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Ascent of Forbidden Peak on 2018-08-28

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Forbidden Peak
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:8815 ft / 2686 m

Ascent Trip Report

Forbidden Peak (8,815ft) via West Ridge (5.6)

August 27-29, 2018

Eric and Katie

August 27 – hike to base camp in Boston Basin
August 28 – climb Forbidden Peak
August 29 – hike out, drive back to Seattle

I made it back to Seattle from Windy Peak Sunday night, and after sleeping in Monday morning I packed up the climbing gear for the next mountain – Forbidden Peak. I’d been putting off Forbidden Peak for a while, and it was now one of my last three Bulgers. Forbidden Peak is a technical peak with an extremely popular standard route. The West Ridge is listed as one of the 50 classic climbs in North America, which means it is very fun, but also very crowded. I think I left Forbidden to nearly the end of my list because I don’t really like crowded climbs. I’m more excited by a wilderness experience. But Forbidden still sounded like it could be fun.

Katie agreed to join if we did it as an overnight, and I secured a coveted camping permit for Boston Basin for Monday night. We would climb the West Ridge, since this was the easiest way up and offered the best chance of making the summit. We left Seattle late Monday morning, and managed to squeeze in on the side of the road of the Boston Basin trailhead a few hours later. As we were unpacking a group of four climbers from Minnesota descended and unfurled a soaking wet tent to dry. It had been raining pretty hard up there all weekend, and I was glad to be able to climb on a weekday.

We left the car around 1pm and hiked steeply up the climbers trail to the base of Boston Basin a few hours later. I’d heard the stream crossings can be sketchy, but this late in the season they were no problem. We followed the trail up through grassy meadows, past dozens of whistling marmots, and finally to a flat campsite area around 6,400ft.

There was only one other tent set up, so it looked like maybe the route wouldn’t be too crowded. Boston Basin has a permit quota of 6 groups per night, though parties often climb Forbidden car to car, so it was hard to say how many groups we would encounter. The group with the tent was a guided party also planning to climb the west ridge the next day.

We went to bed early, and got up at 5am the next morning. From camp we scrambled up some wet slabs to the base of the snowfield on the south side of Forbidden. The snow was icy, so we put on crampons and marched up. I’ve heard it described as a glacier, but there are no real crevasses, so there’s not really a need to rope up.

It appeared the guided group had started earlier, and we saw them high up on Cat Scratch gully. In the early season the standard route is to ascend a snow gully to gain the west ridge, but in the later season when the snow has melted out the standard route is to climb Cat Scratch gully to the ridge.

We followed the fresh crampon tracks up the steep and icy snow to the base of the gully. It was a bit tricky crossing the moat, but we managed to cross and scramble up some choss to the base of the steeper rock. I took out the rock gear and led up, going up the middle of the rightmost of the gullies. I passed a low rap anchor, climbed through a low 5th class section, and stopped at a good 3-piton anchor on a ledge on the right. This bottom pitch was the steepest, and the climbing eased up above.

I led up two more rope lengths directly up the gully, at times walking in boot tracks carved out of the grass. We then reached a small bench at the top of the melted out snow gully, and scrambled 3rd class terrain to the crest of the West Ridge.


At the ridge we roped back up. We could see one guided group ascending, and one guided group starting to descend from the summit. They must have started very early. The ridge was long and we would have to be efficient to get up and down before dark. Our plan was to do short and fast pitches to eliminate time wasted with communication difficulties.

I would generally lead out maybe 1/3 of the rope length with the rest of the rope kiwi coiled around me. I wove the rope around horns whenever possible and put in one or two pieces, then belayed Katie up while we could still see and hear each other. This is how the guides ascend the west ridge, and it worked pretty well. The terrain is mostly 4th and low 5th class climbing, with solid rock, good holds, and big belay ledges.

Near the top is the crux section where we climbed across a knife-edge ridge to a piton, then climbed up a 5.6 step to a good ledge. A few guided groups passed going down, but the north face is low angle enough in most places that it’s not a big deal to move over and pass other groups. We eventually reached the false summit and passed another guided group descending there, as another party reached the summit from the East Ridge. It was much more crowded than the single other tent at the base led us to believe!

To reach the true summit requires downclimbing 15ft from the false summit, then crossing a steep ridge. I led down and traversed to the summit, my 98th Bulger, and shared a view with the two other climbers up there. This is one of only about five Bulgers that I have encountered another party on the summit. To save time I let them clip my gear as they led back across.

It was 2:30pm and the weather was still nice and sunny. After the other climbers cleared out I climbed back to the false summit and we started the descent. The descent down the west ridge is difficult because it’s not steep enough to rappel the whole way. The guides short rope their clients down most of it, but this seems sketchy because much of the time the rope team is not attached to the mountain at all. If the guide were to slip, the whole team (usually a team of 3) would be pulled off. I guess the guides just don’t slip.

We did a combination of short pitches and simulclimbing on the descent, and made about 5 rappels at fixed anchors
where the terrain was steep enough. We reached the notch shortly after the other parties, and then began the rappels down to the snow. Our rap line followed fixed anchors on the small arête climbers left of the gully we climbed. It’s a pretty good rap line because it’s out of the danger zone from any rockfall.

We got to the bottom of the gully shortly after dark, but noticed the last anchor was gone! On the way up from the moat to the base of the Cat Scratch gullies we had noted a slung boulder with a good rap anchor, which we planned to use to rap back onto the snow. It appeared one of the groups descending had removed this anchor, which is very inconsiderate.

Luckily I could scrounge up enough gear to build another anchor, and we rapped to the edge of the moat. Unfortunately by this time at night the snow had solidified into ice, and it would be quite sketchy downclimbing the steep part at the top. I built a nut anchor at the cliff at the top of the snow and we rapped down as far as possible. Then I built an ice axe anchor and lowered Katie a full ropelength down to some rock slabs.

I then downclimbed, and from the slabs we were able to walk down the snowfield to the main slabs and back to camp. We technically only had a permit to camp Monday night, but it was so late that we just crawled into the tent and went to sleep. I don’t think the rangers would get too mad.

We slept in the next morning, and over breakfast were treated to a show of two marmots fighting nearby. It was very entertaining, and I took a video of it which I’ve since watched many times. It’s still not completely clear which marmot won the battle. You’ll have to watch the video and decide.

We eventually packed up and hiked back down to the car, and drove back to Seattle that afternoon. I just had two more Bulgers remaining (Horshoe Peak and Buckner). My plan was to drop Katie off in Seattle, then turn around and drive back up to Cascade Pass that night to finish them off.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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