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.

Whitehorse and Cathedral Ledge Rock Climbing

Yesterday I had the pleasure of introducing David and his daughter Nicole to rock climbing in Echo Lake State Park. We started our morning over at the sweeping granite slabs of Whitehorse Ledge. After some ground school we climbed 4 pitches to Lunch Ledge then rappelled back to the deck. After a scenic lunch a top Cathedral we rappelled the Barber Wall and climbed Upper Refuse to round out our day.

It was great meeting you both and I hope to see you back this winter for that Washington climb!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



Affiliate links help support this blog

Gear Review- Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack

I’ve been hoping to test a Mountain Tools pack for a couple of years now and early this summer I finally got my hands on one of this California companies new models, the ultra-light sleek and streamlined Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack.

Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review
Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review- photo from mtntools.com

After multiple cragging days on Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges, some fast & light missions in Huntington Ravine, and some excellent alpine climbing in the northern Cascades, I’m ready to share my opinions of this pack. As usual I like to start with the obvious and work through the minutiae later on in the review.


Weight

Weighing in at only 11 ounces (310 grams) this pack seems to accomplish a lot with its design. For comparison one of the most popular similar styles from a competitor weighs 8 ounces more! The foam back pad is removable if one wishes to save yet another ounce but I prefer the padding stay intact when carrying an alpine rack with a few cams that might otherwise prod your back a little. Because this pack is so light I’ve been able to comfortably strap it to the outside of my Hyperlight Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack for multi-day alpine climbs when I wanted to have a smaller summit pack along.

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle- photo by Benny Allen

Durability

Made of 210 denier nylon with a polyester grid the material feels quite bomb-proof and abrasion resistant in hand. A “PET” laminate and hydrophobic webbing makes this pack highly water-resistant if not completely waterproof. After about 20 days of use the only noticeable wear is a small tear on the bottom, smaller than a dime, from a razor sharp rock I didn’t see during a quick “butt scoot” move while running down the Huntington Ravine trail. I’m certainly not disappointed that the material ripped on this feature and actually quite impressed with how fast the “rip-stop” material halted the tear. A lesser pack fabric would have probably ended in a much larger tear.

Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review
The author on the summit of Forbidden Peak, north Cascades

Comfort

This pack is designed to ride close and high on the torso for optimum climbing performance. As I mentioned I find the removable thin foam back pad to be a boon in comfort so I leave it intact. The shoulder straps have thin foam padding and contour nicely around my shoulders. The sternum strap easily adjusts to the proper height and has my often praised feature, the built-in whistle. The waist belt is very thin and easily rides above my harness. A “V” connection of the waist-belt to the pack body helps draw the pack in closer to the body further making this pack ride as if it were part of you. Considering the light loads you are likely to be hauling in this pack it is more than enough comfortable!

Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review
Author on the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak- photo by Matty Bowman

Storage

At 1,450 cubic inches (24 liters) one does have to consider what they will be carrying. I can easily fit the following gear inside the pack (and generally pack it in this order):

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket

AMK .7 First Aid Kit

SOL Emergency Bivy Sack

Nalgene Tritan 32 oz water bottle

Standard Trad Rack (set of Wallnuts, BD X4’s .1-.4, BD C4’s .4-#2)

Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review
Light climbing rack

Set of 5 alpine quick-draws and 2 mini-quads

Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review
Alpine Draws and Mini-Quads!

Personal Climbing Gear

Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review
Personal Climbing Gear

Five Ten Rogue Climbing Shoes

AMK .7 First Aid Kit

Inside the zippered mesh pocket I keep my Petzl Zipka Headlamp, some lip-balm, and my energy gels/bars.

Full length daisy chains on the outside of the pack allow easy attachment of my Petzl Sirocco Helmet (review here)and chalk bag. The two compression straps allow securing of a climbing rope.

Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review
Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review

Accessories/Hydration

It would be great if Mountain Tools could add a single ice axe loop. There is an accessory offered for $7.95, “Ice Tool Straps” that probably addresses this desire but I think a single sewn loop at the bottom would be a great addition. The foam back panel sleeve does have room for a 2-3L hydration bladder but there is no hydration port so you would have to run the tube through the main zipper. For this reason I like to stick with a collapsible water bottle like the new Vapur Eclipse 1L water bottle I’ve been using. “Speed Racks” are also available for an additional $29.95 though I did not get a chance to demo that accessory.


Summary

While at first look this pack doesn’t seem to be that complicated its design reveals simplicity, functionality, and durability. It is an almost ideal summit pack, light enough to “piggy back” on your overnight pack, compressible enough to double as a sleeping bag stuff sack, durable enough to scum up countless chimneys, and balanced enough to skip down many more descents. If you are in need of a fast & light summit pack this one deserves some consideration!

About Mountain Tools: Mountain Tools is a family owned business serving climbers and mountaineers since 1980. We represent a comprehensive selection of gear from the best manufacturers and ship to our customers world wide and design and manufacture over 100 products – with the Mountain Tools label – to improve our climbing efficiency – including our  Packs for Climbers, Web Gear and Climbers Luggage.  Our experience includes outfitting expeditions, big wall climbing, guiding rock, ice and alpine treks plus volunteer search management and technical rescue. 

Disclaimer: This sample was provided to the author for purpose of review. Affiliate links help support this blog.


Tech Tip- Flipping A Plaquette (And Giveaway!)

Climb long enough and eventually you will rappel past the next anchor and need to climb back up to it. Or you will rappel past a tangle in your ropes assuming it will untangle itself from those bushes when you are below (it didn’t). You might also end up needing to ascend the belay side of a top-rope to assist a nervous (or stuck) climber or rescue an injured lead climber. For these occasions you’ll be glad you know how to “flip a plaquette” from belay/rappel mode into “guide” mode. In this configuration your belay device functions as a reliable improvised ascender.


 


The first thing you’ll obviously need is a plaquette style belay device. There are many out there to chose from but these are my current favorites:

Petzl Reverso 4 Belay Device

Black Diamond ATC Guide Belay Device

DMM Pivot Belay Device

These and quite a few other suitable models can be found on Backcountry.com HERE.

The above short demonstration video shows the steps of flipping a plaquette while rappelling on an extension which happens to be the simplest situation. Let’s go over the more complex method first.


Flipping a plaquette when it is directly off your belay loop

There are a few scenarios where this might be a good solution. First, you are rappelling directly off your belay loop and realize you’ve passed your anchor. Second, you are belaying a climber on a top-rope system and they need assistance. Third, you’ve caught a leader fall but the leader is injured and needs assistance. So let’s break down the steps.

  1. While maintaining a brake-hand tie an over-hand bight a couple of feet below the device and clip this to your belay loop. This step is important because step 3 carries with it some risk if one is not careful.
  2. Clip a locking carabiner to the “ear” or “anchor point” of your plaquette and attach that to your belay loop.
  3. Carefully open the belay carabiner in a manner that traps the rope in the narrow side of the belay carabiner while removing the belay carabiner from the belay loop. This is best accomplished by rotating the belay carabiner so the narrower side is pointing away from you.
  4. On moderate low angle terrain you may be able to start walking/climbing back up while pulling the slack through your device which is essentially in “guide” mode now directly off your belay loop. If the terrain is steep you can add a friction hitch above your device and extend it to a foot loop.

Flipping a plaquette when it is extended off your belay loop

Since extending your rappel device away from you has lots of advantages more and more climbers are defaulting to this option. Yet one more advantage to extended rappel systems is the fact there is literally just one step to flipping the plaquette and you do not need to open the rappel carabiner at all!

  1. Clip a locking carabiner to the “ear” or “anchor point” of your plaquette and attach that to your belay loop.
  2. Ascend as in step 3 above.

So that’s it! You now know how to flip a plaquette and get yourself out of quite a few possible situations that undoubtedly will pop up over your long adventurous climbing career! Thanks for reading!

 

Contest: Win a Free DMM Pivot Belay Device!

pivot-red

 CLICK HERE to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway



References/More Info

The Mountain Guide Manual– pages 11-12

This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog

16 pitches on Cathedral Ledge!

Yesterday I met Antonio from Madrid, Spain at the Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse close to Jackson, NH. Antonio had decades of climbing experience from Yosemite to the Andes & Alps and was super excited to sample some of the granite climbing of New Hampshire. The weather forecast called for rain by 2pm so we wasted no time getting to the cliff and started up our first route at 8:30am, Funhouse.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Starting pitch one of Funhouse

Antonio’s experience and ability was apparent from the start as he climbed with skill and grace.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Finishing pitch 2 of Funhouse

We made our way from Funhouse up to Upper Refuse and quickly dispatched it in 2 pitches.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Finishing Upper Refuse

With us both at the fence at the top of the cliff I checked my watch… 10AM. That is probably the fastest I have climbed Cathedral via Funhouse to Upper Refuse while guiding ever! Antonio hadn’t broken a sweat yet so I decided to let him sample some of the great cliff top climbing we have before we headed down for more multi-pitch fun.

Within an hour Antonio ticked off The Lookout Crack (5.9), last pitch of Recompense (5.9) Little Feat (5.9), and the last pitch of The Prow (5.10a).

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
The Lookout Crack- Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Little Feat
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Last pitch of The Prow
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Classic jams on the last pitch of The Prow

By North Conway Rock Climbs Antonio had climbed 10 pitches by the time we meandered over for a snack atop Airation Buttress. We then headed down to the top of the Thin Air Face and I short pitched us to the Saigon anchor. Antonio took a quick lap on the last pitch of Still in Saigon (5.8+) (historically called Miss Saigon).

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Last few moves (the crux) of Miss Saigon

We then did three quick single rope raps using Rapid Transit anchors and found ourselves at the base of an empty and open Thin Air right at noon. After another quick snack session we combined the first two pitches and topped out Thin Air at about 1pm.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Antonio on the pitch 2 traverse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Belay stance selfie
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Just above pitch 4 crux

Finishing up the 5.8 finish that brought the pitch total to 15… but it wasn’t raining yet… and Antonio still had energy to spare! Even though my radar app showed some stuff coming within an hour we squeezed in a quick top-belay of Pine Tree Eliminate (5.8+) to finish our tour de force of some of Cathedral Ledge’s best rock climbing.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Finishing strong

We hustled down the descent trail reaching the cars right at 2 PM as the rain overtook the area.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
My Radar App

In 5.5 hours we climbed Cathedral Ledge twice. Antonio racked up 1,110 feet of technical climbing according to North Conway Rock Climbs. It was definitely a fun day of moving quickly and efficiently on the cliff. It was great to get to practice some transition skills from the previous day’s Mountain Guide Manual Clinic all for the purpose of giving my client the best possible day I could during his short visit. I shot some video during the day that I edited and uploaded here:

We are climbing again this upcoming Monday when the weather settles. I’m picturing something alpine. I can’t wait!

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Antonio ready for more after 16 pitches of climbing on Cathedral Ledge!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog

Mountain Guide Manual Clinic

Since my copy arrived this past May I’ve been steadily devouring the massive amount of information contained in Marc Chauvin and Rob Coppolillo’s recently published book, The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference- From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue.

The Mountain Guide Manual

This past Wednesday I attended one of Marc Chauvin’s Mountain Guide Manual Clinic’s; the first of three he is currently offering. I’ve heard rumors he will offer this in a few other locales outside of our Mount Washington Valley home turf and if one is offered in your area I would highly suggest you try to attend! If you can’t make one of the scheduled dates consider hiring Marc for a private day. The “guide of guides” who wrote the book on guiding is sure to give you a mind expanding day!

A friend who saw my Instagram story asked me what they should expect in a brief recap of the day and the type of material covered so I thought I could share that here for those who might be curious or on the fence.

Mountain Guide Manual Clinic

First, if you are considering the clinic you absolutely need to buy the book first! A brief run through the first few chapters, especially the long chapters on various transition methods, will better prepare you for the day, but a solid understanding of any of it is not quite necessary (unless perhaps you are preparing for a guide exam and want to crush transitions). I’ll also say you don’t need to be or want to be a guide to benefit from this book or clinic. Two of my fellow clinic-mates where not guides and were there to become more proficient in their recreational climbing.

Mountain Guide Manual Clinic
AJ, Lovena, and Zach practice a transition to rappelling while leading “parallel” style with two seconds

Marc will challenge the way you’ve been “doing things” for years. He will help everyone in the group re-program their climbing brains and get them thinking about things like “rope-end equations” and “back-side of the clove-hitch” in ways that actually simplify and streamline our processes. A simple example was introduced early in the day. We dissected how two climbers might climb a single pitch route with a single rope and then rig to rappel. Basically the “climbing to rappelling transition”.

Most of us would imagine both climbers tether into the anchor with slings, PAS’s, etc. untie from both ends, thread the rope, and rappel one at a time. Marc demonstrates how we can pull this off with greater security and speed by using what is already built instead of deconstructing and re-building a whole new system. This method also allows the leader to stay tied in, removes the need to tie a “stopper knot” in both rope ends, and is really pretty darn slick. This isn’t “rope trickery” but classic “think big picture/outside the box” type stuff. I’m not going to describe it fully here but it might make it into a future Tech Tip!

Mountain Guide Manual Clinic
Marc can teach so much without ever putting on a harness!

I’ve heard from a couple guides, some close friends, that they are kind of avoiding these “new” techniques. They want to stick with what they know and kind of have the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” type mindsets. I’d encourage any and all of my climbing acquaintances, friends, and colleagues to try to stay open minded in their full climbing careers, from day 1 to your last.

Seek to get better, learn more, go faster, safer, simpler, when ever and where ever you can. The fact that there is always something more to learn is what drove me to a career in mountain guiding and avalanche education. It is thrilling to know there is no finish line!

Thank you Marc for continuing to inspire and challenge me from the first course I attended in 2002 to today!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog

Pinnacle in 2 hours! Wilderness Navigation! Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge!

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!


Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
The author clips his first piece of protection on the exposed and beautiful “Fairy Tale Traverse”, a variation last pitch of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle photo by Matt Milone, @nightmutephoto

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.

Wilderness Navigation Course
A beaver dam on our way to our field session- Wilderness Navigation Course

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!

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Kellie starts up Upper Refuse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Topping out Upper Refuse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Lay-backing on Kiddy Crack
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Sending the Mantle-shelf Problem 1st try!

Coming up!

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