Forbidden Peak

Retreat from the Ridge
By B.C. Hartwig
Descending the Ridge
Descending the Ridge

We sat in silence for several minutes, perched on a narrow island of rock. On both sides, a thousand feet of emptiness stretched to the glaciers below. We huddled like three pilgrims contemplating a cruel world, each of us waiting for another to speak. "I'm happy to do what you guys think is best—the safest," Lance said finally.

The decision was made with little discussion, but not without regret. We would tie our two ropes together and rappel off the ridge. Then we would traverse until we were below the notch where we had started. It was 5 p.m. and we knew that we couldn't make the summit via another route and then descend before dark.

I looped a single nylon runner around a large rock horn and rappelled nearly two hundred feet down the northeast face, which I discovered quickly, was a decaying mess of rock, dirt, and grass.

After three rappels, we had to untie from the ropes and begin the traverse across the crumbling northeast face. From there we had to find a place where we could ascend, get back to our starting point at the notch on the east ridge, and then descend down the other side of the mountain.

We talked anxiously about taking a look at the photocopied pages of the guidebook that were buried in one of the packs, but quickly decided that we were beyond the reach of any help they could offer us.

The face revealed only the slightest variation in its wretched nature. Ramps and ledges could be seen here and there, but they all ended in bleak composure on the crumbling slope. Some rocks rested on the surface of the dirt and grass, while others lay imbedded in a loose, shallow grave, eager for the chance to catch a ride with gravity.

The northeast face is considered a class four scramble, meaning that the technical difficulty is low. But climbers know that a descent on such terrain—loose rock with no place to anchor a rope—can be a deathtrap. One slip means the end.

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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