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A Forbidden and Isolated Traverse

WA Cascades West Slopes North (Mt Baker)
Posted by tkakatsakis on 4/19/21 8:05pm

Hi everyone, this is my first ever trip report and it seemed like a good place to start. From 4/14 - 4/18, Henry, Matteo and I (Thomas) skied from Cascade River Road to Highway 20 along the Forbidden-Isolation Traverse. The unmatched weather window with a week of warm temps and sunshine on a deep La Niña snowpack provided us a crack at the biggest route any of us had ever done, unbelievable views, and concerning avalanche conditions. In total we travelled about 32 miles and 17,000 feet through the heart of the North Cascades. This trip was physically and mentally exhausting, but one I will never forget. Thanks to Henry for taking a lot of these photos.

A late start and long car shuttle had us skinning up the road in the afternoon. We were able to drive about a mile before the Eldorado trailhead, at 1800 feet. We saw the last humans we would see for five days, followed by a startled but friendly bear. It walked in front of us on the road for a while and then hid behind a tree. What a goof. We eventually set up camp in the lower Boston basin, nervous for the daunting distance to go.


On day two we skinned to the toe of the Quien Sabe glacier and climbed up the Sharkfin Col. Our rope got stuck and then didn’t get clear the bergschrund, so we put our skis on and jumped over. Boston glacier had some good turns and minimal crevasses (for now). Pictured is the North face of Buckner, Boston Peak, and the largest glacier in the park.


We then made turns down the Forbidden glacier, some of my favorite skiing of the whole trip. The setting here is insane, with Moraine Lake thousands of feet below and Eldorado behind. We opted for the skiers left variation exit, despite the looming seracs, to avoid the steeper more south facing right exit. Both options were somewhat thin already.


Camp 2 was on the banks of Moraine Lake, with a good view of our tracks down the glacier with the summit of Forbidden and the spooky ice cliffs. Sure enough, around 6 PM a huge ice block broke off and triggered a wet avalanche. Surprisingly, despite the heat, this was one of the only slides we witnessed all trip.



On day 3 we ascended the Inspiration Glacier and camped on the Tepeh Col. It felt good to ditch some weight and we climbed to the summit of Eldorado. After a close call skiing here in 2019, I was very careful to stick to the shaded side of the butter knife edge ridge. We skied off the top all the way down the NE face.


Our Friday night was spent chilling on the glacier watching a surreal view in every direction. The Inspiration glacier is well named. I even caught my first sighting of the Northern Lights above Klawatti!


Day 4 was very challenging. Worried about the NWAC bulletin but believing we could push on, we started before dawn. We roped up and postholed across the McAlister glacier to the second rappel over rime ice. Next up was the crazy long and scenic backbone ridge traverse followed by more skinning.



Day 5 and we were taking no chances. Woke up in the middle of the night and climbed the slopes of Snowfield peak as fast as we could. Skipped the summit but the sense of relief and views as we topped out on the Neve glacier were unbelievable. A firm but awesome ski down the Neve and then Colonial glacier dropped us at the final, death slope.


The traverse underneath Pyramid Peak is fucked. We did it around 8:00 in the morning and it was still bad. The trip ended with a huge ski down the ridge. It was adventure skiing at its finest. We skied all the way to 2500 feet, below Pyramid Lake. We emerged from the from the forest, disheveled and stoked.

Neat idea for a traverse link-up! Appreciate the pics, info., and solid TR debut.

Yes, the ski down from Pyramid features some fine Cascades arboreal combat. Or if you're feeling it, the avy path goes too. Neither is particularly straightforward...

(Would like to see more pics if you can fix their posting.)

yeah, beautiful but touchy window! I can only imagine...

I think I've seen that bear, older fellow?  Super mellow, I've got a great pic of him (tho could be her) somewhere

I'm not sure why some of the pictures aren't showing up, but the site won't let me edit my replies. I guess you gotta just go out there and see it!

One more thing I will add-- the South facing slopes immediately following the Ice-Elation couloir and up Isolation peak were frightening and dangerous in the conditions we had. If you are doing this route plan accordingly, we were forced to wait until sunset to cross the avalanche paths on Isolation, which meant we had to descend to the lake in the dark. Bailing at this point in the traverse is practically non-existent outside of a multi-day bushwhack down the valley, this route is highly committing. Have fun and be safe


The fella

Cool report! Sounds like a sensible respect for the mushy conditions in the mountains last weekend.

I wish I'd had the sense to look for the northern lights on Friday

Great report and what a trip! Thanks for telling the story. An inspiring read.

Wow, able to ski all the way down to Pyramid Lake?!  In summer that approach up to Snowfield peak proved to be one of the more arduous that I've done (with a pack), hard to imagine what it would look like under snow.  

Nice photos - I really appreciate some good quality photography.  

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2021-04-20 03:05:44