Technical climbing info
- Mountain: Forbidden Peak
- Elevation: 8,816ft
- Route: North Ridge, via the North West Face variation
- Length: 6,200ft
- Grade: IV, 5.6
- Day 1: Approach, set up camp in the Boston Basin.
- Day 2: Cache any unnecessary gear. Move to high camp on Forbidden’s North Ridge, via the Sharkfin Col.
- Day 3: Summit, descend the West Ridge to Boston Basin camp.
- Day 4: Hike out!
Note: This could have been pretty easily compressed into 3 days, it was extended because we intended to climb Buckner’s North Face as well. If we were to do it again, I would likely opt to compress Day 1 & 2. The summit day is big enough that hiking out the same day might make for a very long day (at least for me). I’d also consider the option of bivvying at the base of the West Ridge on the descent to shorten the summit day and extend the otherwise easy day out.
A mouthful of a route NAME
2018, sitting on the summit of Forbidden Peak, having just climbed the classic West Ridge, Jere and I watched a team make their way up the North Ridge. The route just struck me. The increased solitude, the variety of terrain, and the overall burliness of the ridge just had me impressed. It looked like the true classic. The following year (last year) Jere and I went for a late season ascent, but in true PNW style, we got rained out.
This summer’s annual climbing trip to Peru got canned due to the pandemic, so Jess and I took it as an opportunity to climb a few of our state-side objectives. After a few fails and a few stressful moments over the past few months, we needed a bit of a break. But with a fleeting summer, a break meant calling our friends at Pro Guiding!
We put together a fairly involved 5 day “expedition” to the Boston Basin, shooting for the North Ridge of Forbidden and the North Face of Buckner. Spoiler alert: Buckner was out.
Coming in heavy
A few years ago on my first trip to Chamonix, I was sitting in one of the many climbers bar chatting with a few local climbers. “Oh, you’re from America’s Cascades? You guys are tough.”
I got to say, that guy in the Camonix was right, multiday climbing in the PNW is straight up rough, it’s a lot of weight. Our packing was a good reminder why we’ve grown to appreciate faster and lighter one and two day ascents. We met Jere in the Marblemount Ranger Station to pick up our permit, as many blue bags as possible, and a huge bear canister. More weight, yay.
The Boston Basin trail had a bit of a different attitude than usual, the pandemic and lack of beta this year had the trail much more overgrown than usual. It was cool to see it in its much more natural state. The high snow year had the majority of the upper camps still buried, but we picked out the two best possible spots on the bits of exposed dirt. With a crappy forecast for the next day, we decided that it would be a good opportunity to bump our camp up to the base of the North Ridge.
Moving over the Sharkfin Col
We had a casual alpine start, 4am, to hopefully avoid the predicted bad weather as much as possible. When we woke up, the clouds were light and the night was warm. Not bad. We packed up our tent, stashed our luxury gear (bye bye extra undies), and aimed for the Sharkfin Col. By the time we really got moving the sun was just peeking out. Hmm…weather was much better than expected!
We waltzed across the basin to the Sharkfin Col while watching a few climbers move up the Quien Sabe Glacier. What appeared to be standard col crossing had a big snow moat and, according to our judgement, subpar protection. We opted to go through what appeared to be a snow covered alternative. That alternative turned out to be a bit of a choss mess with some minor rockfall hazard, but we moved quick.
The high snow year blended with the heat of late July made the rappel over the col “weirder” than what was probably usual. We spotted an anchor hiding deep inside an unstable looking snow cave, undesirable to say the least. Jess dropped down first, descending into what turned out to be a pretty massive snow moat below us, her muffled voice yelled up “woah this is huge!”. After a few minutes we saw her pop out onto the glacier below us. It goes!
This was my first time being on the Boston Glacier. The towering peaks of the North Cascades and the sprawling glacier made for nothing short of a dramatic scene.
Base o’ ridge
We aimed for Forbidden’s North Ridge and began our walk. The sun defied the bad forecast, and we stripped our clothing layers and reapplies our sunscreen layers. Buckner’s North Face dramatically towered behind us. We spent the walk to the ridge looking over our shoulder at Buckner’s North Face, our planned next route. It looked pretty out, disappointing, but we kept our eye on objective at hand.
The supposed crux of the approach was next. An upward most crossing, followed by a very crumbly chimney. Neither were overly technical, but both definitely had their sketch factor. We each made our own choice of awkward moves, pulling up onto the base of the North Ridge. My move of choice was a poorly executed heel hook.
The base of North Ridge would be home for the next few hours. The couple bivy spots were for legit bivys, neither would but our tents. We cut out a platform in the snow and pitched our tent. I carefully made my way down towards the glacier below trying to get a peak of our route. I waited for the intermittent clouds to clear and snapped a few photos. It was a cold and windy night, we shivered ourselves to sleep. Our wake-up alarm couldn’t come soon enough.
A cold cold start on the NW face
Our late-ish alpine start was greeted by rapidly approaching clouds. The starry night quickly became a thickly clouded dawn. But we were here to climb, not to sunbathe.
The NW snow face was in great condition, it was apparent as soon as we kicked out crampons into it. Something to appreciate even in the deteriorating weather. The whole way up we shivered at our belay stations, debating whether or not the weather was getting better or worse. Jere and I claimed to be optimistic. Jess claimed to be realistic. (Jess was right in the end.)
We basked in a few of glimpses of sun, I hoped to catch enough rays to defrost my frozen boots. My boots never did defrost. We counted 7 pitches to the ridge proper.
Still fuckin’ cold on the ridge
Getting onto rock we switched to our climbing shoes and debated the pros and cons of gloves. On one hand, (“hand”…get it?) it was freezing and gloves obviously help with that. On the other hand, I’m not a very good rock climber and gloves would only make me worse. I pulled them off and stuffed them in my jacket figuring maybe they could help as an extra layer. It also made my belly look pretty large, which I thought was pretty hilarious in the moment.
The ridge started off with what I would call “exposed walking”. It seemed easier than I expected, could this be it? As our rock shoes got muddy and slippery, I began considering putting my boots back on. Mostly out of laziness, I kept the rock shoes, which quickly was the right decision for me. As the route became more and more obfuscated, the climbing evolved from “exposed walking” to “actual climbing”.
The quality of rock got better and better, but the wet lichen and thick fog kept things interesting. In a way, the fog reduced the exposure, allowing us to focus on nothing but the few meters ahead of us. A few brief clearings would remind us of the epic drop below our feet and the amazing terrain we were climbing above.
The fog made the ridge feel never ending. We made pitch after pitch after pitch. We began nearing the dramatic spine of the NW face, our first indicator that the summit was somehow coming into reach. The best route on the mountain, according to Fred Becky; I quickly added it to my mental to-do list.
Eventually a silhouette of the summit defined itself in the fog above. There appeared to be a scrambley path up a few meters to the west, maybe fool’s gold, we continued on our path of least resistance.
The summit is only halfway, truly
Eventually the summit came- a brief moment of release. We set down our packs and had a seat. A quick clearing gave us a glimpse of the ridge we had just climbed, we could see our tiny bootpack in the snow far far away. It reminded me of that moment 2 years ago when I first laid my eyes on that ridge. It was getting late though, and we knew the decent of the West Ridge with our overnight packs wouldn’t be a walk in the park. We mentally prepared to climb into the night.
The way down was no easier than the way up, the overnight packs making the downclimbing significantly more awkward than I remembered with just a daypack. That and the already long day made for clunky movement, the rappel stations couldn’t come soon enough.
We finally made our way onto the snow saddle below the ridge. Our watches read 9pm, we still had a ways to go to get to camp. Jere joked, “Do we just want to bivvy here and skip dinner?” That joke became an actual consideration. “Let’s just make this our fastest transition ever”. We changed to climbing boots, strapped on our crampons, and clipped on our headlamps.
Never stop freezing
The snow wasn’t as consistent as we hoped, so we found ourselves getting back into rappel mode pretty quickly. We had 6 rappels down onto the glacier. We froze at each station, we couldn’t go fast enough. At the final rappel I apparently went too fast and took a pretty big swing, smashing my ice clipper sending my ice tool down into the moat of the glacier below. My crampon hung on by the strap, phew. I removed it and clipped it to my harness. I rappelled into the shallow moat to retrieve my tool. Finally, off the route. It was just past 12am.
We walked down the glacier in a deep fog, aiming in what seemed to be the right direction. “Is that camp? Hmmm, no.” We said that a few times as we peered ahead. We joked that the folks at camp were probably looking at us judging us, saying look at this these noobs epicing in the middle of the night. A good reminder to never judge others!
I badly wanted to fill my water because the thought of melting snow for our freeze dried meals was just horrible. After a bit of wandering in the dense fog we finally came across our old bootpack to the stream we collected water from by our camp. We dropped our packs, filled our bottles, and meandered over to our cache to set up camp. It was still cold as hell, but we didn’t care anymore. By the time we dozed off, it has been exactly 24 hours since we woke up. Oof.
“High-end” feezedried meals, thumbs up or down?
Our usual overnight meal is ramen, but this trip we decided to same a bunch of the newer “high end” dehydrated/freezedried meals, I reviewed them here. (I’ll continue building on the reviews over time.)
Up Next: How about A 50 Classic on Forbidden?
One of the considerations I have had for a long time has been spending a summer season climbing a bunch of alpine routes close to home. The irony of me leaving for peaks abroad during the core of the climbing season here has never been lost on me. For that, I have never actually had the time to climb in the Boston Basin.[…]