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A beautiful approach via Sibley Pass
"Want to climb Eldorado?" was my mom's greeting when I arrived home from my 9-day climbing trip at the beginning of July (which involved climbs of Prusik Peak and Mt. Stuart). So, two weeks later my dad, my mom, and I were at the Sibley Creek Trail trailhead (3,500 ft). The beginning of another family adventure!
Climbing Eldorado involves a significant approach and we planned on hiking in as far as we could and climbing Eldorado the next day. We began by hiking about 2.5 miles up the Sibley Creek trail; here, at about 5,300 ft, we turned off to climb up to Sibley Pass (6,040 ft). There is a convenient trail up to Sibley Pass which turns off the main trail at a rocky gully. Of course following a trail is too easy, so we turned off about 300 ft too early to do some enlightening bushwhacking through slippery heather and loose rock. Even with this detour, we reached the pass in under an hour from where we turned off the main trail.
From Sibley Pass, we followed a boot-beaten path up and along a grassy-heather ridge. The views were pretty amazing here.
We followed the minor humps of the ridge about 0.5 mile (Beckey says 0.25 mile, but I think it is a bit longer), until the ridge gets cliffy and the trail stops. The map at the beginning of this route report shows the route we took. Also, the photo below, taken on our hike out, shows the area where the trail goes onto the snowfield.
We descended to the north about 30 feet onto a snow slope, which we traversed eastward past one notch, and to a second notch at around 6,720 ft (nice camping here on the rise to the northeast). Here the snow ended, and we descended a rocky gully on the southeast side of the notch. There is a faint trail about 250 ft below the notch (marked by cairns); this trail traverses and ascends an easy gully (second gully) on the rib to the east. But my family likes to make things interesting, so we descended some incredibly loose junk down to a snowfield, and then followed some rather cliffy marmot trails around and up the steep rib. I can’t count the number of times time my mom declared "This is the last climb I will ever do. I mean it this time!" (Although I already heard her talking about going back and climbing the nearby Hidden Lake Peak…). The photo below shows the route most people would want to take to cross the rib.
We were pretty tired from our detour and it was already 8pm (we had left Sibley Pass at 4:15pm), so we set up camp at the first area we could find that was somewhat flat and had water. Despite a slight slope and bumps, it was a nice campsite with some amazing views.
(The exposure of the night photo is 17 min, f 10.0, ISO 400. Click here to go to my page on night photography.)
The next day we awoke to cloudy but decent weather. We packed what we would need for the day's climb, and left our camp at 9am, hoping the clouds would not move in. It took us an hour to traverse around the basin and round the alp on the far side, as shown in the photo below.
From our spot at about 6,500 ft on the alp, we got our first glimpse of the Eldorado Glacier. Another hour of a gradually-descending, eastwards traverse and we were at the southwest foot of the glacier, at around 6,300 ft. We stopped for a nice lunch break, put on crampons, and began to climb Eldorado Peak at 12pm. 2,580 ft to go!
Once on the glacier, it was just a long and easy ramp to the summit, involving (1) ascending up to the nearly level plateau of Inspiration Glacier at 7,500 ft (photos below), (2) slogging 0.5 mile north to the base of the obvious east-west tending rocky cleaver (second photo below), and (3) crossing through the notch at the base of the cleaver (nice camping here) and ascending the snow on the north side of the cleaver to the summit. This route is shown on the map at the beginning of this route report.
There were some chunky crevasses halfway up the ridge to the summit, forcing us to cross a snowbridge onto the rock and ascend about 100 ft on the rock until we could jump back onto the snow. The last couple of hundred feet of the climb was on a 2-foot-wide narrow snow crest. The exposure was great!
I arrived on the summit just after 3pm. It had taken 3 hours to reach the summit from where we started up Eldorado Glacier (40 minutes from the base of the cleaver leading to the summit). This could be done faster, since we had some white-out conditions which caused us to weave around a bit and stop occasionally to wait for enough visibility to figure out where we were.
The descent was straightforward and quick, and we made it back to camp in just over 4 hours (back at camp at 7:45pm). It was nice not to have to hike all the way back to the car that day (although it certainly could be done given an early start and good conditions).
The next day, after a relaxing morning hanging out with the friendly marmots and pikas, we hiked back to the car. The hike took 5.5 hours. Again, this could have been done faster, but given that I stopped to photograph, name, and examine every variety of wildflower I saw--and there were a lot!--I am surprised it only took us this long.
Overall, climbing Eldorado Peak was a fun family adventure and a great climb with amazing views. It is not technically difficult, and the route we did is mostly a long and scenic traverse with some fun route finding and a few hours of snow climbing to the summit. It is a North Cascades summit well worth doing!
We frolicked through over 60 different kinds of wildflowers on our 3-day trip! Here is a list of the ones I can remember seeing, and some photos taken during the trip.