March 7-9, 2015: Jason Hummel, Mike and Andy Traslin and Jeff Rich
The Forbidden Tour, pioneered in the late ’90s, has become renown by Washington State’s tight knit backcountry ski community as a cascade classic. Not only does this route pierce the heart of North Cascades National Park, but the name, “Forbidden,” captivates and attracts the adventurer rather than deters them.
Day One: Cascade River Road to the Quien Sabe Glacier
Like the forbidden fruit in the bible Jeff Rich, Mike and Andy Traslin, and I had to have a bite to see what all the fuss was about.
Sunrays pierced high firs into deep-cut valleys. Shading my eyes, I peered back through the bright rays and made out snowline. It was much higher than normal, far above the gated Cascade River Road where cars parked. It required us to mount skis to packs instead of feet.
In two miles we arrived to the beginning of the Boston Basin Trail, a once road long since grown over. After much grappling we lost the trail among the bones of old avalanche debris. It’s body a stiff rictus among the shadows and a bloated mess among the sunrays.
Throughout the hike rearward views of Johannesburg joined other North Cascade peaks. They saturated sky to horizon. When I was a kid, I used to draw pictures of mountains almost every day. From my pictures and the present reality, layered peaks vanished into hazy skylines.
The improving views reanimated tired legs, further renewed during a rest. Throughout the relaxed minutes, I gazed southward. Only a few miles from me, near Cascade Pass, the most recognized ski traverse in the Cascades, first crossed by the Ptarmigan club in the 1930’s and subsequently named for them, blazes its way through these impressive peaks. Together with the Forbidden Traverse, it joins a dozen other traverses, collectively stretching 300 miles across the Cascade Crest, all the way to Mount Rainier to the south and Mount Baker to the north.
When we gained the upper Quien Sabe Glacier, we crossed shadows spiked in rough outlines of rocky spires and serrated ridges of Torment, Forbidden, Boston and Sahale Peaks. Had I entered a room I wasn’t invited into? Was there a dress code? I’d been told it was relaxed and instead it was formal.
With a few hours till dusk, we arrived to a swale of snow at 7500 feet. Hurried, we flattened tent spots and quickly established a fantastic camp.
We rushed toward Sahale Mountain for an impromptu ski tour sans heavy packs. We were met with horrendous snow that quickly soured ambitions, but the drags that remained pushed us to a high vantage point. While we stood there, the pink alpenglow washed over our heads and consumed the mountainside, further disconnecting us from home and inserting us into the landscape
While the forthcoming turns were as terrible as expected, it was tolerable. As long as beauty stands-in and gives senses a twirl, I’m ever content to ski ice instead of powder.
Day 2: Quien Sabe Glacier to Moraine Lake
The second morning, we traversed to the base of Sharkfin Col. Before the ascent we pulled axes and crampons from packs for the steep, five hundred foot climb. When I was midway up I heard Jeff, who was already at the top, curse. As I arrived, I peered over the cliff edge and saw Jeff’s pack laying in a heap a hundred feet below! When Jeff had arrived, the cornice he’d set his pack on had broken. Either blessed by fates or luck, it had cleared the bergschrund and stopped. “What the hell,” I said to Jeff.
He grinned. “At least I don’t have to carry my pack down.” For that reason, Jeff took the lead and rappelled first. The rest of us followed suit, swinging out and lowering ourselves to the fearsome Boston Glacier.
The north face of Mount Buckner, a fifty degree snow face, first caught our attention. It clings to the southern edge of the crevasse-riddled Boston Glacier. In 2011 I’d fallen into a crevasse on my way to ski it, discovering I didn’t like a close-up view of its inner workings.
As we turned our backs on Mount Buckner, we lost sight of her as we rounded the upper Boston Glacier. As soon as the crevasses retreated, we ascended to a narrow 7800 foot col. We now stood at the apex of the infamous Forbidden Glacier. It’s snow and ice falls away three thousand feet to the shores of Moraine Lake.
Our ski-signatures carved their edges into snow; gravity uncoiled turn after turn next to gaping crevasses and seracs; and we felt a need to slow down. Below us, the sun gave way to shadow. By then we knew that the fruit of our labors was indeed sweet, but was it forbidden? With no one in sight and no ski tracks to cross, while perhaps not forbidden, it was all ours and that made it precious.
Near the glacier’s base, the unseasonably warm and dry weather throughout the winter had regretfully forgotten to deposit any snow where twenty feet of it would normally be. This left polished slabs of rock behind. As we searched for a way through, Jeff came to the rescue, having found a sling from which to rappel from.
A short ski brought us to the outlet stream of Moraine Lake. We forded the creek, nearly slipping off the slippery rocks and falling into the cold water.
Beyond the creek, we pitched camp. While we cooked meals and drank tea, the views became claustrophobic. They loomed like trees. The sun loosened rock and ice randomly broke loose, disturbing the calm. The punctured it like a needle to balloon and each thunderous impact boomed like we were being ground within nature’s stomach.
Day 3: Moraine Lake to the Eldorado Trailhead
Morning came as a relief. Nights are long and cold in the winter. Ahead of us, cast by thousand foot cliffs, magnificent shadows marched in unison across the steely white canvas of Moraine Lake. Fueled by our carnal desires for sun and warmth, we overcame the sun-shadow line and on the shores of the lake, soaked in the sun rays as they broke over the rock spires of Forbidden Peak.
Easy valley skinning gave way to melted out boulders. They were piled on sun-warmed south faces. We needed to scramble up them to bypass the snout of the Inspiration Glacier. On a normal year this wouldn’t be an issue, but 2015 was the worst winter in recent memory.
Another thousand feet higher, the Inspiration Glacier was crossed on a flat bench. Klawatti Peak (8485 feet) rises behind us and Eldorado Peak (8868 feet) rises immediately in front of us.
While Jeff and I skirted the base of Eldorado Peak’s East Ridge, the Traslin brothers decided to summit the peak. Neither of the brothers had skied Eldorado before and Jeff and I had done so many times before in much better conditions. The bad snow had returned and enjoyed good views coupled with the warm sun.
At the bottom of the Eldorado Glacier we climbed to Rousch Pass. From its saddle we again met boulders a thousand feet lower, which wasn’t a deterrent to further skiing, only an added challenge. Between snow patches we leaped, scraped and danced over the rocks until we could ski no further. There’s something special about the free flowing nature of skiing and the ease at which terrain flies by that makes stopping difficult, but stop we must when the white gold we mine is all played out.
A trail continues to the car along a steep climber’s path. In a race against darkness Jeff and I scurried ahead, leaving the Traslin’s behind in the old growth trees to fend their way to the bottom at their own pace.
Back at the car, I sat down in a satisfying crash, my skis and pack tumbling to the ground next to me. Casting my thoughts over the past three days, however short the time was, left my head near to bursting with smiles and satisfaction. As I said earlier, the term forbidden attracts the adventurous rather than deters them and yet, for me, it was even more than that. These mountains are my home and home, as they say, is where the heart is and mine is rooted among these high places nestled in the northern reaches of Washington State.
Finally, here’s a short video Jeff Rich put together with his gopro/camera footage. Enjoy. I know I did, especially the part where his pack drops off Sharkfin Col. Classic. [stag_video src=”https://vimeo.com/121905850″]