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 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!
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.
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.
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:
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 next day we started out at about 4 AM.
Day 2 GPS Details
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
If you are interested in the gear I used on this trip you can find a complete and comprehensive gear list here!
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!
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!
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.
You like 4th class climbing
You have three days for your climb (can be done in two very long days)
You know about one of the most scenic bivy sites above the Chimneys to spend a night
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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:
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!
If you are interested in the gear I used on this trip you can find a complete and comprehensive gear list here!
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!
Following Antonio’s 16 pitches of climbing on Cathedral I re-scheduled his alpine climbing day to Monday based on the weather forecasts indicating some severe afternoon weather. It was with a little irony that by freeing up that day my boss asked if I could cover a Waterfall Rappelling adventure so he could attend Marc’s Guide Manual Clinic yesterday.
Avoiding getting caught above tree-line in a thunderstorm was therefore traded with standing in a river at the top of a waterfall. A closer look at the updated weather models though indicated the disturbances would not start until about 1 PM and I felt we could run our 6 guests through the course and be back at the cars before it got to hairy.
Everyone in the group got to rappel at least twice while I closely monitored the sky. It’s difficult to hear thunderstorms approaching over the roar of a waterfall but around 12 PM I felt the air change, the temperature drop, and an updraft develop. We had one pair returning to the top to conduct their third and final rappel when I heard the first boom, followed by a few big fat cold raindrops that lasted only a few seconds, then a second boom. I radioed my co-guide Peter that we were shutting it down and we packed up and casually hiked out reaching the parking lot in a light rain. 2 minutes later driving on Route 302 through torrential downpours I knew we pulled the plug at the right moment.
These storms would intensify over the next 8 hours and actually trigger at least three tornadoes in western Maine, just 15 miles west of North Conway! Thankfully no one was hurt through there was some property damage. I confess I am fascinated by extreme weather and to me this whole weather event was great to witness. Maine averages 2 tornadoes a year so three in one day is quite historic!
Tomorrow’s weather looks a lot nicer for an alpine objective so Antonio and I will likely be heading up high somewhere!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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Two weeks ago I wrote about my personal goal to climb the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle in under 2 hours car to car after doing it in 2:37. Last Thursday weather and a partner lined up for another attempt. We managed to shave about 10 minutes from the descent and some more time on the route by not swinging leads (I led the whole route via the 5.8 variation and Fairy Tale Traverse). After coiling the rope I checked the watch and was a little dismayed to see we only have 19 minutes left. I was pretty sure it would take me at least 25 minutes to reach the car at my pace. We started scrambling up the boulder field as fast as my lungs could handle. As we got closer I started to think we might make it. Then I started to get nervous that I would miss it by 2 minutes and have to try this whole thing over again. That prospect helped me dig down a little harder despite feeling like I would be dry-heaving from the effort. I was so stoked to make it with a minute and a half to spare! Here’s some action from our climb!
I’m happy to have checked this personal goal off my list. Quite a few have asked “why rush so much… enjoy the route… using the road is cheating… etc. etc.” To them say I have climbed this route at a more typical pace over a dozen times, I enjoyed this made up challenge, and I don’t think you can cheat on something that is 100% for you and not recognized by anyone else. I’m very thankful for all those who provided encouragement and especially Benny Allen and Matt Milone for the belays and hustle!
Over the weekend I had the opportunity to teach my Wilderness Navigation Course to 11 participants for the Appalachian Mountain Club. I really have a blast teaching this course and this group seemed to really enjoy the bushwhacking we did during our afternoon session.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of introducing Kellie of Exeter, NH to outdoor rock climbing. Kellie had been climbing indoors for almost two years and was quite enthusiastic to try the sport out on some real rock. Her natural ability and focus had her climbing close to 600 feet of climbing up to 5.8 without hardly breaking a sweat. I’m really looking forward to our next climb together!
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Tuesday Tech Tip! A whole new round of gear reviews is en-route as well!
Book any course at Northeast Mountaineering and use promo code “DavidNEM” at checkout. This will enter you into a monthly raffle to win a free guided day of your choosing!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog
What a great and busy long weekend that was! The weather for the most part was better than forecasted and I got out the last four days for quite the mixed bag of fun. This past Thursday I met up with my friend Alex to shoot some video and pics to go along with an in-depth review I’m writing on the new Petzl Sirocco climbing helmet coming out early this summer (stay tuned!). After some shooting we got some climbing in, the highlight was definitely watching my friend Brittni lead her first New Hampshire trad climb!
On Friday I guided my first ever Waterfall Rappelling trip. Despite some chilly water temps this young couple had a blast and rappelled the 140 foot waterfall three times together!
Saturday I traded shorts and t-shirt for full on winter clothing to co-guide 19 inspiring hikers up Mount Washington in quite burly conditions to raise money for the 5 most severely wounded veterans in New Hampshire via AidClimb. Below freezing temps, 50 mph winds, low visibility, rain and sleet, all provided a very memorable June ascent for everyone involved. I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to play a small part in this fundraiser that has raised over $30,000 for these veterans and their families!
Finally I finished off the weekend Sunday back in t-shirt weather co-guiding a Cliff Rappelling course for a group of 8 Bostonians who came up for the day as part of a Meetup.com event.
I love swinging from 10 degree wind chills to 60 degree sunny weather within 24 hours! New Hampshire White Mountain weather will certainly keep you on your toes! I hope everyone had a good weekend as it looks like the start of this week will be a bit damp. It gives me time to catch up on some reading and writing I’d like to do and store my winter gear again for the season… or maybe I should keep it handy…
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A few days ago I returned from an amazing ski trip to the Tröllaskagi peninsula in northern Iceland. Six days of ski touring was more than enough to make me fall in love with this amazing country and I cannot wait to return! I’d like to share some tips for planning your own backcountry ski trip to this enchanting country. I’m also a stickler for planning and will include my detailed personal gear list for this trip with comments on what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully this will help you plan your own adventure to the land of the vikings!
So much is out there! Get an idea of what the country is about on Wikipedia then head over to the following websites for more ideas:
While I love online resources when it comes to international travel I really like getting a physical travel guide. The Lonely Planet: Iceland is a few years newer (2015) than the competition so that is the one I picked up.
There are two airlines servicing US passengers to Iceland, Iceland Air and the relatively new budget airline WOW Air which started operating flights out of the Keflavík International Airport (KEF) hub in 2012. On the surface WOW Air seams to be a great value but you should factor in some of the additional charges they add that are included with Iceland Air.
While flights from Boston’s Logan International Airport (BOS) can run as little as $99.99 US one-way on WOW Air you need to consider the $106 extra in baggage fees that would be included when price shopping. Also Iceland Air includes non-alcoholic beverages and free WiFi while WOW charges $3 USD for any 8 ounce non-alcoholic beverage including water!
My opinion of WOW Air was damaged by the fact that they failed to load one of our parties ski bags on to our flight and were less than helpful locating it after we arrived. Luckily the ski bag was found at BOS when we returned to the states but not after our group member incurred expensive ski rental charges. It is our opinion that WOW Air customer service did not try to locate and ship the ski bag on any subsequent flights.
Regardless of which airline you choose the best way to get a solid deal is to subscribe to both of their email lists from their websites here and here. If you select seats on the left side of the plane you might enjoy some views of Greenland about halfway through your flight!
Getting to Akureyri
From Keflavík International Airport (KEF) which is a few minutes outside of the capital city of Reykjavík you can either take a short flight (45 minutes) on Iceland Air for about $200 USD, bus, or rent a car and enjoy the scenic 5 hour drive. To get around the northern part of the island a rental car is the way to go. I’d suggest an SUV at around $35-$45/day. GPS is really not needed for navigation as it is quite simple to get on Route 1 (The Loop Road) and follow it north to Akureyri. Roof boxes are an optional expense but might not be big enough for full size skis so if you are 2-3 skiers per vehicle you can save some money by putting down one of the back seats and easily fitting 3 ski bags inside the vehicle. If you are 4 to a vehicle make sure you request the largest of roof boxes!
Lodging in Akureyri
There are a ton of options in the area and Airbnb is the best place to look. We found the above pictured group lodging option about 10 minutes from downtown. There is a cool looking hostel right downtown but we liked being a little out of the hustle & bustle and having our own cabins made drying and organizing gear convenient, especially since the floors of these cabins seemed to have radiant heat (geothermal is everywhere!). Private jacuzzi’s were enjoyed every day after putting in some vertical human powered effort!
Eating in Akureyri
The closest grocery store was a “Bónus Langholt” conveniently on the north side of Akureyri. Expect to pay about 150% vs. US prices for anything imported (which is almost everything that isn’t fresh vegetables, dairy, seafood or lamb. There is quite a varied culinary scene in the downtown area. The one place that absolutely stood out was Noa Seafood. This place served our large group a 3 main course meal; arctic char, cod, spotted trout. Each cooked in a large skillet with fresh vegetables, potatoes, and perfect seasoning. There is no question I will return to Noa Seafood on my next visit! Slightly more affordable seafood soup can be found at Akureyri Fish and Chips.
The most important culinary experience to try while in Iceland is the hot dogs. Seriously they might be the best hot dog in the world. It’s a combination of the pork, beef, and lamp. They toast the buns. They add 2 types of onions, raw and fried, then 3 condiments the highlight of which being a delicious “remoulade” I regret not buying a bottle of before returning to the States. While the article I linked to above mentions one popular place I can assure you that the farthest gas station in northern Iceland still served up the most amazing dogs I’ve ever had. Almost everyone in our group ate 1-2 of these treats every day. No regrets. None.
Weather & Avalanche Info
The traditional ski season runs from December through April with best conditions and increasing daylight from February to mid-April. On good snow years the back-country skiing may be good through May. The best online resource I could find for current and forecast weather is here. This website also links to a fairly brief avalanche report here.
We did all of our touring north of Dalvik and south of Ólafsfjörður mainly in the Karlsárdalur Valley. This area was recommended to us by friendly guides at Bergmenn Mountain Guides, the only IMFGA certified guide service in the country (and where our group member was able to rent a full touring set up at about $60/day). The trailhead forKarlsárdalur Valley is only 35 minutes from Akureyri and 2 minutes north of Dalvik. An often established mellow skin track takes you into this beautiful valley with a seemingly endless amount of tour options. We skied much of the south facing drainages with the most amount of time in the “third valley” on skier’s right. You can see our highpoint tour in this video and I may attach my GPS tracks here later.
The Topo map above is the best detailed map we could find at 1:50,000 scale and could be purchased from Penninn Eymundsson in downtown Akureyri.
Here is my spreadsheet style list of what I am bringing. Below I will add some brief comments and links to each item:
Dakine Fall Line Double Ski Bag
DPS Wailer 99 Tour 1 176 cm skis with Dynafit Speed Radical 2.0 Bindings
7 lbs 6 oz
Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Ski Mountaineering Boots, size 27/27.5
5 lbs 12 oz
Black Diamond Ultralite Mix Climbing Skins and storage sack
1 lb 4 oz
Dynafit Ski Crampons
Black Diamond Ski Poles
1 lb 6 oz
Ortovox S1+ Beacon
Ortovox Pro Alu Shovel
1 lb 12 oz
Ortovox Snow Saw
Black Diamond Raven Pro Mountaineering Axe
Petzl Vasak Crampons
Petzl Sirocco Helmet
Camp Alp Mountain Harness w/ ice clipper and storage sack
Climbing gear- two lockers, Reverso, double length sling, prussic
I’ve used this for over 7 years with trips to the Washington, Nevada, and Colorado. While it is designed to hold two pairs of skis I only pack one pair and use the extra space for almost all my extra gear allowing me to only check one bag and carry on a small ski touring pack. Be sure to check max weight of ski bags for the airline you are flying (WOW airline to Iceland allows max weight of 60 lbs when you purchase a ski bag allowance).
Simple proven design for when it gets a bit too steep for just skins but you’d prefer to not boot pack it! Snow conditions were excellent during our trip and I did not use these but they are easy added insurance for icier skinning conditions.
My personal beacon of choice for the last 5 years, and I have used just about every beacon on the market over that time frame as an active avalanche course instructor. This item deserves an long in-depth review but that will have to wait until after Iceland!
This has been my mountaineering axe for almost 15 years and is the right balance of weight and durability. Perfect for when you need a bit more security than an improvised axe like the Pocket Spike or Whippet.
Make sure you select the Leverlock option! Best all around mountaineering crampon in my book! I have led grade 5 ice in them and walked hundreds of miles in them from Washington to Katahdin over the last decade and they are still going strong! Like my ski crampons snow conditions were so good these never saw use but there is definitely some terrain in Iceland where I would break these out. We saw some nice looking ice lines in a few spots that would have been good fun with technical ice tools.
Say what you will about the color but this thing saves some serious weight from your pack while skinning while providing excellent protection while climbing. A great ultra-light ski mountaineering option IMO.
I’m not bringing a sleeping bag as we’ve rented a house with linens but this goes with me everywhere. It’s super comfy on airplanes as a blanket and in hostels around the world. I often carry it with my bivy sack as a “just in case” option.
I’m only bring 4 spares to cover both my headlamp and avalanche beacon but this is the best deal on quality AA’s I have ever seen. Performance all winter as been as good as any high end brand name alkaline I have ever used!
Always said I would buy one and I finally did. Seems good for the price!
Well that’s pretty much it for “gear”. Clothing is listed in the spreadsheet at the beginning and does not include a little bit of casual wear. I am bringing my beloved Aeropress and a pound of freshly ground beans from my friends at Frontside Coffee Roasters in my home town of North Conway, NH because;
Good coffee is quite expensive in Iceland
I love my Aeropress coffee first thing in the AM
I’ll link more to my clothing after the trip but as you can tell from the list above it is mostly Ortovox. They make some amazing stuff and I’ll post detailed reviews on what I’ve been using this winter soon.
Iceland is a beautiful country with incredibly friendly and helpful people. They are adjusting to the new explosion of tourism the country is experiencing and you might sense some of these growing pains from time to time. As a back-country ski touring destination it is 5 star trip and I can’t wait to return!
See you in the land of the vikings,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Affiliate links help support this blog. Author is a DPS and Revo ambassador and Ortovox Athlete and has received product support from these companies.