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!
I like setting small reachable goals to keep me motivated in climbing. These goals are quite low compared to the inconceivable feats achieved by climbing’s greats, like the recent mind-blowing free-solo of Freerider by Alex Honnold and Kilian Jornet’s 26 hour climb from Basecamp to the summit of Everest and that’s quite OK! Mere mortals need goals too!
Last summer after a relatively quick climb of the Northeast Ridge of Pinnacle I wondered if I could cut my car-to-car time down to 2 hours. Last week we did it in 2 hours 37 minutes but we saw ample opportunities to shave more time and I think this goal is in reach for me this season. My only self-imposed rule is I must fifth class belay the whole route with some limited simul-climbing allowed (no straight up soloing) and include the 5.8 variation and the Fairy Tale Traverse. While skipping these pitches would lead to a faster time these two pitches make this a classic route in my opinion.
Here’s a video I made of our attempt. Below it I share some resources, gear lists, and general strategies I’m using.
The Auto-Road Approach
First let’s address the “alternative” approach we used, the Mount Washington Auto Road. Within minutes of posting my video to Facebook some folks bemoaned the use of the auto-road for the approach. While I don’t think I need to defend a tactic that I feel is valid for my own personal goal I do want to encourage anyone who has never climbed this route to do so first via the traditional approach (Tuckerman Ravine Trail to Huntington Ravine Trail). This approach is about 2.8 miles and 2700 feet in elevation and takes most parties 2-3 hours to reach the route. After topping out the hike across the Alpine Garden Trail and down the Lions Head Trail can be very scenic and enjoyable, and will take most parties about 2 hours, for an average trail time of 4-5 hours. Strong parties on fair weather days might even include a trip to the summit but be advised that adds considerable mileage and elevation to your day.
Another reason to stick with the traditional approach is on questionable weather days. If there is any chance of afternoon thunderstorms it would be more prudent to approach from below. This makes descending in bad weather an easier choice… not so easy if your vehicle is parked 1000 feet above you!
And finally cost is something to contemplate. For a party of 2 the entrance fee to the auto-road is $38! This year I decided I would be spending a lot of time up there so I took advantage of a “locals” season pass for $99. I’m planning over a half dozen forays up there this season for various projects and expect my actual expense to come down to about $8 per person per trip which makes the next couple of points well worth it!
The Auto Road can cut the approach time down to 25 minutes. This is basically jogging down the Huntington Ravine Trail, a really steep trail with lots of 4th class terrain on it. You drop 1000 feet in only .4 miles! There are multiple places were a slip could result in serious injury so care needs to be taken here. After topping out the technical portion of the climb it’s another .4 mile 700 foot climb back up to your car, taking about 25 minutes.
Bottom line is using the Auto Road can cut the total hiking time down to less than one hour.
That leaves me about an hour for the 7 pitch climb to meet my 2 hour goal. Much of the route is easy fifth class and can be simul-climbed by competent parties in approach shoes but I do carry my rock shoes to make the 5.8 pitch feel more secure.
Once I reach this goal I’d like to combine it with some other area classics. Whitney-Gilman Ridge is an obvious choice, but it might be fun to link up some stuff on Mt. Willard or Webster Cliffs as well… and Cathedral and Whitehorse always like to be included in long day link ups.
Higher Summit Forecast <- only 72 hours out, if any chance of unsettled weather use traditional approach from Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
Current Summit Conditions <- useful for real time updates on changing conditions and elevation specific temperatures, I have this book-marked on my phone as cell coverage in Huntington Ravine is quite good with Verizon.
Mountain Tools Slipsteam Pack <- I recently got my hands on this 11 ounce alpine speed pack and it’s perfect for this type of mission. Full review coming!
Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles <- I never considered carrying trekking poles on a technical climbing mission until I tried this pair. They only weigh 8 ounces each and pack up so small you can fit them into any “bullet” style climbing pack. I’ve noticed I can more downhill much faster with them so I’ll have them for the majority of my trips now!
Garmin Fenix 3 HR GPS watch <- After testing 5 different GPS watches for the Gear Institute this one won my heart and I’ve been using it year round for both it’s GPS tracking capability and heart rate info
GoPro Hero 5 Session <- The small size of the session was what convinced me to start rolling with a GoPro again… above video was made with this. I really like how I can stream videos to my iPhone on the drive home and then do all the editing with iMovie on my phone!
Petzl Zipka Headlamp <- The new 2017 version of my longtime favorite headlamp has doubled its brightness. The retractable cord has been my favorite feature as this light does not get tangled up in climbing gear!
Petzl Sirocco Helmet <- my original 2013 review is here but stand by for a new review on the 2017 model coming this summer!
The below rack is slimmed down from a normal rack based on intimate route knowledge and personal comfort running out long sections of easy 5th class terrain. For those on-sighting the route I would recommend a “regular rack”, i.e. set of nuts, 3-4 smallest tri-cams, set of SLCD’s up to a #2 Black Diamond Camalot or equivalent, 8 alpine draws, cordelette or two. My slimmed down rack for this mission:
Set of DMM Wallnuts sizes 1-11 racked on two wire-gate oval carabiners <- these are noticeably lighter than the Black Diamond Stoppers I have retired to when I need to double up on nuts
Petzl William Screw-Gate Locker with 5 alpine draws and 2 “mini-quads”… more on the “mini-quad” later!
For this mission I’m taking one of my older Sterling 9 mm Nano ropes and chopping it to 30 meters! This might seem dramatic but it makes a lot of sense to me on this route. The first concern many might have after reading that is “What if you need to bail?” Obviously retreating with just a 30 meter rope could be problematic on many similar alpine routes. Two points to justify this decision. 1) You can escape into 4th class terrain to the left of the route at just about any point on this climb. 2) I’ll only be attempting this with really favorable weather conditions. The savings are not just in total carry weight, but also speed of stacking and coiling at every transition. Even the 5.8 pitch is only 25 meters long so a 30 meter rope will allow us to belay the pitches we are not simul-climbing.
(EDIT 6/26/17- Having reached my goal last week we ended up using a full 60m Sterling Nano and I think that is probably more prudent. Where we could have saved some time was having the second use a backpack that could fit the whole rope “pre-stacked” so when we reached the route zero stacking would be required. At the top of the route the larger pack would let us stuff the rope vs. coiling it saving another few minutes.)
Kong GiGi Belay Device <- currently my most used belay device. Since I’ll be leading the whole route no need to carry a tube style belay device. I really like the following carabiner combination pictured above to use with the GiGi for security and simplicity… more on that later perhaps.
For ounce counters the entire pack and contents above come in at 15 pounds sans rope!
Pre-hydrate. I mentioned this earlier but I want to emphasize that only carrying 32 ounces of water is a risk management issue. I drink a full Nalgene during the night before and another 32 ounces on the way to the mountain.
Early start. If we are at the gate at 7:30am we can be on the trail by 7:45am, and climbing by 8:15am. I’ve easily made it back to the car by noon on multiple occasions. Most parties using the traditional approach would need to start hiking by 5:30am to start climbing the route at the same time.
Rack at the car. While I didn’t do this in the above video I can easily see how this will save 5 or more minutes. That means harness and helmet on at the car, gear organized to lead and belay, and off you go. Clock doesn’t start until I leave the car so might as well maximize prep time here!
One climber does all the leading. No question swinging leads slows the team down. We lost at least ten minutes switching driver seats for the crux pitch. One leader means the leader gets a good rest at each belay.
Have fun. This is really why I want to do this. Moving quickly and efficiently in this type of terrain is really enjoyable to me. At the end of the day whether I hit the 2 hour mark or not I enjoy the planning, the anticipation of trying again, the time spent in the mountains, and the friends who enjoy the same.
I hope this post helps you come up with your own personal climbing goal this season. For many it’s “climb a grade higher”, but this season I think I’ll be focusing mainly on becoming more efficient, which I think will ultimately lead to climbing a higher grade. It will definitely lead me to climbing more! Wish me luck, and see you in the mountains!
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See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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