Forbidden Peak – East Ridge Direct (5.8)

“Well-seasoned Cascade climbers consider Forbidden’s East Ridge route among the finest arêtes of its kind in the western states. Adorned with gendarmes, spikes, and gaps, the crest divides the steep and smooth slabs of the south face from the northern precipice and the crevassed Boston Glacier. 

Forbidden Peak, unknown a half century ago, is today almost overwhelmed by a tide of popularity, a hostage to its own existence. We now expect its rock and vintage to not only make us feel self-sufficient but, rarest of joys, but also to make us think. On the popular West Ridge, weekend climbers compete for belay spots and limited space. Yet on the pinnacled East Ridge, the more distant North Ridge, or the splendid Northwest Face routes, one can be assured of relative solitude.”

“Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs”, Barry Blanchard
Mr. Goofy scheming about the multitude of towers to get on.” -Sandy


Looking for an interesting objective to practice simul-climbing this weekend, I was drawn to Fred Beckey’s descriptions of the East Ridge Direct in his book of Favorite Climbs. Only 16 climbs from the Pacific Northwest had made the list, and as the two other Beckey favorites I had done (the North Ridge of Baker and Outer Space) had been outstanding, this seemed like an obvious choice.

We started driving towards Marblemount on Saturday at 2 pm. The plan was to reach there and sleep at the trailhead of Forbidden Peak until 3:30 am, and then start hiking at 4 am. In July 2017 we had done the West Ridge as one of our first dates — which provided just enough time to forget the true nature of the trail to Boston Basin. This path offers a great variety of engaging movement — bushwacking, steep slab and rocky sections, stupendous amount of loose rock, fallen trees — anything you could want, really.

We got to Boston Basin lower camp at about 6 am, just in time to see a baby bear scoping out the creek crossing. All ~17 of the creek crossings up to the upper Boston Basin camp were mellow in the early morning. For some reason the bear thought it wasn’t a great idea for him to lower down into the river, so we went higher and crossed instead.

The baby bear didn’t pose and say “cheese”, so we will have to consider this good.
Sahale glacier.

Hiking the dry slabs and meticulously traversing wet slabs, we reached the snow patch which leads to the gully that takes you to the East Ridge. From a distance, the gully looked very benign, low angle and full of ledges. We put our crampons (Rick) and microspikes (Sandy) on and hiked up the snow patch.

The couple that we have been leapfrogging, headed towards the dark gully between rock walls.

As we got to the base of the gully, things started to look more ferocious; loose wet rocks, seepage, choss-covered slabs, etc. Sandy relieved some microwave to oven-sized blocks from the drudgery of being stagnant, before scrambling up the rest of the gully without incident. This section would probably be much more casual and fast earlier in the season with more snow coverage, but it still went fine. After this and the upper chossy slabs, we found ourselves below the first gendarme of the ridge.

Chossy slabs above the gully entrance.

None of the options for descending Forbidden Peak is particularly straightforward, as both the West Ridge and the East Ledges descent involve rappels and downclimbing. We chose the East Ledges descent, as this allowed us to leave one of the packs and most the non-climbing gear at the bivy below the ridge line and travel lighter. While this option adds a few hundred meters of loose class 3/4 scrambling above a crevasse-covered glacier to the end of our day, you don’t have to deal with the cat-scratch gully rappels and you avoid the prospect of party-induced rockfall from other descending parties.

Looking up from the top of the gully. Pitch one starts just left of the right gendarme. You can see the three gendarmes and the triangular summit block on the left.

We started climbing the ridge at 11 am, simuling to the first 5.7 gendarme and then transitioning to belayed climbing up the gendarme. This was our first experience simuling an exposed ridge traverse, and while we knew the theory behind simul-climbing, it took some time to really get the systems down.

Pitch one: Sandy isn’t visible but the leader of the other party is in view.
Sandy leading the first gendarme.

After the struggle for momentum of the first pitch, we reached a flow and started moving more fluidly. Despite the heavily lichen-covered rocks, the rubber stuck well and the climbing was fun with generous amounts of incut (sometimes mobile) hand holds.

Sandy leading sections after the first gendarme. The follower of the party ahead of us is in red and blue to the right.
Sandy on a knife-edge section of ridge line.

After ascending another tower we continued on the ridge line, even managing to sneak in a nice au cheval belay during a transition.

We bypassed the second gendarme by staying low and traversing across on the right side. This saved us the time of rappelling off the gendarme, but required us to do an easy but run out 50 meter traverse around the tower and up below the final technical climbing of the route.

A party coming up the north ridge.

The final gendarme was only about 40 feet of 5.8 but made for a fascinating pitch. It looked overhanging and improbable from below, but had perfect incut holds going up the pinnacle which made for stand-out climbing.

The last technical section.

Once up the tower Sandy belayed me up, then we had two pitches of great 5.2 simul-climbing along the ridge right to the summit at 3:30 pm.

Sandy leading the ridge traverse directly before the summit.

Three rappels off the summit to the NE, a short grassy traverse east to the next rock rib, and two more rappels got us onto the East Ledges descent proper. A few hundred meters of somewhat loose sandy & grassy ledges led us over a few more rock ribs and near the first gendarme which marks the start of the route. After the first two rock ribs there are a higher and lower set of cairns for each rock rib to guide the easiest way across each rib. We took the high route, which allowed us to easily skip the fourth-class red gully at the end and scramble up blocks to the start of the route.

Sandy traversing near the end of the East Ledges.

After a short feast we descended the wonderfully high-friction slabs (unfortunately covered in granite marbles) and the loose gully, moving from point of safety to point of safety to avoid dropping rocks on each other.

While Sandy’s microspikes worked adequately in the early morning frozen snow, the sun-baked slush we were faced with now was a different story. She took about two steps then toppled over backwards in the slush and started sliding. I grabbed her by her pants and arrested her fall, receiving a wide-eyed look as she was now on her back, aligned headfirst down the slope. After righting that issue, I stomped deep foot holds angled downwards into the slope to the slab traverse, where we threaded our way between the dozens of small streams running down the slabs towards the high camp.

Descending down to the lower camp just as light failed, we took a long AlpenNap in the warm darkness under an amazing sky full of stars, and then reversed the rest of the trail out, arriving long after midnight.

Lessons Learned:

  • Slinging horns was by far our best protection on the route, and it was very helpful to have 4 double-length slings with us.
  • This article by the Choss Boys was extremely helpful for laying out the foundations of simul-climbing.
  • A gri-gri was worth its weight to self-belay sections while simul-climbing in order to get to a no-hands rest.
  • A small auto-locking carabiner would of been nice for tying off the rope after shortening it.

Gear Notes:

  • Doubles from .3-1, a single .2, 2, & 3. Offset nuts were taken but never used.
  • Six single slings, 4 double length slings.

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