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Forbidden Peak (West Ridge) with Dave Ahrens

By Emma Wal­ton and Andrea DeMuro

Touch­ing down in Sea-Tac on a flight in from the UK, I meet Andrea, my climb­ing bud­dy. We hug each oth­er excitedly.…then make our con­fes­sions: had we pre­pared enough? hmmm…we both wish we’d done more.…. did we think we were going to make it to the top of For­bid­den? hon­est­ly, we put it at 50/50.… and, most impor­tant, did we promise to stay friends even if one of us want­ed to turn back half-way?

The Low-Down

Andrea and I had met as tent-mates the pre­vi­ous year on a climb of Mt Bak­er and, although I’d since moved to the UK (Andrea lives in Seat­tle), we’d kept in touch. We had now cho­sen to attempt the West Ridge of For­bid­den Peak for a cou­ple of rea­sons: it would be quite a chal­lenge as nei­ther of us had pre­vi­ous rock climb­ing expe­ri­ence, plus it looked like an inter­est­ing com­bi­na­tion of rock and rel­a­tive­ly steep snow (in the couloir lead­ing to the ridge) with poten­tial views from the sum­mit of the moun­tains we’d pre­vi­ous­ly climbed (being Mt Bak­er, Mt Rainier and Mt Shuk­san). ANDREA: When Emma first pro­posed the climb say­ing it was well out­side her com­fort zone, I replied it’s dou­ble well out­side mine!”

We had con­tact­ed Moun­tain Mad­ness (MM) a few months pri­or to the climb and Andrea had sched­uled a rock climb­ing les­son with Dave Ahrens who was to be our guide, and I had sched­uled a few lessons in the UK. In addi­tion to For­bid­den Peak, we decid­ed to hit Maza­ma first to prac­tice rock climb­ing togeth­er before attempt­ing Forbidden.

Day 0

A few days after meet­ing up, Andrea and I dri­ve to Moun­tain Mad­ness offices’ for a gear check and I meet our guide, Dave. He talks us through the climb, our gear, and the Leave No Trace prin­ci­pals, gives us a study guide, answers all our ques­tions and con­cerns and deflects our attempts to force him to fore­cast the weather.

Day 1 (Rock Training)

Andrea’s super strong cof­fee gives us a hard-core caf­feine hit and we we’re psy­ched for a day of climb­ing on the Goat Wall in Maza­ma. With a beau­ti­ful back­drop and clear blue skies, Dave shows us how to tie-in and belay, and also teach­es us some climb­ing tech­niques. Our brains ful­ly under­stand all of this, but apply­ing it all is some­what more dif­fi­cult! We have lots of fun on a sport route and prac­tice climb­ing togeth­er, low­er­ing and rap­pelling. After a cake and cof­fee break, we try a route on the Fun Wall until we’re final­ly rained off.

In the evening, Dave cooks us a great stir-fry, preps us for the fol­low­ing day and assures us that the hike in will be wet, dif­fi­cult and absolute­ly miserable!

Day 2 (Hike-in)

Much to our delight — and Dav­e’s relief — the day dawns dry and sun­ny. Fol­low­ing anoth­er of Andrea’s knock-out cof­fee kicks, we dri­ve to the begin­ning of the hike-in. It starts off under the north­east face of Mt Johan­nes­burg with its mul­ti­tude of hang­ing glac­i­ers, couloirs and glis­ten­ing glacial water­falls. The hike, which is only 3 miles, but gains 3000 ft ele­va­tion, pro­ceeds to cross sev­er­al streams and take us through tun­nels of under­growth which seem specif­i­cal­ly designed to spike, impale, hang or oth­er­wise inflict bod­i­ly harm! ANDREA: Don’t for­get about the fresh avalanche shoots sooth­ing our sens­es with earth­ly scents dom­i­nat­ed by the evergreens.

After an hour or so we get our first glimpse of For­bid­den Peak and its every bit as tan­ta­lis­ing as I’d imag­ined. Only rather more so: the couloir looks far steep­er than I’d thought it would be, the rock even more jagged and strik­ing.… ANDREA: I’m think­ing couloir” — what that? Wow, that’s a lot of rock!

Final­ly we reach Boston Basin at around 5500ft and its so beau­ti­ful: wide green mead­ows full of wild­flow­ers and lit­tle mar­mots lead onto the Quien Sabe Glac­i­er which itself is sur­round­ed by the peaks Mt Tor­ment, Shark­fin Tow­er, Sahale Peak, Boston Peak, Mt For­bid­den and Mt Johannesburg.

The camp­site is emp­ty so we pick a great spot and set up our tents. Dave gives us a les­son on anchors, glac­i­ers, walk­ing and climb­ing in snow and ice and then cooks a big pas­ta din­ner (sup­ple­ment­ed by my favourite cook­ies, hot choc­cy and mini-marsh­mal­lows) and we go to bed ear­ly. Of course I can’t sleep and so get up to watch the final embers of sun­light turn cold over Forbidden.

ANDREA: I couldn’t sleep either, but I was­n’t mov­ing, I was meditating.

Day 3 (Climb)

Dave wakes us with hot oat­meal and cof­fee around 3:30am and we get going around 4:30am.

This is one of my favourite moments: each of us climb­ing silent­ly, turn­ing every now and again to watch the alpen­glow light up the faces of the sur­round­ing peaks. There is no wind and the sun slow­ly ris­es into the most sub­lime of sum­mer day.

We put our cram­pons on, rope-up and leave our trekking poles at the base of the couloir. We ascend the couloir which is steep at around 45 degrees but are helped by the tracks of pre­vi­ous par­ties. We scram­ble up a rock tow­er while Dave belays us from above and soon we climb up and onto the west ridge where an awe­some view of the sur­round­ing moun­tains and Moraine Lake awaits us.

Then we change into our rock shoes and move onto the notch”. Dave tells us to just climb over it and not look down the thou­sand ft or so of north­west face, but who could resist tak­ing a peek?

ANDREA: A height­ened sense of anx­i­ety starts to rise so at the next big move, I freeze and tell Dave, I just can’t do it.” Then I tell Emma, I’m sor­ry, I think this is as far as I can go.” As promised, she says okay, she assures me most gra­cious­ly that get­ting as far as we did was good enough for her. As we speak, Dave is busy manoeu­vring his gear and rope, comes back to us, gives us more direc­tion, then turns to me and said, There’s more than one way to skin a cat, Andrea,” and off we go for the summit.

We con­tin­ue climb­ing for a few hours – the ridge is full of flakes and horns and looks as though the entire peak might just sud­den­ly crum­ble under our feet, but in fact it proves very sol­id and feels great and secure. Dave cheer­ful­ly, patient­ly and tire­less­ly belays us, talks through moves where nec­es­sary, and always has a wicked smile for us. The expo­sure is won­der­ful ANDREA: (scary) and as we work our way high­er I keep look­ing around to see if I can see Mt Bak­er, where Andrea and I met. ANDREA: What I find as we move for­ward is the more I move the more I love it, I just don’t like look­ing down.

Final­ly we reach the west sum­mit, pause for a moment and then make the final moves to the true sum­mit at 8,815 ft: it’s a spec­tac­u­lar moment as we can see Eldo­ra­do, Glac­i­er, Shuk­san, Bak­er and even Rainier far off in the dis­tance. We almost can’t believe we’ve made it and I’m inde­scrib­ably hap­py. ANDREA: Although I am hap­py, I’m a lit­tle shaky and seek to cap­ture for­ev­er in my mind the mag­nif­i­cent 360 degree view.

We take a zil­lion pho­tos and then its time to head back. We down­climb por­tions and Dave low­ers us over oth­ers until we are back at the notch again. This time its fun and we jump across. We down climb the couloir and head back to camp in the set­ting sun. ANDREA: Going down that couloir, all of a sud­den, I find myself in a gul­ly. I’m proud I did­n’t pan­ic too much and climbed out rather quickly.

I fall asleep smiling.

ANDREA: Me too, I’m also exhausted.

Day 4 (Hike out)

I awake ear­ly and chat to some oth­er climbers who are now camped at the camp­site and are get­ting ready for their climb. I already wish I was going back up. ANDREA: If giv­en the chance, she would have, me, well I had enough climb­ing for this adventure!

With sad­ness we pack up and after a final glance at For­bid­den, we fight our way back through the under­growth and down the trail. Back at the car, it’s so good to remove our moun­tain boots and change. We dri­ve up to Cas­cade Pass to cel­e­brate with a mix of chips, sal­sa, oranges and cherries!

ANDREA: Then the rain moved in and we moved on out but not before Emma chides us one more time about let­ting the rain dic­tate what we will or will not do.

Vital Stats:

Andrea’s favorite moment: reach­ing the true sum­mit, I real­ized I man­aged to achieve a dream of tra­vers­ing the ridge­line of moun­tain. Okay, okay days lat­er it hits, but still a dream come true.

Emma’s favorite moment: step­ping out onto the ridge­line, see­ing the view and feel­ing the exposure!

Our favorite moun­tain meal: close call between the cream cheese, salmon and basil bagel and the riga­toni pas­ta dinner.

What we like about guide Dave Ahrens? his total ded­i­ca­tion in respect­ing the envi­ron­ment, being pre­pared and prepar­ing his clients, enabled us to have the courage to meet this chal­lenge head-on and mov­ing us from begin­ner to more inter­me­di­ate lev­el climbers. Many thanks Dave!

Oh and are we still friends? Of course! … And plan­ning our next Cas­cades climb. ANDREA: I recall dis­cus­sions of climbs on oth­er con­ti­nents too, so my new goal just might be one climb on each con­ti­nent with Emma! Dave, we want you there too, so good luck get­ting your IFM­GA status.