Introduction"Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb." -Greg Child
"It would be a crime not to climb on a day as nice as this one." -Ski
Eldorado Peak is perhaps one of the most amazing peaks in the state of Washington. I've seen it from just about every face which it does not cease to impress me. Even when climbing it in what I call "It's finest moments" during winter time I see yet another perspective of the mountains I have not seen before. This is what one would call a Cascade Classic which we had a perfect weather window for the climb.
An old Buddy of mine contacted me over the phone from my Mount Shuksan Climb which to my surprise it was Ski. We originally planned to climb the North Ridge of Mount Baker, but with all the fresh snow that poured onto the Cascades this idea was too dangerous. So we then wanted to attempt Sloan Peak which according to the Nation Forest Service website it said it was opened from the South Side. Fortunately that was not the reality...
A Great Day to Climb Eldorado"What! The gates closed!" Ski said angrily as we approached the road to Sloan Peak. We both checked the website, so I'm pretty sure it was a mistake that someone posted. I had heard before talks about repairs in September which I figured it would be opened especially considering that it said they were opened. "Well let's go with Plan C" I told Ski excitedly as I knew Eldorado Peak would be an excellent alternative. Plus there is no bush whacking on this mountain.
We got to the trailhead at about 1:30 a.m. in the morning which we immediately tried to get some good sleep. I was very pleased to try out my new -20 degree sleeping bag which did very well that night. In the morning we woke up at 6:30 a.m. to start the climb.
We started out crossing the log to get across the Cascade River which was a little slick from condensation and rain. Soon after we found the trail that steeply climbs up Eldorado Peak. I told Ski "this is a pretty decent pace" which we were flying up the mountain in amazing time. After a while I was really pushing myself to keep up with Ski. "Hey wait a second, if your the speedy guy, why am I carrying the rope?" I told Ski. He happily took the rope and the climb from here on out was much easier.
We made it to the boulder field in about an hour (last time I was here it was many hours to get here). Now it's boulder time which we had about an hour or so of boulder hopping and minor scrambling to get to Roush Basin.
Once we got to Roush Basin we started encountering fresh snow which made traveling over the boulders a bit nicer in some spots. One of the guys we met up in the basin slept there all night without a sleeping bag and said it was one of the coldest nights they had ever had. It pays to carry the weight sometimes. The slopes near the ridge cross over spot started to get steeper which I decided it was time to bust out the ice axe. As we look behind us Ski announces "It would be a crime not to be out climbing in the mountains today!".
When descending down into the Eldorado Basin we had to be careful because of the loose snow and ice on the rocks. I was getting quite annoyed because my boot kept getting snow inside of it. I would have worn gaiters but they are torn to shreds from one of my adventures a few months earlier. The worse part about the fresh snow was the hidden snow holes in the rocks. There were a few spots I once again got more snow inside of my boots.
Although it was certainly hot out, Ski suggested that I put on my pants which I had forgotten that they have a strap to hold it down. This helped immensely. At the same time we decided it was time for us to rope up for the glacier. Once we got onto the Glacier we took turns breaking trail up the mountain. Eventually Ski and I became the main trail breakers as we got higher up. As we traveled across the Eldorado Glacier we became more and more excited about the views surrounding us. It was like walking into a winter wonderland.
It was wonderful to once again look back at Mount Logan which I climbed this summer as well as many of the other North Cascade Peaks. From here we crossed the monotonous flat glacier section until it started going back up the mountain and into a section I call "The Gap".
After the Gap we took a nice break for a few minutes and started ascending up the East Ridge. There was one crevassed section that had me a little worried about hidden crevasses. Fortunately it was not long, we immediately traversed onto the ridge itself which was glacierless. Ski then went back into leading position to break trail. Behind us I could hear that the climbers turned around due to cramps. After what seemed like 10 minutes they were already way down the mountain.
As we went up the ridge the traveling became a bit nicer because the snow was wind blown and did not stick to your boots and ice axe as much. But it was still a work out getting up. Eventually we reach the section that they call "The Knife Edge". I was very impressed with it's dreadfully scary looking appearance. "Just letting you know Ski, I have never done anything like this" I told my partner as we put on our crampons. The fresh snow made it look a bit unstable and only for the die hards. We decided to ditch our backpacks so make traversing easier. So I let Ski take lead on the ridge because he was feeling up to it.
As we climbed on it, I was amazed at how solid it was. Although it had a little bit of loose snow, as long as one made good foot placements, you knew you were going to make it up just fine. We swapped from on the ridge to on the edge of the ridge because it became so knife edge like. The exposure increased as I looked down below, but I felt safe because I had my ice axe planted in nice and deep. After a few more minutes of traversing we were on the summit!
Ski was yelling in excitement as we took in the surrounding views. Because of the cornices and fresh snow we did not look around much on the summit as to not knowing where there might be a soft spot. We didn't stay very long because it was already quite late in the day and the sun was going to set soon. So we made our way back down the knife edge ridge.
Heading Down the MountainThe faster we got down the mountain, the better off we were. My pants had a bit of ice on them which now prevented them from covering the boots which now I was once again getting snow inside my boots. The snow was freezing at a very rapid rate making traveling more difficult. Ski and I were now racing down the mountain in a full rush to get off the glacier before the sunset. For the most part this worked out, although my shins got scraped up a bit from the ice and semi deep snow.
Further down the Glacier the surrounding landscape colors suddenly became much more dramatic with the lighting. Glacier Peak had a sinister grey color over it, and the atmosphere changed colors from orange to reds with greys and even pinks. I couldn't help but take out the camera even when we where supposed to be making good time (I got permission from Ski to do this).
"If I wasn't here, you would probably get back to the the trailhead by 12 a.m." Ski said in a laughing tone. "Your probably right" I replied with a smile knowing that every moment here whether idol or going down was never wasted. Once we got off the glacier I was quite dehydrated from the hard days work which we took a break next to a creek. We both enjoyed the cold creek water drinking out of the same water bottle not caring because all that mattered at that moment was getting some water in me. Then we had a snack, unroped, and got ready for the descent.
The sun had already set, which we wanted to make as much distance with the remained evening light. The cross over section was a bit sketchy on the way back up because the slabs were covered in ice. One of the slabs was covered with a thin layer of snow which I managed to use pressure to hold me up (which barely did the trick) with the thin amount of snow on the rock slab making it a bit tricky and a little risky. It was this, or the ice slab. After skirting my way up the slab we went over the cross over zone and into Roush Basin.
For the most part we managed to make good time going down the mountain, although looking for cairns and the pathway at times through the boulder field. I knew it pretty well from previous experience which Ski and I did very well using both of our navigation skills together. And who says you need a leader for a climbing trip to make all the decisions? But then again I guess it's true what they say "Great Minds Think Alike".
A few hours later we finally found the entry way into the woods which we knew that there was no way we would get lost by this point which is always comforting. Later down the woods we met up with the guys we met earlier on which Ski gave them a few items they dropped. A few minutes later we heard the rushing sound of the river which before long we where at the parking lot. We got to the car at about 9:30 p.m. which we were pleased to finally take a sit. We high fived and were excited to go home after a great day out in the mountains. This is a place I would certainly recommend to any alpine enthusiast who wants a great glacier climb with out of this world beauty. A Adventure that wins Two Thumbs Way Up!