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Washington's Forbidden Tour

Circumnavigating the jagged spire of Forbidden Peak in northern Washington.
posted: 02/07/2008

Having skied the Forbidden Tour in Washington's North Cascades National Park, I hereby resolve to include, whenever possible, a Brit on every future outdoor endeavor. Just one—two could become cliquey and fall into unintelligible vernacular. Modern Americans, exposed to English culture largely through Monty Python, assume all Brits are funny. Nick Southall, of Worcester, who won a spot on our trip through a contest on Backcountry.com, did not disappoint.

Nor did the terrain—glaciers surrounding 8,815-foot Forbidden Peak. In the late '90s, Pro Guiding Service founder Martin Volken first envisioned a circumnavigation of Forbidden Peak, a jagged, menacing spire in northern Washington. He'd already trekked the surrounding terrain, but figured out how to link up Forbidden's three drainages while poring over maps back home in Seattle. His instincts were spot-on. The route itself includes three descents—two of them with more than 3,000 vertical feet—and dozens more exist for skiers willing to hike. Only one section requires ropes, but I felt like a badass dangling 'biners and anchors from my harness for the whole trip.

Our group, which included Nick the Brit, my former schoolmates John and Erin Spiess, and our ace guide Margaret Wheeler, skied the 3,200-foot showpiece descent on day two, veering onto a steep pitch where the mellow upper Forbidden Glacier fragments into crevasses. Margaret, who is only the second American woman to earn IFMGA guiding certification, prodded us up a crushing climb to camp two so we could spend the next day skiing with light packs without moving camps. The skiing—a 1,300-foot corn/slush run on McAllister's Glacier and a crusty drop down Eldorado Peak's East Ridge—was punctuated by lunch at a col, during which the whole of my salt-deprived being coveted Margaret's landjaeger, a type of smoked German beef stick she carries in the mountains.

On day four, near the slushy end of a corned-up 4,000-foot drop off Eldorado Glacier, Nick went over the handlebars, pile driving his head and shoulders deep into rotting avalanche debris. Emerging unharmed, he said, "My ski decided to act like the Bismarck: Dive! Dive!" Later, we rolled out of the backcountry, stinking and spent, and then lounged on the sunny deck of Skagit River Brewing in Mount Vernon, Washington, downing celebratory beers and burgers. Nick approached the bar for another round. Noticing his accent, the bartender asked if he was in town for the annual Tulip Festival. Nick grabbed his pint and sidled toward the door.

"Do I look like I'm here for the fucking Tulip Festival?"

DETAILS
Guides: Pro's primary guides are at least AMGA-certified, and three (Volken, Wheeler, and Rinaldo Borra) have full IFMGA certifications.
Season: Pro Guiding Service will offer two trips this spring: March 20—23 and April 20—23.
Terrain: Most of the descents are glacial and range between 25 and 40 degrees. Plenty of steep side descents exist for ambitious and capable groups.
Weather: On the March trip, you're more likely to have variable weather and powder. In April, you'll probably have corn and sunshine.
Book It: The four-day trip costs $560 per person, not including meals. (Bring your own; we suggest cured meat). proguiding.com

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