Torment - Forbidden Traverse

North Cascades, Washington

August 11 - 13, 2010

Dave, Elley


View from the summit of Torment looking towards our destination, the summit of Forbidden Peak.  Between here and there the ridge is steep and convoluted with gendarmes and small glaciers.  If Forbidden has an ugly aspect I'm not aware.

Matt, aka Harvard Man, was making his annual trip back to the PNW and wanted to do something hard.  For some reason he chose me as his partner.  Now that the Ptarmigan Traverse was checked off, the Torment-Forbidden Traverse had taken its place on my #1 to-do list.  Made popular by its inclusion in the modern 50 Classics book, this route promised to be the ultimate in Cascades mountaineering.  The last bit of the traverse was familiar, the west ridge of Forbidden which Alford and I had climbed 9 years ago, which had proved to be stellar in its own right.  While the route didn't require any serious rock gymnastics it did have bergschrunds, moats, steep and loose rock, and as we would discover, routefinding issues.

We arrived our upper Boston Basin camp at dusk on Wednesday, whereupon we were smothered in clouds and attacked by a pack of rabid snaffels.  Matt decided it was easier to just kill the snaffels instead of re-locate his food.  Probably bad karma, I thought, but on the other hand it was retribution for all the cookies that I'd lost over the years to these persistent beasts.  Our alpine start was delayed by clouds as thick as soup.  A late start was forgotten when we passed the Taboo Glacier and onto the crappy rock of Torment's south ridge.  Last year, Cam's friend Craig was killed on the Taboo Glacier in  freak accident trying to do the same thing.  To my relief the 'schrund and moat were all in decent shape.

It had been too soon since being in the Bugaboos (best alpine rock climbing in N America), so the climbing on Torment felt pathetically second rate.  The south ridge route didn't even climb a ridge at all and involved mostly loose 3rd class rock.  Once we gained the summit of Torment we could see what we'd come for.  A mile of gnarly ridgeline with the summit pyramid of Forbidden to top it all off.  Climbing to this point had gone slow and I looked forward to a faster pace, but even as we descended to the notch (supposed to be easy) it felt loose and steep.  Matt made a nice rappel onto the glacier and firemaned me across the moat.  We belayed down and around the steep bergschrund and came to grinding halt.  Where to go?  I had left my route description at home so we actually had to think for ourselves.  The logical choice onto a series of ledges (in hindsight this was the correct choice) was blocked by a hideous moat/'schrund that had me thinking, "this can't possibly be the way."  For some horrible reason I convinced Matt that we should wind our way 500 feet down through steep crevasses, where we could gain another series of ledges via sketchy moat.

The moment of truth would occur when we rounded the corner beyond the ledges.  If the way was blocked we would have to retreat from the route, a most distressing thought.  When we rounded the corner we were at the bottom of the what is known as the steep snow/ice portion of the route - the mental crux.  Our necks bent back, and we gazed up at almost 500 feet of 50 degree snow, and adding to the challenge, two bergschrunds to negotiate.  We were obviously off-route, but both of us saw the silver lining.  Sometimes it's easier to climb straight up steep snow than it is to traverse it.  Plus, if we successfully made it back to the crest we would be finished with the hardest portion of the route.  With only one picket for protection we were able to climb with some degree of safety by using rock protection at the belays. 

Once we had regained the ridge the expectation was for easy routefinding.  However, clouds were blocking most of our view making it difficult to find our way.  Sensing we were drifting too low and that we should be higher I chose to lead what looked to be an easy pitch.  I suppose it was easy, but it ended up being one of the scariest leads of my life.  The rock refused all my attempts for protection and threatened to send me on a 100 foot bouncing fall.  When I finally brought Matt up on belay I made my only good decision of the day, "Let's bivy so I can't find something else stupid to do today."

At that point I would have liked to kick back with a warm drink and some cookies, but the laws of human survival dictated we melt snow for water.  It would have also been nice to sleep that night, but the wind was hucking snapping our bivy sacks like whips rendering sleep all but impossible.  Sometime in the middle of the night I found an easier place to sleep - amongst a pile of large jagged rocks - and actually slept for a couple of hours.

We forewent an alpine start for a second straight morning as the wind was relentless.  From this point we would climb almost directly along the ridge with huge exposure on both sides, all the way to the summit of Forbidden.  Our hands and toes were numb and it was difficult to balance as our packs acted like sails in the wind.  The wind symbolically subsided when we reached the west ridge of Forbidden.  All of a sudden it was warm, the rock was solid (and fun), and the exposure even more dramatic.  We proudly showed each other our bowel movements and no longer burdened by our packs or the insecurity of loose rocks or scary moats we climbed up and down Forbidden quickly.  My last concern was getting from the ridge back down into the basin.  On our second to last rappel the rope didn't reach creating a comical yet dangerous attempt to reach the next set of anchors.  Think Dumb and Dumber on rappel.  On the last rappel our rope got stuck.  My efforts to retrieve it were minimal as I was already angry at my rope for not being 60 meters long.  It was donated, happily, to the west ridge of Forbidden.  May it rot in ...

When we reached Boston Basin a ranger kindly scolded me for caching some of my belongings.  A NOLS group camped in the basin said they saw the frame of my pack (left behind to save weight) blow away in the wind where it was probably stolen by a marmot.  I was too tired and too glad to be off the ridge to care, so I sat in a puddle and ate a sandwich.  We arrived back at the trailhead without needing the aid of our headlamps, ate some chips and caught the last ferry to Lopez Island. 

Hopefully Matt felt challenged enough by the route.  I certainly did everything in my power to make it as difficult as possible. In conclusion, I had an unforgettable journey between the peaks, but came away mostly unimpressed with the route (except for the phenomenal west ridge of Forbidden).  Until next year, Harvard Man.

Harvard Man gives a thumbs up after breaking the trees.  Notice the pig sweat.


A gloomy morning from our bivy in Boston Basin.  With no other choice we sat around until later morning waiting for the clouds to part.


And part they did!  Matt takes a breather on the Taboo Glacier as we make our way to the south ridge of Torment.


Loose and uninteresting climbing on Torment's south ridge.


A fine action shot of Dave setting up the first rappel.  This rappel put us on the north side of the ridge and a glacier where a moat awaited.  The trick was to thread the ropes correctly and send you partner down first, in case the chasm between rock and ice was too large.  See below.  photo by Matt


My brave partner was able cross the moat, and pull me over - fireman style.


Steep and stupid.  We weaved our way through crevasses and 'schrunds downhill some 400 feet below the crest - a good way to see the entire mountain.


Matt found some rock in which to belay Dave past the bergschrunds (large cracks in the ice).  photo by Matt


Dave led up the second pitch to the crest and past the snow difficulties.  photo by Matt


Feeling good after ascending steep snow back onto the ridgecrest. 


Sunset from our bivy on the ridge, a special place to spend a night.


Matt attempts to hide from the wind at our bivy.


Where the Sidewalk Ends     The wind died down, the sun came out, and the climbing got good!  The west ridge of Forbidden awaits.  We had the entire peak to ourselves.  photo by Matt


Matt hanging out at the ultra-exposed belay on Forbidden's west ridge.  Notice the ridgeline in the background - the way we had come the previous day.


Matt prepares for the technical crux of the climb (but certainly not the crux).


Matt comes over the top to reach the summit of Forbidden.


A summit panorama.


 - posted August 2010

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