Forbidden Peak E & W Ridge Traverse

Forbidden Peak 8,815'. East Ridge Direct to West Ridge
Please Click the Pictures, the scenery is Amazing!
I was looking for long alpine rock routes (10pitches or more) and one that continually came up was the W Ridge of Forbidden Peak. Talking w/ Tim Hale and Ellen Gradison, they said climb the E ridge and go down the W ridge, it'll be more fun. That sounded like a good idea when I was sitting at Horsethief Butte.

Big John and Rick Barry were game but we got rained out on our date for the W Ridge.

Let me introduce you to my friend Matt Lund.

I met Matt almost 10 years ago when he was 15 years old. We were both mountain bikers and there were alot of stoners in the mountain biking crowd at the time. Matt was never into "normal" things that kids did and he definetly fit in better w/ grown ups. I was afraid that he'd fall in w/ the "bad" crowd. It was easy to see he was a good kid. Little did I know, I was the "bad" crowd. For ten years, I've tried to encourage Matt and help him grow into an adult. Now he's the age I was when I met him. As much as I've encouraged him, he's encouraged me to be a good role model. He just graduated from college and we were going to celebrate. This was going to be the best climb of my life.

Matt has crazy endurance and he's a good rock climber. This would be his first technical alpine rock climb and alpine rock is so much different than a crag route. He had his work cut out for him. Matt has always jumped into things w/ both feet. (hmm... I wonder where he gets it?)

Not an original idea but you can't help but straddle this thing and throw a hand in the air!

We couldn't get permits for the Boston Basin so we were going have to sleep in the car and make a humongous day of it. I spoke to the ranger on the way in and she said that we wouldn't be able to navigate the avy debris on the trail and that we should wait till daylight to start the route. Before we even started we were 3 hours behind schedule. Lesson 1: Rangers have to be conservative.

People often camp at the base of the route the day before and the day after the climb. Some will climb the E or W Ridge car to car. I didn't find any reports of people doing both Ridges car to car. We were going to have to haul butt or abondon the W ridge and do the rappel route. We'd decide later. Lesson #2 When you get ideas from Tim and Ellen, Beware:-)

We reached the basin and we were disappointed that we didn't start earlier. All day long we were racing the clock, trying to get the time back. The avy debris turned out to be very simple to navigate and could easily have been done in the dark.

One of the hard things about this type of route is deciding what to bring. Boots or approach shoes? Performance rock shoes or all day rock shoes? Crampons and Ice axe or just one? Which one? Bivy Gear? Just a jacket and pad? We each decided for ourselves. We took different stuff but at the end of the day we agreed that we each packed right.

I love climbing a route that I haven't climbed before. It was extra exciting since I hadn't even been to the Boston Basin, I was amazed at the beauty.

The wild flowers were already in bloom and Johannesberg Mtn was an excellent backdrop to a glorious climb. Every step of the way, I had to fight the urge to pull out the camera.

I scoped out potential routes for next years early season climbing. J-bergs North Face looked full of potential.

The route finding was rather straight forward. We could walk on the snow (the fast way) or scramble the rock on the giant buttress that ajoined the E ridge. (the fun way) We naturally scrambled the 4th class buttress. After just a few minutes, I was enjoying myself so much I forgot I had a long stressful route ahead of me.

At the top of the buttress an amazing thing happened. Matt got tired! For the last ten years I've judged my fitness based on how bad Matt would whoop me. Today, the shoe was on the other foot. He insists he was dehydrated but I like to think I've caught up w/ him. I had to document that I was in the lead w/ this picture. I'm sure next time he'll blow me away but I'll take what I can get.

At about 7000' feet we left the buttress and donned crampons. I put mine on my approach shoes and he put his on his boots. The snow angle was +/- 35 degree sidehill. Maybe a bit steeper at the top. (I dreaded the idea of leading pitch after pitch w/ my heavy boots in my pack so I opted for sneakers)

The photo above shows the decent gully on the West ridge notch. If you look carefully, You can see a BD tent at the Top of the gully. We studied it as best as we could and decided it was reasonable. Onward we went. At times we were walking on snow, at times we were scrambling 3rd-4th class rock w/ crampons. On a side note, crampons climb rock very well and it wouldn't be hard to imagine myself sampling technical mixed climbs.

We gained the ridge and took our first break. Here's a shot down the N side of the East ridge. (the ridge actually trends SE but who am I to argue)

There was a group of 5 climbers already there! My fears of waiting behind a group were alleviated when we learned they were going to climb the E ledges on the N side of the ridge. They were +/- 500-1000' below us most of the day. It was kind of fun to see their eyes. I know what they were thinking "what are those idiots doing on those towers!"

Here's a shot down the S side of the E ridge. Right in the heart of North Cascades National Park. You can see Glacier Peak off in the distance. The nearby surrounding mountains were Boston Peak, Sahale, Eldorado, Buckner and tons more.

Our strategy was to simulclimb the route and only belay the pitches that were 5.7 or harder. As it turned out we belayed just several moves and two 30m pitches. I read that you can bypass the technical difficulties to the right and left side of the ridge crest. Our plan was to stay right on the ridge crest and get our money's worth. Lesson #3 Where there are Gendarmes/Towers, confident downclimbing is more important than climbing 5.12.

OK so I admit this isn't my best picture but this is where the climbing starts. Twenty feet in and we face our first tower. It was going to be a long day. The route is known for its relentless exposure, it didn't disappoint. There was only a section or two where a mistep wouldn't send you 2000' down onto the glacier. I enjoyed the views; unaccostomed to places like this, Matt had to put his big boy pants on.

After a few pitches Matt got used to the precarious position and he was soon having fun. If you look close, you can see Matt clinging to the rock, high above the Boston Glacier.

We were unable to get any good pictures of the actually climbing, we were focussed on the whole, don't fall and belay thing. Matt is enjoying one of the few places where you can actually stand.

Atop one of many towers, Matt takes a break. I had a chance to get some much needed water. We took a 60m 1/2 rope and doubled it for the climbing, but we'd still have a full rope length for the rappels. You had to use descretion where to put pro. Too much, you'll spend the night on route, to little, your confidence in the simulclimb fades. This worked pretty good. Most of the towers were intimidating from far but w/ micro route finding we managed to find the most difficult way up each and every one:-)

The rock wasn't nearly as good as I hoped it would be. There was alot of loose rock. Even the "good" rock was just big boulders/fins that would wiggle but wouldn't pull off. However, where the climbing was challenging, the rock was mostly solid. That's all you can ask of an alpine route. Haydar, the rock quality snob, would of hated it. By the end of the day, Matt was calling me the Hoss of Choss.

The route likes little gear. I regularly had 1 and 2 inch cams on my harness but was running out of .3-.5 C4's and C3's. If I would have doubled these sizes and brought more slings, we likely could have saved an hour by reducing regroup points. Small nuts were helpful but on many parts of the ridge, you didn't know which side of the route your second would decide to fall off of. Opposing gear was out of the question for time's sake so I used up the cams fast.

I'm sitting atop a 100' tower on a 2000' ridge hanging by my harness to get this shot of Matt starting up the layback pitch. This is the coolest place I've belayed from. From here, we rappelled into a notch to prepare for the last fixed belay. We were just a pitch and a long simul pitch from the summit!

The crux pitch is a 30m slightly overhanging tower. Maybe it's vertical, but w/ a pack and shtuff, it felt a little strenous. I've learned hauling packs takes a crazy amount of time so we'd just climb w/ them. There's a key spike that you use for a foothold. It's kind of wiggly so you just barely use it. I used a small intermediate hand hold, as I was reaching for the finishing bucket hold, a bug flew into my eye! Doesn't that figure, I winked and winked to no avail. I did a few more moves and had to watch the bug walk across my eyeball.
This is the kind of view/exposure you had every step of the way on the E ridge. The pictures don't do it justice and you'll have to see for yourself. At the summit, we could see 3 other parties from the other routes working their way down the W Ridge rappel variation. We had to decide if we were going to do the E ridge rappel route (by all accounts the E ridge rappel route puts you back on terra firma in 1-2 hours), the W Ridge rappel route or down climb the 5.6 W ridge. I thought that if we were efficient, we could down climb the W Ridge and pace the rappellers. I also knew if we got stuck behind everybody, we'd risk an open bivy. They'd be able to sleep in their tents in the Basin. If we took the E ridge rappel route, we would very likely sleep in sleeping bags at the car. That seemed to be the logical choice. Right?

Matt is one of the very few people who I know who enjoy adventure in all of its forms. Many say they love adventure but they don't actually enjoy the Yin and the Yang of adventure. They like the beautiful views and seeing new things but they don't necessarily enjoy the fear and uncertainty that often come w/ real adventure. Neither Matt nor I trembled at the thought of an open bivy in the relatively warm evening that was forecasted. So we downclimbed the W Ridge. We drove a long way and hiked a long way to get here, like I said, we wanted our money's worth.
This was the magnificent view down the W ridge. You can see that the W ridge has a completely different flavor. The E ridge has a highwire feel to it (not that its super difficult) where the W ridge has more of a side walk feel to it. In the red shirt is Patrick, a Portland area guy who we joined forces w/ for the rappel. They climbed the W Ridge and also had to get back to the car that night.
Bill and Patrick, Matt and I all put together a strategy to get off the mountain and it was nice to meet some new mountain friends. They were both mountain savy and I expect that I'll climb w/ Patric before too long.
A word on rappelling. The group ahead of us that slowed us down took exceptionally long to rig a rappel. (they didn't slow us down because they were idiots just because rappelling is slow) I'm not certain what they were doing but there was a very easy slingable horn that they chose not to use. The rock they slung had an awkward angle to it. When the last person was on rappel, I looked it over to check its integrity. The stinking sling almost slid off the rock before my very eyes. It slid about 5 inches, if it would have slid 7, they'd of had a very different experience. We decided to downclimb as much as we could but had to rappel past this monster cavern/collapsed snow bridge.

This was our last rappel. It left us on 50 degree snow. The snow was too soft for crampons so Matt used his boots, I had my approach shoes. My shoes had the same amount of traction as a ski. It was precarious but not dangerous for about 100 feet.

This is the last view on the way out of the gully. While I was waiting for everybody to rappel, I enjoyed myself, even as I watched the sun drop like a stone.

Before we got off the last dodgy section, Patrick and Bill left us in the dust as they both had mountaineering boots. They were able to stash them at the W ridge notch. I had to carry my footwear over the summit so I chose approach shoes, now I was paying the price.

Once we got to moderate terrain w/ a safe runout, we started hauling. The snow was too hard for a butt glissade but perfect for a standing glissade. We aren't the best climbers I know by any means. We aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer either. But, when it comes to getting down a mountain fast, nobody can boogie like us. We caught up w/ Bill and Patrick in minutes. We glissaded, ran, jumped and ran scree like madmen. We had a long way to go and we enjoyed every second of it. I don't condone robbing banks but I'm guessing we had the same feeling as John Dillinger when he realized he was going to get away w/ a bank robbery. I even jumped and clicked my heels a time or two. We just had to find the trail section of the approach hike before it was pitch black.

One last major stream crossing and we were there. It got pitch black just as we entered the forest on the trail. I can't say that everything went according to plan but I can say that I felt safe and in control at all times. I can say that we improvised and made good decisions. As much as I love leading club climbs, it was certainly nice to cut loose and really push it for a day.
Five thousand feet of gain, almost a mile of rock climbing, a bunch of rappels, a bunch of stream crossings and two routes later we were pretty satisfied. There are climbers out there who can do what we did easily but this is my life and I say we rocked.

You know when your packing your rock shoes and your cams and your ice axe, you're in for a good trip. I think the Joker said it best: "That which doesn't kill you .... only makes you weirder." We proved this when we sat in lawn chairs well past midnight in the parking lot eating summer sausage for two hours talking about whether or not we were going to climb Rainier tomorrow. We also reflected that a huge order of Meat Loaf isn't the best idea on the day before a climb. North Cascades Enthusiasts will be saddened to know that the Eatery is down to six rabbits. It was a hard winter but you know what they say about rabbits. Fortunely, Matt came down w/ a case of what he called "old mans Knee." (No offense to you old men w/ knees, not to mention any names, Steve Dougherty and Bill Saur) I'm glad he was hurt or I would have had to fake an injury. It was hard to believe that it was just that morning we ate our gas station Eclair's and started our journey.


  1. Jess - I discovered your blog a few weeks ago and enjoy living vicariously through you! Nice work on doing both ridges car-to-car in a day! Haydar and I did just the west ridge and we used up the entire day, but I have always wanted to check out the east ridge. Great photos too!

    You're right - Haydar would have bitched endlessly about the rock quality. At least the exposure and the setting are amazing. Boston Basin is an impressive place, isn't it?

    Climb on!!!