August 14 thru 17, 2022
Carly and I took a Pacific North West vacation this year. We’d planned to do it in 2021, but we opted out due to wildfire smoke at the time. We ended up in the Sierras and that trip was great. This time around we had all the pieces in place well in advance and we were fortunate that everything went to plan.
We had two major objectives out of the many, many things to do in the PNW. First was to climb with Micah, whom I went to AK with earlier this year. With Micah we’d be doing some alpine rock, but nothing specific until the permits were sorted out. The second objective was a long trail run in the Enchantments outside of Leavenworth, WA.
Micah secured some permits for Boston Basin at the foot of Forbidden Peak in the North Cascades National Park. Forbidden is a tri-ridged peak with East, West and North ridges all coming to a point at the well defined summit. With four days and splitter weather Micah suggested that we hike in and do a half day on Sharkfin Tower (5.2) then follow that up the next day with the East Ridge (5.8) and descend the West Ridge (5.6). The third and fourth days to climb the North Ridge (5.6) and bivy on route.
The PNW and Cascades live up to their lush reputation. While the weather was hot and dry we still were treated to green forests and moss on practically every surface you could see. The trail into Boston Basin is not maintained or planned so it is a bit rough. Often it is very tight, almost bushwacky, steep and dusty. It does have the typical climber trail feel of taking the shortest path between two points. By my watch it was 3000′ of gain in 3.3 miles.
Once the forest is breached views are seen of Forbidden and Eldorado Peaks above the green heathered slopes. The area definitely isn’t’ a “cirque” and it feels wide open with wide views to the south and west. We found some good spots for our tents.
After setting down our stuff and putting up the tents we geared up for an afternoon ascent of Sharkfin Tower’s Southeast Ridge (5.2). This climb starts at the top of the glacier and goes over a small headwall then another snowfield before a few more pitches to the summit of the tower.
One of the fantastic things of this trip was the relatively little water that we needed to carry. With all the glaciers and snowfields were was always running water someplace. Due to the lack of wildlife and people (permits really restrict their number) we drank straight from the streams. I’ve always been hesitant of this but Micah’s never had trouble in this zone. It also made water stops fast since there was no need to filter.
The most notable pitch of Sharkfin is P2 which ascends a triangular arete with big air to both sides. Not a difficult one, but memorable and fun. We finished up and descended with plenty of daylight left to make dinner and have a visit from a mountain goat. He was comfortable with us and came pretty close, though not in a looking for food type of way.
Day 2 we got up at 5am to do the East Ridge (5.8). Much of the climbing on Forbidden is fairly easy climbing along ridgelines. However, depending on the way you climb this can be quite time consuming. For much of the ridge we had a shortened rope, perhaps 10m between the leader and the followers. Followers were separated by 2-3m. This allowed easy communication and quick transitions since there was only a piece or two, if any at all that needed to be handed off. Micah used a lot of terrain belays and anchors rather than putting in gear. This method worked well, particularly on the easy terrain and made for quick progress.
During the middle of the route I was able to lead a block with climbing up to around 5.7. While I placed a little more pro than Micah I felt I did a reasonable job using the style he had. The major thing I didn’t do was belay from the right spot on one of the tower cruxes that I did. The climbing on most of the ridge was similar. Lots of ridge riding occasionally au cheval and vertical gendarms to climb up and down.
Views from the top of Forbidden were great. We got a nice view of the North Ridge, our next day’s objective. Rather than descending the East Ledges, which is a chossy, loose and mostly unprotectable ledge system of dirt we downclimbed the West Ridge. This route in itself is a 50 Classic, though I think the East Ridge is probably a better route due to the increased difficulty.
For Days 3-4 our plan was for the North Ridge. One of the things that we’d talked with Micah about was bivying on route. The North Ridge has two great spots for this depending on how quickly you are moving. We awoke at 5am and packed up our stuff for our two day climb. We left tents and approach shoes in Boston Basin. With the weather being fantastic we didn’t need the tent, nor would there be a spot quite big enough for it anyway. And for the footware the route is only 5.6 and if we avoided the approach shoes it would spare us the need to carry over mountain boots.
We retraced our steps up towards Sharkfin Tower and booted up some good snow in a notch. From a slight escape left in the notch we rappelled down to the Boston Glacier. Once on the glacier I started following the tracks from a party that had crossed it the previous afternoon. This made for fairly easy navigation and we didn’t run into any dead ends. There were a few crevasse jumps we did though. At this point in the season the snow is well consolidated and most of the crevasses have straight walls so punching through an overhanging section was not likely.
On the glacier the sun and temps did make for some hot travel. The reflection of the sun from below made the 2 hours to traverse the glacier a constant battle of trying to stay cool but not reveal too much skin and get sun burned.
Once off the glacier and up on the North Ridge we got a little respite with a breeze. From the point where the ridge is gained there’s a large bivy zone. This spot is usually used if you approach the ridge later in the day and we continued on after a little rest.
The first part of the North Ridge is relatively easy, 4th class in many places, but with consequence since it drops away on both sides of the narrow ridge. More of the same shortened rope-terrain belay techniques were used to make quick work though here. We’d expected there to be two snow fields to cross requiring putting crampons on/off, however they had retreated enough that we were able to skirt around them on the rock. The second larger snowfield was neat since it had formed and melted in the shape of a cresting wave.
After the second snowfield we came to our bivy spot. It is a widened section of the ridgeline with a few level dirt spots scattered about. In all it could probably sleep 5-6 people, but 4 is the more comfortable. We’d made good time during our travels to this point so we arrived in the middle of the afternoon—plenty of time to have finished the route, but since we’d brought the sleeping kit we settled in.
Carly and I put our sleeping pads and bags down in a dirt spot just wide enough for two rimmed on the inside by a large boulder and on the outside by some rocks that people had stacked up. While awake the zone is perfectly safe to be unroped as long as you are careful, but for sleeping we clipped in.
With the snowfield just a short distance away we were able to stay fully hydrated for the afternoon/evening. Once dinnertime came around Carly and I rehydrated our Good To Go Thai Curry meals which turned out awesome. Micah brought dessert of a dark chocolate and caramel bar. We were a little worried it would be a mess since it had melted/remelted a couple times the previous couple days, but it was only misshaped. It was delicious.
The weather stayed clear and we were treated with a great sunset with layers upon layers of mountains into the distance. With our perch so high up we had just about as much light as possible. That night I set an alarm to catch the moonrise and get some star shots. The stars were great, though perhaps not quite as good as other times in remote sections of Utah that I’ve seen. The Milky Way was still visible as were numerous satellites cruising overhead.
In the morning we slept in a bit until 6am. With the summit about 2 hours away there was no need to get a pre-dawn start. The sun came up and the golden light was fantastic. Sunrise and sunset up high are so much more vibrant and memorable.
After some breakfast and packing we set off to finish up the North Ridge. Similar knife edge scrambling with some fifth-class moves here and there progressed us up the ridge. For the final couple hundred vertical feet I took the lead. The final pitch to the summit is slightly more vertical and requires a more traditional belay and protection. I headed up and found the climbing to be fun for the most part. The crux was probably at one spot where there’s an awkward step left onto a slab with hands that face a little off the direction you want them to. Not a difficult section, but it required some thought to keep the moves at 5.6. One of the nice things about the final section is that it culminates directly on the summit. The climbing goes right to the top.
After some lounging on the summit for the second time we headed down the West Ridge again. With the terrain more familiar the mountain boots didn’t seem to be much of an issue for the downclimbing. Once back on the glacier we glissaded down until we met the slabs and made our way back to our stash of equipment at camp.
The hike out was a bit of a drag since it was later in the day than when we’d hiked in. Despite going down it felt harder, perhaps only because of the heat and the flies. In the forest there was little breeze, but lots of flies. Pretty much no way to stop without being covered, so we just kept going. We had a little respite at our stream crossing we’d stopped at on the approach.
The four days were long and filled with movement, even if much of the climbing was easy fifth class. I felt we got just about everything on Forbidden Peak, though there are a couple other routes on the north side that looked interesting. It was a great experience. Carly’s first open bivy went about as well as could be asked for. I’m hoping we can plan something similar to that again in the future.
After getting back to the cars Carly and I headed to a picnic area Micah recommended. We’d hoped to take a dip in the river there but it was just so cold that all we could muster was to wash off, still really nice. We opted to stay in Marblemount—the town just outside the NP—that evening. There was a little rest stop down by the river we camped at. While close to the road it had a nice feel, especially later in the evening when the traffic tapered off.
Thursday was our rest and travel day. Our next adventure would be outside Leavenworth, WA about 3.5 hours away. Since we had the whole day we took it easy and stopped along the way to see some other stuff in the area. We bought some fresh cherries and stopped in Index. Index looked to have some amazing crack climbing that we’d like to check out at some point. The wild blackberries there were awesome too!