Forbidden Peak West Ridge Climb

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.

Exciting climbing on Forbidden Peak's West Ridge

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.

On the approach to Boston Basin

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.

Ascending the Unnamed Glacier with beautiful early morning light. Johannesburg Mountain is in the background.

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.

Climbing steep snow on the way to Forbidden Peak's West 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.

Climbing on the ridge offers good rock and mind boggling exposure.

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.

We climbed over a few exposed towers along the ridge. This was exciting climbing at its best!

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:

Sonya is all smiles as we near the top.

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!

Happy climbers on the summit of Forbidden Peak.

Thanks for reading,


Matt Wade

Peak Mountain Guides LLC

AMGA Certification
Peak Mountain Guides staff members Angela Hawse, Geoff Unger, and Tim Brown are AMGA certified American Mountain Guides and IFMGA internationally licensed guides.

Peak Mountain Guides LLC | 280 7th Avenue | PO Box 1025 | Ouray, CO 81427 | 970-325-7342 |

IFMGA internationally licensed guides