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Glacier climbing in the North Cascades National Park with Mountain Madness

Climbing courses, big alpine climbs, and big wilderness in the North Cascades National Park

Moun­tain Mad­ness guide Alan Rousseau recounts an adven­ture-filled sum­mer in the North Cas­cades. As a side note, Alan and MM guide Tino Vil­lanue­va just were award­ed the Pio­let de Oro, moun­tainer­ing’s most pres­ti­gious award for the most notable climb of 2019. But, Alan is hap­py just to be out in the moun­tains with his guest when not push­ing his own per­son­al limits.

The North Cas­cades will always be a spe­cial place to me. It was where I cut my teeth into larg­er alpine objec­tives and began my guid­ing career over 13 years ago. The past few sum­mers guid­ing in the Euro­pean Alps has replaced my Cas­cades sea­son. Giv­en the cur­rent pan­dem­ic I switched my gaze clos­er to home for the sum­mer 2020 sea­son and returned to Wash­ing­ton State.

North Cas­cades Nation­al Park (NOCA) is a time cap­sule of sorts. The roads are prim­i­tive, and there is min­i­mal infra­struc­ture. In my hum­ble opin­ion it is a look into how our pub­lic lands should be man­aged. While oth­er nation­al parks look more like Dis­ney World, NOCA is large­ly an untouched wilder­ness ready for any moti­vat­ed per­son to lace up their boots, put on a pack, and start walk­ing. Mov­ing through the mature forests it is easy for me to imag­ine what the first explor­ers to the area felt. As you move high­er and break tree­line there is often no evi­dence of mod­ern soci­ety in sight. 

approach north cascades mountain madness
old growth forest on climbing approach mountain madness
stream crossing north cascades national park mountain madness

Over the past cou­ple months in Wash­ing­ton I found myself with­in the park bound­aries for a few trips. The first was to do the Tor­ment For­bid­den Tra­verse with John. We have climbed togeth­er for a cou­ple weeks in Europe, sum­mit­ing Mont Blanc, the Eiger, and the Mat­ter­horn. When our trip to Alas­ka was can­celled this spring, we began talk­ing about a plan b to still do some climb­ing togeth­er in 2020. We decid­ed on the Tor­ment For­bid­den tra­verse, which is one of my favorite objec­tives to guide. It is nev­er over­ly hard climb­ing, but con­tin­u­al­ly engag­ing as you move through con­se­quen­tial ter­rain. The climb­ing is very much like some of the clas­sic ridges in the Euro­pean Alps. 

I also trav­eled across the Boston and For­bid­den Glac­i­ers to reach the NW rib of For­bid­den Peak with a very capa­ble father and son team. This com­mit­ting objec­tive essen­tial­ly has you cir­cum­nav­i­gate For­bid­den Peak. As you approach from the south through Boston Basin, then you climb over the east flank of the moun­tain via shark­fin col, tra­verse below the NE face on the mas­sive Boston glac­i­er, then final­ly a descend­ing tra­verse across the for­bid­den glac­i­er below the North face. After all that, you are at the start of a 20-pitch rock climb to the sum­mit of Forbidden! 

Crossing the Boston Glacier on way to Forbidden Peak in North Cascades National Park with Mountain Madness
On Northwest Face rib of Forbidden Peak North Cascades National Park Mountain Madness
High on the Northwest Rib of Forbidden Peak Mountain Madness

My sum­mer guid­ing sea­son end­ed with five days around the Inspi­ra­tion and Eldo­ra­do glac­i­ers on an Inter­me­di­ate moun­taineer­ing course. This big glacial sys­tem is home to some dra­mat­ic ter­rain. It’s a great place to teach skills that will help peo­ple progress to the next lev­el in climb­ing. On this course in addi­tion to cov­er­ing a lot of skills, we were able to climb Eldo­ra­do, Klawat­ti Peak, and a Tepeh Tower. 

Intermediate mountaineering course in North Cascades Eldorado Peak and Mountain Madness
Room with a view North Cascades National Park Mountain Madness

I was grate­ful this sum­mer to be able to con­tin­ue to prac­tice my craft. I am hope­ful despite what hap­pens in the pop­u­lat­ed zones of the world, the North Cas­cades will con­tin­ue to be a great wilder­ness. Thank you to every­one that joined me in the moun­tains this sum­mer, I hope we all get the chance to rope up again in the future.