Forbidden Peak, Sharkfin Tower

August 8 - 11, 2001

Dave Svilar, Matt Alford

 

Routes up Forbidden and Sharkfin Tower as seen from the Sahale-Boston col.

The chatter that filled the cab of the Toyota was that of pent up frustration.  As we headed north Matt talked about painting Toyland at the local McDonald's while I complained about working with cytotoxic drugs in my window-less lab.  Clearly we both needed some time outside and a trip to Boston Basin was just what the doctor ordered.  We slept the night in the back of the Toyota hoping to be the first to pounce on permits when the ranger station opened in the morning.

There was no problem obtaining permits, in fact we were supposedly going to be the only ones in the Basin.  I had a smile on my face as we made the short drive down the Cascade River Road to the trailhead thinking we were going to be alone.  Naturally we were upset when we arrived the trailhead to find a long van parked.  The size of the van suggested a guided tour group or even an army of Mountaineers.  Upon closer inspection there was a Led Zeppelin tune and a cloud of smoke billowing out an open door in the van.  Clearly this was no group of Mountaineers.  When the smoke cleared a long haired guy emerged and greeted us, "hey dudes."  The long haired guy and his bald buddy were heading up to do the Torment-Forbidden traverse.  We let them get back to their pre-game activities and headed up the trail.

Matt and I bombed up the trail enjoying the cool shade of the forested slopes.  We broke out of the trees and emerged into the basin ascending the moraine of the Quien Sabe Glacier en route to the Sharkfin Tower.  We dumped our overnight gear under some rocks beneath the glacier to lighten our load.  At this point I discovered that I had forgot some of my food, most importantly my mom's cookies. 

Despite not having my mom's cookies I bravely decided to continue with the climb.  We ascended the glacier, and found a steep gully that led to the base of the tower.  I led the first short, traversing pitch and enjoyed the views down onto the Boston Glacier almost as much as I did the shade that provided welcome relief from the intense sun.  Matt led up the second pitch - an easy, but spectacular arete with wild exposure on both sides.  I led the last easy low 5th class pitch that put us on top of the spectacularly situated summit.

Matt on Sharkfin's second pitch.  This has to be one of the best "easy" pitches around.

 

Dave creating rope-drag near the summit of Sharkfin Tower.

We soaked up the sun on the summit and I noticed for the first time the effects of no food.  I was starting to get the low blood sugar feeling due to my self imposed rationing of food.  We made the spectacular double-rope rappel off the other side of the tower and traversed a steep snow slope back to the start of the climb.  Matt had left his sunglasses somewhere on the first pitch.  After retrieving these we headed back down through the gully until I realized I had left my helmet back at the start of the climb.  Matt volunteered to go back and get it while I set up another rappel to get us onto the glacier.

After descending the glacier and crossing a talus slope we made camp near slabs beneath the Forbidden Glacier.  After starving myself I quickly recovered by eating some food.  Our camp was picturesque on flat sandy ground with large polished boulders and a stream running conveniently through it.  To top it off our camp was surrounded by the mighty peaks we had climbed and were about to climb.  Another highlight of the camp was the view from the toilet.  I made extra trips to the can just to relax and take in the view.

Matt relaxes at the bivy after a day on the Sharkfin Tower.

We watched the sunset and quickly crawled into our bivy sacks.  We wondered how our stoner friends were fairing on the high traverse.  Matt and I drifted off to sleep with thoughts of the west ridge of Forbidden dancing in our heads - one of North America's supposed 50 classic climbs.

We were off before the sun rose the next morning silently crossing slabs in the cool morning air as our bodies slowly found a rhythm.  We roped up for the glacier even though there wasn't much crevasse danger.  The west ridge is accessed by a steep snow filled coulior.  As we approached this coulior the hard snow began to steepen.  I suggested to Matt that we put on some crampons, but he refuted my suggestion and plowed ahead.  By the time the snow became steep I wanted my crampons, but it was too steep to safely put them on.  Matt forged ahead kicking steps that were too small for my size 12 boots.  Despite my anxiety we reached the notch in the ridge where the climbing would begin.

Matt gears up for the ascent of the glacier and coulior.

We covered the first few hundred feet unroped, then traded in our boots for rock shoes and began to pitch it out.  The climb never seemed that steep or technically difficult (even for my meager rock skills), but was still a lot of fun due to the solid rock and good exposure.  We tried staying as close as possible to the airy ridge sometimes dropping down a ways to the left.  At times we were climbing directly on the ridge which was like crawling on a balance beam a thousand feet above the deck.  I know the climb was great because I didn't mind belaying.  The emerald blue-green waters of Moraine Lake and constant avalanches around the basin were a show to themselves.  While belaying I spotted our stoner friends hopping like mountain goats along the ridge towards our mountain.  We swapped leads for five pitches until reaching the top of yet another spectacular summit. 

Dave happily belays Matt.

 

I reach for a hold on the last difficult spot before the summit.

 

Matt and Dave on the summit of Forbidden. 

 

View into the Eldorado basin and Moraine Lake from the summit.

We spent time enjoying summit views putting off thinking about the descent.  As fun as Forbidden is to climb it's a task to descend.  We chose the familiar west ridge which required a variety of techniques.  I started by "downleading" from the summit.  That was slow and tedious, so we tried a rappel.  The traversing nature of the ridge made this even slower as Matt kept having to re-throw the rope.  Finally we did a running belay that turned out to be the easiest and most efficient method.

Matt tries rappelling on the descent.  He wasn't smiling after re-throwing the ropes five times.

At one point our stoner friends passed by on their way up the ridge unroped.  We discussed descending the couloir which would be steep, soft and dangerous in the afternoon sun and they decided to forgo their summit bid in order to combine ropes for rappelling purposes.  They went back to the notch in the ridge and smoked bowls while waiting for Matt and I.  These guys were obviously excellent climbers and what was even more impressive is that their performance seemed to improve with an increase in THC in their blood.  Their packs looked like a book-bag I would tote to class.  I tried to imagine what I would see if I examined the contents of one of their packs.  Probably a jacket, three pieces of rock protection, and a bong. 

Uniting forces with our stoned cohorts we made two long rappels that got us most of the way down the couloir.  From there we took our time getting back to camp enjoying views and drinking water from the slabs.  After devouring the last of my food we retired to a comfy slab near camp to watch the sunset.

We broke out our own bag of tricks which provided supreme sunset enhancement.  Laying on our backs the peaks surrounding us formed a mysterious ring with pink sky and stars above.  After awhile hunger set in and we returned to camp to see what Matt had left in his food bag.  One Power Bar.  I normally don't salivate at the site of a Power Bar, but I took extra long to chew both bites enjoying them like they were my last.

An extra special sunset.

The original plan was to climb Torment as well, but we were out of food and I had to be back for a bachelor party.  We hiked over to the climb to have a look and reluctantly descended the basin back to the Toyota.  As the Toyota bounced back down the road neither of us wanted to return to our lousy jobs.  But with fresh memories of an extraordinary few days in Boston Basin Matt was prepared to breathe noxious paint fumes and I the cytotoxins of my window-less lab.

-written May 2002

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