Horseshoe Peak

October 1, 2022


Cascade Pass, WA

Horseshoe Peak is the highest on “Ripsaw Ridge” that connects Boston Peak to Buckner Mountain but in reality it’s just a pimple on the west ridge of Buckner Mountain. This peak does not even boast 50 m prominence. The inclusion in the fabled Bulger List is the sole reason why people bother to climb it. However, from technical perspective Horseshoe Peak is more interesting than Buckner Mountain as even the easiest route involves some 5th class climbing near the top, whereas Buckner Mountain is just a slog on choss and/or snow. My interest in Horseshoe Peak was also because of the Bulger inclusion and in the end I was glad that I did it as the climbing was quite fun. This was already the tailing end of a huge day. Eric, Talon and I started at 1 am, climbed Buckner Mountain‘s twin summits with professional level surveying equipment, and then did the first ascent of the west face of Lick of Flame. It was already 14-15 hours into the trip when we finished Lick of Flame. We were tired but we had to carry on to finish the mission.

Buckner Mtn. and Horseshoe Peak via Sahale Arm. GPX DL

There are two routes to get onto the technical part of Horseshoe Peak and from the base of Lick of Flame it made more sense to tackle the longer “climber’s right variation” across a very cool ledge higher up on the face. This was not the one that Eric did years ago during his Bulger List quest. We were too stubborn to put on crampons so did some sketchy 4th class scrambling around the snow, which on hindsight probably had taken more than than donning crampons. We then traversed across more choss to the base of Horseshoe Peak. Eric led the next section scrambling into a chimney with one stiffer move near the exit. The exit of this chimney dumped us onto that infamous ledge, which was much wider than expected. We ran across the ledge due south to join the regular route and ditched the packs there.

Working around this bulge around the snow proved to be hard
Talon scrambling with Lick of Flame behind
A look at the west face of Lick of Flame that we just climbed
Talon working around more choss to avoid stepping onto snow
Eric then led us up onto the climber’s right variation route
We ascended into this squeeze chimney
Talon pulling up the hard move at the chimney
Eric then led us traversing this highway of ledge
Talon starting the ledge traverse
This ledge cuts across the entire east face of Horseshoe Peak

It took me longer at the transition as I had to carry the rope while the others went ahead to scout out the route. We scrambled more choss onto a higher, narrower ledge and that’s where the climbing began. The start of this higher ledge was only 4th class but with lethal exposure. Talon soloed across including pulling up that class 5 step at the end whereas Eric opted to lead with a rope. I gave Eric a belay from behind and followed afterwards. I was glad to have a belay at the technical step as it was considerably more challenging than expected. If I were to solo that step I would likely want to pull onto the rappel slings as the rocks were outwards sloping and not particularly solid. The true summit only had enough room for one person whereas the register was placed onto a lower boulder.

We then ditched the packs for the final technical portion of the ascent
Eric leading out the final pitch. Lethal exposure below
Me belaying Eric up the technical ledge
Me coming up the final 5th class moves
Eric and Talon on the summit of Horseshoe Peak. Register’s at Talon’s hand.
Looking over the rest of Ripsaw Ridge towards Sahale, Boston and Forbidden
Looking back at Buckner Mountain that we climbed earlier in the morning
The first by Ross Lake filling in the Thunder Creek drainage with smoke
Bonanza Peak dominating the skyline viewing south
Booker Mountain in the foreground. I’ll eventually have to come back for it…
The massif of Mt. Logan in the background

We did one rappel using the 60m twin rope and scrambled back down to the ditched packs. From there it would be a long and grueling slog to descend but we faced the challenge one at a time. The first step was to get off Horseshoe Peak via the regular route which still involved fair amount of choss. After joining our Buckner’s route we made the final decision to retrace what we had done earlier in the morning via the higher level traverse, instead of taking Eric’s previous routes lower down. This might not have saved time, but at this stage of a day we wanted to stick to the known.

Me rappelling off Horseshoe Peak. Only 1 rappel needed.
Eric rappelling off Horseshoe Peak
Eric then led us down the regular route, climber’s left of the snow field
Eric and Talon descending class 3 terrain down the regular route
Lick of Flame is definitely a very aesthetic tower
Back onto easier ground now but we were still far from home…
One last look at Lick of Flame which was actually the highlight of this day

The halfway traverse back across Horseshoe Basin to the old mining site was shitty as fuck but the second half across the slabs was much better. We refilled the water bottles and raced with sunset dashing up the 300 m regain back to Sahale Camp and we succeeded. I found my ditched trail runners, put them on, turned on the head-lamps and dashed down the final stage of this trip. Talon and I went ahead to jog down Sahale Arm trail. I don’t have running background but I somehow was feeling energetic and wanted to push to see my potential. I managed to keep up with Talon almost all the way back to Cascade Pass but gave up on running afterwards. We then power-walked the final 7 km back to the parking lot and arrived 20.5 hours after leaving it in the morning. Eric made back half an hour later with his monstrous pack and we all started driving almost right away. The plan was to push all the way back home but only Eric managed to do so. I was the first one calling it and slept in my truck on a random pull-out on Cascade River Road, and Talon made a little further and slept in a gas station. I woke up at 8 am the next morning and leisurely drove home.

Let the choss traverse begin…
Crossing these gullies with compact hard dirt was the worst
This is just one microscopic section of the traverse…
We were no longer in the sun anymore
Finally finished the upper half of Horseshoe Basin traverse
Talon leading us back across the lower half of choss of slabs
Looking back at evening alpenglow on Buckner Mountain
We ascended into this gully which is the key of this route
Talon plodding up with a meter stick in his pack…
Talon halfway up the loose gully, feeling exhausted…
Above the gully we still had almost 300 vertical meters to regain..
It’s a never-ending upwards slog, luckily with good views behind
Back to Sahale Camp looking at Mt. Formidable
Johannesburg Mountain from the descent. My next objective a couple days later..