|Page Type:||Trip Report|
|Lat/Lon:||48.51161°N / 121.05782°W|
|Date Climbed/Hiked:||Aug 18, 2019|
|Activities:||Mountaineering, Trad Climbing|
Kyle Sears, Andrew Kersh and myself, Zach Clemence, successfully summited Forbidden Peak via the Northwest Face on August 17 and 18. The trip was a circumnavigation of Forbidden via Sharkfin Col, Boston Glacier, the North Ridge, Forbidden Glacier, the northwest arete and face to the summit, then down the West Ridge.
The hike up to Boston Basin and eventually up to Sharkfin Col took about three hours. We stopped once to get water just below the Quien Sabe glacier. The snow was soft enough to traverse without crampons. The gulley up to the Col was loose and trashy as usual, and we were thankful no parties were above or below. We moved close together heading quickly to the very top where it meets the eastern boundary and overlooks the Boston Glacier.
It then took us about an hour to find the correct rappel to access the glacier. From the very top, a loose, ledge system exists leading several hundred feet down, with no clear discernable line. A small anchor suggests some have tried this way, which we were about to follow. Without another option in sight, we watched Andrew descend to the ledges (as we had attempted and failed the year prior), it became clear that we were simply way too high. Somewhat despondent and fearing another failure, we ate smoked herring and stale bread. The rich scent awoke a fire within Kyle and he thought of a new place to search for a rappel spot.
By GPS, Kyle then found another col down and west (the actual Shark’s Fin Col) where a robust fixed anchor led down to the glacier via double rope rappel. I removed some tat and a quick-link from the top of the gulley as nothing good can come from rappelling there. Andrew and I followed Kyle down and we were soon on the glacier.
MAJOR KEY #1: To find the correct rappel, on the way up the obvious large gulley from Quien Sabe, do not go all the way to the top. About ¾ of the way to the top, scramble another narrow gulley leading up and to the left. From the top, traverse down and left, to a window looking out to the Boston, where you’ll find a beautiful 3-nut anchor had been left. If that is gone a new one can be built. From there it is a ~40m rappel to the glacier (with intermediate station available to complete with a single rope). Other reports mention a soccer-ball sized chockstone. We did not find this, but our col was good and the anchor solid. Once on the glacier we prepared for glacier travel with a 50m rope; 10 meters kiwi coiled for the end climbers and 15m between the ends and middle.
Relieved and reinvigorated to touch spike to snow, we found good fortune on the Boston glacier. As a Bostonian myself, I felt at home! The weather, a thick damp mist all morning, burned up in the midday sun to reveal a path through the maze of crevasse. Andrew led the way perfectly. We refused dead-ends, making z-turns through some sections, seeking lower angle terrain and to avoid the most broken up areas. One skinny but solid rib of ice was exciting, but otherwise the transit was uneventful, beautiful, and exciting.
Gaining the North Ridge proved more difficult than expected. As recommended in multiple reports, we passed up first obvious (more southerly) entry ramp to and continued north towards a dirty looking low-point in the ridge. There we found an inviting tongue of snow leading onto the dirt with a deep moat on the climber’s right. To the left, a steep dirty, dangerous looking face went up the ridge line, and to the right, a dirty gully that seemed lower angle. This way led us to hard looking 5th class, and we then picked a line in the middle up 4th to mid 5th class terrain about 70ft up, with the top a loose, ~5.6ish corner that was largely unprotectable. It had taken us perhaps three hours to cross the Boston Glacier and then an hour of poking around looking for access to the Forbidden. Now on top of the ridge, our objective was finally in sight!
We were not done yet, and gaining the Forbidden side required a treacherous down scramble through yet another loose rocky gully. As I took the lead and traversed an eight-foot-high rock step, I heard Andrew and Kyle shouted, “rock, ROCK, ROCK!!”. I tucked into the rock in front of me with my hands and arms around my face as a cascade rocks descended around me. None felt too large as they hit my helmet and shoulders. After a few seconds it stopped, and I removed a 10 pound rock that was still balanced on top of my helmet. Kyle and Andrew shouted and asked if I was ok, or had any injuries. I didn’t think so and quickly scrambled out to the snowfield below and waited 20 meters away out in the white snow looking myself over. I was fine and told them as much.
Major Key #2: Late season, there seemed to be only 2 or 3 access points to the North Ridge, and none provide a clear path to the top. I suspect that the first path we attempted (to the right) may have been passable previously but has eroded considerably to its current loose condition. To avoid the need for heads up scrambling, the best option seems to follow the beta towards the north ridge (likely the first more southerly access point we mentioned), and then attempt to rappel down to the Forbidden glacier.
Andrew downclimbed and apologized. It wasn’t anything to apologize for. He had shifted his feet, moving a small rock that started the cascade. Something like this could’ve happened at any point in the day on any of the dirty gulleys we’d been through. I shook it off. Everything was OK and we were on the snowfield above the Forbidden glacier with another hour or two of sunlight remaining.
We all traversed skiers left up to the ridge and found a suitable bivvy site complete with a nice windbreak for cooking. As we sat there the sky continued to clear completely. El Dorado was to the west. Goode sat far off in the east, with Buckner and Boston framing the northerly sky. More immediate for us in the view was the toe of the Northwest arete, leading up to our chosen route on the NW face. The foot was a mess of broken seracs spewing a debris field 200 meters out onto the glacier below. It looked so improbable that we would be able to get on to the rock.
We ate a fine meal of bean soup, salmon, and mashed potatoes as we soaked in the dynamic colors of the late summer sunset. We boiled snow to make six or eight liters of water to drink and get us through the climb the next day. The breeze blew at a cold and steady 10-15 mph as the sun set. Each of us tucked in to a bivvy bag. Andrew had to dodge a faceful of my feet. Together we decided that in the morning we’d walk down to the toe of the route and if any of us had pause, we would head up to the North Ridge instead.
During the night a bright full moon came out. I awoke for a moment, opening my eyes to see a shooting star.
My alarm rang at 5:00am and we were off and walking by 6:30. We went down the glacier, across a few snow bridges and step-across crevasses. Some areas were pretty broken up, but the snow seemed solid. I felt on high-alert, but it seemed all manageable. Somehow, we were at the toe of the NW ridge looking up, and it looked as nasty as it had from afar.
A picket, cord and two-carabiners sat on the snow, a gift from a previous party, and we fashioned a rappel to the bottom of the moat. Despite the broken face and serac above, a direct rappel to the bottom of the moat looked straightforward and we gave it a shot. We set our new picket picket as a deadman, and I rappelled first (with a second picket and Kyle as backup). Once in the moat I found a snow and ice rib on the opposite side to climb out. Andrew repeated, and we had finally found our vertical rock! Kyle removed the back-up picket and went last. On his way down, he chuckled and said, “this is my favorite rappel ever”. I’d felt the same, descending from one world into another, surface to sub-glacian, to improbably get to a place that the night before had seemed impossible.
After this great victory, a few route-finding and beta-reading mistakes then cost us two hours. Directly above, on the west side of the lowest point on the buttress, an attractive corner leads up. From previous beta, we agreed this was certainly where a previous party had errantly started the route just two weeks prior. With a large snowfield blocking easy travel uphill and to other points on the walls, we felt this may be our only way.
I then poked around uphill on the western aspect in search of Beckey’s rumored 4th class ramp. Using two axes, I ascended 10 feet of near vertical snow and up onto a 50 degree snowfield that flanked the wall. This led to a break and a small access point to the wall, guarded above was seracs and ice towers, with a dirty debris field of ice and boulders below. This was not a place I wanted to be. On the rock face, I saw 5th class climbing, not the rumored 4th class ramp, and reckoned it was no better than our first option, and I downclimbed and told the others what I’d found. On the way back, I dropped a blue Petzl literide axe (with a locker attached!) into the bergshrund. FUCK! Things weren’t going well.
Recalling the previous trip report, we reasoned that while this alternative start was clearly off route, the other party had somehow made it up, and so could we! Kyle led up the corner on dirty somewhat loose 5.7-5.8 to a semi-hanging belay 80’ up (exactly as had been described). Above, climbing became significantly harder, a wide and vegetated corner or an unprotectable steep face - this line would not go today. To the right, a fixed anchor offered a bail... or not! Looking down we saw we could now more easily access the uphill portion of wall (EXACTLY to where I had just been by scrambling up the snowface) with a single rappel.
With some chicanery on the rappel, we traversed back below the hanging seracs to the base of the wall uphill from our first start. Huge blocks of ice and boulders littered the area as we quickly racked up and started our ascent. It was still early, no sun yet warming the precarious ice chunks, but it was a scary place to be.
With fresh eyes, the line appeared. Kyle asked me if I thought it would go. I said yes. He then asked, “Would you climb it?” I said yes. I was disappointed in myself for not putting the pieces together with the previous beta, but hope was still alive. We’d come here, because the climbing I had dismissed earlier as equally hard as the corner now seemed like a perfectly reasonable way onto the route. A right (upward trending) pitch of blocky terrain connecting to a few steep faces.
MAJOR KEY #3: The climb begins as far uphill as you can reach (not from the low point on the buttress where you may first meet the wall. In late season (August/ early September 2019), the broken snowfield flanking the western corner of the buttress is the fastest and safest way onto the route. Climb up the 10 foot snow face and then up the 40ish degree snow-slope, then down into the debris area. From there, start climbing the obvious crack up and right. Get here early to avoid getting in the way of ice fall.
I racked up and led up the crack. It was fun, great climbing at 5.7 on good rock. I was nervous at first, trading fear of being crushed by falling ice to that of the steep, airy, rock face, but climbing was solid and protection was ample. I asked permission to take my time and sew it up, still warming to vertical rock after 2 days of scree and glacier travel. Kyle reminded me that I can do whatever I want, as this is adventure climbing with only one rule, don’t fuck up. My stoke began to rise as I climbed out of the ice layer, around the crux corner and into 4th class terrain. We were on route! I belayed Kyle and Andrew up. We roped up for one more pitch and then took the rope off as the terrain moderated.
We then scrambled up a few hundred meters of third and fourth class benches to the start of the famous knife edge. I ate a packet of tuna fish and racked up again. Kyle broke out his favorite mountain snack, the spicy mango, to light the fire inside. It was a stellar pitch of clean rock with sheer drops of a few hundred meters on either side. I belayed Kyle and Andrew up. Stoke was rising again in all of us. We were getting there. We were doing it! By now it was after noon, maybe 1:30pm or 2:00.
At the end of the knife edge, I led up to a dead end and saw easier terrain down and left. I didn’t know how to get there. I climbed up and left a little more to find The Monster Offwidth boulder problem. It was two huge blocks with perfectly flat, blank faces, perhaps 14 feet high facing one another. It looked hard, improbable and the most direct line.
Between the blocks, there was one right hand up high on the left block. I wedged in my foot at the narrow end between the two blocks, wedged in my body and pulled up with the good right hand. Getting pumped I wedged a chicken-wing knee-bar in between the blocks. Sweating and with a shout I mantled up and out and found a piece of protection. But the easy terrain was still down and left. I saw a potential exit around a corner.
I swung around onto a blank face. It was boulder problem number two! On the small face, there were a couple of two finger pockets and small feet. My last piece of protection was far away; a fall and swing would be bad. Don’t fuck up I thought. All I needed to do was move left about a few more feed to my left into the corner, but there were no more hands. Seeing my only option, I reached out my left foot and twisted it, crack style, between a couple of blocks and then used my foot to pull my body in the corner and grabbed some chunky blocks. Safety!
From there it was easy climbing to an anchor. Kyle repeated with the same funky foot move. Then Andrew paused looking at the second boulder problem for a long time, then found a quick and stylish way through, climbing lower than Kyle and I.
Kyle led a mild, solid pitch straight up to the base of the chimney, then took us up the chimney pitch, the reported crux of the route. It was more dirty and loose than anything else had been for a while. A piton and an old rigid-stem were fixed in the wall. Kyle by-passed the friend and clipped the piton. Kyle, smooth as always used his daddy-long-legs to glide up and then mantle over the 5.8 move at the top with the help of a high right foot.
Andrew and I followed-close together behind. During the entire climb, we used ropes, a 50m and 60m, one red and one blue. Belaying with two second climbers all day was a lot of work. High anchors with a big throw were nice when we could find one.
After the 5.8 pitch, we finally began to feel Beckey’s description, that this climb was one of “exceptional purity”. Until now, that had seemed like some joke from the master. What was so pure we wondered? Perhaps the chicanery to get on the route or the commitment of north face. The constant loose gullies on the approach? Until purity seemed to have eluded us.
Then above the chimney, the climbing transforms into a mid-5th class romp on solid rock. We traded off pitches, moving smoothly on clean, textured rock. At times it was a knobby slab, then become a blocky playground. It might have been six or eight pitches of varying “purity”. The sun was high, everything was beautiful. We were getting tired but moving smoothly, looking down at blue lakes and the broken glacier we’d left a few thousand feet below.
Kyle took the last pitch to what ended up being the almost-summit. We marveled at how improbable it was to be there. It was also 6:30pm. Really late to be on the top of a mountain. But we needed to be at the true-summit, around the corner 50’ to our left and maybe 5 feet higher. We relaxed and took a few photos. We had persevered, fought our doubt and it paid off.
On the descent, we went with a rope off the summit, using a few blocks for protection. Then we scrambled down to a rappel station. A party was on the way up the West Ridge and we chatted for a couple of minutes getting some beta for the descent. After two rappels we un-roped and scrambled on semi-exposed third and fourth class down to the West Ridge notch.
From the notch we started down at around 8:00pm, we rappelled down into the cat-scratch gulley on the 60m rope. Halfway down and three rappels in the darkness became complete. Here we made the perhaps fortuitous mistake of getting out the 50m rope to speed up our rappels. They had been short up until now, less than 25m and as all rappels seem to go, slow. To speed things up, I got out the 50m rope and headed down so that we could alternate setting up the next rappel while the two others were still descending the first. Of course this was the rappel that was longer than 25m and I came to the end of the rope above a big steep section, in the dark with no rappel station in sight.
But I had the rope so I could set the next rappel. I found an OK stance and took myself off the rope. I tied the 50 to the 60m rope and pulled the 50 through so that I could continue down on double ropes. I looked around but didn’t see the missing rap station. Mysteries of rappelling routes for the first time in the dark.
At the end of the rope, a short downclimb led to the last rap anchor. We weren’t sure how long it was so we rigged a tag-line on the 50m rope to extend it to be a full 60 on a single strand. A biner block wasn’t needed as the quicklink was small enough to stop the knot from popping through. I headed down and was on the snow in 25m! Kyle and Andrew followed, we put on crampons and walked down the snowfield at 9:30pm.
At the foot of the former glacier I guzzled some untreated water, fresh and cold. We scrambled in the dark across streams and boulders and big slabs through the Boston Basin. After some time we found our way to the Boston Basin high camp and cheerily walked through and found the trail at the far end. The trail was a luxurious, smooth thoroughfare. At 12:00 am we crossed the river, stepping on stones to the main trail and then walked down to the car arriving at 1:30am. At the car we exchanged hugs, put on dry clothes. Andrew took the first driving shift, Kyle put on some Robyn and we deliriously chatted until I fell asleep.
We felt Beckey out there and the exceptional purity he had described. It wasn’t just the solid upper pitches. It was the isolation of the Forbidden Glacier and the expanse of the Boston. The windy and cold north ridge bivvy was exceptional as was sitting on an ice block beneath a glacier below a seemingly endless crest of rock that had to be climbed if we were to escape. Purity was in the thrill of proceeding through this improbable terrain to solve endless problems, uncover small mysteries to stay alive out there and feel more alive on the drive home than on the way in.