NW Face on Forbidden Peak

The statement in Blake Herrington’s new Cascades Rock book seemed improbable. “The Northwest Face is Forbidden's best route.” When comparing to my experiences on the 50-classic West Ridge via the TFT, gendarme-laden East Ridge, and long alpine adventure that is the North Ridge, I was a bit skeptical, but had to see for myself.

Eben and I decided on our objective on Saturday evening and packed quickly, leaving town at about 8pm in his van. We did some guessing about durations and decided that leaving the car at about 5am seemed right, with the potential for some descent in the dark.

We woke up at 4:15am and were moving by 4:45. It was 6am when we crossed the main stream at the edge of Boston Basin. We went up the moraine and then dropped down onto snow pretty low on the Quien Sabe Glacier. We began our rappel from Sharkfin Col at 7:45am, which took us onto snow on the other side, but left us above a big, gaping bergschrund with no option to end-run. We found evidence of a snow bollard from another party and decided to give it a shot to rap past the berg opening. It worked great, but was a bit disconcerting since we ended up freely hanging for a ways until reaching the other side. Thankfully, the snow was firm.

Heading for the toe of the ridge

After getting down onto the Boston Glacier, we had a snack and then began traversing. We wove our way around crevasses and made it to the North Ridge notch just shy of 10am. The snow had melted out enough that it was an easy scramble to the bivy site there at the start of the North Ridge. We went down some ledges and found a single rap leading to the Forbidden Glacier. At 11am, we down-climbed the edge of the moat and stepped onto rock on the ramp just up and climber’s right of the toe of the ridge.

We soloed the first section, which was mostly moderately loose scrambling leading to the knife-edge ridge. Just before the top, I put a bit of pressure on a very large block that must have been perfectly balanced. It came crashing down next to me and went careening toward the glacier. Just because a block is huge doesn't mean it's not going to rip.

At the knife edge, we stopped to put our rock shoes and rope on, as well as finish our lunch. It was right about noon at this point. We simul-climbed the ridge and got to the base of what looked to be the crux. I started up it, but everything looked a bit dirty and not terribly well-protected, so I went left and found a bunch of good rock leading up to the ridge, where I continued across and stopped where the ridge smoothed into the face and I ran out of gear. I later looked up more beta and realized that this section was, in fact, the crux. Whoops. Eben tried going up and right from here, but quickly found poorly-protected slab, so he came back to the belay and then went up through a wide chimney, past some old fixed gear, and then slightly left until popping out on the upper face. This passage felt improbable and really fun.

The entire rest of the route consisted of solid rock and fun movement. We simul-climbed the entire face, stopping once near the top to re-rack. We made it to the summit at 2:45pm, which was a little longer than we’d expected on route, but we had slowed a bit through the couple of route-finding bits. We searched the summit area for the East Ledges rap anchor and couldn’t find it (perhaps it was removed?), so we went down the West Ridge instead. Some raps and down-climbing got us to the notch and then we made two raps in the snow gully before down-climbing the rest of the snow (which is melting out fast). After the predictable slog down, we made it to the car (and, more importantly, the beers in Eben’s fridge, at 7:45pm).

So is it the best route on Forbidden? I’d rather say that it should be equally as high on Cascade climber to-do lists as the West, East, and North Ridges. It has the wild feel of the North Ridge with the solid rock (up high) of the West Ridge. In terms of beta, we found approach shoes with aluminum crampons, ultralight axes, a single 60m x 8mm rope, and a double rack to #2 was perfect.