Eldorado Peak - Eldorado Glacier/East Ridge, September 2001
The report on this page describes my second trip to Eldorado Peak. Unfortunately, my camera decided to fail on me during my first trip. Since then, I've learned to avoid cheap automatic cameras and APS film and you may even still be able to find some remaining camera fragments in the parking lot near the trailhead. Very frustrating! Anyway, after making a critical navigational mistake resulting in about an hour of bushwhacking, Chris and I finally located the trail and started uphill. We hiked up the Rouch Creek Basin, crossed over a ridge into the adjacent basin and proceeded to slog up the lower Eldorado Glacier until we were up to our armpits in slush. We decided to call it a day after being 10 hours on foot and opted to continue in the morning. The following morning we awoke to another glorious day and made good time cramponing up to Eldorado Peak. The careful steps on the narrow knife edge leading up to the summit were a uniquely North Cascades experience I will never forget. We chose to stay another day on the glacier and savor the warm weather and perfect views. We entertained the thought of climbing the relatively nearby Austera and Klawatti Peaks but ended up staying put in favor of working on our sunburns.
Our second visit to the area actually started out as an attempt on Austera Peak. As soon as cooperative weather and weekend agendas permitted we planned to make it happen. Finally, the weekend following 9-11 looked like a go and so trying our best not to think about the horiffic events from earlier that week, Chris and I again left town for the North Cascades. Andy would also join us that weekend, and so with cramped quarters in Chris's Acura we made the drive over to the Cascade Pass parking area and called it a night. Up'n at 'em first thing the next morning, hiking up a brutally steep trail as it switchbacks through heavy timber eventually reaching a large boulderfield (better in early season when snow filled). We casually walked up the glacier, skirting a few small crevasses here and there. Slogging up slushy snow we soon reached a huge flat area at the foot of Eldorado Peak. The views to the southeast were unbeatable. Some of Washington's finest can be found right here. Still with Austera Peak as a goal, we chose to make a short detour and tag the summit of Eldorado.
We ascended steep snow to the knife edge, which being this late in the season had become ridiculously narrow. I lead out onto the narrowing summit ridge with Andy on belay, placing a couple pickets in the soft snow for protection. I stopped about 20ft short of the actual summit as the slushy snow provided little purchase and the ridge beyond me narrowed to about 6 inches across. I found the exposure to be quite thought provoking as well. We carefully worked our way down the steep snow face and stopped somewhere below the summit ridge to get a good view of tomorrow's route over to Austera. There would be some crevasse navigation to contend with, but the route seemed fairly direct. Exhausted by the long day of climbing, we gorged ourselves on some fine freeze-dried fare soon after reaching camp. We retired for the night with bellies full and a hint of whiskey on the breath.
Thanks to some snoring, I would enjoy very little sleep that night and awoke feeling quite grumpy. We went through the early morning motions of packing our gear until Chris unilaterally decided that it wasn't possible to reach Austera and return to the car in one day from where we were camped. I wholly disagreed and was furious that Chris would sabotage the climb in this way. The ensuing disagreement quickly escalated and Chis and I proceeded to shout profanities at each other for another ten minutes. Chris got his way in the end and we finally settled on climbing a nearby sub-peak at the top of the Eldorado Glacier. The scramble ended up being much simpler than it appeared to be from a distance. We observed another party work their way up Eldorado's knife edge. Apparently, the individual that was leading the party did a handstand on the narrow summit ridge. Brave!
We had time to burn and so Andy coached us in the art of rappelling down a nearby rock face. My first rappels ever! We set a few boulders loose and that got the attention of a party returning from Eldorado Peak, though the rocks never came remotely close to them. Shortly thereafter our unpleasant trek back down to the car would begin. Austera will have to wait for another time, but certainly NOT again with Chris!
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