I just finished up guiding a great alpine route in the heart of the North Cascades, the North Ridge of Forbidden Peak. I had the pleasure of meeting Paul and Stephen on the last day of July in Seattle, and we headed out in search of broken glaciers, huge rock ridges and, of course, the level of adventure for which remote, uncertain terrain is requisite.
Rock slab approach below Quien Sabe. Alan Rousseau photo
Our original plan was to attempt the NW Face of Forbidden, however with 15,000 foot freezing levels forecasted, and an already low snowpack, we opted for a route with less overhead hazard, the complete north ridge of Forbidden. Any route on the north side of Forbidden is a committing climb. You do not come back down the same way you ascend, and because of this there comes a time where retreat is no longer a viable option. Being strong, fast, and resilient is necessary for these carry-over alpine style routes.
Boston Glacier in the foreground, North Ridge of Forbidden is on the right of the skyline. Alan Rousseau photo
We started off in sweltering heat and brush low in Boston Basin, which gave way to shaded old growth, and eventually a long awaited breeze when we broke treeline. After a few hours of steep travel we found a nice dry rock slab bivy with running water close by. After a relaxing evening at our home for the night we ended up asleep before the sunset. Which was good because we would be awake before it would rise again.
First bivy below Quien Sabe. Alan Rousseau photo
After a 4:30 wake up, we donned crampons and made the short walk across the Quien Sabe glacier to Sharkfin Col. Here we really woke up with some thin face climbing above a snow moat. Soon we hit our first point of commitment rappelling over Sharkfin Col, onto the very broken Boston Glacier. After seeing how severely crevassed the Boston Glacier was I told Paul and Stephen I put our chances at maybe 50% of being able to find a way through. I asked if they wanted to go for it, despite a chance of being shut down. They replied, “This is what we came here for, let’s give it a try.” And with the pull of the rope we made our first commitment to the north side of Forbidden.
Traversing the lower North Ridge. Alan Rousseau photo
With a couple hours of down climbing, rappelling, running jumps over large crevasses, and of course a bit of luck we made our way across the Boston Glacier, to the base of the North Ridge. Once you gain the North ridge you have nearly ¾ of a mile of linear distance to the summit of forbidden. We were already six hours into the day when we hit the ridge and needed to climb the majority of it that day. Most of the lower ridge is 3rd and 4th class terrain with the occasional mid 5th class step. We moved quickly and covered terrain fast with a mix of techniques from short roping, short pitching, weaving the rope between rock horns, and full pitched-out climbing as well. A few hours later we found ourselves back in crampons to climb a snow arête that led to our second bivy at 8,400 feet on a narrow portion of the north ridge of Forbidden. Smoke plumes from a forest fire provided an amazing glow for the sunset adding to the ambiance of one of the wildest bivys in the cascades.
Bivy 2 with Forbidden in the background. Alan Rousseau photo
Bivy 2 on the North Ridge of Forbidden. Alan Rousseau photo
Our third day started off again with a 4:30 alarm beeping in my ear. Today was a big day. We had 11 pitches of climbing to reach the summit (it looked like 5). Then a descent down the 800 foot west ridge to the west ridge notch, followed by a series of rappels, a tricky pocket glacier, several hours of hiking, and of course a drive back into Seattle. Efficiency was paramount to say the least. After a short 3rd class traverse leaving our bivy we were in 5th class pitched climbing for 1,000’ to the summit, which we hit at 9am. Piece by piece we compartmentalized our descent and checked off one box after the next. Focusing solely on the next chunk of terrain we had to deal with. By 1 pm we were taking off harnesses and helmets, high fiving and filling up water from the glacier melt.
Last pitch before the summit. Alan Rousseau photo
The next few hours were kind of a blur as glacial slabs turned to heather, to old growth, to deadfall, to valley brush, and of course eventually the van! Soon we had coffees in hand and stomachs full of fresh food, cruising to Seattle.
Filling bottles up after the Forbidden descent. Alan Rousseau photo
For those of you with some experience climbing in alpine terrain looking for a bigger adventure than you might be able to do on your own, give us a call and ask about the North Ridge of Forbidden. It’s an incredibly aesthetic line, with a high level of commitment, and A LOT of mileage in technical terrain! Thanks to Paul and Stephen for showing up fit with your game faces on, hope to share a rope with you both in the future!
~ MM Guide Alan Rousseau