Topo: Torment-Forbidden Traverse

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Climbing Washington State’s Torment-Forbidden Traverse (TFT) feels like riding the spine of a dragon. The ridge shifts and molts. Water vapor clings to the gendarmes like wisps of smoke. You’re dirty, exhausted, and in peril, with no easy way off the mile-long granite ridgeline once you commit. The whole thing is medieval. But, for the day or two you spend riding the beast, you’ll feel like a knight in shining Gore-Tex.

The sweeping ridge connecting Mount Torment (8,120 feet) and Forbidden Peak (8,815 feet) forms the crenellated crown of Boston Basin, a pocket of talus and paintbrush-specked meadow tucked within the southwest edge of North Cascades National Park. The TFT begins by wrapping up and around Torment clockwise, following loose, wandering ledges that, in typical Cascades fashion, seem glued to the mountain by lichen and pillowed moss. While the climbing is no harder than 5.4, poor rock quality frontloads the mental fatigue. However, as you gain the ridge, the views unfold: glaciated cordillera streaked with silver and blue-gray granite, slopes crusted with hemlock and fir, and turquoise lakes, flat and opaque, as if left by a watercolorist.

The author and her partner, Wes Fowler, pose with the full ridge traverse and Forbidden Peak in the background, shortly after summitting Mount Torment.

The author and her partner, Wes Fowler, pose with the full ridge traverse and Forbidden Peak in the background, shortly after summitting Mount Torment.

After you summit Torment’s crumbling silhouette, rappels and tricky route-finding carry you down to a notch. From there, you descend the north side of the ridge onto upper Forbidden Glacier. A short traverse out of the moat and across the glacier leads back to the ridge and its technicolor views. There, the rock quality gradually improves until you’re on the firm granite of the famous Sidewalk Pitch—an exposed, four-foot-wide catwalk—and the ensuing 1,500-foot romp up Forbidden’s ultra-classic West Ridge (5.6). To descend, you retrace your steps west to the West Ridge notch, then rap Cat Scratch Gully.

The first ascensionist, Ed Cooper, first saw the TFT in May 1958. Cooper, then 21, was picking his way up Forbidden with Fred Beckey, Joe Hieb, and Don Gordon (née Claunch) during the first ascent of the East Ridge Direct (III 5.6). Cooper and Walt Sellers, then 20, returned that July, bringing parkas and a cloth sack as bivy equipment. Over a single, two-day push, they opened the Southwest Face (low fifth class) of Mount Torment and threaded their way through the connecting ridge’s gendarmes, snowfields, and loose sections. All the while, the pyramidal Mount Forbidden loomed ahead.

Jake Moon near the summit of Forbidden Peak on its West Ridge (5.6), the final leg of the TFT. 

Jake Moon near the summit of Forbidden Peak on its West Ridge (5.6), the final leg of the TFT. 

“I consider it one of the finest alpine adventures I’ve ever had,” Cooper says. “A mile-long climb on good granite .… Nothing quite like it had been done before in the Cascade Mountains.”

While the historic route touches glacier mid-traverse, changing conditions may be forcing the TFT to higher ground. In recent summers, warmer temperatures have widened crevasses and left the north-side descent difficult to protect. As a result, late-summer climbers now often stay on rock, traversing the ridge’s south side beneath hanging snowfields. “In 20 more years, will getting onto the north side only be available as a winter route? If trends stay the same, then yes,” IFMGA guide Chris Simmons says. “I also think both lines actually have different objective hazards that add up to the same total.”

The scales of the TFT may break and slough, but it has the bones of a classic. And that will always remain the same.

Fowler approaches a gendarme just after the Sidewalk Pitch, under a classic veil of Pacific Northwest mist.

Fowler approaches a gendarme just after the Sidewalk Pitch, under a classic veil of Pacific Northwest mist.

The Beta

Location

North Cascades National Park, Washington

Grade

IV 5.6; steep snow

Length

One mile

First Ascent

Ed Cooper and Walt Sellers; July 1958