The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak is one of the most sought-after alpine climbs in the North Cascades. This fine route is included in the legendary “50 Classic Climbs in North America” and it holds all the challenges of a quintessential alpine climb: a glacier approach, steep snow climbing in a skinny couloir, extensive 5th class rock climbing on a supremely exposed ridge, and a technical descent. Whew! Last week Gordon, Sonya, and I made a perfect ascent of this fine route.
We made the approach into Boston Basin under cloudy skies and occasional drizzle. The forecast was calling for better weather on our summit day so we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
With luck on our side, we awoke to clear skies and perfect snow conditions for our summit attempt. We put on crampons and made our way up the Unnamed Glacier below the south side of Forbidden Peak.
After a few hours we reached the base of the skinny couloir that would provide access to the rocky West Ridge above. This 500′ couloir is often difficult to enter due to a large bergschrund that forms at the base. Not today! Due to this year’s uncommonly deep snowpack in the Cascades, the bergschrund had a nice snow bridge over it making for an easy entrance into the couloir. We ascended the 40-50 degree snow in the couloir to reach the ridge.
When we gained the ridge we had been on the move for 4+ hours and the most technical climbing was just about to begin. Needless to say, this is a big route that takes time, skill, and efficient climbing to accomplish. Gordon and Sonya were in fine form on this day and they were poised to achieve the biggest climb of their career.
Once we gained the ridge the exposure increased dramatically. The crest was narrow and 1000+ foot drops existed on either side. We had stunning views down to Moraine lake and the adjacent valleys – some of the most remote and inaccessible areas in North Cascades National Park. We stayed focused and gradually made our way up the ridge.
The ridge has a few towers along its crest that create the cruxes of the climb. These steeper sections offer good climbing in an exciting position. Reaching the top of these towers is almost like reaching a unique summit, making for a nice reward after the harder climbing.
After several hundred feet of short roping and short pitching, and then 6 pitches of belayed climbing, and we were near the top. Sonya flashed a smile of excitement:
We were there! For Gordon and Sonya it was a rewarding moment with great relief and great satisfaction. They had trained for years to prepare for such an ascent, and now they had done it. As their guide, I was proud of what they had done and I felt honored to help them reach this milestone in their climbing careers. Way to go!
Thanks for reading,
Peak Mountain Guides LLC