The excitement never ends for me, this adventure was perhaps one of my greatest mountaineering accomplishments I have ever done, but was also one of the hardest single day trips I have ever done.
This trip took place Saturday March 6, 2010. The members on this trip were me, Michael, Gimpilator, Mark, Mtn. Climber, and Eastking. Our summit team gained a total elevation of about 7,000 feet and 10+ miles of traveling.
I've wanted to climb Eldorado for a long time, I've seen many of it's beautiful faces which helped inspire me into going to this place, I considered it for a while though the months of January and February but feared the idea of the summit ridge being one scary cornice. In later February I wanted even more to go but feared the summit ridge even with Mark telling me that it is doable when very snow covered. The turning point came about when I saw a successful trip report, and my thoughts were "I have to do it!". Around the same time Mark asked me about doing it as well as Eastking and Gimpilator which even more had me pressed for going here. The weekend we did Middle Chiwaukum we were worried about avalanche danger, but now everything was looking perfect, except for the weather on Sunday which raised some doubts.
Mark wanted to do it as a overnight trip but with the bad weather forecast of Sunday (which they were actually right) it made planning difficult. My weekend was loaded with offers, I had to turn down many trip offers whether it was someone offering me snowboarding or Iron (Mike) offering me to climb Snowking, and for me to turn down Snowking for another trip is saying a lot! Another big issue was getting a ride, at first Gimpilator seemed like he could get one, but later said he could not and Mtn. Climber would be his only ride but had limited space (which I would not be able to go). When came Friday for the first time it looked like I was not going to go, I was bitterly disappointed. Fortunately like me, Michael was a believer of miracles and he asked my mom who almost never lets us use her car for us to go a shorter distance, but lets us use it to go all the way to Eldorado! An explosion of excitement rushes to us and I get packing like a mad dog. The downside was that Michael had to take my mom to the store and such which took forever. I just kept waiting for him to come back for what felt like hours (literally speaking I waited around 2 hours).
Dave Heading up
A tragic event for me was that I could not find the camera, I looked all over the house, I remembered using it a day or two before but it was gone, I suppose I should not have left it in the living room because in my house things disappear until you find it in a location you know you did not put it. We put all of our gear in the car and took off to pick up Mark. From here we drove to the trailhead of Eldorado Peak which was at mile marker 20. Around 11:00 p.m. we went to sleep, which it helped when pretending like nothing exciting would happen in the next few hours.
At 2:10 a.m. I woke up to headlamps shining around our car, which Eastking, Gimpilator and Mtn. Climber had arrived to the trailhead and was time to get ready. Once everyone got ready it was now 3 a.m. Fortunately the river crossing was much easier than I had imagined although a bit slippery crossing on the trees. By this point I was wide awake and pumped for the climb. The trail started off messy and hard to find, every 30 seconds we would loose the trail and sometime either find it or accidentally get back on thinking we were on the trail but would really be getting back on. Mark was carrying my heavy jacket in exchange of me carrying the snowshoes he would be using on the trip.
Once the trail became more defined it got steeper and now we were setting a good pace, to my amazement all the runs and hikes I been doing paid off, it was not too tiresome for me. It was nice to see the moon starting to rise and the look of Johannesburg looming above us in the dark night sky. Soon we got out of the trees which is when I and Michael put our ski polls in the snow.
The snow was glowing a little and there were a few boulders, but for the most part we took a steep snowy way up. I took the lead and kicked in some steps and used my ice axe as if it were an ice tool. This part for me was actually quite fun (unlike the way down) and soon we reached a part were there was ice steep rock, so I used a few of my rock climbing techniques to get past this part and the rest of the group took a different way.
Soon we got into a snowfield, the snow had an interesting thing to it, when someone dropped a wrapper, even though it was not very sloped, to my amazement it slid down the mountain. By now the morning light came about making the place more and more beautiful.
Jburg in the Morning
Sahale Mountain During the Sunrise
When the sun rose, it was very classic, it came over Sahale Mountain, and Jburg was just glowing. Because the sun rose, we had to get our snowshoes on and such to prevent sinking. Going to the ridge alone would be a day adventure in itself, we had to figure which way would work best. Michael and me headed up the farther up side which turned out to be a mistake, because the other side of the ridge was loaded with cliffs all around except for this one small spot below which was the cross over part.
We went down the ridge to meet up with the rest of the group and was also near the cross over point. Mtn. Climber was tired out from the hike we had already done, plus the section to get down to the Eldorado glacier seemed steep which getting back up could be trouble for him. So he decided to call it a day, Eastking honorably joined him in the decision, Mtn. Climber said he would be able to get down just fine, but Eastking wanted to make sure he got down safely. Gimpilator seemed as though he was going to go with them, I could tell Mark was pressed for the summit irrelevant to what they decided, in a pinch you could say we were two separate teams that joined together, Me, Michael and Mark, and the other group being Eastking, Mtn. Climber, and Gimpilator.
Enjoying the Climb
Gimpilator decided to go with for the summit bid. When we got to the bottom of the ridge we decided it was better to rope up early on a flat spot then later when it would be harder. We stashed out crampons away to save weight (we though it extremely unlikely that we would use them with all this snow). Mark led the way for a while going up, so far I felt nearly 100% strength almost as if I had not been hiking and I only had a few hours of sleep but felt surprisingly awake. When Mark started to get tired we swapped positions and I became the leader/trail breaker on the glacier. I became tired quite fast, I tell you what there is a tremendous difference between being a follower and being a leader. My head started pounding a bit from a head ache and I became very hungry fast. My snowshoes would ball up, and even my ice axe would ball up which added to the weight so I would every now and then bang my ice axe against my snowshoes.
I knew that if I did not try to keep a fast pace we would never make it! Gimpilator said we had a decent chance of us summiting, in my mind I knew better that we would have to make really good time if we were to make it, but I did not admit it out loud because I did not want everyone else discouraged. When Gimpilator said "we might not make it to the summit" I said "well lets get as far as we can" as an encouragement, in my mind even if I knew we would not summit, I would have pressed on to get as far up as possible.
We soon got off of Eldorado Glacier onto Inspiration glacier, and at this time of year it looked more like a giant snowfield, sure there were a few far off crevasses but for the most part it was just snow. Once I got to eat a ton of food I felt much better and we headed over to the summit ridge. The summit ridge reminded me a lot of Middle Chiwaukum.
As I kept going up at times I would actually forget I was on a mountain, it was a strange emotion, not sure if it was due to how tired I was feeling or how long I kept doing this. As we went up the ridge I would have to more and more kick in my steps. Gimpilator warned me about north facing ridges that could contain cornices so I tried to stay to the left as much as I could, but there was a problem to going left, it was much icier.
The more I went up the more nervous I felt, I would have to kick in my steps more and more, plant my ice axe deeper and deeper, and smack my non ice axe hand harder for it to stick into the slope. It got to the point were it felt like I would slide off the mountain with each step and the fear got to me as we continued on. I actually felt a little irresponsible continuing this climbing, and I took a look at the sun and once again realized at how late in the day it was, if the fun went to far west the slope could freeze over and we could be in a very gnarly situation. I began to have cramps and by this point I was worried for my safety and wondered if the summit was gonna be unobtainable, above just looked even steeper and steeper.
Heading up the Mountain
The part of worry was acually applied for a short section, but the turning point was when Gimpilator decided we should all take off our snowshoes. I was cramping up a little, but once I took them off and stashed them in the snow, the slope suddenly felt a lot safer. We unroped by this point because there was no glacier. Mark soon took the lead which was a major relief, even though the slope got steeper I now felt much safer and it was much easier for me. In front of us which I could hardly believe was the most famous part of the route, the last 150 or so feet which gives one the feeling of being in the Himalayas. I was less nervous than earlier but the exposure suddenly got worse, we went slightly to the left of the ridge just in case it was a cornice.
Nearing the Top
Mark Leading the Way
I plunged in my axe deep because by now I was between two perils, cliffs on both sides but so long as I kicked my steps good, and used my axe well, it was decent but exciting. Soon we were on the summit! We were all very happy, and Gimpilator congratulated us, a few photos were taken as well as enjoying the gorgeous view and we had to head down. We only spent a few minutes on the summit because we had a long way down, and turns out it was more eventful than I had imagined.
Torment and Forbidden Peak
I fell behind from the group because I was very cautious on those last feet on the ridge. Once off the danger spot I ran down and caught up. We decided no snowshoes for now because the way down in semi deep snow wasn't too bad. We roped up again and had a decent pace until we got off the ridge and started heading back towards the Eldorado glacier.
Torment Peak from the Basin
I was the leader, but by now I was quite tired even though we were going down hill. I stumbled a little, but Gimpilator noticed so I tried to stumble as little as possible by being excited and putting myself in a focusing mind set. We heard an awful deal of snow and rock fall on the ridge near by us which worried me a little. On the Eldorado Glacier it went uneventful, a while later we got back to our crampons and unroped. Gimpilator decided on a different way of getting back up onto the ridge which I liked although was a little steep. I was looking forward to nice glissades on the other side, but was disappointed.
As we walked down we had to avoid a steep section and go around, and I had a short glassade but it did not feel comfortable due to the hardness in the snow. Gimpilator decided it was time to take off his glasses and I did the same, unfortunately I broke mine when I put them in my pocket. I guess that's what happens when you get $2 glasses that are make of plastic. A few minutes later one of my upper side strap on my backpack snaps! It was around this time that events started unfolding on the way down. I had to carry in one hand one of the pairs of snowshoes.
I kept looking up at the beautiful view, the mountains were glowing nicely (later were pink and blue). The snow conditions just got worse and worse, every step I would plunge though, but I figured it would be too much of a hassle to put on my snowshoes. This made things harder. There was an awful deal of stopping on the way down, so we all decided to put on our snowshoes to conserve time and energy... or at least that was what was hoped for. Once I put on mine, helping Mark get his on was a pain, I would have to unfreeze the straps with my fingers until they were numb, then I would have to get everything as tight as possible, on one of the straps I did not put on as well so the whole blamid thing came off! So I had to retie it which last for a while, but later fell off again.
Sahale Mountain during Sunset
Gimpilator came to the scene and helped him put them on and finally they did not fall off, but it gets worse. As we are going down in our snowshoes we are sinking! Not only so, but it was hard snow so you would have to pull your leg completly out, and eventually one of my snowshoes fell off. "Screw it!" I said atlast and took off the other one as well. Now I was even more taking a plunge and would find myself sometimes falling waist deep on one leg, and my foot would be stuck on the inside so I would literally have to dig my leg out. For a while I was telling Gimpilator I was still enjoying the way down but after while I confess eventually I was not, if I were to define this next part of the trip, miserable is the word that came to mind.
Gimpilator was worried because of how much time was spent with the stopping or the plunging, and Eastking was waiting at the car and did not want them worried about us. For some reason I could not help but keep on looking at Johannesburg, it was all so beautiful, and wondered if it could look anymore interesting to me. I tried some of the glassade trails going down but my bum would feel numb afterwards and I feared ripping my pants.
At one point I found it fast to roll on my side literally like a kid rolling down a hill, than to walk down, but I only did this for a short time. At other times my leg would plunge through as I was going forward and I would get in a very unconfortable position. The way down at this point was horrendous. I eventually made a game out of it, jump, plunge, jump out, jump, plunge, and it just kept going on and on. Another factor is that I was out of food and water, or atleast for the most part, I did have a old hard power bar, but would be very difficult to chew, and I did not have the time to do so, I was normally out of breath so eating was not an option unless it was fast.
The snow finally got a little more stable, but we got to a class 4 section which we did not see on the way up. The reason we did not go down the exact way we came up was Gimpilator suggested the other part would be more dangerous now that it was icy. Gimpilator seemed to go down it with little trouble, but for me I felt like this was the crux of the trip for me. When I went part way down I felt like it was a bad idea but it was too late to go back because I had Mark just above me. The rock was very wet and slippery which gave me a scare, any slip could result in a bad injury. Fortunatly I went rock climbing at Index and such so I put my fingers in a crack and my hand in another. The other hole had a tick or atleast looked like a tick and I flicked it off me in a little bit of a panic, unfortunatly I very much needed that hold. I had to throw my ice axe down, snowshoes, and my gloves, then I realized my packpack as well was giving me much difficulty so I threw it down as well and it rolled past Gimpilator nearly rolling off a cliff which worried me.
This part wouldn't be nearly as hard if it was either light out, (my headlamp was going dim at times) if the rock was not slippery, or if I was not so tired out by this point. Once I got past this one rock I was good to go down, although I worried about the rest of the team making it down this safely. I realized then why rock climbing is terrible when wet. After this I said "why do I get the feeling we have more troubles" and I spoke too soon and I fell though another deep hole. Then we got to a really wierd but terrible spot, there were snow holes all over which were sloped into rocks, so a fall would hurt a bit.
After going though all these holes and stuff that made this section of the mountain tedious we finally reach our ski polls. I was happy by this point, and Gimpilator was generous enough to take one of the pairs of snowshoes I was carrying onto his pack. (I was carrying a pair in my hands because of the broken strap problem)
Finding the trail again was a little bit of a hassile, fortunatly Mark found it. Even the woods felt relentless, the going down was forever. Mark told me at one point he was so tired that he thought he saw a tree and instead it was a stump and slammed into it, I don't blame him, I've had things like that happen to me. Even in the woods there was some slipping action, tree crawling over, and other stuff. Another time my ski poll got stuck in a root and almost tripped me again. I must have slipped well over a dozen times, not just because I was tired, but there were many obsticles, it almost felt unreal.
Way later we hear a honk in the woods which we wonder if it was Eastking from the parking lot. (we later find it was not him but someone else, I never quite figured that one out because I heard it again at the trailhead) At this point we officially lost the trail and made up our own going through bushes, getting my ice axe caught on stuff, and going through devils club. After this we get to the Northfork Cascade River although we have Gimpilator check his GPS to see if it was the river. Michael by this point took off on the other side and disappeared out of site. Michael yelled for us but the sound of the river drowned the sound. Fortunatly when we finally decided to cross getting our boots soaked cold, I faintly heard him and saw a glow. "Guys, guys, follow me, this is a the trailhead, trust me!" I yelled as I started running for the trailhead. I was very excited, we all were.
At the trailhead we figured out who had who's gear and got that all aranged and it was soon back to Michael, Mark, and I. We packed up the tent and went for home. Before we left Michael had me bring him a towel, getting up was so excrutiating, my legs felt like they were done for, I would be going home as a zombie. I'll admit the ride home gave me a bit of a scare. Michael (the driver) was very tired, I stayed awake to keep him awake, but at times I could not help it, and my vision blurred and for some reason the trees looked like a castel, and it frighten me until I refocused my eyes, then without me knowing it I was asleep. Then Michael would ask me a question putting me in a panic and I would answer. Eventually we had to sleep at a parkinglot in Concrete and we left probably 3 or so in the morning and Michael kept complaining about being tired and I was worried but was so tired I could not help but again fall asleep. Soon Mark was dropped off and then we got home safe. I was so happy to Summit Eldorado Peak and make it home.
This was the longest day trips I have ever done, but it was worth it, the excitement in my life, it never ends!