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Forbidden Peak

Summit Elevation (m): 2904
Trip Date: Trip Date: June 30, 2023
Elevation Gain (m): 1900
Round Trip Time (hr): 14
Total Trip Distance (km): 71
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3, you fall you sprain something.
Difficulty Notes: Obviously a very long day trip for fit parties willing to bike as far as possible. Difficulties are the statistics rather than the terrain on this one!
Technical Rating: SC5; RE4/5
GPS Track: Download
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Forbidden Peak is an imposing mountain looming over the Clearwater River Valley. Because of its location there are likely more horse riders that know about it than hikers or scramblers. I first saw it when Phil and I made our first trip up the Clearwater, tagging Lost Guide Peak and Sentry. After returning up the Clearwater again in 2022, this time travelling all the way to Trident Lake I once again found myself under the stern gaze of Forbidden as we rode up the Clearwater Trail. As far as I can tell this name is unofficial and almost certainly derived from the creek running past its eastern slopes which is officially named. Phil Richards and I have had route plans and trip plans for this mountain several times over the years and it didn’t happen for various reasons. As so often seems to happen nowadays with more and more people going further and doing bigger, someone eventually tagged it before we could and not surprisingly it was Devon Peterson. Devon blitzed the whole area in 2022, tagging many remote and rarely ascended peaks. He may have even scored a first ascent on Forbidden Peak – it’s always hard to know for sure with such a prominent mountain in a well traveled area. He almost certainly has the first recorded ascent – unless someone else has published a trip I haven’t found somewhere. Doug Lutz is the only other person that I know of who attempted this ascent. He chose a different gully than Phil was suggesting and alas, that one didn’t work out.

As the July long weekend approached I found myself solo with plenty of time to get something done. I figured why not try Forbidden? Phil was preparing for his GDT and others were busy so a solo adventure was planned. I was quite excited about it. I just came back from 14 nights in a tent in WCPP but this would be my first solo overnight trip in a while in the mountains. I decided to add another peak for day two to make it all worth it and settled on Forbidden on day one and Cutoff Peak for day two. The big question was whether Phil’s planned route up an east drainage and the east face off the Forbidden Creek Trail would work. Phil is usually not wrong about these things so I was certainly going to give it a good effort. My backup plan was to follow the same route as Devon up the long south ridge from the trail running between Tomahawk Pass and Shale Pass. Phil’s route almost seemed like it could be a day trip assuming everything went perfectly. Of course I had no beta so I had to plan an overnight in case reality belied the stats.

Forbidden Peak Route Map. It’s a LONG way out there!

The stats weren’t lying. I can tell you up front that for fit parties, Forbidden Peak is possible as a day trip. Likely in the range of 12-15 hours return from the Cutoff Creek staging area but a day trip nonetheless. But now I’m getting ahead of myself. I packed an UL overnight pack, trusting that SpotWX knew what they were talking about. I had rain gear along but not the heavy duty stuff. No extra socks. No extra anything. My back was still bothering me and I didn’t want to stress it more than absolutely necessary. Plus I’m lazy. I hate carrying a heavy pack over long distances.

I left YYC at 05:00 swearing a little at the clouds that were everywhere. The mountains were cloudy too. WTF?! I hastily reloaded SpotWX and it insisted cloud free and rain free over the Clearwater River valley. Hmmm. TWN told me more bad news. Banff had a good chance of tstorms as did most other mountain areas. Dang it! For some reason I didn’t care as much as I normally do about that stuff and kept driving. I guess I had a feeling! Sure enough. As I drove through Sundry and Caroline I saw a huge patch of clear blue sky parked over the Red Deer and Clearwater River valleys. Phew. The Cutoff Creek road was in decent shape and I made short work of it. It was hella busy – lots of campers out for the July long weekend.

As I biked out of the Cutoff Creek Staging area, an old timer stopped by to chat for a few minutes. He confirmed that the afternoon clouds would simply cool things down before drifting east and hammering Red Deer with tstorms. He was a forestry guy and was going to do a horse trip to 40-Mile cabin with a friend who knew the guy who originally built it. He was surprised to hear where I was going – I don’t think he completely comprehended it. Then again, neither did I. Soon after the always-muddy first section of trail I realized that the trail was quite dry and very enjoyable as a result. My day was just getting better and better. First the blue sky and now the dry road. I made short work of the first long cut line section to CC1 before turning slightly left and continuing to CC2, CC3 and the bridge marking to start of the Cutoff Peak route. I couldn’t believe how quickly the first 10 kms to the bridge went by. I was having a very good day.

From the bridge I rode 3kms to the first outfitter camp and CC4. That also flew by! Next was another short ride up the new road bypass and down the other side until finally coming to the Skeleton Creek Trail that would eventually get me into Forbidden Creek. Wietse and I biked this trail from the Ya Ha Tinda side when we tackled Scalp and Skeleton Peaks. But there was no guarantee that this side would be as good. Thankfully it was!

The Skeleton Creek Trail from the Clearwater Trail leading towards the Ya Ha Tinda was pretty darn good riding. There were some ups and downs and some deadfall along the way but nothing crazy. Once I branched off the main trail down towards Forbidden Creek I realized I should have left the bike at CC6 at the bottom of the first hill. I rode a bit further but soon gave up. I’d done enough riding for today! This was amazing. I was only 2 hours from the truck and 20 km into my day already. Sweet. Now the hard part. Ascend this dang mountain that I can’t even see yet. This was turning out to be one of “those” days when everything just clicked. I love days like this. They are quite rare – especially in the mountains on unknown routes. 

 

As I started up the Forbidden Creek trail I realized pretty quick that it was heavily damaged by the 2013 floods. It was always there but the trail was tough to track in the creek bed. On approach I goofed up pretty bad, choosing to follow an obvious road instead of the trail. This road would have eventually merged back down to the Clearwater Trail – way off track. I ended up bushwhacking to get back on the right trail, wasting some time and more important – energy. These things happen but I was determined to pay more attention from this point forward.

The hiking was great despite the damaged sections. Once I got the trail pattern figured out it was all good. The trail follows old cut lines so you just have to figure out where the next section is in all the damage and you’ll find the trail back. The sky stayed blue and the sun was very warm as I walked all alone in the wild. It felt so good to be out alone in the middle of nowhere. I love this area. Soaring peaks, rushing streams and wildflowers. Birds serenaded me as I waded through cool water dozens of times on the trail. Forget about dry feet on this one!

Hiking the Forbidden Creek Trail through open meadows with Forbidden Peak rising at right.

Finally my mountain came into sight. And it looked big! The trail slowly curved up along it and within 4.5 hours from the truck I was looking up the ascent drainage wondering if it would go. In a common theme for the day it didn’t only “go” but it went swimmingly. Sticking right in the creek worked best. Once again – wet feet make for much more efficient travel here. The running water was awesome too! I never had to carry much water all day. I think later in the year this drainage would be completely dry though.

Starting up the east drainage (R) with the trail continuing at left.

Within half an hour of steady creek travel and ascent I decided to drop the overnight gear. I was making good time and would not have to sleep up the drainage as I was initially planning. I was starting to think that if this route kept going so well I might be able to return all the way to the first outfitter camp and stay there for the night. But first things first. Get up this endless gully.

As I ascended towards my planned ascent slope it kept looking more and more doable. Getting there was a lot of work though! Dinner plate scree refused to let me ascend efficiently. I grunted and swore my way to the cliffs guarding the south ridge before indeed, finding an easy route through them. A final kick up side fresh snow and I was striding to the summit along the south ridge with stunning views in every direction.

There was no cairn and no register to greet me. I built a small cairn and proceeded to take many photos of remote and familiar friends. Wow! I couldn’t believe I was standing on top of Forbidden – and only 7 hours from the truck! Phil’s ascent line couldn’t have worked better, making this peak surprisingly accessible considering how darn remote it is. Thx again Phil! I owe you man.

Summit views over the Clearwater River include Lost Guide Peak left of center and Scalp Peak at distant right.
Views to the west include Willingdon, Harris, Icefall, Mamen, Cheshire and Whelk among many other remote peaks.
My ascent bowl below and access drainage at lower center left with the south ridge at right.

I knew I wanted to return all the way to the outfitter camp so didn’t linger too long at the summit. Clouds were also building and I didn’t want to get caught in anything. The descent was quick to the overnight gear. From there it was creek parkour back to the trail. 

The trail got a little endless after a while but it was so nice in the valley that it was hard to be grumpy about it so I wasn’t. I enjoyed the late afternoon stillness and the cooling air as I meditated once again how darn luck I was to enjoy the freedom and health to do trips like this.

The bike ride was quick and I set up camp across from the outfitter camp, ready for another peak attempt the following day. I slowly drifted off to the sound of laughter and the smell of a nearby campfire.

 

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