Earlier in the summer, I decided to teach a group of my friends the necessary skills to be a part of basic alpine climbs. It started with 6 people and quickly dwindled down to two (Bob and Ellen) who were willing to put in the time and energy. This trip was supposed to be the "big climb" for them after a whole summer of smaller trips. Things didn't turn out the way we planned but I'll get back to that later.
The plan was that Chico (cascadian
who I've done a lot of other climbs with) and I would drive up and hike into to camp at the east ridge of Eldorado on Thursday. Friday we would climb Dorado Needle and spend the afternoon climbing various towers of the Tepeh Towers or Austera or something. Saturday morning, Bob and Ellen would hike into camp and spend the afternoon resting and taking in the views from the Inspiration Glacier. Sunday we would all climb Eldorado then pack up and go home. It was a great plan and the weather looked good though monday.
Chico and I left my apartment in Seattle at 6:30 am after getting 5 hours of sleep. We drove up to the trailhead and started up the trail. It had been a good month since Chico had climbed anything. Putting on a pack with 4 days worth of gear and food, then hauling it up 5400' was going to be a tough job for Chico but he pushes though anything.
By the time we were on the trail, the sun was already high in the sky and the day was getting hot, and dusty. It didn't help that the trees kept the heat from the sun close to the ground. We were sweating a lot 30 min into the hike. We both paused and looked at each other with faces that said, "what have we gotten ourselves into!"
dusty trail on a hot hot day
But before we knew it we were out of the trees to the first talus field. As soon as we emerged from the trees a breeze picked up and the heat we were experiencing faded away. It was a huge relief and boosted out morale. The first talus field is short and it makes you feel like you are really flying up the mountain.
top of the first talus field
Soon enough we were into the next talus field which is MUCH longer and the breeze died. We were right back into the heat. This part of the approach felt like it took days. We could hear the waterfalls up ahead of us but they never seemed to get any closer. When we finally did get to them, we took a decent break and soaked out heads and shirts in fresh water. We had only packed one liter of water up to the waterfalls (to save weight). This proved to be a bad decision on such a hot day. We had run out of water before the first talus field. With our bodied full of water and refreshed, we picked our way though the waterfalls and mud, losing the trail halfway up. Our route turned out to be very direct and instead of skirting to the right of the waterfalls, we went strait up and found the trail again. It was nice to be back on trail and the views around us began to open up.
Above the waterfalls
Torment was looking tempting, but we wanted Dorado Needle real bad. We covered ground quickly above the waterfall and made it to the ridge and found the descent gully without any trouble. The scramble down the ridge was easy and before we knew it we were at the terminus of the Eldorado Glacier.
scrambling off the ridge going up the Eldorado
Quickly we refilled our mouths with water from the melting glacier and began up. Our packs started feeling real heavy as soon as we hit the snow, but we were so close to camp! It felt like many hours before we could see Eldorado but it came eventually.
It felt amazing to got to the plateau where the glacier flattens out. Our legs finally got a break after nearly 5400' of uphill! We made our way across the glacier quickly as we wanted to get the packs off our backs and make some food and take a nap. Since it was Thursday, we has the mountain to ourselves and got to pick whatever camp sight we wanted. We chose to camp on the dry part of the ridge with excellent views of Forbidden, Boston, Sahale etc.
We took a two hour nap, got water from dripping rocks, ate dinner then hiked to the South Ridge of Eldorado to watch the sunset.
The hike back to camp was uneventful and we went to bed to a bright moon and many stars, not a cloud in sight.
5:00 am came quickly and my alarm went off. We laid in our bivy sacks for a long time, then the sun came up. We weren't in a rush as we had all day to climb one peak and mess around. Around 6:00 we got our gear ready to climb Dorado Needle and headed off across the Inspiration Glacier. The snow never froze during the night but it was still hard enough to warrant crampons.
crossing the Inspiration
Until now we didn't really see any crevasses except for a few about 1' wide. The Inspiration had a few crevasses wide open but for this time of year, it was fairly crevasse free. Travel was quick and easy and within a half hour we were standing at the top of the McAllister Glacier looking at Dorado Needle realizing how much "fun" dropping hundreds of feet to the bottom of the glacier to ascent back up (and more) was going to be.
Dorado Needle and the McAllister Glacier
Down we went running into only one awkward crevasse to get across with a wide but thin snow bridge (one of us punched though a little bit). The Ascent of the McAllister was excellent as the snow was much firmer providing great cramponing. In no time at all we were just below the base of the NW ridge climb.
Almost to the base of the climb
Normally one can just step from the snow to the rock easily, but the snow had pulled away from the rock a lot leaving a big moat. There was one large patch of snow hanging off part of the route, we had to eventually cross under it quickly hoping it wouldn't slide. When we got to the edge of the moat we found a snow finger that stuck out toward the rock. We dropped out packs here and switched out of glacier mode and doubled the rope, getting out the rack. As we were preparing to climb rock, Chico knocked over his backpack and it went down down down into the moat. Luckily, half of our rope was still coiled in his backpack and we were able to pull his pack back up to the snow finger!
Chico pulling his pack out of the moat
One we were set to climb we realized that we were going to have to make a leap from the snow to the rock. The problem was that the rock we had to jump to was slanted down and soaking form the dripping snow precariously hanging above it. We set a picket anchor in the snow and I made the leap first, finding it wasn't as slippery as it looked. I climbed up and set a quick belay anchor a few feet away, out from under the hanging snow.
Chico about to jump to rock
Chico made the leap without any trouble and was soon at the anchor where he belayed me out. The first pitch went up easy cracks to a short traverse left then up a corner to a great belay spot before the knife edge summit pitch. I belay Chico up from my nice perch and then led off again. The second pitch was a series of knife edge finger traverses. The exposure was excellent and the protection solid. All I could think was, "this is what climbing is supposed to be like!"
looking back to Chico at the belay before the finger traverse pitch
Before I knew it I was standing on the top of the mountain belaying Chico up the amazing pitch.
fun exposed climbing
The views from the top were great and we relaxed at the summit for an hour.
fun exposed climbing descending the McAllister
After the rest, we downclimbed the ridge back to our gear on the snow finger. Within 20 mintues we were almost at the bottom of the McAllister Glacier before we made our way up the other side back to the Inspiration Glacier.
Friday Afternoon, Evening and Night
Our original plan was to climb a few of the Tepeh Towers then call it a day so we headed to what we thought was the tallest of the towers (It turns out we were one tower too far north, but the true one didn't look fun). We found a line up the east face of the tower with a large south facing overhanging block. The route started with about 20' of going strait up, then traversed left a long ways to a nice belay. From there it followed slabs, corners and thin ledge traverses up and to the left until 5' below the summit. The climbing was a lot of fun and in the shade for the first pitch which was welcome since there was barely a cloud in the sky.
Chico looking at our line Chico at the crux traverse
The views from the top were amazing (like the views from anywhere in this area). It was hot up there so we only stayed a few minutes before we rappelled off the south face.
Chico with Dorado Needle in the back right
Lucky us, the rope got stuck and we couldn't pull it down.
Prussik climbing to get the rope unstuck
Since I was the one who set up the rappel, I got to prussik climb back up the rope on a loose overhanging pile of rock. I swore that if I pulled one rock out the whole face would collapse on me. Luckily the climb back up went without incident and I got the rope to come down. Frustrated with the wasted energy, and thirsty from no water, we roped up and headed back towards camp. At camp we took an hour break to eat and drink when we realized the sun dogs shining bright over Eldorado.
the picture does nothing for how bright it really was
Now I have seen sundogs before but these looked like lazer beams shooting out of mid air. I looked at Chico and said, "well, thats it, we're hiking out tonight, I don't want Ellen and Bob to drive up here for crappy weather." We sat there for a while very disappointed then both perked up after Chico said, "Lets go for it. Lets do Eldorado before we leave!" And that was it, we were on our way. We left our camp at 5:00 and started up the east ridge of Eldorado.
staring up the east ridge
Within 35 minutes we were just below the knife edge ridge and out of breath. 5 Minutes later we were up the knife edge and at the summit.
knife edge summit ridge top of Eldorado with Dorado Needle in the back
it took 40 minutes to climb from camp to the summit and getting down wasn't any slower, the sun was going down and we wanted to get out and call Ellen and Bob before they got up at 4:00 am to start driving the next morning. We basically ran down the mountain in 17 minutes. I even punched though, up to my waist, in a moat next to the rocky ridge. Back down at camp we cleaned up, put the packs on and ran across the Eldorado Glacier towards the trail. We only stopped to take a few pictures, other than that we slid down the glacier on our feet to make good time (standing glissades with heavy backpacks are awkward).
sliding down the eldorado
When we got to the bottom of the glacier, we turned to the west to see the orange sky and silhouette of the peaks to the west.
We made it back to the top of the gully scramble before we had to put headlamps on. All the way down to the waterfalls we jogged. We stopped at the waterfalls to get water and rest for a few minutes. I think this is where Chico started realizing how tired he was. He had done so well the whole trip, one would have thought he had been training all summer! But everything was catching up to him right as we hit the most tedious part of the descent, the talus. To make a long story short, 3 hours later and one dim Chico headlamp, we were almost back at the river crossing. Right before we got to the log crossing, Chico managed to get off trail and push his way though the thick brush (we would later learn his ice axe stripped off his pack; if you found a red black diamond ice axe with a black grip he would be ecstatic to get it back). We made it back to the car around 1:00 am and just sat there dazed.
back at the car
It turns out that Chico didn't drink enough water on the way down and drank 2 liters of gatorade as soon as he got back to the car. 5 minutes after we started driving back he threw up on the side of the road. 10 minutes after that he threw up again. I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner with how hard he pushed his body with such little training.
The next morning and night
At 3:00 am we finally got phone reception and called Ellen and Bob to tell them not to head out in a few hours but to sleep in. We told them that weather was coming and it wasn't worth the drive for nothing. As I talked to them on the phone I looked out the window and saw stars, it made me feel anxious like I called it off for nothing.
The next morning the sun came out and the whole day was sunny sunny sunny. I felt so bad all day long even though Ellen and Bob said they didn't care at all. But that night the magic happened. There were huge thunderstorms in the mountains that lasted for hours. Ellen and I went to Gasworks park to watch hundreds of lightning bolts strike the mountains. I haven't seen a storm like that in washington ever. Finally I could feel good about my decision to call off the climb, although, it would have been exciting to be camping in the middle of it all!
Gear we took
60m 8.1 mil rope
2 pickets (used for belay at snow finger leap)
7 stoppers (mostly smaller sizes)
4 Hexes (5, 6 ,7, and 8)
4 Friends (1, 1.5, 2, 2.5)
9 single length slings
4 double length slings
1 ice screw (didn't end us climbing the north face of Eldorado so didn't use it)
of course we had crampons, ice axe etc.