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.
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!
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.
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.