Forbidden Peak, West Ridge

Every year on July 8th, I thank my parents that my birthday comes during the best season. The days are long, everyone is on vacation, and the snow is melting in the high country.

For this year, I climbed on Washington’s best granite bigwall, the Liberty Bell. My friend Blake Herrington has been one of the most active climbers on this wall, freeing many old aid pitches and establishing new lines. We climbed his route “Live Free or Die”, avoiding the very thin 12c crux but enjoying tons of sustained 5.11 face and cracks.

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The Early Winter Spires, near Washington Pass. Liberty Bell is the rightmost formation, and the steep East Face is just left of the sun-shade line.
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Blake Herrington

After rapping the big face (it goes quickly with an 80m rope!) we had a lunch of pesto pasta and split an IPA before heading back up. We climbed the first half of “Liberty or Death” into Liberty Crack for another quality granite excursion up to 12a.

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Good stone

Satisfied with our no-falls day, we polished off a few more beers and some decadent walnut brownies while waiting for our friends to finish the mega-classic “Thin Red Line”.

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I slept in lazily the next day, and then drove east along the highway 20. Once I got a bit of cell service, I pulled up a weather forecast and saw rain coming the following day. In order to maximize the week, I should definitely make that a rest day, which meant rallying to get in a climb this afternoon! The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak is on the hallowed “50 Classic Climbs in North America” list, so I turned left in Marblemount to head up into North Cascade National Park.

A gate blocked the road about 3 miles short of the trailhead. Not to be deterred, I parked and pulled out my bike.

After my lazy morning (and midday river swim), it was now 2:45pm. My “fast and light” mountain missions are usually self-imposed challenges, but today I needed to move quickly to avoid the dark and the rain, both of which would arrive around 9pm.

The final 3 miles of biking were incredibly steep, but luckily the worst parts were paved. The humid jungle air had me drenched in sweat by the time I arrived at the trailhead. I tucked my bike in the woods and began running up the trail.

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Repairing the road, I’m guessing it was avalanched

“Running” would be generous though. This was an unofficial climbers’ trail, and in the verdant PNW such approaches can be rugged. Heavily overgrown and covered in fallen trees, I spent half the time semi-crawling and the other half hurdling over logs. At least it was short, and I soon arrived at an idyllic meadow called Boston Basin.

Since I was onsighting, and hadn’t taken much time to study the beta (though had it saved on my phone), I stopped to chat with some climbers lounging at their camp. “You’re going where? Right now?” they asked with concern, “You know that’s a technical climb, right?” I assured them I’d be careful and thanked them for pointing out the trail before jogging off across the green meadows.

Nearing the base of the route, I encountered another friendly climber, who pointed out the steep snow tongue that led up to the ridge.

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Getting the beta

My strategy of approaching so late in the day paid off with good pliable snow conditions, a boon on the steep couloir. My aluminum strap-on crampons and short aluminum ax were minimal but sufficient to feel secure.

I stashed my snow gear and made sure my running shoes were dry before scrambling up the ridge proper. Perhaps a dozen other climbers were descending the mountain, so I had to carefully step around their ropes. Some were a bit chilly, but most were stoked at having climbed such a beautiful peak. All were casting nervous eyes to the clouds that had already begun to envelop us.

The rock climbing on the ridge was spectacular! The dark granite was worn white on the high-traffic path, and the holds were all clean and friendly. Big square cut jugs and perfect jams marked the way. An apparently blank section provided the crux, but my outstretched fingers found a deeply incut lock, and I pulled through with a whoop.

By the time I reached the summit, I was in the clouds and the wind swirled. Time to let gravity do the work and hustle back down!

I again passed the traffic jam of descending climbers, who’d barely moved. Hitting the soft snowfields below the peak, I found ideal conditions for skiing and pretended to make some turns. I stopped to chat with a friendly pair of climbers who snapped this shot:

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Facts:

Roundtrip time from normal trailhead: 4 hours and 54 minutes

 

7 miles and 5615′ of vertical gain, from normal trailhead

Gear:

SCARPA Neutron 2 GTX runners

CAMP XLC Aluminum Crampons

CAMP Mini Gaiters

CAMP Corsa Aluminum Axe

Rab M14 gloves

CAMP Sky Carbon trekking poles

CAMP “Skin” Skimo race pack/vest, 15L

0.5L Water bladder with Katadyn BeFree filter cap

2x Granola bars

Phone, headphones

 

 

Mt Stuart, Complete North Ridge

stuart 4 from Scott Bennett on Vimeo.

 

The North Ridge of Mt Stuart, in Washington’s Cascades, is one of the all time classic alpine rock routes in the country. With over 3000′ of high quality granite arching up the most prominent peak in the area, the route is deservedly popular. I love alpine romps, and have been light on my feet lately, so I decided to attempt the speed record.

On August 19 of 2015, Colin Haley and Andy Wyatt ran the route car-to-car in 6 hours and 45 minutes. This time had impressed me for years, even more so because they carried a rope, light rack, and at least one helmet.

I decided to go ropeless, having climbed the route before and finding the two short sections of 5.9 to be very secure crack climbing. Of course this is a compromise in safety, but one with which I felt comfortable.

On July 1st, I did a walking recon of the route, hiking in from the Leavenworth side. I climbed the route and descended down the Sherpa Glacier on the east face. Despite having brought an ice ax and crampons, I still found the steep icy descent to be fairly slow*

Knowing that Colin and Andy had set their record approaching from the other side, via Ingalls lake trail, I decided to go for that route. This would allow me to descend the Cascadian Couloir on the mountain’s west side, which is mostly scree with only a short section of snow. I decided to forgo crampons and ax, feeling ok with my trekking pole self-arrest ability (not actually recommended).

The penalty for this easier descent, however, is an extra 2000′ of uphill on the way back to the trailhead, as one must run over Long Pass.

Anyway, I won’t give a narrative account, since everything went smoothly and is therefore a pretty boring story.

Here are my splits:

Trailhead 8:47am

Lake Ingalls 9:53am (1h 6m)

Goat Pass 10:50am (2h 3m)

Base of route 11:16am (2h 29m)

Upper Gendarme 12:33pm (3h 46m)

Summit 12:50pm (4h 3m)

Trailhead 2:44pm (5h 57m)

 

And here’s what I brought:

SCARPA Spin RS Running shoes

wool socks

running shorts

tank top

silly trucker hat

sunglasses

Rab Pulse sun shirt with hood

Rab Windveil windbreaker

CAMP Full Protection shell pants

SCARPA Maestro Mid rock shoes

chalk bag

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra running vest/pack, 8.5L capacity

CAMP Sky Carbon trekking poles

Katadyn BeFree screw-on water filter, with 0.5L bladder

2 bars, a pack of clif shot blocks, a chocolate chip cookie and an apple

Gopro Session 5

Phone, bluetooth headphones

 

*I do think that someone could smash this speed record by approaching from the north side, since it’s more direct and doesn’t have the extra pass to run over on the way out. The trick though is gonna be getting the Sherpa glacier in the right conditions, nice soft snow with all the crevasses and ‘shrunds filled in. My friend Blake Herrington, Leavenworth super-local, thinks you might find these conditions during a sunny warm spell in June, and someone comfortable on snow could boot-ski down very quickly. I look forward to somebody proving him right!