Creating Recreational Maps With Modern Tools

I finally finished the curriculum for a 4 hour course designed to teach outdoor enthusiasts and professionals how to create, print, and use custom maps that are better than any map currently available from an outdoor retailer or publisher. Monday night I held the first course in partnership with the Kennett High School’s Adult Education Program. In attendance were some members of Granite Backcountry Alliance and the Conway Police Department.

map example
This map show some of the features available when making maps on CalTopo like DEM Shading (red is possible wind slab issues based off avalanche bulletin data), range rings (no camping .25 miles from AMC hut, creating routes, decision points, and run lists, in addition to using polygons to mark “open” and “closed” terrain based on snow-pack conditions. This is purely a fictional example meant to illustrate what is possible with the tool.

Feedback from participants was quite positive and I’m ready to offer this course to the general public. Unlike my 8-hour Wilderness Navigation Course this course is 100% indoors. Participants need a laptop, IOS or Android smartphone, and the Avenza and GuidePace apps to take full advantage of the content.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Being able to determine a bearing from physical map and then follow it in real life is a critical skill for traveling in the mountains. Here students are putting morning classroom instruction to practical use while trying to hit a target half a mile through dense forest

Yesterday I offered an abbreviated version of this course in conjunction with some of my Wilderness Navigation content for a couple members of the Durham and North Conway, NH Fire Departments. With some adaptation this content is quite suitable for professionals who participate in search & rescue efforts.

After positive feedback from today’s participants I will be reaching out to Fire Departments around the state to see if they would be interested in this training. If you belong to an outdoor group or organization that might like to include this in your training regime please reach out to me for more details at nealpinestart@gmail.com.

My Compass

Every course has participants asking me what compass they should get. I’ve been a fan of the Suunto MC-2 for almost two decades! I wrote a long review on this compass here!

See you in the mountains (hopefully not lost),

Northeast Alpine Start

Backcountry Ski Tours in Northern Iceland

Northern Iceland seems to offer unlimited potential for backcountry ski tours. Last week I returned from my second ski trip there. I’ve updated my original travel guide to backcountry skiing in Iceland with more resources on planning a trip here, and in this post I’ll share some details of some classic tours we conducted on this most recent trip. Enjoy!


Day 1- Karlsárdalur Valley and Siglufjörður ski resort

After settling in to our accommodations in Akureyri we planned a light warm up tour for the next morning in the Karlsárdalur Valley that we became familiar with last year. This scenic and easily accessed valley is just a few minutes north of Dalvik. We skinned up to about to about 650 meters on the second ridge coming off of 988 meter Karlsarfjall mountain and enjoyed a spring condition snowpack run back down.

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Skinning in to the scenic Karlsárdalur Valley just north of Dalvik
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Heading up a shoulder of Karlsarfjall
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
A rocky prominence at about 650 meters on Karlsarfjall with Eyjafjörður, the longest fjord in Iceland behind me
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Our highpoint on this quick morning tour is the prominent point in the background

Here’s our GPS track from the tour and relevant details. Keep in mind we took quite a few photography/filming breaks along the way and this could probably be a quick 2.5 hour tour without these breaks.

Relive ‘Morning Apr 12th’

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Warm up tour in Karlsárdalur Valley

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633935627

After this quick morning mission we jumped back in the car to scout some potential northern locations. We drove north on route 82 through Ólafsfjörður then hopped on route 76 through a virtually uninhabited valley referred to as “Tunnel Town” before reaching Siglufjörður, arguably the northern most size-able town in Iceland! Here, while scouting a potential tour location and running into our back-east-home-town guide-of-guides Mr. Marc Chauvin, we had a couple locals pull up in a truck to promote an upcoming ski race they were hosting. They also informed us they ran the local ski hill and invited us to visit free of charge!

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Faster than skinning! photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Most scenic T-bar I have ever been on!

This ski resort operates a series of 4 t-bars that whisk you up to 650 meters (our current morning highpoint) in just under 20 minutes! The views on the descent are stellar and their groomed main trail offers night skiing (though we opted for some off-piste on our second descent). A huge thanks to these folks, and especially Patrick who shared a lot of his towns history and info with us while we enjoyed some complimentary dried Cod and Icelandic beer on the ski lodge porch!

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Dried Cod, a tasty local snack high in protein
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Size-able avalanche paths threaten the small town of Siglufjörður hence the “avalanche fencing” visible high on the slopes above the town! Photo by Erik Howes

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633938322


Day 2- Sunrise summit of Karlsarfjall (988 meters)

For day two we rose at 0200 so we could get higher on Karlsarfjall and enjoy the spectacular Icelandic sunrise during our approach. We were also treated to an Aurora Borealis display as a bonus!

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Erik Howes captures some Aurora Borealis and the Big Dipper!
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Alpine glow starts to light the place up! Photo by Brent Doscher
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Looking southeast off the summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Almost to the summit of Karlsarfjall… the Norwegian Sea stretches on for days! Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Summit of Karlsarfjall- Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Layering up for descent- Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
The prominent Kerahnjukur peak is off to the north and looks quite tasty!
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Spring turns off Karlsarfjall- Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Enjoying the turns- photo by Brent Doscher
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Party ski with Baejarfjall in the background- Photo by Cait Bourgault

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633950042


Day 3- Rest Day and Sightseeing- Grjótagjá caves

With a forecast for rain and feeling some travel fatigue after touring for two days we decided that Day 3 would be our sight-seeing rest day before our final couple of tour days. We decided to explore the Lake Myvatn region about an hour east of Akureyri. About halfway along Route 1 we made a quick stop at the scenic Godafoss waterfall then continued to Route 848 and drove around the south side of Lake Myvatn to the small village of Reykjahlíð.

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
The river below Godafoss- photo by Erik Howes

From here a very short drive back on Route 1 brings you to Route 860 and the Grjótagjá caves. This underground thermal hot spring has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, partially due no doubt to being the filming location of Jon Snow and Ygritte’s steamy encounter in the popular Game of Thrones show!

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Grjótagjá caves- photo by Erik Howes
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Fun exploring around this volcanic fissure revealed a few underground thermal pools

Day 4- Kaldbakur (1173 meters)

For our fourth day we decided to tour on the east side of Eyjafjörður just north of Grenivik. A small cat touring operation runs almost daily trips up this peak ($75pp) (phone +354 8673770). We opted to stick with human powered adventure and skinned up the peak basically following the obvious cat track.

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Cool Ortovox Beacon Check
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Skinning up the cat track
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
View to the east as we near the summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Size-able cornices near summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Summit of Kaldbakur- photo by Erik Howes
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Brent Doscher gets a great shot on the descent!

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633956698


Day 5- Sulur Peak (1,213 meters)

For our final tour day we stayed close to our lodging in Akureyri and set our sights on Sulur Peak, the first prominent peak just south of town. The trailhead is only a few minutes from town. A long mellow skin leads to the scenic upper mountain and we reached the summit register box in just under 3 hours.

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Cait & Corey all smiles on our last ascent of the trip
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Getting close to the summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Erik sends it off Sulur high above Akureyri- photo by Brent Doscher
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Sulur Peak- photo by Erik Howes

 https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633961749


Summary

Northern Iceland obviously has a lifetime worth of touring to explore. I hope sharing these tours with you will motivate you to plan your own trip to this beautiful country. Be sure to check out my updated Travel Guide to Ski Touring in Iceland for advice on everything from flying to Iceland to eating & drinking when in country! Also if I left out one of your favorite tours let me know in the comments below! Are you interested in downloading the GPS tracks from these trips for future use? What else would you like to see in a trip report?

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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A Year in Review, 2017

As usual New Year’s Eve has snuck up on me with uncanny stealth. My general lack of calendar awareness certainly helped with my last minute realization that another year has gone by. What hasn’t gone unnoticed is how amazing this year was and I’d like to share some of that here.


Employment

Without a doubt the biggest change of the year was leaving Eastern Mountain Sports after 24 years of service. Anyone close to me knows that this decision at the end of 2016 was one of the toughest I’ve ever had to make. Leaving a big corporation to work for a small, relatively young, guide service felt risky and uncertain. However within weeks of working for Northeast Mountaineering I discovered that the owners, Corey and Brett, had created a culture that celebrated mountain life, guiding, stewardship and social responsibility. It was the perfect place for me to land after a seemingly major career move.

Every guide and ambassador I would meet and get to know over my first year working for NEM seemed to share the best possible qualities you’d want in a co-worker, climbing partner, or friend. The encouragement, support, and positive stoke at just about every turn has made this past year as memorable as it is.


Avalanche Courses

Avalanche course in Tuckerman Ravine
Avalanche course in Tuckerman Ravine, photo by Alexandra Roberts

Despite being the first year that Northeast Mountaineering had an in-house avalanche course program we hit close to 100% capacity in the 9 courses we ran. A great snow year allowed us to do a ton of actual ski touring. Along with my excellent co-instructor Benny we had classes tour full length routes in Huntington and Tuckerman Ravines, Gulf of Slides, Ammonoosuc Ravine, and Monroe Brook. Personal highlights of the season were investigating the extent of the historic Gulf of Slides avalanche, seeing my first legit Rutschblock 2 result, and meeting the awe-inspiring Vern Tejas who observed and contributed to one of our mid-winter courses.


Ice Climbing

Drool of the Beast
Drool of the Beast, photo by Brent Doscher

2017 was a solid year for my personal ice climbing. I was able to climb more Grade 4 and Grade 5 routes then I’ve been able to get on in the last few years, partially due to fatherhood and a really busy avalanche course schedule. By the end of the season I felt I was climbing as well as I was pre-parenthood, and that accomplishment felt pretty darn good. I have a few lofty goals for 2018 and can’t wait to get after them (in-between teaching avalanche courses every weekend and family life!)


Skiing in Iceland

Skiing in Iceland
Skiing in Iceland, photo by Matt Baldelli

In April my first international trip in about a decade brought me to the beautiful country of Iceland where I spent just over a week touring and experiencing this amazing place with one of the best groups of people I could ever hope to spend time with. Visiting this country re-kindled my desire to travel after feeling somewhat sedated after experiencing so much of the world in my early twenties and I am really looking forward to repeated trips back there starting with teaching an avalanche course there this March!


Rock Climbing

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Guiding Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, photo by Peter Brandon

Cannon, Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle speed climb, Rumney, and a half dozen “Wednesday Sendsday’s” have re-ignited my passion for rock climbing that has always been there since I first tied into a rope in 1994, but getting to see others close to me fall in love with this sport on an almost weekly basis has fueled my desire to train and challenge myself to higher levels of performance above what my typical guiding requirements demanded.


Cascades

fullsizerender11
West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

In July I was able to fulfill a climbing trip dream I’ve had for over ten years by guiding on Mount Shuksan and Forbidden Peak and climbing Rainer with a friend and intern guide, Peter Brandon. This trip is something I’ve been training clients for for so many years and to get to spend time in this terrain with so many cool people was pretty much the greatest opportunity I have had second to becoming a father in the last 20 years. Seriously mind-blowing conditions, weather, and climbing made this a life time memory for me.


Ambassadorship

Skiing Mount Washington
Best powder day I’ve had on the West Side, photo by @cfitzgerald

I am super excited to join DPS Skis, Ortovox, and Revo for a second year of ambassadorship. I still wonder how I was lucky enough to hook up with these amazing brands. I can go into product details in reviews and debate minutia fabric issues until the end of the internet but without any shame I can say these three companies “get it”. They make stuff that people like me want. Cutting edge ski design, forward thinking avalanche safety gear, virtually unmatched clothing design, and best eye wear, sunglasses and goggles, I have ever experienced. If you want top-notch gear, have a look!


Blogging

It’s been a fantastic year to blog and share these adventures along with reviewing gear for some of the best companies out there. I love sharing my experiences and opinions and really want to focus on more travel guides, in-depth gear reviews, and how-to skill videos this upcoming year. If there is one thing I’m certain about it’s I love sharing my passion with everyone that shares these feelings in the mountains. Spending time in these places with good people is so vital to our sanity, and blogging gives me a slight escape when I’m not able to just head out the door on my next mountain adventure.

I’ve met quite a few readers in person over the past year. I’m so grateful for those of you who visit here, ask questions, post comments, click “like”, share, or even just mention briefly at the coffee shop you are happy with the boots you bought from my review. Keeping this blog going is a fantastic mix of fun, stress, guilt, reward, doubt, and confirmation.


I wish you all a fantastic 2018 and hope you have some amazing mountain adventures this year. I want to thank my family, especially my wife, for helping me experience my own adventures while still raising a family.

I hope to see you all out in the mountains soon shredding, sending, and tapping on shovels (and possibly tossing back a post epic pint at The Moat).

Happy New Year,

Northeast Alpine Start

Wilderness Navigation

Today I finished a Wilderness Navigation Course I ran for the MWV Career and Technical Center adult education series. This was the first time I’ve run this 8 hour course as a multi-day course by having two 2 hour evening classroom sessions followed by a 4 hour field session. Despite a slight scheduling conflict within the marketing material the curriculum split up well in this format and we had a great course. I look forward to continuing to offer this course through this venue each season!

Wilderness Navigation Course
Using Terrain Association to identify distant peaks and verifying results by taking and plotting bearings with a compass
Wilderness Navigation Course
Cool “ice needles” on some of the trails
Wilderness Navigation Course
Determining our location via Triangulation
Wilderness Navigation Course
I love my Suunto Compass! My detailed review of this model here.
Wilderness Navigation Course
Our trip including some bushwhacking off-trail travel!

You can book this course privately or with a group of friends! Cost is determined by group size so the more involved the lower the cost! Details can be found here. Use promo code “DavidNEM” at checkout for a chance to win a free guided adventure!

See you in the mountains (hopefully not lost),

Northeast Alpine Start

 

 

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

Part 3 of this three part Cascade climbing series will cover climbing the Disappointment Cleaver Route on Mount Rainier.

Part 3: The Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Looking down towards our camp at the Ingraham Flats from above “the Cleaver” photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier


Getting There/Lodging

To finish off our hat trick of Cascade climbs we left the northern Cascades and returned to Seattle to pick up some friends before heading to Ashford, WA, the gateway to Mount Rainier National Park. The drive to Ashford from Seattle takes just under two hours. Most of our group had reserved cabins at the Stone Creek Lodge just minutes from the park entrance. My climbing partner and I had space reserved at the Cougar Rock Campground about 20 minutes within the park boundary.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Overview map of Ashford, park entrance, Paradise and lodging

Weather

We went for the second half of July and were lucky to nail a stretch of excellent weather. June, July, and August can all offer great summer alpine climbing conditions with June being a bit colder and wetter and August opening up a bit more crevasses on the glaciers. For mountain specific weather forecasts on Mount Rainier go here:

Mountain Weather Forecast- Mount Rainier


Day 1: Paradise to Moon Rocks

After a very hearty breakfast at the highly recommended Copper Creek Restaurant we made the scenic drive up to Paradise, the launch pad of adventures on the south side of Mount Rainier. Paradise is a very busy hub of mountain recreation with apparently thousands of visitors a day. We had picked up our permit the day before so we got right on the trail and started our ascent. While I forgot to run my GPS app or watch this day I’ve created a GPX file on CalTopo of the most common route and used the GuidePace App to calculate average times for each leg.

First Leg

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
First leg from Paradise to Pebble Creek Trail via Skyline Trail

Distance 1.55 miles, elevation (+1300), time estimate 1 hour 37 minutes

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Looking back towards Alta Vista and Paradise

Be warned this first section of “trail” is quite congested with day visitors from all over the world. The trail is actually paved for the first mile and a heavy ranger presence tries as best as possible to keep visitors from trampling the beautiful alpine meadows here. Once you reach the Pebble Creek trail the crowd will thin a little…

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Peter just before reaching the Pebble Creek Trail

Second leg

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Second leg from Pebble Creek Trail to the creek (last flowing water)

Distance .55 miles, elevation (+530), time estimate 38 minutes

Third leg

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Third leg, Pebble Creek to Moon Rocks camp

Distance 1.28 miles, elevation (+1680), time estimate 1 hour 48 minutes

Shortly after gaining the Pebble Creek Trail you’ll come to the actual creek which was a reliable source of water for us to top off our bottles. Right after crossing the creek you start the long slog up the Muir Snowfield. This leg can drag on a little but eventually we reached our camp. After digging some level tent platforms at about 8800 feet we kicked back and soaked in a gorgeous sunset.

Climbing Muir Snowfield, Mount Rainier
Climbing Muir Snowfield, Mount Rainier with Mount Adams in the distance
Climbing Muir Snowfield, Mount Rainier
The Northeast Mountaineering team arrives at camp
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Setting up camp below Anvil Rock at 8,800 feet on the Muir Snowfield- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Soaking in the last of the days sun

Day 2: Moon Rocks to Ingraham Flats

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
The sun rises on our second day on the mountain- photo by Cait Bourgault Photography
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Moon Rocks to Ingraham Flats

We broke camp mid-morning and started our climb up to Ingraham Flats. The day before I had found a trickle of running water in rocks a few hundred feet above our site and I was happy to see it was still running enough in the morning to top off our bottles, greatly reducing the amount of fuel/snow melting we would need. We reached Camp Muir in just over an hour. We relaxed for a bit before roping up to cross the Cowlitz Glacier.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Roping up at Camp Muir- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography

Crossing the upper Cowlitz Glacier was straightforward and we were soon scrambling up the ridge that separates the Cowlitz from the Ingraham glacier.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Looking back towards Camp Muir, Cowlitz Glacier
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Reaching Ingraham Flats. “The Cleaver” for which the route is named is the rocky ridge to the right

Total climbing time to Ingraham was about 3 hours from our camp at Moon Rocks so we had plenty of time to level sites and dig a privy before settling in.


Day 3- Acclimatization and Crevasse Rescue Practice

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Sunrise over Little Tahoma Peak- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography

Our third day on the peak was set aside for acclimatizing and a little crevasse rescue practice. Late in the morning we made our way down to the giant crevasses just below our camp and set to building snow anchors and lowering each other into the crevasse. This would certainly be a highlight for many on the trip!

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Setting anchors for crevasse rescue practice- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
My climbing partner Peter climbs out of crevasse- photo by @cfphotography

Later that afternoon before turning in we got to watch a pretty spectacular natural rockfall from Gilbratar Rock!

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Natural rockfall on Gilbratar Rock funnels towards “Cadaver Gap”- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography

After hydrating and eating as much as I could we turned in well before sunset as our summit day start time was 2300 (11 PM)!  Everyone was feeling pretty strong after a full rest day at 11,000 feet but we knew the following day would be a long one!


Day 4: Summit and Out!

We rallied at 11 PM and quickly got on the trail by 11:30 PM. A couple of groups had passed through on their summit attempts from Camp Muir and I was eager to not get behind more parties.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Our summit route

We made good time up the cleaver and entered the mythical looking sastrugi above the ridge.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Mystical looking snow formations- photo by Cait Bourgault Photography

The route the rangers and guides had selected greatly reduced exposure to objective hazards but required dropping 400 feet of elevation after getting above the Cleaver and then far to the north eventually joining up with the Emmon’s Glacier route before turning and gaining the summit crater on the far north side. Despite the extra mileage and elevation we managed to pass the few parties that had gotten out ahead of us. We were the first group on the mountain to summit about 15 minutes before sunrise, about 6 hours after leaving our high camp!

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Reaching the summit crater of Mount Rainier just before sunrise- photo by Cait Bourgault Photography
Climbing Mount Rainier
An amazing group of people to share this adventure with!- photo by @cfphotography
Climbing Mount Rainier
Sunrise from the summit crater Rainier- photo by Cait Bourgault Photography

One of the best things about summiting a peak in the dark is the views on the descent are all unseen and we were treated to stunning clear skies and under-cast for days!

Climbing Mount Rainier
Descending back to Ingraham Flats- photo by @cfphotography

After climbing back down the Cleaver we arrived at Ingraham Flats exactly 9.5 hours from the start of our climb, about 9 AM. We broke down camp and rested for a bit before descending to Muir Camp and all the way out to Paradise.

Summary

Rainier has been on my bucket list for a very long time. I’ve helped east coast climbers prep for this mountain for over a decade and it was great to finally experience this peak with such great people and in such great conditions. I hope this trip report and guide might help you plan a trip to this incredible place someday!

More info coming!

I will be uploading GPX files and some video of our climb in the very near future!

Gear List

If you are interested in the exact gear I used on this trip you can find a complete and comprehensive gear list here!

Information on Guided Trips: www.nemmountaineering.com. Click on “Mountaineering” to see all Cascade Climbing Trips.

Affiliate links help support this blog.

Part 2: The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

Part 2 of this three part Cascade climbing series will cover The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak.

Part 2: The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak with Moraine Lake far below

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

After our successful summit of Mount Shuksan via the Fisher Chimney’s we took a rest day and camped at Douglas Fir Campground. The next day we drove to the ranger station in Marblemount to collect our back-country permit and then took the scenic Cascade River Road to the trail-head.


The Route

The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak is one of the “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America” and is considered Grade II, YDS 5.6. After a half day approach into Boston Basin the route climbs a perennial snow field before ascending a moderate gully to one of the most spectacular ridge climbs you can imagine. Massive exposure with relatively good rock quality and a stunning summit make it easy to see why this route made the aforementioned list!


Registration Details (from NPS.gov)

WILDERNESS INFORMATION CENTER

Wilderness Information Center
Click here for current hours

Phone: 360-854-7245
Location:
 7280 Ranger Station Rd., Marblemount, WA 98267. Drive SR 20 toward Marblemount. Turn onto Ranger Station Road, which leaves SR 20 at milepost 105.3, just west of Marblemount, and drive 0.7 miles to the end of the road and the ranger station.
Exhibits: Exhibits about wilderness and backcountry travel. Relief map. Sales of books, maps, and other items related to wilderness, hiking, and climbing.


Available Facilities:
 This center is the main backcountry permit office for North Cascades National Park and the adjacent Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas. Information desk. Sales area with books, maps, videos, and other items related to the national park and adjacent national forests. Backcountry permits are required year-round and are available at an outdoor self-issue station when the station is closed during the winter season.


Getting There

Marblemount, WA is just under two hours from Seattle. After obtaining your permit from the ranger station it’s about a twenty five minute drive to the unmarked trail-head.

Forbidden Peak Map
I’ve highlighted the ranger station and the objective

Weather

We went for the second half of July and were lucky to nail a 12 day stretch of excellent weather. June, July, and August can all offer great summer alpine climbing conditions with June being a bit colder and wetter and August opening up a bit more crevasses on the glaciers. For mountain specific weather forecasts on Forbidden Peak go here:

Mountain Weather Forecast- Forbidden Peak


Day 1 GPS Details

Approach to Boston Basin
You can download this GPS track here!

The approach trail climbs about 3,300 feet in 3.75 miles and took us exactly three hours. We found some level tent sites at the “upper bivy” right at the toe of the snowfield that provided plenty of running water. A few brief showers came through and we were treated to some excellent “god rays” as the sun set and we turned in for an alpine start.

The Upper Bivy in Boston Basin, Forbidden Peak
The Upper Bivy in Boston Basin, Forbidden Peak

The next day we started out at about 4 AM.

Alpine start, Boston Basin, Forbidden Peak
Alpine start, Boston Basin, Forbidden Peak

Day 2 GPS Details

West Ridge Forbidden Peak Ascent
Download this GPX file here
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Heading to “the Heartstone”, a good landmark feature, the steeper snow climbing begins on the left side of this feature a couple hundred feet above us. Photo from @mattbaldeli

Easy climbing up through the snowfield brought us to the start of the gully that would allow access to the ridge. The “Heartstone” is a rock buttress directly above us in the photo that serves as a good landmark for finding the snow gully that is hidden from view. The route climbed up thinning snow just to the left of this feature. In the gully proper the snow climbing was straight forward until we hit a glide crack that required a big balance step to surmount. The snow ended about 200 feet from the ridge so we pitched out a few short 3rd-4th class pitches. This stretch was the only place on the ascent that had a decent amount of loose rock so care was needed.

We stashed our mountaineering boots, crampons, and ice axes and switched into approach shoes for the rest of the climb in the small col on the ridge. The exposure begins almost immediately with a airy step over a gap in the ridge with a chock-stone that perfectly frames the lower snow gully you just climbed up. You can see this spot clearly in the video I will link further below.

The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Working our way along this classic alpine ridge

The climbing was enjoyable, the rock felt solid, the views were un-believe-able… For speed we mixed up our techniques between simul-climbing and short-pitching with only about 20 meters of rope between us. This made for easy communication and simplified rope management.

The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
The author at the 5.6 crux
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Two parties behind us on the ridge, photo by Matty Bowman
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Close to summit selfies?
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Summit! The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

We made the summit in 7.5 hours after leaving our camp in Boston Basin having climbed 3.9 miles and over 2,500 feet in elevation. The small pointed summit of Forbidden is one of the most amazing places I have ever stood in the mountains. The terrain is so dramatic as you look back along the ridge you just traversed and see the thousand feet of air on each side.

West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Looking back along the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak from the summit with Moraine Lake far below
West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
West Ridge of Forbidden Peak- photo by Matt Baldelli Photography
West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
The author descending from summit- photo by Matt Baldelli Photography

Descent

After refueling we reversed direction and returned to the col to collect our snow gear. We then scrambled down to skiers right of the snow gully we had ascended and located the first rappel anchor in “Cat Scratch Gully”, an alternate 4th class ascent route to the snow gully. Five 30m rappels brought us to back to the snowfield where we enjoyed some decent boot glissading in the warming snow all the way back down to our camp.

We packed up camp and hiked back out to the trailhead in just under 2 hours.

Summary

I’ve had some time to reflect on this climb and I can say with certainty it will be one of the most memorable climbs of my life. I feel so fortunate to have not only had the opportunity to climb it but to do so with such great partners and friends and perfect weather and route conditions. I hope this trip report and guide might help you plan a trip to this incredible place someday!

Gear List

If you are interested in the gear I used on this trip you can find a complete and comprehensive gear list here!

Videos

Here’s a four minute video I made of our climb, enjoy!

 

My friend and professional video producer created this amazing short film of our climb! Check it out!

Forbidden Peak from Jon Mercer on Vimeo.


Information on Guided Trips: www.nemmountaineering.com. Click on “Mountaineering” to see all Cascade Climbing Trips.

Affiliate links help support this blog.

Part 1 Cascades Climbing Trip: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

A week ago I returned from a two week climbing trip in the Cascades of Washington State and ticked off three classic climbs. While I’ve had amazing climbing trips to Colorado, Nevada, and California this most recent trip has likely become my most memorable. I’ll share a trip report, GPS track, detailed gear list, pics and tips for each route. I hope that you find some of this useful in planning your own Cascade adventure!

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier


Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
The south side of Mount Shuksan from Lake Ann with the Upper and Lower Curtis Glacier’s. Fisher Chimney’s works up a weakness visible 1/3 from left

Our first objective for this two week trip was the glaciated 9,131 foot massif often claimed to be the most photographed mountain in the Cascades. The easiest route up this idyllic peak is via the Sulphide Glacier Route, a mostly glacier/snow climb that has some 3rd class scrambling on the “Summit Pyramid”. We opted for the Fisher Chimney’s route. One might choose the more technical Fisher Chimney’s Route for a few reasons.

  1. You like 4th class climbing
  2. You have three days for your climb (can be done in two very long days)
  3. You know about one of the most scenic bivy sites above the Chimneys to spend a night

Registration Details

Before hitting the trail you need to register at the Glacier Public Service Center. From northern Bellingham off of Interstate 5, drive east 34 miles on the Mount Baker Highway (State Route 542). From Seattle this is about a 2 hour drive. From the service center it’s about another 30 minutes to the Lake Ann Trailhead.

Weather

We went for the second half of July and were lucky to nail a 12 day stretch of excellent weather. June, July, and August can all offer great summer alpine climbing conditions with June being a bit colder and wetter and August opening up a bit more crevasses on the glaciers. For mountain specific weather forecasts on Mount Shuksan go here:

Mountain Weather Forecast- Shuksan

GPS Details Day 1

Download this GPX track file here!

Approach to Lake Ann, Mount Shuksan
Approach to Lake Ann, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Approach to Lake Ann for Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan, Cascades- CalTopo USFS 2016 Map Data

Download this GPX track file here!

We started our hike around noon on day 1. After leaving the parking lot a series of switchbacks lead us down almost 1,400 feet into a scenic valley with a crystal clear stream that runs southeast.

Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Descending Lake Ann Trail enroute to Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

After a second noticeable stream crossing the trail gains some elevation and contours at about 4040 feet before descending again to the Swift Creek Trail junction and the last river crossing before ascending up to Lake Ann on a relatively nondescript snow field.

Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Ascending snowfield portion of Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

It appears many can lose the trail here so following the GPS track or having an established boot pack through the snowfield will be helpful. We reached our first camp at Lake Ann in just under 3 hours from leaving the trailhead. There were plenty of nice places to shovel out a level tent platform around the southeast side of the lake close to some small dirt/forest openings that made for convenient gathering spots for cooking and hanging out.

Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Lake Ann, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
My tent spot near Lake Ann

Day 2- Fisher Chimney’s

The following morning we took our time breaking camp. We spent a couple hours covering crampon and ice technique along with a clinic on building snow anchors and moving together in a rope team.

Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Northeast Mountaineering Guide Jordan talks to the group about building various snow anchors with our route and the Upper Curtis Glacier and Shuksan summit in the background

Around 11am we started our approach to the Fisher Chimney’s. After a half dozen switchbacks through forest we traversed a long snowfield to the base of the more technical climbing.

GPS Details Day 2

Download the GPX track file here!

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Download the GPX track file here!

You’ll notice if you look carefully on the above map that where the USFS labeled “Fisher Chimney” is WAY off from the actual route. You can also see this well defined gully in the satellite imagery on the pic just above, just after the switchbacks. This gully IS NOT the actual route. Follow the GPS track I uploaded or study the below pictures carefully.

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan
Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Just before starting some switch backs to gain the snowfield that allows a traverse to the start of the Chimney’s
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
The route climbs up shallow gully’s and the thin snow strip roughly straight up from my right shoulder in this pic before crossing the Upper Curtis
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Just before getting to the Chimney’s proper… the route is fairly easy to follow if you get into the right feature
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
The orange dots are rough approximations of some of our short pitches. For scale the stripe of snow as almost a full 200 feet from bottom to the first bottleneck

Here we negotiated a small moat then started short-roping and short-pitching our way up about 1,000 feet of great 4th class climbing. Full overnight packs do make this scrambling a bit more “real” so don’t put your sleeping pad/bag on the top of your pack. Head clearance to look up will make the climbing much more enjoyable.

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
There was about 250 feet of snow climbing left on the Chimney’s as of July 17th, 2017
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
My favorite view from the Fisher Chimney’s with Mount Baker in the background
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
White Salmon Glacier, Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Above the chimneys we moved through a notch of the “Shuksan Arm” and briefly traveled on the top of the “White Salmon Glacier” before reaching the most scenic bivy site I have ever seen. A small pool of melt water a hundred yards downhill from our camp provided water which allowed minimal use of our stoves and we settled in for one of the best sunsets I’ve experienced in my life.

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Our camp above Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Definitely one of my best moments in the mountains to date!

Day 3- Summit and Out!

Our alpine start was at 3:30am. A quick climb up “Winnie’s Slide” brought us past an occupied higher bivy option (consistent water source here) then up along the left side of the Upper Curtis glacier and “Hell’s Highway”.

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Alpine Start
Crossing the Upper Curtis Glacier, Mount Shuksan
Crossing the Upper Curtis Glacier, Mount Shuksan

After one more steep snow pitch we joined the Sulfide Glacier route just ahead of some parties that were making their way up from lower down the mountain. We were glad to be in position for first on the summit, and more importantly up the 3rd class gullies leading to the summit.

Last steeper pitch before gaining the Sulfide Glacier, Mount Shuksan
Last steeper pitch before gaining the Sulfide Glacier, Mount Shuksan

Gentle climbing as the sun rose led us to the base of the summit pyramid where we converted from glacier travel back to short-roping and short-pitching for the 600 foot 3rd class scramble to the top. There is quite a bit of loose rock on this final stretch that required due caution. Even with care one of our party took a decent sized rock to their helmet. I was quite happy we were the first group to reach this section due to the amount of loose rock. Next time I will certainly check out the “Southeast Ridge” variation that has some easy 5th class bits but reportedly has much less objective danger on it based on both personal referrals and online posts.

We summited just under 6 hours from leaving our high camp.

Summit of Mount Shuksan
Summit of Mount Shuksan

GPS Info… unfortunately I discovered I had left the Bluetooth setting on with my Garmin 3 HR watch and killed the battery pre-maturely. Close to the summit I decided to fire up my Suunto Movescount iPhone App and got a decent track of our final push:

Descent

To descend from the summit we short-roped down the southwest ridge until we reached a rap station. From here it was about three to four 30m rappels back down to the Sulfide Glacier and a relatively quick walk back to our high camp. We broke down camp then descended the Fisher Chimney’s via short rappels, belayed down-climbing, and short-roping, arriving at Lake Ann around 4pm. After a short break we pushed down into the scenic valley and then back up towards the car. After climbing back up the 3 switch-backs that started our trip we reached the cars about 17 hours after starting our summit climb… a long but incredibly memorable day in the mountains!

Gear List

If you are interested in the gear I used on this trip you can find a complete and comprehensive gear list here!

Summary

This was my first glaciated climb. My first 9,000 foot peak. My first “blue bag” experience. I was ecstatic to get to use skills I have read about, practiced, and even taught over the last 15 years in a successful group climb of this peak. Below I’ll list the exact gear I carried on this adventure with comments on what worked and what didn’t. I hope some will find this a useful resource for planning their own climb of Mount Shuksan. Feel free to ask me questions in the comments below, I’d be happy to elaborate on anything!

Here’s a 4 minute video of some stills and video clips of the climb!



Information on Guided Trips: www.nemmountaineering.com. Click on “Mountaineering” to see all Cascade Climbing Trips.

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

Affiliate links help support this blog.