On July 31st I drove up from the Columbia River Gorge to meet my partner Michael for a climb of Forbidden Peak. Michael was on extended vacation and exploring most of Washington and doing several solo climbs. Michael wanted to do Forbidden Peak (on the top 50 list) so we decided to combine it with Sahale Peak (both from the Boston Basin) on the same weekend. This meant a backpack of climbing gear and 4 days of food and clothing (our first mistake). We met at the ranger station in Marblemount and started sorting our gear.
The drive to the approach was about 20 miles up a dirt road. This is a long dusty drive, so plan on your car getting dirty. After almost an hour of driving on the dirt road we reached the turnout for the "trail". I have to hand it to Cascade climbers. My understanding is that this "trail" is pretty much standard for Cascade climbs. This isn't your normal hiking trail, but a "path" that climbers have used over the years. In many places it is QUITE steep (imagine grabbing tree roots and branches to climb up) and grown over. This is also not a trail to take heavy mountaineering packs on. I think the Cascade climbers know this and are smart enough to do day and overnight bivy climbs. Part of the route involved climbing over and under tree branches and such. Imagine being on your knees climbing under a tree with a 55 pound pack on your back. Not fun. Yep, I think light and fast would be much better
After a very long 4 hours ( I really hated that heavy pack) we reached the Boston Basin (around 5,500 feet), the first available camping area. We were the only ones there and had our pick of the campsites. From the campsites we had nice view of Forbidden Peak (and the glacier below it, and numerous cascades coming down from the Quien Sabe glacier from Sahale Peak). The guide books mentioned a varmint problem in the campground so we made sure we hung our food from a line between two trees. Unfortunately I had the great idea of taking my lunch for our climb day into the tent with me to have it ready to go the next morning (4 am departure). Well during the night I imagined something next to me in the tent (I thought animal) so I reached out and slapped it. I felt a connection. Well I went back to sleep and when I woke up I though it was all a dream. It was till I got my lunch out of the side mesh pocket of the tent and found my bag of cashews had a hole in it and all of the cashews were gone! THEN I found I had a nice 2" hole in the side of my 3 month old Mountain Hardware Annapurna tent! (kudos to Mountain Hardware, I sent the tent to them when I got home and they repaired it free of charge in a bout a week) Another lesson learned in the Cascades....
It was 4 am and ate a quick meal and started up towards Forbidden Peak. We weren't able to locate the trail during the day, so we decided to bushwhack directly up towards the right (east)side of the glacier/rocks and make our way directly to the west side of Forbidden peak where there is a noticeable couloir leading to a notch on the west ridge. We kept mostly on the rocks to avoid damaging the beautiful alpine flowers. A little less than an hour we reached the upper high camp (approximately 6,500 feet). We roped up and tried to find the area of least resistance to get across the glacier to the bottom of the snow chute. Another party reached the snow chute just before we did and started on up. Just prior to the snow chute the the snow had steepened to around 35 - 40 degrees and in the couloir the snow/ice steepened to around 45 - 50 degrees (my estimates). We took a quick break while we allowed the other team to get a ropes length ahead of us. We started up the couloir to the top of the snow bank. The snow chute had broken into two pieces with a large gap between them. I don't believe this was the bergschrund since there was another crevasse at the bottom of the chute (Later the ranger told us the condition of the chute indicated it was about the end of the season for this climb). This required us to exit the snow bank and climb about 50 feet on the rock (wearing crampons, a very strange feeling) until we could climb back onto the snow/ice.
We reached the top of the snow chute just while the others were starting to climb up on the rock. A route finding error by the other party (headed directly up towards the chimney instead of up and left to a gully) caused us to move in front. We seemed to be climbing faster on the rock (we both left our mountain boots and crampons anchored to the top of the snow gully) so we went ahead of the other group (with their permission of course).
Michael and I roped simo-climbed on the ridge until we ran out of protection. Then the leader belayed up the follower, and the follower lead on in simo-climb mode until we ran low on protection. This climb is supposed to be rated 5.6 but we both felt it was fourth class with a few low fifth class moves. With this climb it is possible to miss difficult sections by going to the left (north) side of any problems.
This ridge was wild. The drop off on the north and south sides was extreme. There were awesome views on the north side looking down onto the Forbidden glacier and the Moraine Lake. After a few hours of climbing we came to a false summit which we had to downclimb around to reach the true summit around 10 am at 8,815 feet. From here we had an awesome view onto upper Quien Sabe glacier and Sahale Peak.
After taking a lunch break we decided it was time to start down. Although there are numerous rappel slings on the majority of the climb, we felt it wasn't that difficult of a climb and decided to save time and downclimb. We ended up downclimbing most of the route (a few rappels seemed faster) and we reached the notch were we rappelled down to our gear on the snow chute.
Unfortunately the sun had been out for a while and the snow was getting quite soft. We missed the part in the guide book that recommended downclimbing the route as a last resort and made it our first resort (another mistake). We started downclimbing the 45 - 50 degree snow chute. Any slip would have resulted in a slide down to the gap in the chute. To make things worst the snow was way too soft for crampons. We decided to have one person climb down and kick large foot steps while belayed from the person above. A snow picket placed about 1/2 way down the pitch was a nice "symbolic" touch (most likely would not have held in the soft snow). The scary part was being the second to down climb knowing any slip and it would be a long slide. The large foot steps made by the leader made things safer along with a self belay with the ice axe.
We managed to downclimb most of the way to the gap. A nice preset rappel anchor allowed us to rappel down beneath the snow chute at the gap. From here were able to climb back up onto the chute (on the rock once again) and continue our climb down. The climb got a little nasty here. It seems the ice was closer to the surface here. This meant the boots couldn't kick secure steps into the snow/ice and the section was too short to warrant putting on crampons. With a few well chopped steps in the ice we were able to make our way down to the bottom of the chute.
A full rappel from a large rock at the bottom of the chute allowed up to gain access to the upper glacier without downclimbing the steep snow (we were getting tired of downclimbing by now). We got back into glacier mode and bee-lined for the bottom of the glacier. From here we were able to pick up the REAL trail down to high camp, and from there back to our camp arriving at camp around 6pm (14 hours after our departure). We both realized that it was foolish to think that we would have the energy to climb back up to the Quien Sabe glacier to climb Sahale Peak the next day. We also decided sitting out at camp all day in the sun wasn't going to be a lot of fun either and felt we might as well hike out. In the morning we shouldered our heavy packs (STILL had plenty of un-eaten food) and headed back to the car.
Once back at Marblemount we stopped off at a small family restaurant to a well deserved milk shake and hamburger.