Forbidden Peak West Ridge — A Spectacular Challenge!
MM guides Ian Nicholson and Tino Villanueva took four returning clients to climb the beautiful West Ridge of Forbidden Peak last week. The conditions were great and the views were incredible! Ian shares his report and photos.
Forbidden Team. Ian Nicholson photo
“A seasoned group, this was my third trip with Joel, my second trip with Mark, Tino and Dan’s third trip together, and I had run into Robert on the Fisher Chimneys with MM guide Jason Broman last year. On Friday, July 8, we met at Second Ascent, performed our typical gear check and were on the road by 8:15 am. After checking in at the Marblemount Ranger Station, we drove up the Cascade River Road and parked 1.75 miles before the Boston Basin Trailhead. We ate a wonderful lunch with veggies, hummus and cheese, then started the hike in. The trail is notoriously known in the North Cascades National Park as a route that is consistently steep and usually overgrown. After some bushwhacking, stream crossings and log hopping, we made it to our camp at 6,600 feet, the Boston Basin High Camp, below Forbidden Peak’s South Face and the ironically named “Un-named Glacier.”
Glacier travel below the peak with Sahale in the background. Ian Nicholson photo
“Joel had brought his new, extremely-spacious tent, affectionately deemed “The Condo,” which he generously shared with Mark, Robert, Dan, Tino and me. It was lightly raining with very low visibility. The rain turned to snow briefly during the night with an unbelievable mid-July 5,500 foot freeze level forecaster. Luckily, the whole group had plenty of Cascade climbing experience and were able to deal with poor weather in stride. It certainly didn’t effect anyone’s excitement!
On approach. Ian Nicholson photo
“We chose to get a later start due to the poor weather, snow on the route and the cold temperatures, and to our exciement, the weather improved as the morning wore on. We woke up at a later-than-usual 6:30 am. Mark had apparently been up since 5am, a habit he has kept since his days in the Marines. Right as we crawled out of our tents, the sky began to clear and it stopped raining/sleeting as we ate breakfast. We departed at 8:40 am and had a pleasant approach with views of Forbidden’s summit over half of the time. The approach gulley that gains the West Ridge notch is an often overlooked challenge, since the extreme exposure once on the ridge makes it easy to forget. The West Ridge gulley is 4 – 5 pitches of 50+ degree snow with a little full-blown mixed climbing to gain the col. Our group enjoyed the varied climbing the gulley addes to the route, and welcomed the views once we gained the ridge.
High on the route with Eldorado in the background. Ian Nicholson photo
“Once on the ridge, everyone kept shouting out how cool the climbing was, and how extreme the exposure felt. Our teams cruised the crux “friction pitch” and enjoyed constantly looking down 1500 – 3000 feet of exposure on either side of the true knife-edged ridge. The West Ridge is never wider than 10 feet for its entirety and is regularly only a few feet across. This, plus the sound rock and excellent climbing, is why the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak is one of “The 50 Classic Climbs of North America.”
Airy ridge climbing. Ian Nicholson photo
“Mark, Joel and I made the summit around 3:00 pm, with Tino, Dan, and Robert not far behind. The West Ridge is more challenging than many climbs since climbers have to down-climb a majority of the route; an often heavily, time-consuming effort that our groups executed fantastically. We dropped into the steep snow gulley and were forced to put our headlamps on for the final few rope-lengths. This was a pleasant change in atmosphere that allowed us to see the stars and beautiful Milky Way. We all descended the Unnamed Glacier in the dark as a group and walked back to camp exhausted but extremely satisfied.
Classic exposed climbing on the West Ridge. Ian Nicholson photo
“The next and final morning we woke up and hiked out among a mix of light rain and sun. The whole group agreed that this was one of the more challenging climbs they had ever completed, but also one of the best. Joel and Mark were already talking about next year’s adventure before we even hit the trailhead!”
- Ian Nicholson
Back in camp with the 5,000 foot North Face of Johannesburg in the background.
Ian Nicholson photo