Eldorado East Ridge
I have had this climb in my mind for the better part of three months, so you can guess how excited I was when we finally decided to go do it. For some reason though we thought it would make a good day climb. Why you may ask, I don’t know.
My climbing partners (Brian and Aaron) and I (Jordan) made the drive over on a Monday night to camp in the parking lot, which would allow us to get an early start. Anyone who has had an alpine start knows how hard it can be to get to sleep, so Aaron had the great idea to buy a six dollar bottle of California wine (to help calm our nerves). He also had a bottle of Tequila, but we thought it would be better to sleep, not pass out.
After a solid three hours of sleep, we climbed out of the tent into the crisp dark air that can only be found around four in the morning. We took down the tent and threw it into the car, along with all of our sleeping gear. It was time to get the party rolling.
We quickly crossed the river on two old trees that had fallen to make a perfect foot bridge. Once we made our way across, the climb began. We had around 2,000 vertical feet of steep wooded trail to ascend. We moved at a slow pace to warm our muscles up. All in all it took us no more than an hour or so to get through the trees. The trail took us under a large cliff wall and out into a large talus field.
The next 1,800 feet consisted of juggling our way through the boulder field. It was at this time that my first accident occurred, one of many more that were to come: As I was climbing up one particularly large boulder, I slipped on the moss and started to tumble down the rock. I barely managed to clear a large gap that separated two of the boulders. I finally arrested myself on a rock protrusion. Aaron gave me a weird look and then said, “It’s kind of dangerous to climb behind you” (This was the second time that I have almost bulled him over on a climb). Brian just laughed a little. I gave my right hand a few scrapes, as well as my right knee, but no real harm done. I decided to sit for a little while and clean the blood off of my leg and hand. When I looked across the valley I could see Johannesburg in all her magnificent glory. What a mountain!
Finally we were off again. We cleared the first talus field only to find ourselves in a larger one. At the top of this field there was a nice water fall, the perfect place to stop and pump water. We sat for about five minutes (just enough time to down a Snickers bar and a Nalgene of water).
Just above the water fall is where the snow line began, which was a nice switch up from the hard unforgiving rock of the talus fields. As we cleared the trees we found ourselves in a beautiful cirque, there was a rock rib guarding our west flank, and Sahale and Torment guarding our east one. Johannesburg stood like a sentinel to our backs.
We quickly made our way to the top of the rock ridge, and finally got our first view of our objective. Eldorado looked awesome from the crest. You could see the knife ridge cutting at the clouds as they whisked over its summit. There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to summit.
After a little while of dicking around looking for the gully that would take us to the base of the Eldorado glacier, we finally found it. The route description says that it is a class three, but there is no way that it was more difficult than a class two. I guess once the snow melts out a little more and separates from the rock, it may be more difficult. At the bottom of the gully, we decided that it would be a good time to rope up and relieve ourselves. There really wasn’t anything in the way of crevasses, but better safe than sorry.
We only had a little ways to go until we reached the saddle at 7,500 feet. Upon reaching the saddle you get a magnificent view of the Inspiration glacier and Eldorado’s East Ridge, or at least we would have if the clouds hadn’t decided to move in on us at that exact time. So we were in for a semi-whiteout crossing of the Inspiration glacier, Yay! I took the lead because Aaron had led to the top of the Inspiration Glacier. All was going well until a section of snow about five feet by five feet sank on me with a hollow “Whump”. Upon inspection with my ice axe, I confirmed the fact that there was nothing but empty space under the snow pack that had given on me. I slowly stepped back and warned the others not to go were I had been. There’s nothing like a hidden crevasse to make you crap your pants. The rest of the crossing was a little slow because I kept checking for crevasses in my paranoid state. All in all I think that I only encountered one “real” crevasse.
Finally we were at the base of the East Ridge. We found a nice rock outcrop to take a break on. It was at this point that I switched spots with Brain to let him lead the last 1,400 vertical feet we had left to the summit. After I ate the last of my food and drank the last of my water, it was time to finish what we started. For the most part the ridge was clean of crevasses, but we did have a bergschrund to deal with. Once we got over the ‘schrund, there was nothing left between us and the summit ridge.
Brian led the final steps to the base of the knife ridge. We looked up at the ridge and tried to figure out what we were going to do. I have seen many pictures of the knife ridge, and I have never seen it as sharp as it was when we were looking at it. On one side it slopes steeply to the top of a cliff, then drops down around 5,000 feet to Marble Creek Valley to the west. On the other side it is less steep, but after 600 feet it hits the top of a cliff and drops around 2,000 feet to the Inspiration glacier. Either way, you don’t want to slip.
After knocking the snow out of our crampons, Aaron and I sent Brian up the ridge with a couple of pickets. He had to front point a little ways on firn on the steeper side of the ridge, while keeping his ice axe on the opposite side for leverage. After about 40 feet of this, Brian managed to bear crawl a ways up. After the first picket was placed, it was my turn to follow. I had to do the same thing as Brian, front point on one side, and ice axe on the other. It was eerie to climb up the ridge in complete white-out conditions. You could see both sides of the ridge, but the steep snow disappeared into the whiteness of oblivion, man it gets the blood flowing.
After passing the first picket I unclipped and then re-clipped in so that Aaron would have some protection for his ascent. I could see Brain not far away near the top of the Ridge. He shouted back to me that he wasn’t going to go to the true summit. The true summit was corniced all to hell. There was no way that any of us were going to stand on that thing. Still, Brian, being the unrelenting person that he is, stamped out a platform and stood up on it so that he could stand taller than the true summit (it wasn’t more than two feet away).
I finally reached Brian after straddling my way up the last 30 feet or so (not so comfortable on the ass). I now had the pleasure of turning myself around so I could belay Aaron up to us. I have never had such a hard time turning around. I had to balance with one leg, while trying to swing my other leg around so I could mount the knife ridge in the opposite direction. After much swearing and a little awkward balancing, I got myself facing the other way. Aaron soon joined us on the fogged-in summit. While it would have been nice to have gotten a view of the beautiful surroundings, we were all very happy to have made it.
Brian snapped a few pictures, although there was not much to see. We then proceeded to make our way down. I belayed Aaron down to the first picket, he then proceeded to crawl/walk his way down until he reached the last 60 feet, which we had stomped flat enough to walk on. I followed after Aaron by scooching on my ass, which was really uncomfortable, until I couldn’t take it anymore. I then stood up and carefully walked my way down. Brian bear-crawled for about 100 feet, then stood up and walked down to join us. We had done it. Now we had to think about the trip down (it was around 2:00 pm).
We quickly made it back to the rock outcrop on the base of the ridge that we had stashed some of our gear at. After collecting our gear, Aaron took the lead and marched us across the Inspiration glacier without incident. We attempted to glissade down the Eldorado glacier, but with minimal luck. I decided that it was easier to just plunge step my way down. We reached the base of the rock chute and quickly un-roped. After climbing up the chute, we only had a little ways to go to get to the water falls, which meant water, sweet delicious water.
After getting to the water fall and pumping some nectar of the Gods, we started the painful descent through the talus fields. Low and behold, it was here that I had my second accident: While trying to navigate through the snow and rock, I stepped on what I thought was solid snow. You can guess how surprised I was when I plunged into a hole. My shin smashed into a rock, I could feel the bone bend. I very quickly shouted many obscenities and rocked and held my shin like a little kid who has fallen off his bike and scraped his knee. Brian looked at me and then said “yeah, I saw that hole, but stepped over it”, thanks Brian. Aaron asked if I had broken anything, I assured him that I hadn’t. Upon inspection, I found my shin to a weird reddish blue color. I tested it when I stood up, and found that it was ok. So we started down the rest of the way.
We finally made it to the end of the talus field, and the beginning of the wooded sections. Man were we happy to be off of the rock! I checked my shin and found that it had swollen to the size of an apple. It looked awful, but really wasn’t that bad. We started down the trail, and no more than two hundred feet down I had my last injury: I caught my foot on a root and went flying ass-over-head down the trail, landing with a thud in a cloud of dust. My head was facing down hill, and my pack and legs had twisted into a sort of knot. I laughed, what the hell else could I do? Both Brian and Aaron laughed, then without a second glance, they took off down the trail, their laughs echoing all the way. I laid there a couple minutes, laughing all the time as the blood rushed to my head. It wasn’t pleasant laughter.
I finally righted my self and started down the trail. I was thinking about all the abuse I had endured all day, and wondered how the hell I hadn’t fallen into a crevasse, especially with my luck. I finally met up with Brian and Aaron and tiredly made the last thousand feet to the river crossing. I was surprised upon reaching the other side that I had done so without falling in.
Victory was ours, we did it. All in 15 hours, start to finish. We decided that it would be a good idea to jump into the river to clean ourselves off. Man was the water cold, but oh so refreshing and invigorating. We proceeded to pile into the car, and get out of there. What a day it had been!