Boston Basin

My overachiever wife, Yvonne, was [in-between] [jobs] and needed a climbing vacation before she started working again. We lined up 5 days of kid-care with the grandparents, but the weather wouldn’t comply. Pretty much the entire state of Alaska was drowning in endless rain and our plans to climb something local were sinking. Finally, after days of refreshing the extended weather forecast every 4 hours we bought weekend tickets to Seattle and flew south where Washington climbers were enjoying a record breaking dry spell.

We landed in Seattle at 5pm and were stocked up on camping supplies and driving north by early evening. By 11pm we were rifling through the shelves outside the Marblemount Visitor Center to find the (according to the NPS sign) Orange Number Tickets Located at the base of the door. Eventually found them – they’re pink, and they were hidden inside one of the drawers – a key find because we scored number 2 and which meant we were in good standing to score decent permits. Then a few hours of sleep at a campground and up again at 6am with a quick drive to the ranger station where we scored permits for four nights at Boston Basin. A quick drive to the trailhead, reshuffling gear and then hiking and three hours later (and 20 hours after leaving Anchorage) we were dropping our packs at high camp and collapsing into the tent.

Sunset on the north face of Johannesburg Mountain.

Closeup of the Northeast Buttress.

Enjoying the mid-summer avalanche show above camp.

Forbidden Peak – West Ridge (III 5.6)

We woke up early the next morning and set off for the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak. I’ve thumbed through my copy of 50 Classic Climbs of North America countless times over the past 20 years and was excited to finally have the chance to climb the route.

Up through the rock slabs at first light, and then up the snowfields to the base of the couloir. There was one party in front of us who were starting up the rock gully so we kept booting up the West Ridge Couloir – a steep snow gully that bypasses the initial chossy rock pitches. We had been warned at the ranger station that the couloir was not in shape, but we didn’t believe the rangers knew what they were talking about so we went for it. Yvonne lead the first block and was eager to simul-climb the entire thing, but as it steepened I talked her into stopping for a real belay.

Yvonne on the lower rock slabs.

Starting up the snow to the base of the couloir.

I lead off on steep but easy snow laughing smugly to myself about how the rangers didn’t know what they were talking about, when all off a sudden I realized the couloir was completely melted out and I standing on top of a 5′ gap in the couloir with the dark maw of a melted out snow bridge beneath my feet. I briefly considered attempting to stem across the chasm (a really bad idea), I carefully tuned and downclimbed into the moat until reaching the rock below. Then scrambled up rock until reaching a shelf where I stemmed half on rock and half on snow until high enough to sink my ice axe and place a picket. A couple of scratchy mixed moves, several hard kicks into the snow (made extra fun by my ancient lightweight boots and wimpy strap-on crampons) and a creative picket aid move had me back on top of the couloir with my heart rate elevated slightly higher than I wanted it to be at 7am.

Approaching the West Couloir.

Starting up.


I set a nice belay, brought Yvonne up and then set off again. Once again, I reached another moat with a sketchy downclimb into a pile of loose rock. This time there was a nice belay anchor right above me so I tied off and brought Yvonne up. The next pitch featured a chossy rock step to an overhanging melted out snow bridge. I sunk a picket (that poked through the snow bridge), yarded up on it and finally we were above the couloir and on the rock. A brief wrong turn up the gully until finally back on track and on the route proper to the col where we dropped our axe, crampons and mountain boots.

Yvonne nearing the top of the couloir. At this point there is an easy exit climbers left to rock gully. I continued up the gully and it got progressively steeper and mankier. Eventually I decided to downclimb and go left. Go left!

Yvonne at the top of the gully just below the col. We stashed our boots / axe / crampons here and continued the rest of the way in rock shoes.

Looking down into Boston Basin.

Much has been written about the West Ridge of Forbidden so I’ll spare you the details (just look at Step Aberg’s site for route beta). In short… we went up the ridge, simul-climbing some, belaying some and stopping often to take a thousand photos in all directions. The views were incredible, the weather perfect, the climbing exquisite and apart from the party who was in front of us (who by this point were on the summit) we were the only party on the West Ridge.

Yvonne on the route. Eldorado Peak in the background and Moraine Lake below.

Did I mention I took a lot of pictures?

Excellent sunny granite!.

Topping out on the 5.6 pitch.

Selfie shot!

Eventually I reached the false summit which I peered over trying to figure out how best to get down and across to the true summit. Some guys who had climbed the East Ridge were sitting on the summit across from one and one of them yelled “Just downclimb it – there are good holds”. So, I looped a rock horn and then gingerly downclimbed and a few minutes later I was on the summit. Yvonne followed shortly soon were on the summit admiring the perfect view.

Yvonne at the notch. I love how the rope just hangs across the void!

And then reversing the route. Downclimbing and then rappelling and then downclimbing and then rappelling. The down took almost as long as the up – but we were still the only ones on the route (the other climbers had opted to descend the East Ridge) and the weather was still perfect so we took our time (and I kept taking pictures). Eventually we were down to the gullies and then rapping down.

Yvonne down the 5.6 pitch.

While preparing for the final raps Yvonne gasped and showed me her wedding ring. The sapphire – a stone my mother had given me – was missing. I asked “Why are you climbing a route with hand cracks while wearing your wedding ring?” She replied that she hasn’t taken it off once in 11 years. Some might say that’s true commitment but at the time I had another word in mind. Apparently she has never seen these pictures [Warning… NSF{W,L}].

Yvonne down the rock gully. This gully has been the scene of several accidents. We were happy to be descending with no one above us.

Last rap above the moat. A week before we climbed this route Sue Bennett, a well known member of the Bellingham climbing community, died when she rappelled off the end of her rope near this spot.

Suiattle Fire near Darrington.

We cached our hiking poles on the rock slabs below the route. The snafflehounds appreciated the snack.

Back to camp.

We got back to the tent early evening and ate dinner and got into the tent while watching a group of 5 climbers (3 whom had climbed the East Ridge and 2 whom had climbed the North Ridge) rap the gullies in the dark. They eventually stumbled past our tent at 1am!

Watching the Forbidden rappel antics from camp!

Sahale Mountain – Quien Sabe Glacier

The Quien Sabe Glacier on Sahale Mountain from Boston Basin. The route starts on the far western edge (climbers left) and then traverses the glacier to the slope just below the col. Climb to the col then take the ridge to the summit.

The next day we slept in and had a leisurely breakfast. We were both tired from Forbidden and wanted a shorter day. Eventually we decided to give Shark Fin Tower a try and after fiddling around till 11am, we finally started hiking.

Across Boston Basin and over to the base of the glacier. The guidebook described the approach gully as a steep gully directly south of the tower. Or at least that’s what I thought it said. My memory isn’t that great and the guidebook was in the car (to be completely honest I didn’t even know which tower was actually Shark Fin). We sat and stared at the melted out snow gullies for a while and finally decided to just keep hiking and go up the Quien Sabe Glacier on Sahale Peak.

Yvonne on the lower glacier.

By now it was 2pm and 75 degree. I do believe I’ve read somewhere that hiking up a glacier in mid-afternoon on a hot sunny day is a bad idea… but apart from the severe snowballs on Yvonne’s crampons (you don’t need anti-bot plates in Alaska so those got tossed in the nether reaches of a random gear bin over a decade ago) the glacier climb was moderate and uneventful. We placed pickets at the start of the larger snowbridges, but everything was quite solid and before we knew it we were on the ridge, unroping and scrambling up the rock to the upper snow fields. We roped up again for the upper snow field (only to discover it was totally mellow) and shortly we were on the ledges just below the summit.

Starting up the 4th class pitch.

Yvonne nearing the summit.

A quick scramble up a pitch of fun 4th class rock and we were on the summit on yet another perfect day!

Summit shot!

Yvonne across the wild snow field just below the summit.

Then downclimbing the route (someone had removed the rap anchor off the summit block which is unnecessary for the Quien Sabe route, but needed for the standard route) and reversing our way back to the glacier.

Yvonne descending. Boston Peak in the background. True choss!

By now it was 5pm and things were soft and sloppy. I casually stepped out onto the glacier and promptly fell through a hole into the moat… so after that we kept a tight rope for the rest of the day. The downclimb was mellow and uneventful (although given the high temps and soft snow we took care to place pickets at every noticeable bridge crossing) and soon we were off the snow and hiking through the alpine meadows back to camp.

A NOLS group moved into the spot next to us. The guides took pity on us for eating Mountain House and cooked us a chocolate calzone!

Mount Torment – South Ridge (II 5.4)

It was our last day in Boston Basin so we set the alarm for 5am and were hiking by 6:30. Our goal was the South Ridge of Mount Torment, however we had zero route information other than you “climb the south ridge”. Luckily just out of our camp we stumbled upon a guide who was still in his bivy sack. We asked if he was familiar with the route and he gave us a full route description which basically went something like this: “Go left of buttress in front of you. Then go left of the waterfalls. Then go up the left side of the glacier to the large gully under the green rock. Then go left up the gully. At the top of the gully go left. Then go up and left again. You keep climbing up and left. Don’t go right. Go left. Left. Left. Left.”

We thanked him and started hiking. Half an hour later we were past the buttress and I was scrambling up steep wet rock right of the waterfalls. “Weren’t we supposed to go left?” Yvonne asked. “No… I think he said right. Right?” It’s strange that weeks later I can cite the guides route description verbatim but half an hour after hearing it I had promptly forgotten what he had said. I wonder what caused this problem?

On the rock slabs. Mt. Torment is the peak center left.

Snowfields to the glacier.

On the Taboo Glacier.

The NOLS group and another group on Sahale. Look closely and you can see a party on the ridge just below the summit.

The lichen covered wall just above the gully you take to the ridge.

Anyways… we eventually figured out that we needed to go left and finally we were on the glacier and eventually across the moat and scrambling up the gully to the start of the route proper. The climbing started with an awkward boulder problem, but over the years climbers had excavated enough dirt out of cracks at the start to make it reasonably well protected. A couple of fun moves and I was on 3rd class ledges leading to a belay.

Above the gully and going up and left.

And then it was up and left and up and left. We keep going up and traversing left and going up and traversing left. 100′ of 4th class dirt moves and then a short 5th class section and then back to 4th. Up and over and up and over. After two days of climbing we were tired and things seemed to be going slower than they should have been and eventually we decided to throw in the towel and descend while we still had plenty of light left. I reached a nice bivy ledge, looked around and then climbed down to Yvonne and we started reversing the route. (We later learned that the bivy ledge was less than a pitch from the ridge and once on the ridge we could have dropped our packs and 3rd classed to the summit. Alas!)

I like this photo stitch because it shows the traversing nature of the route. Look on the rock in the center of the photo and you can see Yvonne as she started this pitch – and of course to the left you can see where she ended the pitch.

A climber we met at Boston Basin described this route as “very aesthetic”. Pretty sure he was sandbagging us.

4th class then easy 5th then 4th…

The bivy shelf where I turned around. Apparently it’s a walk up from here.

Coming down. Yvonne was not a fan of the traversing nature of this route. On our way down she said, “I can see why people do the Torment / Forbidden traverse… getting off this peak is a f***ing pain!”

Down and right and down and right. Downclimbing and rappelling and downclimbing and rappelling. The descent was arduous and slow. Not as slow as Forbidden, but still quite slow. Eventually we reached the gully, slipped on our crampons and dropped onto the snow, worked our way across the bergschrund and eventually descended the glacier back to the rock slabs without any issues.




Yvonne on a tight belay as she crosses the bergschrund. This is the spot where Craig Luebben died in 2012. When I was a freshman in college I bought Craig Luebben’s book, “How to Climb: Advanced Rock Climbing” and read it cover to cover.

A leisurely hike back to camp where we sat next to the tent and watched the sunset paint the peaks crimson until the moon and stars rose and we retired to the tent tired and happy.

Out the next morning and back to Seattle just in time to catch a flight back to Anchorage where we picked up our daughter and dog and regaled them both with tales of sunny granite – a foreign concept in the land of rain and choss.

Au revoir sunny granite. We’ll be back.