So we turned to the South […]


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