Trip Report    

Forbidden Peak/West Ridge

A two-day jaunt up Boston Basin

  • Sat, Aug 15, 2020 — Sun, Aug 16, 2020
  • Forbidden Peak/West Ridge
  • Climbing
  • Successful
  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Snow is melting out very quickly. Running water until you reach the snowfield at Boston Basin. Catscratch gully is loose and dangerous. It takes away a star from the trip rating.


  • 0645 head off
  • 0930 Boston Basin High Camp
  • 1230 Start Catscratch Gully
  • 1600 West Ridge notch


  • 0630 start climb
  • 0930 Summit
  • 1000 Start descent
  • 1300 Back to notch
  • 1345 Start rappelling
  • 1630 Back to snow
  • 1830 Back to high camp
  • 2200 Back to cars

This particular climb had been a year in the making. Originally we were going to climb Forbidden in 2019 with Black Peak's NE Ridge and Poster Peak's Blue Buttress as practice, but fear of the Catscratch Gully postponed it a year. In the end that didn't really make a difference.

Julia and I had scouted Forbidden on a trip to Sahale in July and decided to make a go at it again in August. We joined with Andrea and Caitlyn, and Kari.

Being a 5 person party with a 3-person rope team we knew we would be slow. We planned on bivving at the notch for a very early start, which meant hauling water through the gully (great..). We had 2 single-ropes and 2 racks, which was heavier than what we should have had. Permits are either Forbidden Zone or Boston Basin, so they aren't the hardest to come by.

Knowing we'd have to haul water up I tried to pack as light as possible. My bag weighed in at 26 lbs at the trailhead.


Mornings are always brutal

We left the trailhead at 645 Saturday morning hoping that with enough time we could climb the ridge the first day and avoid the traffic. The hike to Boston Basin was uneventful, but the trail seems to get smoother as the season goes on. Since the trail is so steep we gained elevation in no time and soon we were hopping the slabs to get to high camp.


Crossing the first stream of many


Entering Boston Basin


Torment, Forbidden, Sharkfin, Boston, Sahale

On the way we encountered a party coming down who was at the scene of a rescue the day before. A climber was going unroped solo through the catscratch gully and fell 40ft into the moat, breaking his leg and helmet. He was airlifted out later that day. That didn't inspire confidence in us.


Johannesburg's imposing North Face


High camp

We spent a good deal of time filtering water at high camp to lug up the gully. The horseflies here were massive and probably never felt fear. There was enough to gain you an extra pound or two. Moving to the base of the gully we ended up going the long way (more to the west) up the slabs to the snowfield, where we found more running water. The 'glacier' is so thin at this point it might as well be a snowfield, with crevasses 4 ft deep. One day in the future someone will be hiking polished slabs to the catscratch, cursing our generation with each breath.


Crossing the 'glacier'. We heard many seracs crumble over the weekend

The snow finger to the base of the gully was getting real thin and soon it would be rock. It gets to 45 degrees at the top, so you have to be surefooted if you're not in crampons.


Looking up to the gully

Andrea and Caitlyn went first, since a party of 2 was faster than 3. It wasn't soon after that rocks came flying down on us. There were 2 instances where a football size rock came crashing down. Those would be fatal even with helmets. Many trip reports said that this was the actual crux of the climb, and it seemed very true. Vlad told me he would rather climb the snow-couloir without snow than this gully. Caitlyn took a fall as a boulder she stepped on gave way (thankfully it broke into pieces before flying down our way, but it was still potentially lethal) and Julia insisted on a belay through this shooting gallery. The lower gulley had some  moves that were definitely fifth-class. Hauling water up made it even more miserable. I definitely would not go up this gulley ever again.


Kari leading the gully

(Note: For route finding there are a lot of anchors slung around rocks. The rappel anchor is on a ledge to the right of the gulley and is 2 nuts with 2 pitons on a purple cord)

We got to the notch way behind schedule and decided to call it a day. Turns out there was snow at the notch, so fuel would have been better than water itself. We saw one group that just came up the North Ridge and another group doing a C2C push (their day had to be close to 24 hours). The guide for the North Ridge party told us all the 'official' raps were white and black 11mm static cord. Good to know they were still being maintained. He also said that although the route (except for the crux tower) should be simul'd, the catscratch gully should be belayed. That sort of validated our fears for the route.


The Eldorado group


Camp is lively

The bivy sites were quite small. Andrea and Caitlyn slept at the notch itself while Julia and I took a ledge more towards Torment and Kari took a high-perch. The views from the notch were stunning. We decided to move at sunrise and try to get back to the notch by noon. I got comfortable in my bag and instantly fell asleep at 6pm.


Somehow I didn't wake up until 4am with the wind tugging against us. It felt like 20mph gusts and we were getting nervous for the climb.


Another beautiful sunrise


Our route for the day

Nonetheless we geared up and headed out at 630 with Kari leading the way. Immediately we encountered the airy step and just stepped over it. The climbing was pretty easy for the most part, and since the wind came from the south we were mostly sheltered. The exposure was pretty cool. You could see the whole Eldorado group and Moraine lake from the ridge. The rock was clean and stable and overall really fun climbing. Most of the climbing was just left of the ridge crest itself except for a few short sections directly on the ridge. There are lots of rock horns to sling double-runners over. We used way more horn slings than cams. You can also thread the rope through the rocks as ad-hoc protection.


Easy climbing

We came to the crux tower soon after, a short slab move with an old piton protecting it. This was the only part of the route the needed a belay, and it didn't take too long. I lead the downstep from the false summit since I had seen pictures before and at 930 we were on the summit.


Kari leading the 5.6 crux

I could see how it became a Fifty Classic. However, the West Ridge itself is pretty short for the approach. I would opt for a longer route the next time around.


Summit shot


The iconic shot

At that point there were 2 parties coming up the North Ridge and one from the East Ridge. It seems like the harder routes were getting more popular than the 'easy' route at this point. We were the first the start heading down to try to not take up too much time. Another party was coming up as we were all descending, so that must have been a wait for them. From the false summit we made three rappels on the ridge itself with some simul-downclimbing in between, passing another group headed up the West Ridge. The rappel stations were all white/black static cord that made for 'straightforward' rappels, even though the raps were all at awkward angles. Saddlebags are a must on this route. In a moment of vacuous stupidity I dropped my ATC device and had to have someone tie it in to haul it up the rope for me to go down. Definitely bringing carabiners for c-b rappelling next time.

(Note: You have to look for the rap stations along they way as they can be easy to miss, especially the third one going down. They should all be after the halfway point)

At the notch we took another 30 mins to rest and hydrate, and were passed by another party that came up the North Ridge. We downclimbed to the first 'official' rap station on the rib (Climber's left of the gully). The first 3 raps were ~65 ft. Julia and I did tandem raps to save time, although it can get tricky. The fourth rap crosses the gulley on the right to a ledge, where the rap station is 2 pitons and 2 nuts with a purple cord. This brought us to our gear stash. 20 ft below was another station of 3 pitons with purple cord that brought us to the snow.


First rap station, about 50 ft below the notch


Coming out the of the gully

From there it was a 2 hr trek back to camp on wet slabs and snow. A party member rolled their ankle out of camp, so the hike down to the cars took longer than usual. We got to the cars as the rain started to hit. The moths down low were also really bad.


Looking back at Torment and Forbidden


Chillin as the storm clouds roll in

All in all a long, but worthwhile, trip. The climb itself is enjoyable, but the catscratch is definitely not a Fifty Classic. I would C2C it next time and skip the extra weight.


Annotation by Julia Syi

Rock gear per team:
Cams 0.2-2, 8 draws, 8 double slings, 2 quads. 1 single rope (a half rope is enough for a team of 2 though)

Overnight gear:
3L water sack, sleeping bag, pad. I brought a 30 degree bad, an R1, longsleeve, and ultralight rain layer. Others brought much more.

I wore hiking boots for the approach. In hindsight it's better to go all in with mountain boots or approach shoes if you don't mind wet feet.

Picture credits: Julia Syi, Andrea Hidalgo, Karina Vanderbilt