Forbidden Peak – North Ridge (III 5.6)

Nichole Burgio and I climbed the North Ridge of Forbidden Peak on August 20-21st, 2022. We were a little slower than expected, but in a place as beautiful as this, what’s the rush?

Nichole after the major stream crossing.
Hot afternoon hiking into Boston Basin. Photo: Nichole Burgio

There are bigger, harder, more beautiful mountains in the Cascades, but Forbidden Peak may be the best possible combination of these qualities. Cascadian alpinism at its finest. The North Ridge was the last of three major ridges on Forbidden Peak to be climbed in 1952. Fred Beckey, the legend, participated in the first ascent of the North Ridge, as well as the FA of the West Ridge (and the whole peak) in 1940, the Direct East Ridge in 1958 and the Northwest Face in 1959. About the North Ridge, Fred wrote: “It is perhaps one of the most alpine routes in the United States: a half-mile narrow and very jagged rock crest sweeps up to the pointed summit, and on both sides is relentless exposure” (AAJ 1953).

Nichole scrambling the looseness in the gully to Sharkfin Col.

Nichole and I had a late start on Saturday and took a slow pace in the afternoon heat. I had already done this exact approach when I climbed the Northwest Face a few years ago, so things went smoothly. In short, we hiked up to Boston Basin, ascended the Northwest margin of the Quien Sabe glacier, scrambled loose gullies to a notch near Sharkfin Col, made two 30m rappels off the other side, and finally traversed the Boston Glacier to reach the North Ridge. The glacier is still in great shape and navigation was straightforward, with only a little bit of backtracking necessary to end run a monster crevasse.

Posing down on the Boston Glacier. Photo: Nichole
Nichole crossing the Boston with Buckner Mountain’s North Face in the distance.

There are two documented options to gain the North Ridge from the Boston Glacier. When I climbed the NW Face, Kyle and I took the lower option and soloed a pitch of potato chip rock. For this trip I chose the higher notch. Our slow pace caught up with us here and I had to investigate the moat crossing by headlamp as it was now dark out. The moat required some scary work up and over a sharp ridge of alpine ice and finished with a committing hop over the abyss to gain the rock. Once that was over, I led a pitch of solid rock to the ridge crest where we found two perfect bivy ledges with a precipitous drop off the side. We set up shop for the night, lamenting that we had failed to gather any water while on the glacier. There is no water source at this bivy, so it was a thirsty night.

Sunrise views over the Boston Glacier.
Getting ready to start climbing from the bivy. The summit of Forbidden Peak looks pretty far away… Photo: Nichole

In the morning, Nichole and I soaked up jaw-dropping sunrise views from the warmth of our sleeping bags as I indulged in my final sip of water. So much of my time in the mountains is spent focusing on moving quickly, so I appreciated this relaxed start to our summit day. Setting off from the bivy ledges, I immediately climbed the 5.6 corner, really just a few steep moves before the terrain eased off. This protected well and is pretty soft for a Fred Beckey 5.6 pitch. Switching to simulclimbing mode, we pressed on until we reached the first snow field, which was easily bypassed on rock. We took advantage of the clean, accessible snow here, melting several liters of water to make up for the dry bivy the night before.

Nichole climbing with Eldorado Peak, the McAllister Glacier, and Moraine Lake behind.

From here, we mostly simulclimbed the ridge which ranged from walking to low fifth class, climbing directly to the summit of Forbidden. There are a few steeper sections, but most of the climbing is along nearly-horizontal ridge line. So fun to traverse the sky like this!

Nichole with the lower North Ridge stretching out below.
Summit baguette for Nichole.
My fourth time summitting Forbidden Peak. What a special place! Photo: Nichole

After a few hours, I made the final few moves directly to the summit of Forbidden. Some low clouds provided ambiance as we appreciated the summit views and munched on a the last of a baguette. There is no easy way off of Forbidden Peak, but I have dialed in the West Ridge descent after doing it three times over the years! How you approach this descent is skill and comfort dependent, but I like to simulclimb from the summit for a few ropelengths, make three rappels, then put the rope away for the fourth class scramble down to the West Ridge Notch. Finally, seven rappels down the Cat Scratch Gullies land you on the glacial remnants below the route. Do not skip any rappel anchors in this section – two of the rappels are short and might tempt you. Take special care when hiking/scrambling down the wet, glacier-polished slabs below the snowfield; this has been the scene of at least one fatality due to a slip on slimy, wet rock. On the hike out, we had to deal with one particularly challenging river crossing that required a full shoe soaking – ouch!

Scrambling between rappels on the West Ridge. Photo: Nichole
Incredible light on the hike through Boston Basin. Photo: Nichole

Strategy Notes

Experienced teams will have no problem knocking this out in a long day, but a bivy on the North Ridge is something to savor. Pick up water before you leave the Boston Glacier, you can (carefully) get reliable water inside the moat if you can reach it. There are multiple sources for snow along the ridge, even in late season.

Gear Notes

We brought a light set of nuts, singles .3-2 with doubles of .4-.75. This was a pretty heavy rack given that almost all belay anchors were terrain features rather than gear anchors, but it did enable some very long simulclimbing pitches. We used a 60m twin rope folded in half for rock climbing along the ridge.

5 thoughts on “Forbidden Peak – North Ridge (III 5.6)

  1. Thanks for an excellent story and great photos. I always look forward to your blogs and a big congratulations on McKinley. I have descended Forbidden’s East face route three times and always thought it was the quickest and easiest way off. Stay safe!


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