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      WELCOME TO THE CASCADECLIMBERS.COM FORUMS   12/08/21

      Thanks for visiting Cascadeclimbers.com.   Yep, we are still going!    Just put a new coat of paint on the site. Still the same old community of climbers, skiers, and people who love to get outdoors. Hope you had a great 2021, and wish you the best for 2022 and beyond.  Thanks again for stopping by.
Eric Gilbertson

[TR] Forbidden Peak Winter Ascent - West Ridge 01/23/2022

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Trip: Forbidden Peak Winter Ascent - West Ridge

Trip Date: 01/23/2022

Trip Report:

Forbidden Peak (8,815ft) via West Ridge

Jan 22-23, 2022

Duncan and Eric

IMG_2100.jpgOn the summit (photo by Duncan)

Forbidden Peak is a classic peak in the North Cascades and a very popular summer climb. All routes to the summit are technical, and glaciers flank the cliffs at its base. The West Ridge route is listed in the 50 classic climbs of North America and can be quite crowded in the summer. But winter is a different story.

In the winter the approach road, Cascade River Road, is generally snowed over and unplowed, adding many miles to the approach just to get to the trailhead. Snow and rime covers the route, with potential cornices on ridges, cracks filled with ice, and more challenging weather. Forbidden Peak was first climbed in winter by Catellani and Corriveau in February 1981 via the west ridge. There was also an ascent to the false west summit via the west ridge in March 1968 by Sumner, Bertulis, and Williamson. I haven’t been able to find accounts of winter ascents since the 1981 FWA, though. (I would be very interested to hear about other winter ascents). 

Forbidden-Route.jpgThe route

I’m working on climbing the Bulgers in winter and Forbidden is one of the toughest peaks on the list this time of year. I’d previously climbed it via the west ridge in August 2018 with Katie, and remembered it being fun but crowded, even mid week.

Duncan was also interested in climbing Forbidden in the winter, and we started planning for the ascent in December 2020. The first question was which route to take. We looked over aerial photos from John Scurlock on various winter dates and it looked like the west ridge was generally less corniced than the north or east ridges. This made sense, since the winds generally come from the west which means the west ridge would be windward and the north and east ridges leeward. The south face was another option, though the routes there are more technical.

Given that the only winter ascent we knew about was via the west ridge, and we had each already climbed that route in summer, we decided that was the route to try in the winter. The approach involved climbing some steep snow slopes, so we needed to wait for stable snow conditions and stable weather. Those stars seldom align west of the crest in winter, but in late December the window arrived.

20201229_091656.jpgOur highpoint on the ridge in December 2020

On December 27, 2020 we were able to drive to milepost 16 on cascade river road. From there we mountain biked to just past the Eldorado lot, then skied up to Boston Basin. The next morning we climbed the snow couloir variation to the notch on the west ridge. Duncan then led a ropelength along the ridge, but couldn’t get any gear in. The cracks were too full of ice and rime for cams or pitons to stick. We reluctantly bailed and skied and biked out.

We hadn’t given up on Forbidden in winter, though. With time and reflection we decided we could return with different gear and hope for better conditions. In late January, 2022 conditions again aligned for an attempt. The snowpack had been reset with warm temperatures followed by stable weather, and we were optimistic about fast and safe travel conditions. However, getting to the trailhead might be difficult.

The approach on Cascade River Road can be tricky in the winter. We’d gotten lucky in December 2020 that we could drive so far in. But in my experience in winter, snow generally starts around the hidden lakes lookout turnoff. It is not always continuous, though. The road goes up to 1800ft beyond this turnoff, then drops to 1400ft afterwards before climbing again. The snow can be deep on the hill and then the road can be completely melted out after the hill. This was the case when I skied in with Matthew in early March 2020 up to the Cascade Pass area. The problem with these conditions is the snow can be too deep to drive through, but the melted out portion can be tough to get through with a snowmobile. So it’s not clear what the best way through is.

Snow-Coverage-Map.jpg

NOHRSC snow coverage prediction map for the weekend

This time there had been a lowland snow event from early January that apparently hadn’t yet melted out, meaning we could maybe snowmobile to the trailhead to make for a quick road approach. Recent satellite images and NOHRSC snow coverage maps showed nearly continuous snow all the way from Marblemount. A friend had told me in mid January deep snow started at milepost 5 on the road. In theory that sounded like it would be possible to snowmobile in on continuous snow all the way to the trailhead. But I still wanted to be cautious.

Unlike east of the crest, on the west side roads often see less snowmobile traffic and aren’t necessarily groomed or cleared in winter. I remembered in March 2020 Cascade River Road had tons of blowdowns on it. That could derail the approach if the road was covered in blowdowns. Just the previous weekend I’d snowmobiled up a road near Winthrop (to climb Cathedral and Amphitheater) and been blocked by blowdowns that would take too long to axe out. Just to be safe, this time I bought a chainsaw I’d plan to bring for cascade river road to supplement my ax. I’ve actually spent a summer on trail crew cutting out trees in the Sierras in 2006, so hoped I could put those skills to use if needed.

Snow-Coverage-Map2.jpgMost recent available clear satellite image from sentinal hub

Melted out road sections could still be problematic, since they would cause the snowmobile to overheat and could break the skis. NOHRSC was showing trace amounts of snow in some low-elevation sections. I had previously installed retractable wheels on the skis on my snowmobile so I could get through long pavement sections without damaging the carbides (I had one of those break off last November). I also installed two sets of ice scratchers (tunnel and rail) to help with overheating if it was patchy ice on melted out sections.

It looked like the weekend of Jan 22-23 was finally time to pull the trigger on the trip again. This time we planned to do gear a little differently than our previous winter attempt. We decided to bring snowshoes instead of skis since it appeared conditions would be very icy and firm below treeline. I’ve broken a ski in half in conditions like this in the past, and wanted to avoid that. For the route we would bring pickets, screws, cams, nuts, hexes, and pitons. Hopefully this would allow us to protect the route somehow. Instead of one mountaineering ax I would bring a technical ax with hammer and a hybrid ax with adz, then use umbilicals instead of leashes. I’d used the hybrid ax on Pik Pobeda last summer and it had an adjustable pinky rest and straight shaft. This meant I could ice climb up to WI3 and hook ledges for mixed climbing, but I could also slide the pinky rest up and plunge the straight shaft in the snow if needed.

I would use water proof insulated Showa gloves for climbing, but also brought a backup pair of BD guide trigger finger mittens. Last summer I’d gotten frostbite on my fingers climbing Pik Pobeda, and a K2 guide I’d met in basecamp recommended these gloves for cold technical routes. It had been 5 months since my frostbite and my fingers had done fine on a short technical bit on Cathedral Peak the previous weekend, so I figured they’d be ok on this trip.

Friday evening we left town after rush hour and met up at the Marblemount NCNP office. I filled out a permit, which was amazingly easy to do compared to summer time. There’s no competition in the winter. Then we loaded up in Duncan’s Tacoma to scout the road.

20220121_222029-scaled.jpgCamping out with the sled at the edge of snowline on Cascade River Road

I pulled my snowmobile on a trailer with my Forester and was nervous about turning it around. Usually I park at sno parks where turning around isn’t an issue, but this time we’d just be starting wherever the snow started, which could be on a narrow section of road. I was worried about driving up to snow, then having to back up a long distance to find a pullout. Backing up the trailer at night on a narrow rough road can be tough.

We drove past the last house on the road, then it started getting full of blowdowns that were luckily sawed out. At about MP 4 we encountered patchy snow and by MP 5 it was bottoming out the Tacoma. There was a wide patch of melted-out pavement there wide enough for our purposes, so we turned around and I marked the coordinates on my phone. We then drove back to Marblemount to my forester. I drove in front this time to the scouted place and pulled over. This was my first time turning the trailer around on a narrow road in practice, though I’d planned it out in theory.

I first rode the snowmobile off and parked it in the snow. Then I unhooked the trailer, then Duncan and I both picked up the front and turned the trailer around. I then turned the forester around and hooked the trailer up to it. It all worked very smoothly and I’m now less worried about turning around on a narrow road.

As we were going through these shenanigans another truck pulled up. Two guys got out and said they were also planning to climb Forbidden. I was very surprised. What are the odds that a peak that hasn’t been climbed in winter in the past 40 years now has two teams going for it at the same time? It was actually great news for chances of success. They had a snowmobile and a chainsaw also, so there was increased chance of getting to the trailhead and more climbers to help break trail. All of that was very good news.

20220122_063625-scaled.jpgChainsawing out trees

Their truck was much more capable than my forester so they said they’d continue driving a bit farther before unloading the sled. We said we’d meet them sometime in the morning. Probably whoever started second would eventually catch up to the first team sawing out trees or breaking trail anyways. By 10pm we were asleep.

Saturday

We optimistically assumed it would be a relatively easy day, so got a non-alpine start at 5am. We loaded up the sled, strapped the chainsaw on top for easy access, then got started. It was tough getting through the deep wheel ruts in the snow with two people on the sled, and I drove cautiously. We soon passed the other guys, who were still sleeping. After two miles we hit our first big tree across the road and I whipped out the chainsaw.

I made quick work of the tree, and we pushed through. Now I realize why people don’t cut the full tree out when they are clearing a road. There’s uncertainty how many trees will be down farther along the road, and it makes sense to make the minimum cuts to get through to save time. This often means one cut and ride over the fallen tree, or two cuts where the tree is narrowest.

20220122_073057.jpgLots of minor blowdowns to saw out

We encountered a dozen or so more places where I needed to pull out the chainsaw. I got pretty good at riding over logs, and appreciated the tips of the snowmobile skis being angled up so high to get over the logs. For a few I hopped off and squeezed the snowmobile under, flexing the windshield a bit, and for some Duncan helped lift so I could squeeze under.

Progress was slow, and we were only averaging about 5mph with all the blowdown clearing. We eventually passed the hidden lakes turnoff and realized we still had a ways to go. Interestingly, the ascent up to the crest of the road at 1800ft was completely melted out down to gravel. I knew the sled was working hard taking two people and gear up the steep bare slope, and I was very worried about overheating. I swerved to hit any small patch of mud or ice, and amazingly we reached the snowy crest without overheating.

20220122_075604.jpgThe tree we couldn’t ride past

In flat snowy patches I tried to gun the engine to prevent spark plug fouling and clogging, though this was probably uncomfortable for Duncan in the back. Snow was mostly continuous from there, but at milepost 15, after two hours and 10 miles riding, we hit a major obstacle. There was a massive 5ft diameter old-growth tree across the road. My 10in chainsaw had no chance. We stopped to consider our options. There was a steep mud bank on the right and a melted out steep dense forest on the left. Riding around was not an option with such little snow cover (and my limited snowmobile skills).

The only way to get the snowmobile past was to build a ramp. Unfortunately, snow cover was very thin, so it would have to be mostly with debris. That sounded like it could potentially take an hour or two. We could do it, and it would be kind of fun, but there was a risk that there would be more massive trees like that farther along the road. We still had eight miles left to the trailhead, and it appeared the January storm had been capable of bringing down lots of trees. If there were more large trees like that, it could take all day to get the sled to the trailhead.

20220122_094245.jpgSnowshoeing to the national park boundary

We really needed to get to the bivy site below the climb that night, though. Back in December 2020 it had taken us seven hours to skin up from the trailhead to the bivy site below the climb. We reasoned if we snowshoed the road from there, it would be four hours to the trailhead, plust seven to the bivy. That would put us there a bit after dark, which would still work. If we spent two hours building a ramp and got the snowmobile across, but then encountered more trees like that, it was likely we wouldn’t make it to the bivy that night and would have to abandon the climb.

20220122_110631.jpgViews near the Eldo lot

We decided to park the snowmobile there and continue on foot. That sounded like it gave us the highest chance of success on summitting. I unloaded gear, turned the sled around, and packed back up. We climbed over the tree and continued down the road on snowshoes. There was another tree just behind the big one that would have taken a lot of work to saw through. And then another big tree had fallen on the bridge near the Mineral Park campground. That would have been another project to get the sled past. I think we made the right call with ditching the sled.

We hiked up the road after the campground, going across melted-out south-facing sections and more blowdowns, and soon reaching the park boundary. They had installed a new gate since last time I was there (May 2021) and it was left open, though half buried in snow. There were a dozen or so more blowdowns between there and the Eldo lot, though they all would have been manageable.

20220122_132159.jpgHiking up with views of Johannesburg

 

We took a break at the Eldo lot and decided to ditch a few items of gear at the outhouse to pick up on the return. It seemed important to conserve energy if at all possible given so much extra distance we had to cover. The gate was closed at the Eldo lot and a semi-permant looking sign installed that said “Gate Closed Ahead”. I wonder if it was closed all last summer. Interestingly, past the Eldo Lot there were zero blowdowns and we made quick time on the firm snow. Though there was one avy slide that would be tricky to sled past. We had great views of Johannesburg above as we climbed higher.

20220122_153040.jpgLooking up at Boston Basin

Morning Star Creek we saw the huge washout that closed the road last spring. It looks like it’ll take more work still to clear all the debris from that. In December 2020 we had skied directly down from Boston Basin down that drainage, but it involved a lot of dense bushwhacking and cliff avoidance and we decided to avoid that route. Finally by 12:30pm we reached the Boston Basin trailhead and stopped for a break.

In the summer that tiny lot is always overflowing, but not in the winter. It appeared we had the whole zone to ourselves. We started up the Boston Basin trail, and snow conditions were nice and firm. We zigzagged up the old mining road, then directly up an open slope and traversed to cross Midas Creek. That appeared to be the last flowing water of the trip so we each topped off our water bottles. We then traversed across Morning Star Creek and went directly up the open slopes from there.

20220122_163300.jpgJohannesburg at sunset

By 3:30pm we popped out above treeline and were treated to amazing views of Boston Basin, the Quien-Sabe Glacier, and Johannesburg across the valley. Above treeline around 6,000ft the snow got more powdery and we actually started sinking in a bit. But we had made excellent time up to there and it looked like we would beat our 7 hour time from before.

We alternated breaking trail and soon made it to the typical summer campsite in Boston Basin. This is where we’d camped in December 2020, but there was still daylight left and we recalled a flat bench higher up. Somehow we had cut our time prediction in half, likely because the snow was much more consolidated this time. We decided we wanted to minimize our ascent on summit day, so we would continue and bivy as high as possible. We wrapped around some hills and then snowshoed up the south face. The sun was setting by then and we had amazing views of Johannesburg across the valley. By 6pm we crested a small bench at 7,600ft and stopped there for the night.

20220122_165945.jpgSunset near the bivy site

I set up my mega-mid ultralight pyramid tent and we threw out our bivy sacks inside. I like this tent since I can use hiking poles as the middle pole, and the bottom is open so I can dig it out to make lots of room. We melted a bit of snow, cooked some dinner, and were sleeping by 8pm.

Sunday

We wanted to get as early a start as possible with the constraint that we needed daylight for climbing on the west ridge. The snow couloir could be done in the dark, though. So we planned to climb to the col on the west ridge by sunrise and start the ridge climb then.

20220123_065950.jpgSunrise from the couloir

We got up at 4am and left camp soon after. We snowshoed up for the first 15 minutes but then it got too steep and icy so we transitioned to crampons. I led the way kicking steps up to the rocks on the left edge of the base of the couloir. In summer I had climbed the cat scratch rock rib variation to gain the west ridge, but now that was covered in rime and snow and looked tricky to climb and protect. The snow couloir was well filled-in and worked for us last time, so we decided to go for it this time.

20220123_073103.jpgSunrise from the couloir

In December 2020 we had wallowed up deep snow in the gully and progress was slow, but now the snow was much more consolidated and travel was quick. We decided to rope up in the gully for a few reasons. First, there were occasional bits of rime chunk falling off the rocks into the gully, and we wanted to be roped up in case a bigger chunk happened to fall. Second, it could get icy up higher as it got steeper, and a rope seemed wise.

IMG_2064.jpgAt the notch (photo by Duncan)

I put in a cam and sling on the wall and we roped up. I led up kicking steps. I hugged the left wall as much as possible to stay away from the rime chunks falling down. I got a cam and nut in, but when the gully curved left it seemed like no more gear options. I pounded a picket in at the end of the rope length and we simul climbed from there.

I traversed to the right edge of the couloir and was able to get gear in on the rock wall. Then at the top I traversed left under a cliff band and climbed a very steep snice section up to the crest of the cat scratch route. I was happy to have already done this part of the climb before, since I was able to avoid a dead-end variation I had taken in 2020 that had cost a bit of time. From there the slope angle eased and I marched up to the notch. I cleared out a crack in the notch, got a red cam in, and belayed Duncan up.

20220123_080028.jpgDuncan starting up the west ridge

The sun was just rising and we were still on schedule. The view was amazing of colorful snowy mountains in all directions. I peered over at Primus, Austera, and Jack to the north and over at Johannesburg, Sahale, Gunsight, and Rainier in the distance to the south. Duncan soon arrived and we stopped to take a break. I put on my big orange puffy jacket and scarfed down some food while Duncan warmed up his feet.

IMG_2082.jpgOn one of the au cheval sections (photo by Duncan)

We looked up at the route and it looked almost identical to the conditions in December 2020. Luckily there were no cornices, and the false summit looked tantalizingly close.

Duncan is a very strong mixed climber and we agreed he’d lead the ridge to the summit. Our plan was to simulclimb as much as possible for speed, but perhaps pitch out a few steep steps. In the summer time I recalled staying generally close to the ridge crest but often venturing onto the north face to wrap around obstacles.

The north face is steep but still lower-angle than the south face. That strategy wouldn’t necessarily work in the winter, though. It looked like there were more rocks poking out on the direct ridge crest, and we would need exposed rocks to find gear options. So we would try to stay on the crest as much as possible.

I belayed Duncan up and the first ropelength started on gentle snow slopes, which soon gave way to a more narrow snowy ridge crest. Near the end of the rope Duncan found an exposed rock and hammered a hex in a crack. Hexes or pitons that can be hammered in generally hold better in icy cracks than cams, and I was happy we had gear in. This was already an improvement from the last attempt.

20220123_091128.jpgStarting up the crux tower

The rope ran out, I took down the anchor, and started up. The crest stayed mostly low-angle and we slowly simul-climbed up. Duncan was generally able to get at least two pieces in per rope length, and the terrain was easy enough that this was sufficient. As we got higher the crest got narrower until it was less than a foot wide. I actually scooted au cheval in several sections, with one leg hanging off to the very exposed south face, the other on the snowy and steep north face. Sometimes if a bit of rock was exposed I’d step down onto the north face, hold onto the rock, and traverse.

IMG_2086.jpgMe approaching the crux tower (photo by Duncan)

After the au cheval stretch Duncan built an anchor and belayed me over. We were below the big step that I recalled was the crux in the summer. In the summer I recalled stepping across a gap and walking over some friction slabs below this crux, but this was all covered in snow and rime now and the friction slab was no problem.

20220123_093917.jpgDuncan leading the crux tower

I handed over the gear, flaked the rope, and put Duncan on belay. I was happy to not be leading this section in mixed conditions. Duncan got two solid pieces in and quickly made it up over the step. Then the rope ran out and it was my turn. I followed his steps in the rime, but the vertical part was tricky. I had to hook my right tool on a narrow slanting ledge while leaning left, then delicatly step left around a rock bulge onto a sloping ledge. This got me to the base of a small corner.

I banged out a piton there and clipped it on my harness. Above me I was able to hook a small ledge with both tools then pull up and get my foot on an ice bulge. Above that I reached my left tool up as high as possible and could just barely hook an invisible edge of rock. I then hooked my right crampon up onto the rime and pulled myself up. The final bulge was loose snow but I jammed both picks in and pulled my way up. The crux was over.

The terrain leveled out briefly and then steepened again. Duncan belayed me over to a small rock overhang and we exchanged gear again. Now I could see the false west summit and we were close. Duncan led up, kicking steps briefly on the north face to get around the bulge and continuing out of site. I started up when the rope reached me. The north face snow was pretty insecure and I was happy to have gear in above. I eventually climbed back up to the crest and noticed the south side snow was much more secure. It had likely gone through melt-freeze cycles that the north face had not.

20220123_105948-scaled.jpgSummit panorama

There were a few more au cheval sections, and then the terrain eased at the base of the false summit. In the summer I had climbed up to the false summit and downclimbed a 10ft step on the other side. But in the winter that downclimb was too sketchy. So we traversed around the false summit on the north face. This was our longest foray onto the north face and made me appreciate the ridge crest. The snow was very insecure. Some footholds held, but on others I’d break through to powder and sink down a foot. Luckily there were rocks exposed and Duncan got a piton in to protect the traverse.

IMG_2091.jpgMe on the summit (photo by Duncan)

On the other side we regained the ridge, then climbed a short narrow snow ridge to the summit. We topped out at 11am, three hours after leaving the notch, and approximately on schedule. It looked a lot different than in the summer. The summit was a steep snow pyramid and we tapped the top of it. Duncan was belaying me on the other side off two tools in the snow. The wind had picked up from the north and it was blowing spin drift all around. Luckily the air temperature wasn’t too cold (maybe upper teens), but it wasn’t a good place to hang out for too long.

20220123_105900.jpg

Duncan on the summit

The views were amazing of snowy cascade peaks in all directions. To the southeast Boston and Sahale were plastered in rime ice, and the ragged ridge spread out to the north. Interestingly, there was a fairly large cornice just past the summit on the East Ridge. The north ridge looked heavily corniced also, and I think our route up the west ridge is the best way in winter. We hadn’t encountered any cornices en route (though that could change in other years).

20220123_110949.jpgStarting the descent

IMG_2100.jpg

Looking back at me on the summit (Photo by Duncan)

We stayed about 5 minutes, but wanted to get out of the spindrift and soon started heading out. I pounded in a picket and my ice ax as an anchor and belayed Duncan down. Our plan was to simul downclimb as much as possible, with a few raps on the steep steps. Duncan climbed around to the false summit and got a picture of me on the summit before heading down. I took my time on the sketchy north face traverse, then on the ridge crest on the other side I faced in and downclimbed.

Downclimbing the low-angle but sharp ridge was kind of tricky. I had to face up so couldn’t easily see below me, and there wasn’t a whole lot of gear in between us so I had to be extra careful not to slip. But I had our up tracks to follow which helped.

20220123_121926.jpg

Looking for anchors

We found an old rap anchor exposed at the top of the highest step, so we backed it up and clipped in. Duncan rapped first and made it to above the crux and I followed. I’m sure there is a good anchor somewhere there to rap the crux, but we couldn’t find it under all the rime and snow. So we slung a small horn sticking out toward the north face and were careful to just weight it towards the step.

Duncan rapped down and I followed and we met at another gear anchor. From there I recalled in the summer rapping again down the north face and traverseing back to the ridge, but we wanted to avoid traversing the north face in the insecure snow conditions. So Duncan climbed back down the ridge to the au cheval section and started digging around for anchors. The spin drift was pretty bad with the north wind but he found a small horn that we could use to diagonally rappel back to the crest below.

20220123_123916.jpgDuncan excavating the last rap anchor horn

I climbed over and we were very careful to weight that anchor only straight down. It was fine straight down, but I suspect the wind would probably blow it away if unweighted. We rappelled diagonally down, which was tricky in the north face snow. Then Duncan got a piton in back on the ridge crest and we clipped in. It looked the ridge was lower angle from there and we decided to simul downclimb.

I belayed Duncan down, but when the rope got to me I struggled to get the piton out. The snow was sliding out from under my feet and I had to swing my hammer at full arm extension to reach the piton. I banged on it for 10 minutes, but then gave up. I recalled we hadn’t used pitons below that point, so wouldn’ be necessary for the remaining climb, and was too risky to get out since once it popped out I would be far above the next piece.

20220123_141507.jpgFinal look up at the ridge from the notch

I carefully unclipped the beaner and started downclimbing. There were some tricky steep snice sections and I took my time, making very careful and deliberate pick and crampon placements. I extracted the next piton no problem, and soon reached the easy snow slopes that were a short march away from the notch.

We reached the notch at 2pm, so it had taken the same time up as down. The west ridge is tricky that way, since you can’t just rap the whole route and be off quickly. You have to do some climbing on the descent also.

20220123_151038.jpgLooking up at the couloir from the bivy site

We decided the fastest way down the couloir would be to simul downclimb again. I led the way, placing gear in the exact places as on the way up. This time, though, the afternoon sun was hitting the rime above the gully and even more ice chunks were falling down. The right side of the gully was like a shooting gallery, so I stayed on the left out of the danger zone. This meant fewer gear options, but I got a few intermediate pickets in.

We soon reached the bottom, found our stashed snowshoes, and quickly hiked out of the danger zone and back to camp by 3pm. I breathed a big sigh of relief that the roped portion of the climb was over. But we were still a long ways from the cars.

20220123_160006.jpgHiking out into the sunset

We spent some time melting snow, breaking down camp, and packing up. By 4pm we were hiking back down, and got to enjoy another amazing sunset over Johannesburg mountain. Our tracks had drifted over on the upper mountain, but down lower we regained them. The sun set as we descended below treeline, and conditions got steeper. I was happy not to have skis, though, since the icey breakable crust would have been challenging.

In the trees the slope steepened and we took off the snowshoes to posthole down. But back at Morning Star Creek we changed back to snowshoes and followed our up tracks. By 6pm we reached the road and stopped for another break. It was much colder down in the valley, and it may have been an inversion.

IMG_2106.jpgHiking out looking back at Forbidden (photo by Duncan)

We made good time walking down the road in snowshoes, and even remembered to pick up our stashed gear at the Eldo outhouse. I sort of expected to see tracks from someone else in there, maybe someone going into the Eldo zone, but it appeared we had been the only ones in there all weekend.

Conditions hiking out were much firmer now in the dark, and we made good time. The south facing aspect of the road was more melted out around MP 16.5, but down in the valley the snow was still deep. By 9:30pm we finally reached the snowmobile and stopped for another break.

We saw one other set of snowmobile tracks that got to the old growth tree and turned around. Those must have been from the other two climbers that were planning on climbing Forbidden with us. It’s understandable that they’d turn around there since it was still such a long ways from the climb.

20220123_221542.jpgBack at the sled

We strapped everything down and the sled started no problem. This time I expected a much quicker ride since we’d already chainsawed out a bunch of trees, but I was a bit concerned about the road melting out more. That could cause delays if the sled overheated.

Progress was smooth in general, and I weaved around, under, and over all the familiar trees from the way in. The melted out sections had gotten a bit bigger on the west side of the 1800ft crest, but now we were going downhill and the motor didn’t overheat.

Finally we got to within a few miles of the starting point and encountered deep fresh ruts in the road. That made it very difficult to balance, and at one point the sled tipped enough that Duncan jumped off. I vowed to be more careful. We soon found the culprit of the ruts – a jeep that was stuck in the snow with boot tracks heading back down. I was happy to be on a snowmobile, which seemed like the right tool for the job in those conditions.

20220123_231515.jpgHeading home at midnight

Below the jeep the melted out sections got even larger, with long sections of bare pavement. I deployed my retractable wheels and was able to steer no problem while saving the carbides. I would swerve to hit any snow patch possible, and the wheels automatically retracted on deeper snow.

Somehow we made it the whole way back to the Forester without overheating at all. We were soon unloaded and had the sled back on the trailer by midnight. Unfortunately the patchy pavement/gravel conditions had worn down my ice scratchers, but I know if I didn’t have the scratchers deployed the whole time I would have overheated. They were critical when I would swerve to hit the occasional ice patch on the pavement to cool the engine.

Duncan pitched a tent to camp out but I needed to get back home to give a lecture the next morning. So I headed out at midnight, and made it home by 3am.

Link to more pictures

Gear Notes:
Pickets, pitons, hexes, nuts, cams, one screw, snowshoes

Approach Notes:
Snowmobile from MP 5 on Cascade River Road
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8 hours ago, Eric Gilbertson said:

It appeared we had the whole zone to ourselves

:lmao:  WELL DONE!  Such an epic adventure, thank you so much for detailing it all here!!!

And.....a lecture immediately after??!!  You, sir, are a machine.

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11 hours ago, Eric Gilbertson said:

I’m working on climbing the Bulgers in winter

Wow, this got my attention!

 

Awesome TR, thanks so much for posting it here!

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My brother and I got to below Boston basin in Jan 05? to attempt the FWA of the N ridge but unfortunately I had become sick. It was a during a major winter storm, but it did clear up for 5 bluebird days after...>:( It would have been perfect conditions. We had to ski only about 2-3 miles of the forest road. to get to trail head. I also twice tried to solo east ridge of J-burg but did not summit. Is a spectacular area in winter. Great job!

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Fantastic! Congratulations on an excellent adventure. Seems like things went quite smoothly for you all in all.

Thanks for posting!

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Super cool! The Bulgers in winter; you certainly have fine tuned the art of suffering!

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Thanks!

 

On 1/26/2022 at 3:19 PM, kukuzka1 said:

My brother and I got to below Boston basin in Jan 05? to attempt the FWA of the N ridge 

Wow the N ridge would be impressive to get in winter. This past weekend there were pretty big cornices on most of it. Maybe other years the cornices don't form like that. 

 

10 hours ago, Trent said:

Super cool! The Bulgers in winter; you certainly have fine tuned the art of suffering!

Yeah, some suffering may indeed happen. But I think getting to involve lots of fun skiing and snowmobiling in the ascents helps make them worth it. 

 

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Strong work and excellent TR guys. You had WAY more snow on the route than we did in 1981. I will scan some slides and post eventually. Joberg and Torment were climbed the same weekend we went up Forbidden, although we didn't know about each other's climbs til weeks later.

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I just want to chime in again to remark how RAD this ascent was.   Wild!

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I'm psyched to read about this adventure, beautiful!

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Fantastic outing! Just preparing the approach was a big achievement. Thanks for the great trip report. 

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On 1/28/2022 at 1:42 PM, joe_catellani said:

Strong work and excellent TR guys. You had WAY more snow on the route than we did in 1981. I will scan some slides and post eventually.

Thanks! I'd be very interested to see some slides from 1981. I was thinking it would have been even more snow for a February ascent. We were guessing maybe pickets would have been more useful for protection then but sounds like not the case. That's amazing Joberg and Torment and Forbidden were all climbed the same weekend! 

 

On 1/28/2022 at 2:43 PM, JasonG said:

I just want to chime in again to remark how RAD this ascent was.   Wild!

Thanks!

On 1/30/2022 at 2:42 PM, Otto said:

Just preparing the approach was a big achievement.

Yeah, it's amazing how different conditions can be year to year just getting up cascade river road. Some winters I hear it's possible to drive to the Eldo lot but this time we had to start so much farther down at MP 5. All the blowdowns and pathcy melt-out sections definitely make things challenging on that road. 

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Wow, amazing. Thank you so much for sharing all the details! My heart was pounding while reading the ridge section!

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That's quite the piece of work! I read your winter Cathedral TR. Having been there several times in the fall (via the border crossing), it's a beautiful area to hang out in. But to ski in, tag Cathedral and Amphitheater in the dark and ski out the next day..... whole lotta misery if you ask me. 

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I think all the extra effort and hardship is definitely well worth it in the winter for these hard-to-access peaks. There are never crowds on the mountains I go to, and the views tend to be much better in my opinion than other times of year. Undercasts seem way more common in the winter which make for amazing sunrises above treeline. Last winter the only time I ever saw other people on Bulger peaks were heli skiers near Silverstar and Big Snagtooth. For some reason the more difficult a peak is to access the more appealing it is to me.  

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Wow. Theres a bunch of us, many of whom i see posting on this thread, who have made trips up there in winter and gotten skunked, or only managed a walk up eldo or sahale instead of the business. Maybe my old friend justin will show some pics of the double corniced nightmare he found back in 07. Excellent tenacity, planning, and all-around strength good sirs. Hats off. 

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