Eldorado Peak - Northeast Face, March 2005
Faced with a virtually non-existent sub-alpine snowpack and surprised by more unusually clear and dry weather during the months of February and March in 2005, I felt it was time to check out how the higher elevation snowpack was faring. Somehow I decided that Dorado Needle's Northwest Ridge, with its two or thee pitches of low to mid-fifth class rock, would be the ideal venue for this so-called study in "snow science."
I scared up a couple willing souls - Tom Sjolseth and Jerry Sanchez (not the Tom and Jerry of cartoon fame), to join me on my silly quest. Jerry also opted to bring skis, and suffered the heavy pack on the approach to our Eldorado - Roush divide camp, arriving for once in 3rd place. Unlike my previous visit in April 2004, there was absolutely no trace of snow until the tree-less upper-basin. How depressing! Another party was digging out a tent platform just below us on the divide when we arrived. We chatted briefly - I think they were gunning for Eldorado or Klawatti.
We ate dinner, and with only a faint glow of the setting sun on the horizon witnessed an incredibly HUGE meteor streak across the western sky. It was a large, green fireball that was visible for about 5 or more seconds before dropping behind some distant ridge. I instinctively braced myself for the impact, which of course never came. Relieved that the World wasn't about to end, we settled into our bivies for the night. With my earplugs in, I slept soundly. Tom however had to endure a night of Jerry's loud snoring and noxious emissions and by morning had coined an appropriate name for Mr. Sanchez - El Diablo!
The climb up the Eldorado Glacier and onto the Inspiration Glacier went quickly and given the hard, crusty nature of the snow, I did not envy Jerry with his skis. Rounding the toe of Eldorado's East Ridge, we faced into a stiff wind and began traversing towards Dean's Spire. Now, looking across at our objective, I was taken aback by the amount of snow on Dorado Needle's East Ridge. Expecting the rock to be mostly dry, we hadn't come prepared for steep snow and possibly some ice. Dorado Needle would have to wait for yet another day. Strike one. Now what?
We came prepared for rock, and here we were standing next to Dean's Spire (or something else nearby). The rock looked sound and the climbing relatively straight forward..."hmm, let's try the East Face." "I don't know man, it could be harder than it looks, and I don't have my rock shoes." "Let's just scramble up the back and top-rope it then." Well, after a minute of the bitter-cold wind and ice-cold rock on the shady north side of the crag, Tom's hands began turning blue. He desperately began down climbing from his perch, a whopping 3 or 4 feet above us, before completely losing sensation in his hands. I too gave it a try, but fared no better. Strike two.
"Well shit, let's just punt up Eldorado then," I said. "We'll go up the Northeast Face and that way it'll be a new route for us all...who cares if it's typically done as an ice route in September". So, without further discussion, up the Northeast Face we plodded. Soon we found ourselves at the beginning of the snow arete, with a constant 50mph wind with 70mph gusts blowing us in all directions. I staggered out onto the narrowing arete and was nearly blown off the ridge a couple times before retreating. "Jesus, that was sketch-ball!" Strike three, you're out.
Jerry flailed down the East Ridge on skis while Tom and I looked on in pity. Soon we were back at camp with the other party nowhere to be seen. I wanted to ask them if they too had seen the meteor. Curiously, searching the news online after I got home yielded only one brief reference to the meteor we had seen the previous night. I expected much more media coverage for such a dramatic celestial show. In any case, given the punting we did that weekend, the giant, green fireball was clearly the highlight of the entire trip.
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