Torment-Forbidden Traverse

2 September 2007

It's a more-than-mile-long tightrope suspended in an alpine oasis.

Forbidden from Torment Summit Ryan contemplates Forbidden Peak and the Torment-Forbidden Traverse from the summit of Mount Torment.

Forbidden Peak is one of the more iconic peaks in the Cascades. It has an appearance similar to Switzerland's Weisshorn. Fred Beckey compares Mt Shuksan to the Weisshorn in Cascade Alpine Guide Volume III, which may be more accurate in terms of bulk. The Northeast Face of the Weisshorn actually reminds me of the Northwest Face of Formidable, albeit bigger. Nevermind the Weisshorn, I digress. We're talking about the Torment-Forbidden Traverse, which covers a lot of high gound in a spectacular setting.

I've been wanting to climb Forbidden Peak for years. It's tricky to find a good partner for Forbidden, because its mountaineering challenge lies in a gray zone. There's no non-technical way to the top, which precludes many of my hiking and skiing buddies. But the technical routes aren't that difficult, nor is the rock as stellar as elsewhere, which precludes crag bunnies and granite snobs.

Fishing for a climbing partner with the promise of a little challenge, I repeatedly broached the South Face with friends the last few seasons. Multiple times I got the reply, "That line doesn't seem so aesthetic."

Not aesthetic enough?

Forbidden Peak resides in one of a few select areas where the North Cascades host an icefield like so many groups of peaks in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. To the northeast side of Forbidden lies the massive Boston Glacier and the gorgeous ski lines on the north side of Mt Buckner. To the southeast is the lone nunatak of the Cascades - Klawatti Peak is surrounded by Inspiration, Klawatti, and McAllister Glaciers.

Johannesburg Mountain Johannesburg Mountain is another peak with great notoriety.

Boston Basin Approaching through Boston Basin

Jim Nelson cites the Torment-Forbidden Traverse (TFT) as his favorite in Mark Kroese's Fifty Favorite Climbs, which mentions that Jim tried the route after Ed Cooper recommended it to him. During their first ascent in July of 1958, Ed Cooper and Walt Sellers made an intentional bivouac on the ridge with no overnight gear! Couple that with other FAs like the North Buttress of Terror and bouldering Castle Rock's Angel Crack in mountain boots and I think Ed Cooper's a badass. Regardless, the TFT covers a lot of rock, with a little steep and exposed névé along the way just for good measure.

Ryan immediately took a shine to the traverse. We headed for a heaping helping of alpine flavor. Sure, it's not the spiciest, but it has all the best ingredients. A balanced palette for a beautiful balancing act. A cornucopia of craggy ridgecrest, good for a glutton like me.

We made the drive late Saturday night to get some sleep beside Cascade River Road before an early start. The TFT covers a lot of terrain for one day. Thus we were hustling up the Boston Basin Trail. Intensely focused, I passed an NPL colleague on the trail and failed to recognize him, despite looking at him and acknowledging his friendly admonition, "Have fun!" Thanks, Charlie, I hope you had fun on the Quien Sabe Glacier.

We were glad not to have any bergshcrund trouble atop the Taboo Glacier to get to the South Ridge of Torment. We belayed several pitches before scrambling to Mount Torment's summit. More unroped scrambling south of the ridge led to a notch and an overhanging rappel into a glacial moat. Crampons were very useful for traversing the glacial slopes north of the ridge.

Gully above Taboo Glacier Ryan in the gully above Taboo Glacier

Notch on Torment Ryan at the notch on Torment's South Ridge

Climbing Torment, Johannesburg in the background Ryan climbs on Torment. Mt Johannesburg is in the background.

wanted to ski! This slope was in dreamy condition for steep corn skiing. Alas, not today.

Finishing the steep snow after another healthy scrambling session, we both reached nirvana on the ridge. This section of the ridge is very exposed in both directions. The climbing is easy enough that I could flow over the rock quite well, but I enjoyed several stunning moments of vertigo after my vision momentarily shifted focus from the rock to the bilateral exposure. Jim's quote in Fifty Favorites is quite apt:

"The second half of the traverse is by far the best," says Nelson. "The exposure and scenery are really great. It's way cooler than being on a steep face - you get twice the view."

Ridge-walking This just does not get old.

Moraine Lake Ryan way above Moraine Lake

We encountered another party on the summit of Forbidden. They had climbed the North Ridge. Multiple parties descending the East Ledges made our previous decision to descend the West Ridge seem well, although it would be more aesthetic to continue covering new ground on the descent.

Forbidden Peak, West Ridge rappel Ryan, almost ready to rappel to reach the West Ridge

Rappels down the moat beside remaining snow in the West Ridge access couloir were tedious and dirty, but doable. Rope-recovery shenanigans ate some time and we wandered slabs in the basin after dark with the help of headlamps before finally finding the trail.

I would definitely repeat the traverse. It might be fun from the flipside: ascend the East Ridge Direct, do the West Ridge backwards, then climb Torment. Even better, use all that as a roundabout approach to Marble Creek Cirque. Who's interested?

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