Femme Beckey Expedition: May 16th-June 8th, 2023
Written by: Miriam Caron, July 2023
Expedition Members: Lizzie Wenger, Miriam Caron, Sierra Smith, & Ella Meyer

Mountain Five: Forbidden Peak via the West Ridge: June 1st-3rd

"Thawing" by Lizzie Wenger

After meeting up with my oldest climbing partner, Sierra, from my angsty teenage years, we headed for the North Cascades to pick up Boston Basin permits. We were especially excited to climb the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak because Fred Beckey was among its first (known) summit team! The next day we bushwhacked through the beautiful rainforest up 3,000’ under waterfalls, over tree trunks, and across streams to the low camp at Boston Basin.

Sorting gear at the Trailhead

Camp at Boston Basin

These were our heaviest packs to date, carrying our normal glacial travel protection as well as alpine traditional climbing rack, camping gear, and of course our backpacking supplies. We did not carry a scale with us, but I would guess the packs weighed over eighty pounds. We were greeted by a complete white out at camp along with the only other group on the mountain, a team of three climbers and a guide from the American Alpine Institute. That evening Liz decided that after four back-to-back mountains her body needed a break and would stay back at camp while Sierra and I made a summit attempt of Forbidden Peak. We full-heartedly supported her decision to listen to her body and we knew it would be a great time for her to take some alone time, make art, and journal. That evening we fueled up on Three Bean Veggie Stew and Coconut Black Beans and Rice before crashing from the day’s hike. 

Sierra and I awoke before the sunrise, and while the fog was still in the air we started meandering up the moraines towards the base of the glacier, closely following the GPS’s directions as we were completely blinded by the whiteout. About an hour after sunrise the fog lifted and we finally got to see the famous 360? views of jagged peaks that surround the Boston Basin, understanding why the North Cascades are deemed the American Alps.

Sunrise above the clouds (35mm)

Sunrise from up high

Beautiful Boston Basin (35mm)

Queer Joy (35mm)

When we reached the glacier we carefully “threaded the needle” through rock debris and crevasses, and got our first full view of the Forbidden Peak. Although her summit was only 1,500 ft. above us it was going to require technical rock and snow travel to get there. Luckily, we found the crampon tracks of the American Alpine Institute team and followed them up the glacier.  As we ascended the steep snow, I spotted a sketchy looking gully and pointed it out to Sierra joking that we should climb up it for giggles and a fun challenge. After ignoring the snowy gully, we followed the tracks to the base of a rock wall where we saw a nut (rock protection) wedged into a crack in the wall and we figured we had arrived at the base of the gully that led to the West ridge that would take us to the summit.

We changed into our rock shoes and began ascending the gully. Although we guessed the gully was at most graded a 5.6 climb, the rock was extremely loose and chossy, making it difficult to climb and build anchors safely. To make matters worse, we were carrying our heavy packs with ice tools strapped to the back which repeatedly constrained us from reaching the best holds.

Look up there! (35mm)

Sierra climbing with a bulky pack (35mm)

Sierra's trad anchor

Despite the heavy packs and the choss, I did my first trad climbing lead in this gully! About three and a half hours and four pitches later we still did not see the summit ridge. By 6:30pm we decided to turn around at 8,008 ft. and start repelling down the rock to make sure we were on the glacier before it got dark.

As we began our descent down the rock face, we spotted the AAI team emerging from the steep snowy gully that we had joked about climbing earlier. They were clearly following the intended route which avoided our sketchy gully. Sierra smartly changed into her mountaineering boots before we began repelling but I made the mistake of keeping my rock shoes on until the last repel that would lead us to the glacier. Unfortunately, at the last rappel station there was not enough room to change into my boots and I had to land on the glacier in my climbing shoes, turning my feet into instant popsicles. We made it to the base of the glacier just as the sun crested the horizon, showing off with a lavender and fiery sunset. We slowly made our way down the moraine in the pitch dark.

Miriam rappelling onto the glacier in her rock shoes

Meanwhile back at camp, Lizzie had a restful day of sleeping in and making friends with marmots. However, when the AAI team returned to camp and reported to Lizzie that they had not spotted us since early morning, despite being on the same route, she began to panic. She was briefly calmed when she spotted our headlamps up on the moraine, but after my headlamp flashed in her direction indicating low battery, she once again went into a panic thinking that we were signaling for help. After seeing our headlamps slowly but steadily descending the moraine she decided to stay put at camp instead of ascending the scree to meet us. When we finally arrived at camp, we were greeted by Liz who had lovingly prepared us a freeze dried dinner which revived us from our 18-hour day on the mountain and put us right to sleep.

Lizzie's Marmot Friend

Sleepy Miriam eating breakfast

Stay tuned for part 7 of the Femme Beckey Adventure: A summit of Mt. Baker!