On August 12, we left our comfortable campground near Washington Pass for Marblemount to go climb Forbidden Peak and two other peaks around Boston Basin. We took care of a few chores in Winthrop, then hit the road late that afternoon. We did not make it very far on the North Cascades highway; we stopped for the night at the Diablo Lake overlook. Great views and great sunset.
The next day, we drove to Marblemount and stopped by the ranger station to inquire about permits and camping options in the area. We explored the area a bit hoping to find a no-fee spot for the bus but couldn't find any. That meant no choice but to park it at a forest service campground ($10 per day, no water...). We picked the Marble Creek campground, since it is very close to the trailhead for Boston Basin, and it is the only campground in the vicinity that can accommodate 35ft rigs. We found a pleasant site with large old trees and hanging moss. Looked liked the jungle! We spent the afternoon reading about Forbidden and other peaks we might climb around Boston Basin, and listening to NPR (we had been NPR-deprived for 10 days now as our previous camp at Washington Pass was completely devoid of any radio signal).
We had heard that it was often very difficult to obtain permits for the very popular Boston Basin so we wanted to be first in line at the ranger station. We set the alarm at 5:30AM. The plan was to be at the ranger station by 6AM, a full hour before they open. At 6:30AM the next morning, I woke up in a panic. Never heard the alarm... We left immediately. Eric drove like a madman to Marblemount. We made it to the ranger station in record time, arriving at 6:45AM. Nobody else was there except for a couple of people on a canoe trip to Ross Lake - all this excitement for nothing! We got our permits and drove back to the bus to prepare the gear. We packed food for 4 nights as we intended to climb Sahale Peak and Sharkfin Tower in addition to Forbidden Peak.
The next morning, we hiked up to Boston Basin. The trail to the Basin is not officially maintained but there is a decent climber trail from the incessant foot traffic. The approach is not very long (2,500 ft of elevation gain).
There are two officially sanctioned camps. They are both equipped with solar toilets, a really good idea given the number of people that frequent the area. The "lower" camp is at the edge of a morainal ridge with small trees, just below the immense lifeless slabs left by the quickly receding Quien Sabe Glacier. The tent pads were not particularly flat so we continued another 700 vertical feet to the "higher" camp. We found this camp much nicer. It sits high in the basin, on a remarkably flat spot in the moraines, with beautiful moss, clean water from a snowfield just above (not the silty glacial melt off that you'll find at the lower camp), a large boulder to hang food from, and incredible views of Johannesberg Mountain! We settled down, re-packed our gear for the next day and enjoyed the scenery and the sunny weather. We had the camp to ourselves until later that evening. A party of two arrived when we were finishing dinner and set their tent next to ours.
Bad weather moved in overnight and after getting up at 4:00AM (just in case), we aborted our plans. We spent the day in a total white-out. We stayed in the tent most of the time, sleeping on and off all day. We finally got up for a while around 11:30AM for "breakfast" but went back to the tent as it started raining. In the afternoon, we had a visit from a park ranger who checked our permit. We chatted with him for a while and asked him about the forecast. The fog was not supposed to break before the end of the next day! Disgusted, we went back to sleep to awake at 4PM and make dinner. We set the alarm for 5:00AM, hoping for the best. The weather did not seem to improve through the night. It was still a total white out around 2AM so we had little hope to climb…
But as it is often the case in the Cascades, fronts moves in and out quickly. When we got up at 5AM, the sky was completely clear. Not sure it would hold, we decided to climb Sahale Peak via the Quien Sabe Glacier, a much less committing route. We started hiking toward the toe of the glacier around 6AM. We quickly caught up with a party of 6 (a class from the Seattle Mountaineers). They passed us again when we were roping up at the toe of the glacier. We stayed behind them on the glacier then passed them again before the 4th class scramble to top. By 9AM, we were the first of a long line of people to reach the summit. About three or four parties were climbing from Sahale Arm (a short 4th class scramble from the other side). After a few minutes on the tiny summit, we left it to the other 10 people... We were back at camp for lunch. Enjoyable route, a few large open crevasses to skirt, and a steep snow section (45 to 50°).
There was one more tent at high camp when we got back. We fixed lunch (complete with our all-time classic instant cheesecake) and packed our gear for the West Ridge. Later in the afternoon, as we were cooking dinner, we saw with horror another party of three setting up their tents. And of course all these people were planning to climb the West Ridge the next morning. We always start very early and beat other parties on the approach, but this time was gonna be a challenge! We were all camped right next to each other, so it would be difficult for anyone to get up and leave without waking the others! We went to bed at around 7:30PM, not looking forward to the race the next day.
The next morning, we woke up and had breakfast in full stealth mode inside the tent and without stove to avoid awakening our neighbors. Once ready to go, we quickly unzipped our tent, threw our packs on our shoulders and left as quietly as possible without turning on our headlamps. Gotta do what you gotta do...
After 15 minutes, we saw three headlamps shining in the moonlight and moving upward. The race had begun. We quickly made our way up the grassy ramps and slabs toward the toe of the glacier. We roped-up and started up the glacier, still without headlamp. We contoured the base of the buttress to the right to reach the base of the snow gully. By that time, we could hear the other party trying to take a direct line left of the buttress. Fortunately for us, they couldn't make it up the left side and ended up going the same way we did.
As expected, the snow gully which is the usual way to the ridge was mostly melted out, so we had to climb the horribly loose slabs and gullies just left of it. We had just started simul-climbing when the other party showed up at the base. They made no secret of trying to pass us. To that end, they elected to attempt the snow gully, despite its poor condition. This would be a mistake; they ended up moving extremely slow and apparently ended up climbing rock on the left anyway.
In the meantime, we were making good time and reached the notch at sunrise. The views of the Boston Glacier from this point are breathtaking. There, we exchanged gear and traded places. I took the lead up the ridge, staying close to the crest. A couple of pitches up, we ran into a party of two who had spent the night on the ridge (actually just below the ridge, on the north side), unable to come down before nightfall. They were freezing (they only had tee-shirts and windbreakers) and completely out of food and water. I decided to stop and set up a belay to give them time to climb up to Eric who gave them some water and a bagel. I can imagine how cold they were; we were both wearing puffball pullovers over light fleece tops and they only had tee-shirts!
After that diversion, we kept up going up. The climbing is pretty mellow, mostly low fifth class with maybe one or two harder moves. It is an OK route, but nothing spectacular we thought, save for the exceptional views. From the notch, it took us about 2 hours to reach the summit (it's eight pitches if you belay). We had the summit for ourselves. After shooting a couple of pictures and enjoying the scenery, we started to simul-climb down, Eric leading the way this time. The only problem with ridge climbing is that it is usually just as difficult (or more) to get off as it is to climb. Rappelling is not practical most of the time, so you end up downclimbing. We ran into the party of three again about half way down the ridge (they had lost a lot of time in the snow gully). It took us two hours to get back to the notch and two more to downclimb and rap the loose slabs. We were back at the barn at 2:30PM (11 hours tent-to-tent).
What is worth it? I'm not sure. A camp in Boston Basin is definitely a worthwhile experience and Forbidden Peak is an elegant peak. However the route itself was not particularly enjoyable. Of course, that may be in large part because we had to climb loose slabs to avoid the gully. With good snow conditions, the combination of the steep gully and exposed ridge would make the route a much more pleasant alpine experience. It is also the most crowded of the 50 Classics we've been on, probably because of its easy rating and proximity to Seattle.
The next day, we climbed Sharkfin Tower before hiking back to the car. We got up at 5:15AM. Our immediate neighbors were leaving to do the East Ridge of Forbidden, but no sign of activity from the party of three we had raced the day before, so we took our time and had breakfast. We left camp at 6:30AM. The weather was still looking reasonably good but clouds had started rolling in. An hour later, we were roping up at the toe of the Quien Sabe Glacier. We could not see the top of Sahale Peak anymore, as it was hidden in the clouds. Even Sharfin Tower was disappearing from time to time. The temperature seemed to be dropping fast. It was freezing! Not sure we should go any further, we waited for about 45 minutes, dancing around to keep warm. We finally decided to go to the base of the route. The snow gully that is usually climbed to reach the base of the Southeast Ridge of Sharkfin was also melted out so we had to climb another loose gully. Deja vu. The weather improved as we approached the notch. From there, the route climbs the ridge in three easy pitches (5.0). We simul-climbed to the top. The climbing is very mellow but the rock and the exposure are fantastic. The views of the heavily crevassed Boston Glacier and Forbidden Peak are tremendous. After the usual summit pictures, we simul-climbed back to the notch. More scrambling and two raps down the loose gully brought us back to the glacier. Shortly after that, we were back at camp. We had a late lunch before packing our gear and starting the hike back to the car. We made it back just before nightfall.
Boston Basin, North Cascades, WA
|In the jungle at the Marble Creek campground.|
|Hiking up to Boston Basin through lush vegetation.|
|The very scenic Boston Basin.|
|Our accommodations at Boston Basin high camp.|
|Tent bound (click for movie - AVI).|
|Total white-out day.|
|Sahale Peak and The Quien Sabe Glacier.|
|Close up of the Quien Sabe Glacier.|
|The two parties from the Mountaineers going up the glacier.|
|Posing next to a big "one" (crevasse).|
|Climbing the final ridge to the summit.|
|Eric on the way back to camp with Eldorado Peak and Mt Baker in the background.|
|Views of the impressive Northeast Face of Johannesberg Mountain|
|The West Ridge of Forbidden peak follows the left skyline.|
|Enjoying a beautiful sunrise at the base of the West Ridge route.|
|Views from the notch on the West Ridge ...|
|... of Forbidden Peak at sunrise.|
|Climbing up the first section of the ridge.|
|Belaying Eric up a couple of pitches up.|
|Approaching the false summit.|
|Somewhere on the ridge.|
|Yeah! We're there!|
|Eldorado Peak seen from the summit.|
|Views of the heavily crevassed Boston Glacier.|
|Eric making his way back to the notch.|
|Descending the glacier...|
|... and the slabs back to the barn.|
|Pretty vegetation around camp.|
|Sunset from Boston Basin high camp.|
|Sharkfin Tower is the prominent tower on the right.|
|Climbing up loose crap to reach the notch at the base of the Southeast Ridge of Sharkfin.|
|Looking down toward Boston Glacier from the notch.|
|Simul-climbing the first pitch with Eric in front.|
|Belaying up Eric on the summit.|
|On the summit of Sharkfin Tower with Forbidden Peak and its three elegant ridges in the background.|
|Belaying Eric down.|
|Hiking down the scree slopes back to camp.|
|Hiking back to the car through heavy timber.|
|One of the numerous stream crossings.|