Forbidden Peak above the Boston Basin
Where the hell is my ice axe?
That was my first reaction when I saw the empty slot on my pack. It was two AM, we had just come running down the glacier, past a treacherous snowfield of boulders and ice ready to let loose, and we were preparing to make our way up the couloir towards Forbidden Peak and in the moonlight making the ice glisten, I berated myself. The fact that I had failed to latch it properly had now condemned our summit attempt to not happening, and now we had a 2,000-foot climb back up the glacier to look for it. It was an amateur mistake and a tough lesson, especially considering that up until that moment, we had moved fast and efficiently. As we searched for options so that the trip wouldn’t be a total loss, our guide turned to an icy tower that loomed over the Quien Sabe Glacier, a hulking monolithic 1,000-foot granite wall called Sharkfin Tower.
It would turn out to be one of the best climbs I’d ever done.
Forbidden Peak – West Ridge is the entire left side
Today I’m launching into the second part of my four-peak project. Forbidden Peak is one of the crown jewels of North Cascades National Park. An 8,000+ foot wall of ice and stone piercing the sky above the Boston Glacier. It’s everything that a great alpine ascent should be: a glacial approach, a moderate grade but wildly exposed rock climb, and one of the most dramatic summits in the entire state. If there was one mountain that I was excited to climb this year, this is it. Forbidden Peak differs from Rainier and Hood because it’s alpine rock over hiking up steep glaciers. It’s the kind of climb that I’d always imagined: wearing rock shoes instead of mountaineering boots, clawing my way across a thin knife ridge to a breathtaking summit, and doing so with the skills and lessons that I’d learned from years in the rock gym.
So why am I so stoked about this?
Pushing up the Elliot Glacier on Mt. Hood
The fun scale is a measurement of enjoyment during any adventure. For most adventurers, fun is broken into three types: Type I, Type II and Type III. It’s how much suffering that you feel before, during, or after the climb, run, or long range trek. The moment that when back at the house, winding down over beers, you look at your partner and say “That was the best day ever.” or “I hate you so much right now.”
The “Fun Scale”
- Type I – Perfect weather, cruising up a gorgeous hand-crack, crushing that perfect boulder problem, hitting all the right waves, it’s the enjoyment in the moment that it’s happening. It’s all smiles and laughter from here.
- Type II – Why the hell did we choose this line? It’s snowing, it’s cold, we’re out of Clif Bars, we have 500 feet to go for the summit, every muscle in my body is aching and we’re pulling over the final lip. Once we get to the summit we’re sipping from Nalgene bottles, melting snow to make a small pot of coffee and the sun is setting over the mountains in the distance. You know what? In retrospect that was actually enjoyable. In fact, I can already see the next peak I want to climb.
- Type III – Why are we even out today?! We’re passing through an open field, I can see the lightning moving in on us, it’s too windy to pitch the tent, the food is soggy, and the route is a chossy, unclimbable mess of flakey rock. Yeah, this was your idea and it’s your fault we’re here. No fun whatsoever.
I get asked sometimes why I put up with the suffering, whether it’s on a peak, an exceptionally hard route, or recently, my newly found interest in trail running. While we’ve all been through Type III, I’ve found that a majority of my excursions have fallen under Type II, where I’ll curse relentlessly and then look back and think “Maybe that actually wasn’t so bad.”
So how did I end up here?
My parents and I at North Cascades National Park
Admittedly, as a child, I had very little personal interest in the outdoors. It’s shocking to look back on but growing up, I was very much an introvert and a homebody. Until I was 11 years old, I was so used to creature comforts like electricity, hot food, and a warm bed. Looking back today it’s something that I cringe at and I’ve made it a personal goal that my children don’t grow up the same way. My parents though, were the ones who brought me out of my shell. From the time that I was less than a year old, they took us on a year-long road trip that brought us to the edge of the Grand Canyon, and the sandstone spires of Monument Valley. Although I was too young to understand, the outdoors has always been a huge influence on my upbringing. This past month I had the pleasure of having my parents visit me in Seattle. Among the culinary and cultural highlights of having them here, one of the best days was last Friday when I took them on a drive through the North Cascades. This is where I’ve grown up as a climber and an outdoorsman, so I was naturally excited to show them the very reason I moved to the Northwest. During that drive, as we drove through snowy passes, waterfalls, and soaring mountains, we were reminded first hand what a trip like this means to our family.
North face of Mt. Hood
I wish that I could start the first post of my Four Peak Project on a triumphant note. While our time on the Elliot Glacier was beyond successful, and the education that we received there invaluable, there’s unfortunately been a tragic footnote to our story. About two days into our climb, our guides informed us that the temperature had increased to a level that the upper slopes were virtually unclimbable. We decided to stay in the lower Elliot glacier, practice rope maneuvers and ice climb frozen ice floes on the edge of the Cooper Spur. We left Mt. Hood on Monday afternoon and drove back to Seattle, only to learn that a climber from New Jersey had tragically fallen the next day. The accident has been described as having been under the same conditions that we were warned against: Too hot, slushy ice, and significant avalanche danger. In light of this event, while I will be covering the time that we spent there, I’d like to talk for a moment about one of the most significant aspects of climbing. Judgement and good decision making.
When I was growing up, surrounded by antique editions of National Geographic, I wanted to be an astronaut. I was obsessed with everything about the space program. I knew names of my heroes by heart like people know their favorite team and I went to Space Camp twice (I like to say I graduated “with honors”) Over time interests change, and I realized that it just wasn’t a feasible career path. What did stick though is an adventurous spirit, the willingness to do something that’s dangerous and unknown, if only to see what I’m capable of. Lately I did something that I haven’t done in over 10 years. I started re-watching the space program films and documentaries that inspired me when I was a child. It was poignant because here were these people who were putting their lives at risk to understand how the universe worked.
Curiosity is a powerful thing.
Canyonlands National Park
Adventure is best when it’s off the grid, completely improvised, imperfect, and when it comes with a big surprise at the end. My friend Anh, who up until now I’d only known through the online #HikerChats asked me if I wanted to fly out to Moab and hike a 22-mile loop around Canyonlands National Park. The entire park is a series of gorges, cut out by an ancient ocean, creating a landscape of sandstone towers, slot canyons, magnificent arches, set against the backdrop of golden rock speckled with desert sage and cactus. The splendor of Canyonlands isn’t in soaring peaks or deep forests, the splendor is in the isolation, rummaging through a cave or deep crevasse without running into another person. Yelling at the top of our lungs in an amphitheater where the sounds echo through the trenches.
In other words: this was one of the best hikes I’ve ever done.