With its status as one of The 50 Classic Climbs in North America, it was about time I got off the couch and battle the crowds on the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak. I partnered up with “Stinky” Tom Sjolseth for a one day climb on a beautiful day following a couple of rainy days. We hoped that the rain would reduce the number of climbers on the route and by doing the climb in a day we wouldn’t have to deal with obtaining a permit to camp in Boston Basin.

We arrived at the Cascade Pass Trailhead about 8:00 PM the night before where we planned to car camp then get an early start in the morning. We shared some laughs with a couple from the Canada who ended up at the trailhead on a whim. Their real reason for coming to western Washington was to purchase some medieval products for their wedding… okay then.

We began hiking the trail into Boston Basin at 5:00 AM. I had never been to Boston basin before so the hike was at least new and I enjoyed every step of the slightly overgrown start, the steep section, the many fallen trees in the avalanche path, the mud, and the numerous stream crossings. A couple of the streams could be problematic. We reached Boston Basin in about an hour and 45 minutes. By Cascade standards the approach is short with only minor difficulties.

Continuing across the basin we were in pursuit of 4 parties. Two of the parties were heading for the East Ridge, with the first party already on the ridge by the time we reached the small glacier south of Forbidden Peak. We passed a guided party when we arrived at the base of the couloir a few minutes before 9:00.

On the small glacier with Formidable, Glacier, Rainier, Johannesburg, Sloan and Snowking in the background

I led the 45 degree snow in the couloir. It was in good condition aside from a collapsed section of snow that caused only minor concern about halfway up. Above the couloir there were a number of options available. We scrambled up to the West Ridge on 3rd and 4th class rock where we were immediately greeted by excellent views from the exposed crest.

Tom approaches the only difficulty in the couloir

Just above the notch in the west ridge

The Triad, Eldorado and Moraine Lake

Looking down the west ridge from just below the false summit

After following the ridge for about 50 feet on snow, Tom took the lead. After 2-3 pitches and an hour and a half on mostly third class rock on the north side of the ridge I took over. A short step regained the crest just below the 5.6 crux step. The step can be bypassed on the north side on 5.4 rock. I investigated the step thinking I was going to climb the slabby face until I discovered the inside corner on the left had some good cracks, was well protected by a pin and that there was a key hidden hold. Finally I committed and stemmed into the corner then muscled my way up finding only a few places for my boots.

Tom with the false summit behind him

I pulled over and set up a belay for Tom who then followed. Off again I stayed on or just left of the crest and began passing the only team above us on the ridge. Just below the false summit we downclimbed about 10 feet then traversed back to the crest. After a short exposed class 3/4 scramble we reached the tiny summit a little before 1:00. We stayed until the leader of the party we had passed on the ridge reached the summit then handed it over to them. We were happy to have had it to ourselves for a half hour and it looked like things were preparing to get crowded with one of the parties on the East Ridge also closing in on the summit.

Goode, Buckner, Boston and Sahale and the Boston and Quien Sabe Glaciers

We made the first rappel down the NE Face with some uncertainties about where we were going and what to expect. The reviews of the descent are mixed. We made 4 more rappels (60m rope, single rope rappels). Just before reaching the end of the rope another scary looking and unusually configured rappel station would appear. After 5 full rappels we downclimbed a little to a rib on the right and another rappelled anchor where we made another short rappel (you could easily downclimb or begin traversing from the last anchor). We were on steep ledges above the Boston Glacier and began traversing. The first part was, or at least seemed to be, the hardest. We arrived at the next rib and spotted a cairn.

Occasionally we would look down and see a sling far below. I am pretty sure that whoever left it there didn’t give the descent two thumbs up. The traverse continued over a few more ribs as we slowly lost a little elevation and arrived at an obvious narrow gully with snow that led to a notch in the East Ridge. It looked like it was going to be hard to get into it at first so we started going up on the right side which worked out fine but we would later see that there was a spot where we could have gotten into the gully without too much trouble. The traverse was mostly class 2/3 with occasional class 4 and plenty of exposure. Considering the other descent options, the NE Face was probably the best choice.

The NE Face ledges with Boston and Sahale in the background

From the east ridge it wasn’t altogether obvious which one of the gullies that dropped toward the small glacier south of Forbidden was the correct one so we took it upon ourselves to try them all starting with the ones on the right then working our way to the one farthest left which was, of course, the correct one. After a short bit of 40 degree snow the descent to the glacier went fast. We were back in Boston Basin in no time. After spending most of the day thinking “I really don’t want to fall here” I took advantage of the trail and proceeded to fall down seemingly every 5 to 10 minutes until we reached the trailhead at 6:30 PM.

Cascade Alpine Guide, Volume 2, 2nd Edition; Fred Beckey; Pages298-304
Selected Climbs in the Cascades, Volume 1, 2nd Edition; Jim Nelson & Peter Potterfield; Pages 196-198
Washingtons Highest Mountains; Peggy Goldman; Pages 69-73
Climbing Washington's Mountains; Jeff Smoot; Pages 74-78