East Ridge Direct of Forbidden Peak (late May, 1995)


We left Seattle at 2-ish and reached the Marblemount ranger station at just after 4, to get permits. Upon stepping inside the station, I wished that we'd arrived 15 minutes later, so we could have self-registered. We asked the rangers for a permit for that night in Boston Basin and they hassled us for a good 10 minutes saying they didn't believe we'd make it into the basin by nightfall. We politely said that we could make it easily if we could just get going. We next got to be guinea pigs for them to train a new ranger on their computerized check-in system, which took another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the first ranger left and another took over. When she heard of our plans, she again claimed we'd never make it into the basin by nightfall. "The snow is too soft, you'll never make it by nightfall." When I told her we'd been over this with the other ranger, she proceeded to launch into a long lecture on human waste disposal. We waited, listened, and nodded politely. Next she started in on cooking, and we cut her short on that one -- "We don't bring stoves on trips like this." Next came camping. Again, we got her: "We're bivvying, and we'll sleep on snow or bare ground." We were getting a little better at this, and thought we might have a hope of leaving soon, when water purification came up. "How are you going to purify your water?" Snowmelt, we replied, and yes, we knew about and were willing to accept the risks of giardia. "But," and at this point the ranger beamed triumphantly, stuck her finger into the air and asked, "if you don't have stoves, how are you going to melt the snow?" Vic and I looked at each other, exasperated. It was obvious to both of us that neither of these people had any idea of what it looks like when thousands of tons of snow sit in the hot sun for two weeks. Water, everything from drips to minor torrents would be everywhere, and we would not need stoves to melt any snow. After a lecture on helmets -- "Yes, we wear helmets," and a final "And don't drive like maniacs on the Cascade river road!" we were let go. Ugh, we'd lost about a half hour dealing with these people. I realize they were just doing their jobs and that they are working very hard to preserve Boston Basin, but I certainly didn't appreciate getting treated like a 10-year old. We jumped in the car and shot up the river road to the gate at 2500 feet.

We did a final once-over of our gear and headed up, the time was 5:30 pm. The streams coming down from the Basin were very high at this hour, and crossing them was a challenge, but we managed not to get soaked. We reached the 5500 foot level of the Basin at about 8:30. The snow level was around 4500-5000 ft. We lay out our bags, as promised, on a little patch of exposed trail (bare earth), and ate our dinners. At around 9 pm a nice-sized avalanche came off the East ridge of Forbidden, which made for a pretty spectacular show in the fading light. Fortunately, it was well away from either the climbing or approach route.

We arose at about 4 am, stashed our bags, bivy sacks, and crampons (the snow was indeed still pretty soft, as the ranger had promised) and hit the approach by 4:45 (I was guilty for not wanting to get out of my bag). The snow was pretty mushy until 6500-7000 foot (near the glacier) level, but quite passable w/o crampons. We skirted to the right of the glacier to the S of Forbidden, up a gully and onto an arm, gaining the main ridge (8400 ft) by around 7:30 am. We decided we'd made good time, and that it was still a little cold to climb, so we took our time organizing the rack and eating breakfast, waiting for the sun to burn through the clouds.

Leaving one pack, boots, and ice-axes at the gendarme. We started climbing at 8-ish and simul-climbed the first couple pitches, staying first on the left of the ridge, and then crossing over to the right to skirt the first tower. After very airy ridge climbing, we climbed the second tower directly, and then downclimbed and skirted the third and final tower on the right. Up to this point, we hadn't seen a move harder than maybe 5.5. From near the notch just west of the third tower, I lead the final steep step, which is rated at 5.8. The pro is not superb, but becomes very good when the climbing gets tough. Pulling over the final bulge, looking for places for my feet, I had an amazing view down onto Vic and the Boston glacier below. I set up a belay at the top of this steep section, and from here it was two easy pitches to the summit. We reached the summit at 1 pm. Looking back onto the ridge, and down onto the glacier and around to the hundreds of peaks, we both agreed that this was probably the nicest climb we'd ever done. Great weather, decent rock, amazing views.

After a quick lunch, we started descending. From a horn just east of the summit, we did 4 rappels, angling down towards the first of the five rock ribs which mark the descent traverse accross the North-east face. This descent is described as stressful and certainly was not the greatest way to finish such a superb climb. From here we downclimbed and traversed the face accross two more ribs. The traversing is 3rd class, with some dicey 4th class stuff when turning the ribs. The exposure is incredible and it would not be a nice place to be with people on the East Ridge Direct climb kicking rocks down on you. After 3 ribs, we were sufficiently freaked out and decided to rope up for the rest of the trip. At this point we could see that there was a lot of snow in and around the final gully (used to regain the ridge), and it would take a lot of zig-zagging over the face to avoid the snow patches. We therefore decided to simply angle upwards and regain the ridge just west of the first small tower of the climb, at which point we crossed the ridge and "downclimbed" the first pitch back to our packs. The descent took us about 1 1/2 hours.

We packed up the rack, put on our waterproofs, and plunged down the mushy snow into the basin and back to our gear-cache from our sleeping spot at around 5500 feet. Here we stripped to our shorts (it was hot down here!), talked with a couple of guys who were up to do the West ridge, and headed down the last snow. After bushwacking for 10 minutes, we hit the trail and had an uneventful trip back to the car. We reached the car at just before 7 pm. Total trip time was 25 hours.


People fitter and faster than we could probably do this trip in a long day (18 hours -- in the summer, one could probably knock a little time off this because the road isn't gated at 2500 feet, cutting out 1000 feet of climbing, initially), but I think the way we did it worked well. The descent of the route is really pretty hairy, and I'm glad that we were pretty fresh for it, or else the epic-potential would have gone way up. Also, I don't like driving back to Seattle dead tired, and this turned out well for us. Finally, Nelson lists this climb as around 7 pitches, but it took us 8, even though we ran together the first two pitches. He must have a long rope and be a master of minimizing rope drag, because the route goes over and around many little spires which can really drag on your rope (even if you're placing minimal gear). Bring a lot of long (double) slings for this climb. On one pitch I placed no pro, besides slinging a half-dozen horns en route -- it was very satisfying.

Rack and gear:

* One rope * Medium Rack 1 and a half sets of stoppers (doubling on medium sizes) 3 medium-sized hexes. #1, #1.5, #2 Friend, and #2 Camelot 20 free biners 6 double slings 10 single slings * Ice axe, crampons (we didn't actually end up using the crampons)