Buck, Berge, and Fortress

I climbed Buck (8528), Berge (7948), and Fortress (8760) a few weeks ago over a 4 day solo trip. Was hoping for Chiwawa (8459) as well but poor route-finding cost me a day. All these sit between Glacier and the Bonanza, Seven-Finger Jack, Maude massive, and views of these big-uns dominate the climb. In August and September the Buck Creek basin is popular with equestrians, so go early or go dungy.

Buck West Shoulder beta: Goldman recommends approaching Buck by hiking all the way to Buck Creek Pass (10 m) and then traversing back to Buck via High Pass and Berge. I now understand why. Becky in Guide 2, third edition, page 175, begins his Buck West Shoulder route description thus: "Follow Buck Creek Trail for 10 minutes past the 5-mi. mark, to the large slide track (good camp by stream just below trail beyond slide). Cross Buck Creek and hike SW upward through heavy timber toward mount Berge...."

There is no longer any 5-mi mark that I could find. Replace his first two sentences with these and save yourself about 2 hours wandering around: "Follow Buck Creek Trail approximately 5 mi. to a large slide track following a set of switchbacks. Descend slide track to Buck Creek. Cross at good camp site and hike SW upward through heavy timber toward mount Berge."

After I finally convinced myself that I'd found the right crossing, I did a stupid, stupid thing, one I've done before and will probably do again, thick-headed dolt that i am: I got pissed at Becky's route description's ambiguity, and fed up, decided to ignore it and find my own way. The rest of his paragraph is extremely detailed for a reason: all other paths lead through alder hell.

The setting sun found me exhausted, shredded and bleeding, totally disgusted with myself, building a miserable camp on a lumpy, muddy bivy site in a wash, literally surrounded by cliffs and endless, tangled alder thickets. Imagine how depressing it is to go to sleep all by yourself knowing that in the morning the first thing you'll have to do is battle alder up a totally unknown slope that may or may not go, and if it doesn't you've got nothing but an endless alder battle just to get out. Not my best day.

Next morning went OK, and I escaped purgatory after only a couple of hours trashing, getting back on route at the end of that one cursed little paragraph from page 175: "...up the open basin." The summit of Buck is very fun, mainly because it's enormous and so damn hard to get to you're virtually guaranteed solitude. Looking down over the North face sucks your breath way it's so huge and awesome. The summit register's sat up there for 25 years and is only half full. Recognized Al Erington name from 85, and WAC'ers Jonathan Pryce, Fred Slater, and Anne Herrick from last year, but no others. I think this is the only top 100 mt I've climbed that Pat hasn't, which of course is cool.

Headed back to Barge. Goldman says it's not a scramble and "should be avoided". Becky says "Here is a short, exposed rock climb (class 3)." Brought a light rappelling setup: 25M of spectra, diaper sling harness, one locker for a munter hitch, and rap tape, but didn't use it. The route up and down is class 3, and is a fine scramble if you're careful. I'm starting to think that when Goldman says "scramble" she means "climber's trail". Barge's summit is quite beautiful, though too pointy for crowds or lounging, and the rock is generally more sound than Buck or Fortress.

Then I got lost again. In late season there's a nice climber's path from Berge to High Pass, but steep snow buried the trail and the normal route looked too slidey to descend safely, so i wandered around to the south searching for another way down. Ended up on well off-route and cliffed out, but atop a lovely flat bulge with good water perched directly across a valley from Napeequ and Cirque

Next day rose early, found a way down off my nubbin to the basin south of High Pass, and traversed back to Buck Creek Pass. Early season snow slowed progress as i was forced to don and doff crampons many times. Finally picked up the track of a large deer who'd passed the night before on some errand whose footprints had frozen into excellent pockets that would hold my bare boot across steep sections. Nice dear. Made it to Buck Creek Pass by 11am. My plan had been to camp there the night before and do Fortress and Chiwawa the next day, but with that plan blown, I collapsed into a delicious nap.

Took off for Fortress with just snow and rap gear about 1pm and promptly got lost again. Sheesh! There's a climbers tail that winds around some cliff bands, (Becky's "hanging garden") that fence the entrance to the "wide snowpatched basin". But in tune with the theme of this trip, I lost it under snow. Wound up executing class 4-ish waterfall moves bulling straight up the garden, squirting a little more adrenaline that I wanted. Made it to the basin, and then easy, though steep, up-up to the summit ridge. Main danger by far was avalanche. Top layer was unconsolidated and sloughy, but there was no clear shear layer i could find underneath. Everything held OK and I was up by 4, down by 5:30, traversing around the hanging garden this time, picking up bits of the climbers' path that had melted through.

Hike out next day was as easy as 10 miles can be. I think this area might be best in July, before the horse folk take over, but after the high trails poke out a bit more from beneath the snow.