Forbidden Peak

The East Ridge
By B.C. Hartwig
The author on Forbidden Peak
The author on Forbidden Peak

Forbidden Peak's three spines, the popular west ridge and the less-traveled north and east ridges, rise so evenly toward the mountain's prominent summit, and with such symmetrical grandeur, that the 8,815-foot peak looks oddly perfect among the neighboring mountains.

Climbers are drawn to the peak by its prominence on the horizon, by its beauty and reputation. It's considered a classic Northwest climb. If you live and climb in the area, you'll eventually get asked: "You ever done Forbidden Peak?"

Even from Boston Basin, the mountain promises a granite stairway in the sky; an easy-to-follow, airy perch strung along the horizon.

But looks don't tell the whole story of the East Ridge.

The snow was already turning soft by the time we gained the notch that starts the climb of the East Ridge. It had taken a couple hours of tedious plodding to get there, but now, below us, was a stunning, endless jumble of yawning crevasses and serrated mountaintops, with strands of dark forest flowing through the valleys and creeping up the icy mountain flanks.

The air was warm and the sky cloudless.

Blue sky is uncommon in the North Cascades, an area that is pounded most of the year by moisture-rich cold fronts funneling down from the Gulf of Alaska. Most of the year, it is a place in seemingly fervid preparation for those rare days when it suddenly presents itself to the world with wild, austere images.

Nearby, Mt. Baker rose dramatically above Puget Sound as we began the first pitch of the climb. The initial one hundred feet or so took us up the first of several rock towers along the ridge. We took note of some loose rock, sections of stone annexed from larger blocks. Most of it was poised for a several hundred-foot free-fall. Loose rock is not unusual in the Cascades, even on the so-called classic routes, but there seemed to be a lot of it here.

We kept to the high point of the ridge, assuming that would give us the best options in route finding. But we were soon forced to ascend a series of towers. The rock here narrowed to a dorsal fin of foliated rock, with enough empty space on either side to make you feel the visceral sensation of gravity tugging you toward your death. The crummy rock made the sensation acute, unpleasant and personal.

By the fifth pitch we were atop the last of the towers that jut skyward from the ridge. The isolated pods of bad rock and dirt had given way to a narrow, unavoidable echelon of rubble. "Nobody in their right mind would climb over that," I said to Russ, as I continued to stare. The ridge had dropped away and deteriorated into a two-foot wide pinnacle of loose, computer-sized blocks heaped on top of each other, some parts of the rock touching, but much of it hanging in space. By stepping on any of them, we were sure to trigger a chaotic disassembly of that section of the ridge. Everything would go, and for quite a long way. There was no way to climb around it.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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