Climbing Conditions - Boston Basin Area

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Quien Sabe Glacier 7-30-21
Quien Sabe Glacier on 7/30/21 viewed from the west.  Note the several long crevasses about 2/3 of the way up where the glacier steepens, with a few small snow bridges.

NPS/J. Shields

July 30, 2021
Boston Basin Conditions, Sharkfin Col, Quien Sabe Glacier, Boston Peak
It's a beautiful summertime wonderland in the Basin, with a dazzling wildflower display and happy marmots whistling and frolicking about!

However, this long high-pressure period has resulted in lower snow levels at snow-to-rock transitions, calving snowfields, and weakening snow bridges. A longtime climbing ranger observed that the snow at Sharkfin Col is around 20' lower than usual, which necessitates that much more 4th class climbing for access. Start early and take care when crossing under snowfields lying on slabby, polished rock, as the day's heat will cause chunks to calve off and travel quickly downslope. Snow is firm in the morning but softens very quickly after sun exposure.

Streams are still flowing swiftly at high volume - scout for good crossings and remember flow will increase greatly later in the day. Also be prepared for very bad biting blackflies and horseflies!

Quien Sabe Glacier is still navigable but many crevasses have opened. Accessing the steep upper glacier requires dodging several very long cracks and crossing small remaining snow bridges. There is an undercut moat about 6' deep to gain the Boston-Sahale col. There is one short section of flat snow travel (visible in picture) on the ridge to Sahale.

The standard route around the E side of Boston Peak traverses a steep snowfield with a 10' moat on its N side. Rappelling from the summit with a single 60-meter will not reach the second station - expect a 15' exposed downclimb on loose rock to reach it.

We remind the climbing community that because Boston Basin is rightfully very popular, the permit system exists to prevent overcrowding, which detracts from enjoyment and can cause dangerous situations on routes. Bivying anywhere on the Torment-Forbidden-Boston-Sahale ridgeline is considered part of the Boston Basin cross-country zone and permits must specify this. A permit for the Forbidden cross-country zone necessitates dropping down onto the Forbidden or Boston Glaciers.
 
WestRidgeForbidden
A busy day on the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak.

NPS/B.Ducay

July 24, 2021
Boston Basin Conditions, Forbidden Peak
The Cascade River Road is now open and Boston Basin is busy!

The approach couloir to the West Ridge of Forbidden was confirmed to be out of condition and that the Cat Scratch Gully is the preferred approach for the rest of this season. The Cat Scratch Gully can be deceiving in its difficulty and we recommend that you rope up for this section and to be careful of loose rock! There is no way to escape if a rock becomes dislodged higher up.

The rappel stations on route were in good condition, but the rest must be downclimbed. Please keep in mind that going down can take longer than going up, especially with such high visitor use.

We also saw numerous parties attempting to bivy at the base of the East Ridge Route on Forbidden Peak. This area is still considered within the boundaries of Boston Basin and your permit must reflect that. It is also not a good idea to be approaching that area so late in the day. The mountain was actively shedding rocks and snow in the heat while climbers were hiking up a confined gully below an area full of loose scree. A better choice would be to camp at the established upper bivy sites, doing the route camp to camp and avoiding the need to carry big packs up the east and down the west ridges.

This area is receiving a tremendous amount of impact. There is a reason why we enforce park regulations and we kindly ask you to reflect on maintaining safety and wilderness character when you decide to travel in this spectacular area of the park.
 
July 18, 2021
Boston Basin Conditions
Boston Creek and others are still flowing strongly but are crossable with caution throughout the day at the normal crossing sites. Visitors report the approach couloir for W Ridge of Forbidden has discontinuous snow and a difficult moat. Sharkfin Col's approach gully has continuous snow but shows much recent rockfall. Sharkfin Tower's approach gully is very wet with flowing water and has a ~5' tall and slightly undercut moat at its base, but remaining snow in the gully can now be bypassed. The Quien Sabe Glacier has open crevasses but has a navigable route between them.
 
20210706 Boston Basin Conditions
Boston Basin Conditions, July 6, 2021

NPS/B.Ducay

July 6, 2021
Boston Basin Conditions, Quien sabe Glacier
With the recent high temperatures, Boston Basin currently reflects mid-summer conditions. The approach below treeline is straight-forward with some additional deadfall. The snow line is higher than expected at approximately 6200 feet. Water is flowing high and fast. Both branches of Boston creek were difficult to pass in the evening and necessitated an uphill detour to pass them safely. Both lower and upper bivy sites are melted out and both toilets are available for use. We also noticed that people have been building rock windwalls around bivy spots. We kindly request that you please refrain from doing so to maintain the wilderness environment that Boston Basin is known for.

Bears seem to be very active in the area right now with numerous visitor encounters a lot of recent skat on trail. Please properly store your food!

The Quien Sabe Glacier is in good condition but does have numerous crevasses to navigate on your way up. The moat at the top was badly undercut in spots and required scouting of safe exits onto rock. Be careful with what you are standing on and be conservative in this area.

The approach gully to Sharkfin Tower was half full of snow.
The approach gully to Sharkfin Col was still full of snow but also showed significant recent rockfall.
 
June 28, 2021
Boston Basin Conditions, Sharkfin, and W Ridge Forbidden (Visitor Reports)
There are several treacherous creek crossings early on the approach from Cascade River Rd., the most notable being Midas Creek - travel early and cross with care. In Boston Basin the lower bivy sites are melted out along with the toilet, while the upper bivies are partially melted but threatened by glide avalanches from above. There is a strongly flowing creek on the way to the lower bivies that can be avoided by traveling on snow.
Sharkin Tower is reported in good conditions but the approach gully is currently very steep - one party led adjacent rock instead of taking the couloir.
The W Ridge of Forbidden route is snow-free, but the approach requires traveling under overhead snow and rockfall hazard. The approach couloir is reported easily to be accessed and in great shape.
Remember that high temperatures lead to increased shedding of loose rock and snow which is most prevalent later in the day - climb early and be away from overhead hazard by afternoon.
 
West Ridge Forbidden Approach Sept 6
Approach up to the West Ridge of Forbidden, Sept 6th 2020. Photo by NPS/A.Brun.
September 6th, 2020
Boston Basin Conditions and West Ridge of Forbidden
The climber’s route into Boston Basin is in standard condition (steep dirt gullies, with roots and many downed trees). We observed a bear near the climber’s route below the Upper Bivy site. The bear was acting normally and was not aggressive. Above the upper bivy site, climbers attempting the West Ridge of Forbidden will encounter and ascend dry granite slabs to a moderately steep snow slope.
 
West Ridge Approach 2 Sept 6
Snow approach to West Ridge of Forbidden. Photo NPS/A.Brun
An ice axe and crampons are recommended for this short snow climb. Climb moderately steep snow to below a short gully, approximately one rope length below the Cat Scratch Gully. Caution is recommended in this short gully as the snow bridges are thin, the moat is getting larger, and many loose rocks are present.
 
Cat Scratch Gully Sept 6
A fixed rope left in the Cat Scratch gully, it was removed by rangers. Photo by NPS/A.Brun.
A fixed, 60 meter in length, dynamic climbing rope was found on the first “pitch” in the Cat Scratch gully. This rope was removed by a Climbing Ranger; do not fix climbing ropes or store climbing equipment in North Cascades National Park. Contact the North Cascades NP Wilderness Information Center if this rope belongs to you. Rappel anchors in the Cat Scratch gully are in good condition, but always check the anchors before rappelling and carry extra webbing to backup the anchor if needed.

There are a variety of rock camp sites at the upper bivy area in Boston Basin and plenty of running water from snow patches. Please remember to use the composting toilets and carry blue bags! Do not deposit blue bags into composting toilets. You never know when you’re going to need to go! Lastly, bear canisters or Ursacks are required for all overnight visitors to the Boston Basin area.
 
Ranger climbing Sharkfin tower
A ranger climbs the Sharkfin approach gully. Photo NPS/A.Brun

August 23rd, 2020
Boston Basin and Sharkfin Conditions
The popular climbs accessed from Boston Basin are in good late season condition, however more crevasses are appearing, and moats are growing larger. North Cascades climbing rangers patrolled the standard route on Sharkfin Tower and observed that the lower approach gully is snow free and mostly dry, be prepared to ascend 3rd class terrain with numerous loose rocks and a few patches of wet rock.

 
Sharkfin Tower with climber late August
Sharkfin tower. Photo by NPS/A.Brun
Once above the approach gully climber will encounter some firm neve and crampons may be required on this moderately steep snow slope to approach the base of the technical climbing. The notch on the south side of Shark Fin is snow free. Rappel anchors are in mostly good condition, however please remember to remove old and weathered webbing if adding a sling to an anchor, as the climbing rangers removed multiple pieces of faded and worn webbing on the descent.
 
Quien Sabe Glacier Aug 23
Quien Sabe Glacier, August 23. Photo NPS/A.Brun

The climbing rangers also observed several large crevasses forming on the Quien Sabe glacier, requiring climbing parties to climb around several large crevasses. We also observed a few bare ice patches forming on the glacier.

Please use the composting toilets in Boston Basin, however do not place blue bags or food in the composting toilet! Unfortunately, we observed one blue bag in the upper Boston Basin composting toilet; removing blue bags from the composting toilet is difficult and unpleasant for staff.

 
Mount Buckner rises from the Boston Glacier
Mount Buckner and the Boston Glacier as seen on the route from Shark Fin Col to the North Ridge of Forbidden Peak.

W. Tarantino/NPS

August 4, 2020
Boston Basin and the North Ridge of Forbidden Peak
The Quien Sabe Glacier is still in early season condition, but the lower icefall and the upper cravasses are quickly emerging, plan on some route finding on the way to the Boston/Sahale Saddle. The Shark-Fin col rappells are still easily accessed via the right-slanting snow couloir. About 2/3 of the way up to couloir turn left up a 4th class step to reach a short scramble to the upper notch. Two single-rope raps easily reach the Boston Glacier. The Boston Glacier is still in good shape with only short and minor route-finding problems, remember to double-check any snow-bridges, even if a previous party crossed safely, there's no guarentee its still strong enough to hold you!
 
The NorthWest Face of the North Ridge of Forbidden is in good condition, with a minor bergschrund problem at the bottom.
Looking up the NorthWest Face route to the North Ridge of Forbidden Peak, the bergschrund at the bottom is still passed easily.  The constriction up high may become more challenging soon as it melts out.

W. Tarantino/NPS

Assessing the North Ridge involves additional problem solving across a moat and hanging snowfield to reach the ridge, advise visitors going this way to take the time to get a good look at the snow-bridges on the upper snowfield from the bottom, assessing them from above would be more challenging. The Forbidden Glacier is steep and heavily cravassed, but currently presents only minor navigation issues to the base of the NW Face of the North Ridge. An easily negotiated bergschrund guards the face, which currently involves about five pitches of moderate snowclimbing and is in excellent condition. There is a constriction at the top of the face which is starting to get a little hollow and could require more problem solving in the next few weeks.
 
A NOCA ranger descending the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
A NOCA Ranger on rappel while descending the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

W. Tarantino/NPS

Both the Upper North Ridge and the West Ridge are in standard summer condition, the approach gully for the West Ridge has a large moat in the middle, not visible from below. Advise climbers to approach via Cat Scratch Gully. All of the rappels along the West Ridge and Cat Scratch Gully are in good condition. The Boston Basin approach trail is melted out almost the whole way to the Upper Bivy sites. There is still quite a bit of snow at the upper bivies, and only the high sites on the rocks have melted out. Both composting toilets are free of snow and functioning well. While servicing the toilets, rangers noticed a number of wet wipes in the lower toilet. Please remember that wipes do not break down like toilet paper, they should be considered trash and packed out.

Marmots and other animal are awake in the Basin. Bears have also been seen in the Basin this time of year. Please use a bear can to store all of your food!
 

July 28, 2020
Boston Basin, Torment and Forbidden
The approach to Boston Basin is in standard condition and mostly dry now. Creek crossings at low elevations are now melted out. At treeline, the creek crossing to gain the Lower Bivy Site is challenging due to high water flow, so be careful. Both the Upper and Lower Bivy sites are in great shape. The Upper Bivy currently is halfway melted out, with several dry sites. Please make sure to camp on durable surfaces in this fragile environment, choosing snow if there are no more impacted dry sites available. The composting toilets are also both operable and in good condition. Please do not put anything but solid human waste in there. There are ample water sources available now in the alpine, even higher up in the basin as snowline has receded. We have had several bear sightings in the Lower Basin, so please remember to keep all food and trash in animal resistant containers. Overall, the moat transitions from rock to snow in Boston Basin are now a significant crux. Snow bridges gaining the Cat Scratch gully are becoming hollow, and ascending the Forbidden couloir is now not recommended. The glaciers in this dynamic zone still have adequate snow coverage, but crevasses are now beginning to open up. Conditions are changing rapidly, so be certain to make thorough assessments during your trip

 
Torment, Forbidden, Shark Fin and Boston Peak rise above Boston Basin on a glorious summer day.
Torment, Forbidden, Shark Fin and Boston Peak rise above Boston Basin, taken from near the lower bivy sites.

K. Arackellian/NPS

July 18, 2020
Boston Basin, Shark Fin and Quien Sabe Glacier
Approach to Boston Basin is in good condition, the lower creek crossings are straightforward and the route has melted out to treeline. The final crossing of both the South and North branches of Boston creek still have solid snow bridges, but current warm weather trends will change this rapidly. Climbers should exercise extreme caution and assess all snow bridges well.

The lower bivy sites have melted out and the backcountry toilet is open for use. Most of the upper bivy sites are still under 5 to 8 feet of snow, but climbers can go a little higher to bivy on rocks. The upper toilet is also melted out and ready for use.

Climbers reported that the couloir to the West Ridge of Forbidden is still filled with snow, but that the moat at the bottom is forming rapidly. Assess conditions well to determine the safest approach to the ridge. Good climbing conditions were reported on the West Ridge.

 
A ranger ascends the Quien Sabe Glacier towards Shark Fin Tower
A ranger ascends the Quien Sabe Glacier towards Shark Fin Tower.

K. Arackellian/NPS

Quien Sabe glacier is currently in good condition, though some crevasses are starting to open up. The moat at the saddle between Boston and Sahale peak is starting to open up a bit as well. Current conditions make accessing Sharkfin Tower from the Quien Sabe glacier challenging. Climbers left of the access gully is wet with overhanging ice. The right side currently provides better access through a snow finger. As before, expect rapidly changing conditions and assess well.

Rangers report seeing multiple mountain goats and a bear in the alpine. Goats crave salt and will destroy fragile vegetation to get at the salt in urine, please pee away from your tent, preferably on rocks or snow. Bring an Animal Resistant Food Storage Container and store your food properly!
 
Snow covers still lingers in Boston Basin
Early season conditions persist in upper Boston Basin (taken from the lower bivy sites)

E. Reed/NPS

July 7, 2020
Boston Basin Conditions
Expect brushy conditions and early season creek levels on the approach into the basin. The lower Boston Basin camp is starting to melt out and the toilet is available for use. Conditions in the upper basin remain snowy, plan on packing out all human waste if you want to stay at the upper bivy site. Climbing approaches and the basin's remaining glaciers are still in early season conditions.
 
A park ranger walks on snow in upper Boston Basin
A North Cascades ranger descends from upper Boston Basin.

E. Reed/NPS

June 28, 2020
Boston Basin Conditions
Early season conditions continue to persist in the Boston Basin area. Rangers assessed the lower bivy sites and found the compost toilet melted out and available for use. There was also one melted out bivy site and running water nearby. The upper Boston Basin bivy sites are snow covered, no running water was observed and the upper compost toilet is still buried in snow. Plan accordingly and please bring Blue Bags.

Consistent snow starts at around 5,500ft, close to treeline. Some ridge lines in the basin are starting to melt out, but the majority of travel is still on snow. Due to wet weather and poor visibility rangers did not get a good look at the snow in the West Ridge of Forbidden approach gulley or other route features, but we did observe previous wet loose avalanche activity. Please plan ahead and be prepared and enjoy the wilderness.
 
Ranger in foreground looks at a snowy Boston Basin mountain landscape.
Current condition of Boston Basin

A.Brun

June 11, 2020
Boston Basin Conditions
Early season conditions exist in the Boston Basin area of the Park. The un-maintained climbers trail is snow free from Cascade River Road to approximately 4,500’, where visitors will encounter patchy snow. At 5,000’ visitors will encounter sustained snow coverage and the trail is completely obscured by snow. Be prepared to navigate up steep snow slopes to reach the Basin. Estimated snow depth at the Lower Bivy site is 4 to 5 feet. The composting toilet is completely buried in snow and all visitors should carry and plan to use Blue Bags for removing human waste. There is extensive snow cover in the Basin and visitors should be prepared for snow travel across steep slopes and be aware of possible wet slide avalanche activity later in the day as the slopes warm up. We observed signs of a large avalanche that occurred in the Boston Basin lower bivy site area over the winter. The west ridge couloir on Forbidden appeared to be in good condition and we also observed fresh snow on the ridges and summits of Peaks in Boston Basin.


 
Cat Scratch Gully approach
Cat Scratch gully approach, note the melted snow couloir on the right. 09/01/19 K. Beckwith
September 1 , 2019
Boston Basin and Forbidden West Ridge Conditions
Trail to Boston Basin is in standard condition. Most creek crossings are easily fordable and can be crossed on rocks. Use care when crossing Morning Star creek as it can be difficult to cross in the afternoon. Plenty of huckle berries are available on the approach to Boston Basin. Composting toilets located at the lower and upper camps are in good condition. If camping overnight in Boston Basin, please store food properly. The snow couloir leading up to the West Ridge has melted out and climbers are accessing the West Ridge via the Cat Scratch gully. The approach gully to reach the base of the Cat Scratch gully is loose and in some places wet.
 
Cat Scratch Gully Rappel
Rappel down Cat Scratch Gully. 09/01/19 K. Beckwith
Cat Scratch gully is in good condition, please be aware of party’s above you as they may inadvertently knock rocks down. The west ridge climbing route is in standard condition and rappel anchors are in good shape. Use caution when rappelling down the Cat Scratch Gully as it is easy to knock rocks down from the West Ridge notch. Rappel anchors in the Cat Scratch gully are in good shape. 5 single rope (60 meter) rappels will get you down to the base of the Cat Scratch gully. If planning to bivy at the West Ridge notch, there is no running water, be prepared to melt snow if staying there
 
Quien Sabe Glacier
Quien Sabe Glacier as seen from the upper bivy sites in Boston Basin. 08/28/2019 R.French
August 28th, 2019
Boston Basin Approach
Approach to Boston Basin is in standard condition and mostly dry now. All creek crossings were straightforward with many options available. Both the upper and lower bivy sites are in great shape and snow free. The composting toilets are also both operable and in good condition. Please do not put anything but solid human waste in there. There are ample water sources available now in the alpine, even higher up in the basin as snowline has receded. We have had several bear sightings in the Lower Basin, so please remember to keep all food and trash in animal resistant containers. I spoke with one group who was coming off the West Ridge of Forbidden and reported that snow bridges gaining the Catscratch gully are becoming hollow, so assess conditions with caution. The Quien Sabe glacier has many open crevasses at this point in the summer, but still appears to remain passable.
 
Boston Basin early August
Boston Basin in early August. K Beckwith.
August 7th, 2019
Boston Basin and Forbidden Peak Conditions Update
The approach to Boston Basin is in standard condition (brushy, many downed trees and stream crossings). Recent sightings of bears walking through Low Camp area in Boston Basin! Please use bear canisters to help keep bears and all other wild animals wild. Climbers report that the W. Ridge Couloir was climbed on 8/6, but that they would not recommend going up that way from now on as the snow was barely navigable. Plenty of amazing wildflowers in bloom in the Basin! Monkey flower (Mimulus) and Epilobium are abound! Please camp on durable surfaces (rock or snow).
 
July 20, 2019
Boston Basin – Torment Peak Conditions
Parking at the Boston Basin pull out is very limited – please carpool when possible. Be aware of steep drop off on South side of Cascade River road across from the parking area!

Approach to Boston Basin is in good shape. Crossing Midas and Morning Star Creeks is relatively easy. Crossing the South fork of Boston creek on the other hand is a different story! Later in the day, as temperatures climb and flow rate increases the challenge goes up. Safest way to cross is to ford the creek where the route crosses over. Some chose to go up in the basin and find rocks to hop over and keep feet dry. You take your chances doing that. Be especially cautious of the unstable sides of the creek. There are many large boulders partially embedded in dirt just ready to roll down at the slightest pressure.

Lower and Upper Bivy sites are mostly dry. Composting toilets are available and in good shape. Several parties reported seeing a bear nearby so please use the required animal resistant containers. And since you brought them up, please secure all your food while left unattended! We observed several cans with lids off while the owners were away from camp.

South Ridge of Torment: Taboo glacier is in good shape. Virtually no crevasse navigation required. Crampons recommended for early starts. Gully leading up to the start of the South Ridge is steep and loose. With lower snow cover start of the route required few awkward mid 5 th class moves. Rest of the climb is as described in various books. Rappelling the Southeast face is straightforward. 7 to 8 rappels will get you down to the glacier. A single 60m rope works just fine. 4 th or 5 th rappel is 20 to 25 feet short of the next anchor but easy 3 rd class scramble will get you there.
Forbidden’s West Ridge: Climbers reported that the snow finger in the couloir has developed a break half way up and is probably no longer passable at this time. Alternative “Cat Scratch” gully is the recommended way to access the West Ridge. Normal/Good conditions reported on the climb.
 
June 16, 2019
Boston Basin Area (W. Ridge of Forbidden and Sharkfin)
Both upper and lower composter toilet melted out and useable. Please use the toilets or blue bag human waste and toilet paper. A few of the upper bivy sites are melted out, but many remain under snow. Some snow on approach to upper camps. Climbers report the couloir on the W. Ridge of Forbidden is in climbable shape as of 6/16/19. Many parties climbed up the couloir on 6/16/2019. Climbers report nothing particularly notable on the climb of Sharkfin and report the approach gully in okay condition. Marmots found chewing on trekking poles and backpacks at high camp.
 
bivy sites at Boston Basin early June
Bivy sites in Boston Basin, June 9 2019. K. Beckwith

June 9th, 2019
Boston Basin standard approach route is in typical condition (brushy per usual) and snow free until just before tree line at approximately 5400’. The South branch of Boston Creek (the creek just before reaching low bivy area) is partially snow covered, but dependent on water level it is possible to cross on rocks. A number of the sites at the Lower Boston Basin bivy area are snow free. The lower composter toilet is snow free and ready for use. Please put nothing but toilet paper and feces in the toilet. Urinate on rocks near the toilet. Bear tracks seen within 200 yards of the lower bivy area. Remember your bearcan as you enjoy the basin.
Attention Climbers: A bear has obtained food from a vehicle as Boston Basin Trailhead, please store extra food/gear in a hard sided vehicle with all windows and doors locked.

 

Last updated: July 31, 2021

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