Cascades Part 2: Forbidden Peak, East Ridge

After our success on Mount Baker’s snow and ice (see part 1 below,) I wanted to try my hand at a rock route. Chris originally thought that the Torment-Forbidden traverse would be a good objective, but the weather window looked a bit questionable, so we ultimately decided on a shorter objective.   We drove up the the Boston Basin trailhead in the North Cascades, and initially, things didn’t look too promising for climbing rock.  The peaks were coated with fresh snow, which made our rock objectives somewhat questionable.  However, after a brief discussion about changing our goal to a snow/ice route, we decided to go ahead and hike up to Boston Basin, and see if conditions would allow us to get up a rock route.

View from the Boston Basin trailhead parking lot. June 27, 2012

We hiked up to Boston Basin following a trail that started out easy, then gradually got fainter and steeper until we lost it altogether and spent the rest of the time either bushwhacking or (finally) on snow.  The weather was sunny and warm, and Chris was optimistic that the snow would melt off of the rock routes by tomorrow.  (I wasn’t so sure.)

We eventually made it up to our high camp in the center of the basin, giving us easy access to a number of the rock routes.  Our primary objective was the East Ridge on Forbidden Peak, but we were also prepared to go after other objectives if the weather and conditions didn’t favor an ascent of the East Ridge on Forbidden.

High camp in Boston Basin

As it turned out, the warm, clear weather held, and we woke up early the next morning to warm, clear skies.  Truth be told, it was a little too warm, and the approach up to the East Ridge was slow going through deep, mushy snow.  Finally, we got established on the ridge and got to climb.

Dawn light on Mount Johannesberg

Approaching the East Ridge of Forbidden Peak

Once we got to the ridge, the climbing was a lot of fun, however, a cold wind had kicked in, which had us climbing in our puffy jackets to stay warm.  The rock was generally very good, and the views were spectacular.

Chris on the East Ridge of Forbidden Peak

North Face of Mount Buckner from Forbidden's East Ridge

Summit in sight!

The weather continued to favor us, and we tagged the summit still under clear, warm skies.  However, as we descended the West Ridge, clouds slowly began building on the horizon.  Not too long after we reached the Torment/Forbidden col, the clouds had moved in, and it was starting to rain a bit.

On the West Ridge descent

After some rappels and downclimbing on lots of steep, loose, wet snow, we finally made it back down to our tracks on the relative safety of the moderate snow that lead to our camp site.  We butt-glissaded as much as possible to hasten our descent.  By the time we reached our camp, the weather had continued to deteriorate, and we’d given up any thoughts of spending another night in the Basin.  We stuffed our gear into our packs, and hiked out, under ever increasing rain.   On the way out, we followed some tracks of a large party that led us through a fair amount of bushwhacking.  I figured that no Cascades trip is complete without a bit of character building bushwhacking, so it was all part of the “full value” experience.

Bushwhacking on the hike out

By the time we reached the car, it was late, raining, and we were tired and hungry.  We opted for a rest day as I was both satisfied and burned out.   Chris drove home to Seattle, and I drove to Burlington, the closest spot with food (24 hour Burger King drive in.)

The weather window had now closed, and we faced a bleak, wet forecast for the next several days.  It was time for me to go home, so we called an end to our climbing, and I spent the next day and a half sleeping, eating and exploring Seattle and Vancouver.

The trip had been a great success.  I got to climb two classic climbs of the Pacific Northwest, and I couldn’t have been happier.   Chris was a great guide and a really nice guy to share a week of climbing with.  He has all of the qualities I want in a guide:  competence, patience, local knowledge, and a great sense of humor.  I would highly recommend him to anyone who is interested in climbing in the Pacific Northwest or the Sierras.   Chris’s home page.

I’m already dreaming about my next trip to the Cascades.  There are just so many amazing mountains and classic lines that I can’t quit now.

Seattle's Pike Place Market

Native American Wood Carver, Seattle

Sun Yat Sen Garden, Vancouver

Sun Yat Sen Garden, Vancouver


Cascades, Part 1: Mount Baker North Ridge

I had been looking forward to a trip to the Cascades for several months.  Plane tickets bought, plans made.  I’d been training, dreaming, putting together gear lists, etc.  However, as the time to go drew near, my friend I was going with told me that he wasn’t going to be able to go.  His work was not going to allow him to take his planned vacation.  He couldn’t afford to lose his job, so he was out of the picture.   I was pretty bummed, as I’d been looking forward to the trip for quite a while, and really didn’t want to miss it.  Ultimately, I decided to simply hire a guide and do the trip anyway.  It was going to cost me more money than going with a friend, but ultimately, I didn’t see any way to get it done otherwise.

I selected Pro Guiding Service as my guide service for the trip.  I chose them primarily because they are permitted for Mount Baker, and also because their cadre of guides is very experienced, with many of their guides holding full UIAGM certifications.   Ultimately, I was paired up with a guide named Chris Simmons, a great guy with whom I was going to spend a terrific week of climbing.  Initially, the weather looked not so good.  As the dates for my trip approached, I kept checking weather reports.  It looked pretty wet, a concern that was echoed in Chris’s last e-mail to me:  “Bring extra gloves and rain gear.”

I flew into Vancouver on Saturday, and met Chris in Bellingham Sunday morning.  It was raining off and on, but we decided to roll the dice and take a shot at climbing Mount Baker’s North Ridge, my primary objective for the trip.  We drove to the trail head and hiked up to the high camp on Baker in intermittent rain.   The mountain alternated between completely socked in by clouds, and occasional sun shine.  I had attempted to climb Mount Baker several years before, but had been turned back by rain and poor visibility.  I was hoping for better luck this time.

Baker's North Ridge under cloudy skies, June 24, 2012

Mount Baker "peaking" out from the clouds

We went to sleep with a light rain falling on our tent.  I didn’t have much hope for clear weather the next day, but figured anything was possible.   We awoke at 3:00, and Chris announced that he could see stars.  With much enthusiasm, we strapped on crampons and made our way across the glacier, walking across perfect neve snow under a cold, clear sky.

Approaching the North Ridge at dawn

We opted for the left side approach to the ridge, looping under the toe of the ridge and then working our way up the ridge’s left flank.  Getting to the ridge, we had to avoid some (rather intimidating) crevasses and seracs.  Chris chose a line that got us past these threatening obstacles, and we made it up onto the ridge proper.

Approaching the North Ridge

After we gained the ridge, we steadily worked our way upwards, following some old tracks in the snow where possible, until finally, we approached the dramatic ice cliff that guards the mountain’s upper slopes.

Approaching the ice cliff pitches on Baker's North Ridge

In preparation for this climbing trip, I had read numerous trip reports of people who had climbed the North Ridge.  All of the reports seemed to indicate that passing the ice cliff on the left was easier than bearing right.  Chris led the steep ice pitch on the left flank, and pulled around the ridge crest out of sight.  I could tell that the climbing eased up a bit on the other side of the ridge crest, as he was moving pretty fast once he got established on the other side.

Chris, leading up the ice cliff

I followed the pitch, and then we climbed up several steep pitches until the angle decreased a bit and it turned into a steady ascent up to the summit.  We took a few pictures on top, and then began the long slog down to our camp.

On top of Mount Baker

After that, it was a long, ugly, tedious slog back down the hill.  The snow had softened, so we were post holing much of the way.  Eventually, we made it back to our tent, where we hastily broke camp, packed up, and hoofed it down the mountain to our car.  After a great burger at a local diner, Chris drove home to Seattle, and I drove back to Bellingham.  We took the next day off to rest and reload.  I had breakfast at the Old Town Cafe, a wonderful, funky Bellingham restaurant, and then I explored Bellingham a bit.  Our next objective was going to be a rock route, so I changed out my clothing and gear a bit to get ready for rock climbing.

Breakfast (and live music) at the terrific Old Town Cafe, Bellingham

Bellingham City Center


To be continued . . .