Torment Tour

Tenuous Torment

After an incredible day on the Forbidden Tour earlier this spring, I was not expecting to return to the Cascade River Road this season. But my friend Nick has been eyeing a similar tour that circumnavigated Mt. Torment, billed as steeper and tighter loop with the same incredible scenery. He convinced me, along with one other friend, Thomas, to join on this adventurous tour.

I was not particularly stoked on doing the schwacky Boston Basin approach and Eldorado boulder field descent again, but once again I found myself walking up the closed Cascade River Road in the darkness. This time, we got started just after 3 AM, despite only arriving at the trailhead around midnight. We were concerned about warming, so we wanted to get ahead of any potential risks on the initial climb up to Torment Forbidden col.

When I did the Forbidden Tour, we suffered through some pretty bad alder and patchy snow on the lower Boston Basin trail. I was hoping it would be easier and simpler with a higher snow line this time. While it was simpler, it was definitely not any easier. Endless alder reached for our skis and boots, which were strapped to the outside of our packs. In hindsight, it probably would have been worth putting the skis in our hands. We were happy to transition to snow around 4500 ft.

Early morning light on Hidden Lake Peaks.

We began a long, gradual upward traverse towards Torment. I transitioned way too many times between booting, skinning, and ski cramponing. One long traverse was particularly painful, as a tendon in my left foot screamed every step as I had to rotate my ski on the firm snow. Typically, I pride myself as a great sidehiller, but I was struggling this time. I’m not going to lie – I was already feeling pretty beat down by this approach, and we were only a few hours into the day.

Great light on the Triplets.
Nick and Thomas beneath Forbidden. I got dusted during this section.

The climb up to Torment Forbidden Col (TFC) was the first technical crux of the day. We had only heard of one previous party, the late Matt Primomo, ascending this col with skis. It looked like it would go, but there would be a steep snow traverse at the top.

Looking up towards the col, on the left.
Beautiful light on Formidable!

I led us up the initial snow ramp, finding the sweet spot between punchy and firm. We could tell there was a lot of powder beneath the crusted surface snow still. The Taboo Glacier had a small bergschrund, but we were able to get over it pretty easily.

Ascending the lower section towards the TFC.

The upper face presented a more serious challenge. We needed to traverse to the left to reach the col, but the steep slopes beneath the col were 50 degree snow and rock slabs, so that looked awful. We could stay completely on snow by ascending straight up and traversing a steep snow slope above the rocks. It was not ideal, but seemed to be the only viable option.

We chose to go up and then traverse left over to the col.

There were many hidden cracks in the snow, adding more spice. I took over once again near a rocky constriction, feeling my way through the snow, trying to avoid rocky slabs beneath.

The slope kept getting steeper and steeper, into the 50+ degree range. We had a foot or more of dense powder on top of a firm layer. Our axes could not plunge through the firm layer, but they were not any more useful in dagger position because of the powder. As a result, it was really all about creating good steps for our feet.

Originally, we planned on doing a long steep exposed snow traverse over the col, but I felt that was getting pretty exhausting. I looked up and guessed there would be a wind scoop at the base of the cliff band above, so I ascended upwards. Fortunately, there was a giant wind scoop, big enough to set up a small tent! We felt very relieved as we walked the easy snow scoop over to the col.

Nick manages the final steep snow slope. Boston / Sahale behind.

It had taken the estimated 6 hours to reach the col, but we all felt more tired than expected with the lower shenanigans and then such a full-on climb.

I considered this trip another science experiment to determine how long powder can hold on in warm temperatures. It had reached 50 degrees at 4250′ at the base of Baker the day before, and 45 degrees at 5k at Whitechuck. But here at 8k on a steep north aspect, the snow was not just dry, but straight wintery!

Looking down to Moraine Lake and the Eldo Icecap.
Looking across to the Forbidden Glacier, which I skied down just over a month ago!

We were looking down the pocket glacier that occupies one of the many steep, remote cirques on the ridge between Torment and Forbidden. We could see our general ski line, traversing between some cliffs and ice bulges. Luckily, I also had a photo of this steep cirque from my tour a month ago.

Looking at the steep descent of the TFC from across the Forbidden Glacier.

Clouds were starting to move overhead, evidence of the incoming front. Since Nick had been lusting over this line for years, he took first tracks. There was some major sluffing, so he had to ski carefully, but it looked like good powder!

Nick slashes his first turn in great snow.
Nick further down the slope.

Next, it was my turn to ski. As I made my first turn, I felt my boot come out of my binding. Luckily I was able to arrest in the deep soft snow before sliding much. I got my skis back on and made sure my heel was locked in this time, but I definitely felt shaken after this incident and skied pretty poorly down to Nick.

Thomas with our run behind him.

As the slope mellowed out, it became more sun affected, with a slight crust and a million tiny micro debris. So once we got past all the icefalls, we cut left over towards the north slopes of Torment. We skinned up briefly into the cirque that holds the glacier coming down from Torment. Some friends had tried to ski the elusive north face of Torment two years ago, but found that the glacier had receded to expose a large insurmountable cliff at 7300 ft. We never got a full view of the cliff, but it seemed unlikely that there was enough snow to get through. This ski line might be another victim of glacial recession.

With variable snow and warming temps, we decided it was best to continue on our tour over towards Moraine Lake Couloir. East facing slopes were starting to shed some of their cornices.

Thomas skiing with Torment behind.
Beautiful flutes of snow. Things were pretty wintery for May!

Coming from this side, we knew we would have to rap into Moraine Lake Couloir. My friends had climbed out of the couloir and rapped back in, leaving behind a picket. We brought two 30m ropes and a ~18 inch 2×4 to leave behind. But it was hard to tell exactly where we needed to build the anchor on this steep exposed snow slope above the couloir.

Nick with his fancy “disposable picket”.

Nick dug a T-Slot anchor and stuck the piece of wood in the snow. We backed it up with a ski deadman. But once he got on rappel, and peered over the edge, he could not confirm that the ropes would reach the bottom. I scrambled around to the side, but also could not confirm anything. Not wanting to put ourselves in a bad situation, we agreed that we needed to try to find a different rappel spot. It was a bit deflating, since we spent a lot of time on this anchor. We tried to stay positive.

We considered a few options, but eventually I led us on a steep traverse over an ice bulge closer to the rock. The snow seemed good enough for an anchor, and I figured this was where the other group had climbed out of the couloir. So we repeated the anchor building, backup anchor, and I went first this time. Interestingly, there was some tat around a rock 15 ft below me, but reaching it would have required ice downclimbing. This increased my confidence. Sure enough, our ropes easily got me down into the couloir!

A view of the upper part of our rappel down into Moraine Lake Couloir.

We all felt relieved to finish the rappel, the last major uncertainty of the day. It had taken us probably two hours to do the rappel. I was worried we were going to have to ascend all the way back around the Forbidden Glacier and take the forested slab exit down to Moraine Lake, which was still barely in. That would have made for an “epic”, but at least we had that backup option.

Moraine Lake Couloir is a remote line that all of us have wanted to ski, but it was an easy decision to bail. The snow was mush and we were all quite tired at this point. So we booted out of the couloir and had a relaxing lunch on some slabs in the sun. It felt wonderful to finally be out of consequential terrain. We had enough excitement for one day already.

Climbing out of the couloir.
Not a bad view from our lunch spot.

After lunch, we skinned up to the Eldorado / Torment low saddle and traversed to the north, before skiing a long traverse over towards the Eldo boulder field. There was actually some decent skiing in this section before complete, total mush in the boulder field.

Skinning out above Moraine Lake.
Thomas skiing some corn-adjacent snow with JBerg behind.

We were surprised to ski all the way down to 4350 ft, only 100 ft higher than one month earlier! April has been good to the snowpack at upper elevations, but it seems like winter is nearly over.

After the Blum thrash last week, a second lap on the Eldo highway felt comparatively chill, although I am definitely not looking to descend the boulder field with skis on my back again for a while. We arrived back to the car at a very civilized time, which felt nice after such little sleep the night before.

The “Torment Tour”, as one might call this route, did live up to its billing as a steeper, more technical alternative to the Forbidden Tour. Nothing came easy – the Boston Basin bushwhack, the endless sidehill, the steep snow climb, binding issues, and the Moraine Lake rap. It was a little more Type 2 than I have grown used to lately, but I still enjoyed being in challenging terrain with Nick and Thomas, applying the skills we have practiced over the years. Nonetheless, I am very ready for some relaxing corn skiing!


  • The tour was 15 miles and 8k gain. It took us 13 hours, which is pretty slow for that amount of gain, but there were lots of slow sections like the steep snow climb, rappel, and boulder field descent.
  • The climb up to Torment Forbidden Col was pretty full-on. I would not want to do it in truly firm conditions without two axes and steel crampons. Perhaps with more snow you do not have to traverse above rocks as much. I imagine that our route will melt out to slabs in just a few more weeks, since we occasionally hit rock beneath.
  • The descent from TFC was quite steep, but pretty straightforward. There were no open bergschrunds surprisingly.
  • For the rappel into Moraine Lake Couloir, you want to traverse as far skier’s left as possible before reaching the rock bands. Our 2×4 anchor worked well, but the snow was very good for such anchors. I’d recommend also bringing some small nuts for the crack in the rock. With more snow, you might be able to downclimb to the tat we saw.
  • The rap spot has less overhead hazard than expected, which made us feel better as we figured out the rappel. There are steep cliffs above, but they do not hold too much snow or cornices, and are shaded midday.

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