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first ascent Mount Formidable East Ridge First traverse!!?

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On July 30th Martin Volken from North Bend and Kurt Buchwald from Snoqualmie completed the ridge crest traverse from Spider-Formidable Col to the summit of Mount Formidable.


The ridge is about 2 km long, involves a lot of exposed 4th and easy fifth class climbing and some pitches of 5.6 to 5.7 climbing in the center section.

We spent 11 hours moving from the Col to the summit of Formidable and approximately 13 hours from camp to camp.

It can be said that the ambiance is of classic North Cascades grandeur and the ridge has a wild and exposed feel in many places.

It resembles the Torment-Forbidden traverse in many ways. The rock quality ranges from very good to poor. In most places it is ok. In the many notches along the way one finds deteriorating iron laden rock (hence the notch), and shortly above the notches the rock quality generally improves. When the climbing is "hard", the rock seems reliable.

The route features more complicated ups and downs than the T-F traverse, but it is more reasonable to bail off the route in two or three places.

All in all the route can be split in three sections.

Section one goes from the Spider-Formidable col to a distinct summit that we called the 2-county summit (Chelan and Skagit).

Section two goes from the 2-county summit to the first reaches of the Formidable Glacier.

Section three goes from the Formidable Glacier to the summit.

The second section is certainly the most complex and most time consuming, even though the "hardest climbing" occurs on the first section on the way to the 2 county summit.

We could not find any info on previous attempts in the summit register, the Beckey guide, the AAJ or by talking to local cascade climbing veterans. The route seemed virgin in terms of impact.

We would like to claim this as a first ascent, but would certainly not want to take undeserved claim.

If you have any info, feel free to let us know.


We ended up rating the route at Grade 4, 5.7


Here is a basic route description:

Reach the Spider-Formidable Col via the Ptarmigan traverse route.


From Spider-Formidable col at 7350 feet start moving NW and go around rotten tower on the left into the first notch.

Get onto better rock and climb generally near the crest to a big flat and easy ridge. From here climb a blocky ridge on good rock generally staying a bit north of the crest to the top of a first distinct tower. From here rappel into the next notch or down climb on the north side of the ridge. This is a distinct spot. You are at the base of a two pitch headwall that leads up towards the "2 county summit".


Climb the 2 pitch headwall at 5.6 - 5.7 slightly north of the ridge. Rock is good. Ambiance is awesome. An easy but exposed block ridge will bring you to the "2 county summit" from there.

From here climb over small towers or go around on the south side and gain a horizontal section of walkable terrain but stunning exposure.

Continue down on easy terrain to the next notch. (Here is an ideal first bail spot to the south)

From here continue up a steep and very narrow tower. Exposure is great and rock is good. Now follows a series of lofty gendarmes that involve steep rappels. Be prepared for slower going and harder bail-outs here.


Eventually you will gain the notch that leads to a distinct summit just east of the Formidable Glacier. Here is another bail out opportunity to the south. One can also scoot around this summit on the north and reach a small lobe of the Formidable Glacier quite easily.

The crossing of the described summit does not present any new challenges, but the rock is not that good.

From the Formidable Glacier col we stayed on the crest. It takes a little longer than the described southern ledges in the Beckey guide, but the scenery is wild and the rock is good...


From the summit go back down the ridge a short way and then start descending a distinct couloir heading south. At the bottom of the couloir follow easy 3rd class terrain generally trending left a bit until you reach the upper snow fields.

Equipment: Good alpine rock boots (Garmont Tower Gtx, La Sportiva Trango S etc), medium size alpine rack, hard hats, light crampons and ice axe for descent ,bivy gear, maybe a light stove (there is snow on the way).

There is a good photo of the ridge in the Beckey guide and there will be a photo summary of the traverse on the Pro Guiding Service website in about a week or so.



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