Friday, August 7, 2015

Forbidden Peak - West Ridge, Class III, 5.6, 8815ft Elev. (July 1-3, 2015)

Last month  Mike, Helen Habgood, Margaret Hansen and I headed down to Northern Washington to make and attempt on the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak.  Mike and I had been looking at Forbidden for years and were slowly building up experience in the mountains over the last few years to make an attempt.  

We had heard that Forbidden Peak was a phenomenal climb, well worth the title of being one of "North America's 50 Classics", but we had also heard that it was quite an involved climb with a fair amount of exposure. And it was supposedly a climb that people often underestimate their timing on and get the joy of experiencing unplanned bivies. As such, we have been slowly trying to build up to attempting the route by climbing other routes of similar style over the past few years such as the Kain Route on Bugaboo Spire and the East Ridge of Alpha Peak. We decided that with these other routes successfully under our belts, we were ready to give Forbidden Peak a go. 

Our adventure started with a 3:30am wake-up call from home on Canada Day to drive down to the USA and get in line for climbing permits at the Marblemount Ranger station. The drive was uneventful and we were the 3rd party in line for permits at 6:45am. 

We obtained our permits and headed 35km down the logging road to the Boston Basin Trail head.  We spent some time finalizing our packing, having a snack, gearing up and were on the trail by around 10am. The trail is a bit over grown, but easy to pick out and follow and it is a true climbers trail. Steep with some scrambly bits, multiple creek crossings and lots of logs to clamber over. 

Being the first overnight climbing trip in a couple of summers, I found the start of this approach mentally exhausting. Toiling up a seemingly unrelenting trail in the heat with a heavy pack, I was feeling slow and tired and was engaged in a full-blown pity party.  After about 2.5 - 3 hours of hiking we emerged into the sub-alpine,  executed an exciting creek crossing, and took a break  to cool off in a glacier-fed stream. I took a look around at the stunning scenery and made a point of ending the pity-party, changing my attitude and spent the rest of the trip feeling appreciative and grateful for having the opportunity and ability to experience such magnificently wild places, even if it takes hard work at times. 

From the creek we had to descend into the lower bivy site and cross through a small patch of trees to gain a moraine and some alpine meadows.  We hiked along the crest of the moraine through some stunning wild flowers and finally ascended into the upper bivy at around 2:30 pm. 

We picked a spot next to a creek coming right off the glacier with a perfect view of the next days' objective.  We spent the afternoon setting up camping, drying out clothes and napping in the warm sun.  After a delicious KD dinner we packed our summit bags, came up with a game plan for our summit attempt and headed to bed at 8pm. 

The 3:45am wake-up call came quickly, but we didn't linger as the excitement for the day took hold.  We got up, had breakfast, geared up and hit the trail at 5am.  The climb started with a ramble up loose rock, dirt and low angle slabs, followed by crossing several snow fields and finally a glacier.  The glacier was quite low-angle and thin (about 5ft deep) with soft snow, so we opted to speed up the travel by proceeding unroped. 

We arrived at the base of the route about 1.5hrs after leaving camp and quickly found the first exciting part of the climb. To access the rock we had to scramble into a moat and then ice climb about 12 feet up the side of the glacier. I am not an ice climber so found this a bit intimidating. I finally managed to get up onto the glacier with the use of a hand line that Helen threw down to me anchored from above.  I need to learn to ice climb and trust my axes and crampons!

We were now on the rock and quickly encountered our next challenge of the day - finding the gully we are supposed to climb. The snow couloir that is the standard route was out due to lack of snow, so Mike started leading up a rock rib next to the snow couloir. After a about 1/3 of a rope length of climbing he determined that we were off route and the rib we were on was significantly harder than the 4th class gullies we were meant to be ascending.  He down-climbed back to the base of the rock and we did some exploring until we found a more promising gully that seemed to be 4th class. 

Helen took the lead on the cat-scratch gully and we slowly made our way up the 4th class/low 5th terrain, simul-climbing a majority of the way. There were several well-used anchors along the way that made us fairly confident that we were back on route.  We emerged to the notch signifying the end of the gully and beginning of the West Ridge at around 9:30am. 

We took a short break at the notch to have a snack and change into rock shoes for the climb up the ridge. Within the first few meters of leaving the notch and gaining the ridge we encountered a "surprise", an air jump! I was not super stoked to have to jump over a gap in the rock that seemed to plunge into nothingness below, but I worked up the nerve and went for it and it turned out to be a fairly straightforward move; more mentally challenging than anything. 

The climbing on the ridge was amazing! Solid rock with fun exposure, amazing views and enough short lived difficulties to keep things interesting.  We simul-climbed the entire ridge, only building anchors to exchange gear as necessary.  Most of the ridge seemed to be 4th class/low 5th climbing with a couple steps of 5.6 climbing.

 The most challenging part of the ascent turned out to be climbing from the false-summit to the true summit. It took a bit of searching around to find the route and some rope shenanigans to get there safely. I took my first ever fall in the mountains on this section, had a mini-melt down and then pulled myself together, sent the moves and summited the mountain.  The ridge took us about 2.5hours to climb; reaching the summit of Forbidden Peak at around noon on July 2, 2015!

After some summit photos and a few minutes of rest on the top it was time to reverse the route. It turns out that descending Forbidden Peak is actually more challenging and time-consuming than climbing the mountain. We simul-downclimbed a majority of the ridge, with a few rappels in strategic locations.  Unfortunately we miscalculated the location of the 5.6 pitch and ended up down climbing it instead of rappeling, which was a bit exciting. 

It took us about 3 hours to descend the ridge, regaining the notch at around 4pm. From here we rappelled the cat-scratch gullies using stations that the local guides graciously built along a rock rib that runs parallel to the gullies.  It took us a few hours to complete the 7-8 rappels that dropped us nicely onto the middle of the steep snow slope, avoiding a replay of that morning's snow moat adventure. 

Once on the snow we roped up to cross the glacier this time to prevent any accidents since we had been moving for 12+ hours at this point and everyone was tired. Once off the glacier we unroped and slowly plodded down the gravely down-sloping slabs and made our way back into camp at about 8pm - 15 hours, round trip. 

We had originally planned on hiking out back to the car that night, thinking that the climb would take no longer than 12 hours, but after a 15 hour day and with only 2 hours of daylight left we opted to spend a second night at base camp. Unfortunately we had not planned for the second night so we had the pleasure of eating left over granola bars and power gels for dinner.  Since we did not have any way to get messages out about our change of plans, spending an unplanned night on the mountain also caused family back home to be a bit concerned by our delayed return.

The next morning we slept in a bit to recover for the long day, enjoyed an awesome breakfast of left over gatorade and granola bars and started the slog off the mountain.  We took our time hiking back to the car, taking about 4 hours from high camp to trail head. When we arrived to our car we were greeted by park rangers who informed us that they were looking for us due to our overdue return, but luckily they hadn't initiated a full scale search. Apparently it is quite common for climbers to underestimate the length of that climb and end up spending an unplanned second night at camp, so they were used to getting calls from concerned families about climbers on the West Ridge of Forbidden. We sorted things out, thanked the Rangers for looking out for us and headed towards home.

We ended our trip with burgers and milkshakes at a diner in Sedro-Woolley to celebrate a successful climb of a spectacular route! 

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